How port security effects drug smuggling

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Abstract

The main aim of this study is to explore the impact port security on drug smuggling. Drug dealers and drug users alike may cause a considerable nuisance. However, trying to prevent people from abusing drugs yet they can easily find it almost anywhere is an effort in vain. Thus, bringing an end to drug use begins with putting an end to drug smuggling. The authorities in the United States have been fighting drug trafficking for years now. But every time when they think they are winning the war new tricks and probably dugs are introduced. Apparently, the way to drugs smuggling through the ports is one that does not seem to be ending anytime soon. Some of the methods through which the authorities have prevented drug abuse include seizing the proceeds of crime and making arrests. Moreover, drug smuggling through ports appears to be related to other law offending activities such as human trafficking and illegal immigration as explored in this study. Altogether, the Department of Homeland Security has laid strategies in place to help secure the ports so as prevent drug smuggling.

Introduction

Port security is an overall focal point of safety. What brings a concern to port security in the United States can be attributed to the fact that ports are associated with several drawbacks and benefits. Also, there are possibilities that not only drugs can be smuggled through unsecured ports but also other products such as illicit substances, cars, and weapons. Consequently, smuggling of drugs into the country brings about economic problems, fluctuations and even ruining the lives of youth who engage in substance abuse. Some of the most common drugs smuggled through the ports include heroin and cocaine (Feyerick, Cary, & Steffen, 2009). These drugs literally drive money out of the United States economy into the hands of a few cartels. Viewing the drug smuggling on a broad perspective basically implies consequences not limited to Transnational Organized Crime (TOC), human trafficking, piracy, and local crime brought about by drug dealers. Thus, the United States government is obliged with keeping the ports safe which can be achieved using the military as well as the formulation of security policies. This study primly purposes to explore how port security effects drug smuggling which is linked to consequences such as TOC.

Port Security and Drug Smuggling

Port security is the defense and counterterrorism activities with the port and maritime domain. It mainly involves protection of seaports through inspection of cargo that goes through the ports. The Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security are responsible for ports in the United States. There are at least 300 sea and river ports in the U.S. maritime system. Drug smuggling, on the other hand, is an illegal drug trade in the global black market that is dedicated to manufacture and sell drugs in a manner that offends the drug prohibition laws.

There are regulations and standards put in place to manage to manage the production and consumption of drugs in the U.S. For instance, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA, 21, U.S.C. §801 et. Seq.), “prohibits the possession, production, distribution, and trafficking of… drugs and substances”. Port security effects drug smuggling in various ways. Typically, when the ports are secure the issue of drug smuggling into the country through the ports will be as good as solved. However, it is not that easy as there are several factors surrounding the security of the ports. Such factors include policing, politics, policy formulation, and the availabilities of resources to achieve the security objective geared towards ending drug smuggling.

Port security is not only limited to what the United States government is capable of doing to help secure the ports but also how much drug smugglers are capable of in their determination to make money. The bottom line of smugglers is to make money. A CNN report reveals that “Drug traffickers are throwing everything they’ve got at getting drugs into the United States any way they can.” (Feyerick, Cary, & Steffen, 2009). For instance, drugs are smuggled through underground tunnels while some people even carry them in their bloodstreams. Apparently, some modes of smuggling can barely be imagined.

So how effective is the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code in its activities to secure ports in the U.S.? ISPS Code is involved in setting up the rules that govern ports and maritime transport. A study by McNaught (2005) reveals that the ISPS Code is not likely to mitigate the risks posed by containerized cargo. This is due to its focus on narrow areas of ship security. Furthermore, the implementation of the ISPS is unlikely to impact on the terrorist organizations which control their own vessels (McNaught, 2005). This is because the organizations run as legitimate businesses and the assessment of true ship ownership is a plight to the port authorities. And if a terrorist is still able to exploit the vulnerabilities at the ports and get into the country unnoticed then drug smuggling issue is far from getting solved.

Furthermore, recent studies have indicated that smuggling is still a major concern. For instance, a study by McCausland, Soboroff, & Heikkila (2017) reveals that “secure checkpoints along the American-Mexican border have become an increasingly popular entrance for drug smugglers entering the United States…” Moreover, another study reveals the decrease in drug seizures from 2011 to 2015 mainly including marijuana, cocaine heroin, methamphetamine, and ecstasy (Woody, 2016). According to McCausland, Soboroff, & Heikkila (2017), there will be 75 million travelers coming across the border in years and drug smugglers see this as an opportunity to mix with the general population who abide by the law. Therefore, with endless strategies by drug smugglers makes it hard to tell whether the decline in drugs seized over the past few years is due to effective strategies by port security or whether the smugglers outwit the port security strategists.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for the prevention of illegal entry into the country as well as prevention of smuggling illegal products into the country. The CBP happens to be one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States with its headquarters in Washington D.C. U.S. citizens understand that when they get back to their country through the ports they will be subjected to searching which is part of ensuring that no illegal products are smuggled into the country. However, the border authorities have gone to greater extents of inspecting the digital contents in electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops (The Times Editorial Board, 2017). And as much as the port authorities happen to have gone beyond their limits by inspecting the electronic devices without a warrant, the outcomes of their inspections prove to be quite helpful in the fight against terrorism and smuggling. This is a scenario in which the end justifies the means. Thus, if drug smugglers are willing to do whatever it takes to get drugs into the country, is it also right for the government to do whatever it takes to protect its citizens even if it means violating their rights such as the 1st and 4th Amendment rights?

CBP has to guarantee legitimate trade and travels while ensuring that the borders, including the ports, are safe. Therefore, the more the body progresses towards achieving its prime objectives, the less drug smuggling ceases to be an issue. However, it is not as easy as it may sound because even drug traffickers have the resources to do research and equip them with the necessary knowledge to enable them to succeed in their illegal businesses.

As much as Trump proposes the building of a wall and hiring more Border Patrol agents in order to prevent drug smuggling from Mexico into the States, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection states otherwise. According to the statistical evidence presented by the CBP, it appears that the White House has a misunderstanding of how and where most of the smuggled drugs get into the country (Prendergast, 2017). The statistics reveal that 81% of the hard drugs caught at the U.S.-Mexico border from 2012 to 2016 fiscal years were stopped by customs officers at port entry (Prendergast, 2017). This implies that the Border Patrol agents in wilderness and deserts had little to do with stopping the drug smuggling from the fiscal year 2012 to the fiscal year 2016.

Role of United States Coast Guard and Military

The mission of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is “Safety, Security, and Stewardship for the Nation’s Ports and Facilities.” It is under the Department of Homeland Security. The United States Coast Guard and military play a role in protecting our borders against trafficking. Censoring Prendergast (2017), it is quite evident that the CBP has played a critical part in stopping drug smuggling. For instance, 81% of the 265,500 pounds of hard drugs caught at the U.S.-Mexico border was stopped by customs officers (Prendergast, 2017). The USCG deserves credit for its security efforts. The USCG mitigates risks and improves security in domestic ports, on the high seas, and abroad within the United States. Its strategy to increase the maritime border security is achievable through a layered security system that is not only limited within the country’s borders but stretches beyond U.S. physical borders (INCSR, 2014). One amazing feature of the USCG strategy is that before vessels arrive in ports, they are screened in order to obtain information regarding cargo, passengers, and crews. Narcotics trafficking vessels can be detected through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of tactical information and strategic intelligence.

The U.S. government also uses the military to help stop drug smuggling. A report by USA Today (2013) indicated that the U.S. has expanded its drug war in Latin America due to the sophistication and violence of the traffickers. The strategy involves training law enforcement agents in Latin American nations, building a network of expensive hardware, radar, airplanes, ships, and runways. The reason as to why the military is actively involved in drug smuggling is because it has become a matter of national security according to the State Department and Pentagon officials (USA Today, 2013). Drug smuggling basically spread corruption and can potentially finance terrorism. Moreover, drug cartels stop at nothing to do what is necessary to the success of their business. That is, the killings due to drug smuggling call for military action. Consequently, the military action works to the disadvantage of drug cartels hence controlling drug smuggling.

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One of the greatest steps made by the Coast Guard is to bring in more technology to fight drug smuggling at sea (Goodman & Lopez, 2017). The involvement of technology and intelligence in the war against smuggling can be attributed to the bloom in coca production in Colombia. In fact, Narcos drama series directed by Brancato (2015) is an embodiment of how cocaine established its roots into the United States. The Narcos TV show reveals the manner in which smugglers manage to get drugs into the U.S. drive money out of the U.S. economy while leaving back ruined lives through addiction and violence. With new technological advancements in place, the drug smuggling will most likely be eradicated. However, there are challenges involved. According to the show, even the drug smugglers in Colombia had their sniffing dogs and technology to detect whether their drug packages are detectable (Brancato, 2015). Therefore, if the smuggling of cocaine from Colombia has existed ever since it was introduced decades ago then it is arguable that drug dealers have been advancing in their operations just like the U.S. Coast Guard is advancing. That is, the smugglers will always work out plans to exploit the vulnerabilities in port security.

Maritime Transportation System

Port facility operations involve securing the ports. Thus the operations of the Maritime Transportation System should ensure no drugs are smuggled into the country through the ports. The Maritime Transportation System (MTS) is tasked with addressing safety and security concerns as well as the efficient movement of people at the nation’s coast and waterways with respect to port facilities. There are challenges faced by the MTS and they include an increased number of passengers being transported by ferry. This means there are chances that passengers will soon exceed the maximum limit that the available ferries can transport. According to (MARAD, n.d), it is estimated that between 2010 and 2020, the total value of marine freight will increase by 43% domestically and 67% internationally. Moreover, this poses even a greater challenge with regards to port security and smuggling. With increased population, there are chances that port security may weaken since a huge population of individuals and massive freight will be handled in the near future. This is definitely a stumbling-block just as it is a challenge to the war against drug smuggling. Smugglers can simply take advantage of the vulnerabilities in the ports.

Woody (2017) reveals the case of high-sea narco smugglers who have developed new trends in transporting illicit cargo from South America to Mexico and the U.S. The author further reveals that “In recent years, ‘narco-sub’ vessels (mostly LPVs) have been built with upper lead shielding which helps to minimize their heat signature and hence they can evade infrared sensors.” (Woody, 2017). Some of the measures that can be undertaken in order to maintain security and even improve on the high-seas include exercising coordination, leadership, and cooperation (MARAD, n.d). Thus, unmasking the narco smugglers and preventing their illegal endeavors can be attributed to good leadership hence negatively affecting drug smuggling.

Transnational Organized Crime, Human Trafficking and Illegal Immigration

The narco smugglers is a good example of the Transnational Organized Crime (TOC). They have their own networks that are involved in illegal businesses ranging from drug smuggling to illegal immigration. The Colombian drug cartels will do anything for money (Barancato, 2015). The TOC has got networks that it is very difficult to track them down and exterminate them for good. Today there is a great relationship between drug smuggling and human trafficking because of the dealers on either side form collaborations (Corcoran, 2016). The worst part is that immigrants are forced to watch over drug cargo and punished or even killed if something goes wrong. In simple terms, the TOC is using illegal immigrants to help with their illegal drug smuggling business while subjecting them further to human trafficking. Thus, human trafficking, illegal immigration, and drug smuggling go hand in hand due to the high interrelationship they shared today courtesy of the TOC. Thus, securing ports would mean handling all these interrelated issues either directly or indirectly.

Fortunately, the DHS is doing a lot through the CBP to help control the issue of human trafficking. Some of the strategies put in place by the agency include the identification of potential victims as they seek to enter the country, directing potential victims to the U.S agencies where they can get help, helping the public to report on cases of human trafficking, and partnering with non-governmental organizations to help the potential victims. These strategies not only help stop human trafficking but also negatively impact on drug trafficking. Furthermore, based on the figure released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, about 840 people were caught trying to cross the U.S. border through a port entry in February compared to 1370 in January (Jarvie, 2017). This implies a great decline in illegal immigration. Thus, it is arguable that illegal immigration has gone down and it continues to reduce in the Trump Administration. Consequently, this makes it hard for drug smuggling to flourish and even harder to TOC to grow. Thus, it is arguable that tight border security, through good leadership and proper law enforcement, is negatively impacting on drug smuggling in the United States.

Conclusion

This study has explored the manner in which port security can influence drug smuggling in the United States. At this point is quite clear that United States government is obliged with keeping the ports safe which can be achieved using the military as well as the formulation of security policies. One of the greatest challenges faced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is the ability of drug smugglers to improve on their smuggling tricks whenever new drug smuggling prevention measures are discovered. The smugglers use their resources to prevent the U.S. government from catching up with them. However, this study has proven that the DHS has really invested in port security and is not only determined to stop drug smuggling but also related concerns such as TOC, human trafficking, and illegal immigration. Altogether, the study presents a positive picture on how the U.S. government is succeeding it keeping its ports safe and exercising control over drug smuggling despite the unending challenges.

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  1. Barancato, C. (Director). (2015, August 28). Narcos Drama Series [Video podcast]. Narcos TV Show.
  2. Corcoran, P. (2016, December 21). Study Examines Drug and Human Trafficking Overlap in Mexico.
  3. Feyerick, D., Cary, M., & Steffen, S. (2009, April 16). Drug smugglers becoming more creative, U.S. agents say.
  4. Goodman, J., & Lopez, D. (2017, May 10). Coast Guard Brings in More Technology to Fight Drug Smuggling at Sea.
  5. INCSR. (2014). 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR).
  6. Jarvie, J. (2017, March 9). Number of immigrants caught at Mexican border plunges 40% under Trump.
  7. MARAD. (n.d). Marine Transportation System (MTS).
  8. McCauseland, P., Soboroff, J., & Heikkila, A. (2017, February 22). Drug Smugglers from Mexico Use Border Crossings in Spite of Walls.
  9. McNaught, F. (2005). Effectiveness of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code in addressing the maritime security threat. Geddes Papers, 1-100.
  10. Prendergast, C. (2017, May 6). Most hard drugs smuggled through legal border crossings.
  11. The Times Editorial Board. (2017, September 19). Editorial: Border agents want to search a traveler’s laptop and phone? Get a warrant.
  12. USA Today. (2013, February 3). U.S. military expands its drug war in Latin America.
  13. Woody, C. (2016, October 11). Donald Trump says drugs are coming into the US ‘at a record clip’ — the numbers say something else.
  14. Woody, C. (2017, September 20). The Coast Guard is detecting a new trend among high-seas narco smugglers.
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