The Coast Guard's Role in Drug Interception--How Much Is Enough?

Gao ID: CED-79-40 February 12, 1979

The Coast Guard has had some success as a maritime drug enforcement agency; in 1978 it seized 140 vessels and 3.2 million pounds of marijuana. This success is due to two factors: (1) Coast Guard cutters, aircraft, and electronics gear are superior to the equipment used by smugglers; and (2) the strategy of concentrating surveillance on certain routes through which smugglers must travel. Most drug smugglers approach the U.S. coastline from Colombia in "mother ships" which are met by smaller "contact" boats. Contraband is offloaded to these smaller boats, which then proceed to shore. Seizure of a mother ship generally results in the capture of large quantities of marijuana. The Coast Guard's strategy emphasizes the seizure of mother ships by patrolling the choke points between Colombia and the United States. It is estimated, however, that cutters are at these points only 35 percent of the time because not enough are available.

While the Coast Guard has established a general goal for its law enforcement mission, it does not have a specific drug enforcement goal. The Coast Guard lacks sufficient resources to patrol effectively on the principal choke points.


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