Saturday, September 22, 2007

GAO: War on drugs not working, let's do more of the same

A new US Government Accountability Office report (pdf) adumbrates US drug interdiction efforts to combat Mexican drug cartels, and their account of drug enforcers' record over the last six years fails to inspire hope that expanding the same tactics will have much effect. Pete Guither has already deflated the GAOs absurdist recommendation that greater "cooperation" between the US and Mexico will solve the problem. But there's a lot of other important data here, despite the lame conclusion.

Several parts of this new report interest me, but let's kick off the discussion summarizing a few fact bites about the US-backed drug war in Mexico and Latin America that make the topic more concrete:
  • The drug war is expensive. Between 2000-2006, the United States spent $7 billion in Latin America on drug interdiction, roughly $397 million of it in Mexico.
  • Most illegal drugs make it to US consumers. Overall, drug seizures represent "a very small percentage of the estimated drug supply." E.g., GAO estimates that an average of 275 metric tons of cocaine entered the US annually between 2000-2006, while seizures averaged 36 tons per year over that period.
  • Seizures don't keep up with supply increase. Between 2000-2006, total drug exports to the US increased 23%, but seizures "did not increase proportionately." In other words, if the drug war were really a war, we'd be losing worse than ever.
  • Drug business extremely lucrative. GAO estimates total illicit drug proceeds to Mexico at between $8-23 billion per year. That's a wide range, and odds are the real number is closer to the high end (a footnote suggests that the "amount of proceeds returned to Mexico is likely greater than the reported estimates").
  • Laredo the epicenter of Mexican exports. Though the 2,000 mile US-Mexico border has 43 legitimate crossing points, the bridge at Laredo handles about 40% of all Mexican exports. That's why Nuevo Laredo, across the river, has become a battleground between warring cartels (and secondarily, the police and the Army) to control this critical transportation route.
  • Is there room for 25 million more people in US jails and prisons? "According to the 2005 National Survey, an estimated 97.5 million Americans aged 12 or older have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes, representing 40 percent of the U.S. population in that age group. The number of past year marijuana users in 2005 was approximately 25.4 million (10.4 percent of the population aged 12 or older) and the number of past month marijuana users was 14.6 million (6 percent)."
  • Diplomacy failure ended aerial surveillance. Reports GAO, "An aerial surveillance program along the U.S.-Mexico border was suspended because the United States and Mexico could not reach agreement on certain personnel status issues. Without an air surveillance and interdiction program along the U.S.-Mexico border, cognizant U.S. law enforcement officials report indications of increased drug trafficking."
  • 'Zetas' allied with corrupt Nuevo Laredo cops. While not mentioning that the core original members were all trained by US Special Forces at Fort Benning Georgia, GAO notes that, "The Gulf Cartel has also employed a criminal gang referred to as the Zetas, which is primarily composed of rogue former Mexican military commandos. The Zetas are known for their violent methods and intimidation and are thought to be working closely with corrupt law enforcement officials. In June 2005, in a possible demonstration of the cartel’s influence over local law enforcement authorities, Mexican Army patrols sent to stem drug related violence in Nuevo Laredo were openly attacked by local police units." However the report did mention that despite the Zetas SNAFU, the US military continues to train Mexican commandos. "During 2000-2006, [the Department of Defense] provided training for about 2,500 Mexican military personnel in the use of certain kinds of equipment, as well as training to enable them to coordinate with U.S. aircraft and vessels." (The report also failed to mention that the Zetas now are teaching the techniques learned from America's finest soldiers to a new generation of thugs and assassins.)
  • Targeting "kingpins" didn't work. During the Vicente Fox administration, the US and Mexico targeted "kingpins" like Felix Arellano of the Tijuana cartel. Says GAO, "this strategy does not appear to have significantly reduced drug trafficking in Mexico, [although] it disrupted the cartels’ organizational structure. However, the disruption caused by the removal of some of the leadership presented opportunities for other drug traffickers to take advantage of the changing balance of power, and, in particular, to gain control of important transit corridors leading to the United States, such as Nuevo Laredo. Such struggles led to increased violence throughout Mexico, with drug related deaths estimated at over 2,000 in 2006."
  • Current anti-drug strategy losing ground. GAO concludes that "the flow of illicit drugs through Mexico to the United States has not abated, and interdiction efforts in Mexico have seized relatively small quantities of the illicit drugs estimated to be transiting through or produced in Mexico. Moreover, drug related corruption persists throughout much of Mexico, and Mexican [drug trafficking organizations] have increasingly become a threat in Mexico, which has seen an increase in drug related violence, and expanded their presence throughout much of the United States."
Feel any safer yet?

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6 comments:

Doran G. Williams said...

Let's pretend that you are the CEO of a huge corporation with many, many divisions, spread over a large geographic area, say, the size of the United States. During a yearly review of your kingdom, you notice that one division in particular is substantially underperforming relative to the other divisions.

You call in the VP in charge of that division to try to find out what the problem is. The VP admits to some "slippage," thefts off the loading docks in major cities primarily, but also some theft of small, but very expensive items from warehouses and storage. The VP says he could get the matter under control and stopped, with a budget amendment to finance a new department within his division to investigate, identify and apprehend the employees who are the wrongdoers. You agree with him, grant him the budget increase, and send him back to Omaha to get the job done.

The following year, during your annual review, you notice the same thing is going on with that particular division. It is underperforming. In fact, in some areas, the losses are even greater than the year before. You put in a call to that same VP and he immediately catches the red-eye from Omaha to your home office.

You more or less go through the same thing with the VP again. This time, you give him an even greater budget, so he can hire more investigators, get some new computers and software, and pay for some snitches. You do this after he convinces you that he and his investigators are closing in on what he characterizes as an international theft ring, with what may be connections to a major foreign power.

This kind of dance goes on in the third year. Will it take you yet another year to realize that the VP is the problem, and that he may well be the kingpin of the theft ring? Can you, at this point, essentially admit to your major shareholders that you have made a colossal mis-judgment of character, and have spent millions of company dollars on a fool's errand? How long will it take you to be able to admit your mistake?

Apparently, it is going to take Democratic and Republican politicians FOREVER to admit to the American people that they have made just such a colossal misjudgment about the WOD. And about the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Why should we not adopt as a working hypothesis that the DEA is corrupt? That after 20+ years of getting bigger and bigger budgets and more authority over Americans, the only reasonable conclusion for the DEA's failure in the WOD is that the DEA is working for the other side in this war?

Anonymous said...

Doing the same thing over and over again when it clearly isn't working may be evidence of insanity, but apparently it is preferable than admitting to being wrong to some people.

Anonymous said...

Doran G. Williams,

That would be a good example of how the war on drugs is going, except that taking, making, or selling drugs isn't stealing.

It's not murder... unless you believe car manufacturers and pharmacies, etc., are guilty of murder when one of their clients dies from using their product. Same thing for high school athletes dieing from a sports injury. You can call it murder, certainly, but that doesn't necessarily make it murder.

It's not rape. It's not assault unless you give it to someone without their knowledge or against their will. Unless you think that ice cream makers and candy makers are assaulting people by producing and selling high calorie products, leading to overweight and illness. Sports again. Lot's of injuries there, but we rarely think of it as criminal assault.

Using certain drugs is something we decided was a crime, because we didn't like it and we, naturally, didn't like the people who did it. It's big business to hate, hunt, and prosecute them.

It's fashionable, politically correct and societally correct during this time in history to have special disdain for that particular bunch of people.

This is just the latest example in history of hate and fear mongering. Witches, heretics, Jews, Gypsies, black people, and Japanese all eat little children when they get a chance. People used to know that and try to protect their children from them. Now it's druggies who are eating little children when they get a chance.

People take drugs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are sick and it makes them better or at least provides them some relief from misery and disease of some sort. Mostly, in the case of what we call "Recreational use", as opposed to "Medicinal use", I would assume, they do it because they like it, or believe they benefit in some way from it.

The drug war is just more ignorance and inhumanity of one human towards another. Drugs and drug use is as good an excuse to indulge in wholesale hatred or busy-bodying as the next.

JT Barrie said...

Undoubtedly, it's a big cover up. You draft legislation pretending that it's really a war against dangerous drugs. You use language such as "potential for abuse" and you deliberately leave that to the discretion of law enforcement [DEA]. You adamantly and stridently oppose any efforts to do prior research to determine the harm and effects on the larger body of users. Then you depict the atypical as typical through testimonial evidence. Then, as part of plea bargain agreements you have former addicts tell stories about how these nasty drugs turned their lives upside down. Then you have magazines and newspapers repeat this testimonial evidence over and over again. Then you have TV reporters claim that certain drugs lead to criminal behavior.
As you can see: this is all part of the big lie - only perfected from the time of Hitler. It emerges as a form of mass hysteria. It would be high comedy if it were not so expensive and destructive of peoples' personal lives. You don't have to disappear critics. You can arrest some who actually abuse these drugs, publicizing their arrests and ignore the rest. Then anyone who casually glances at headlines just assumes that the legalization movement is being run by drug addicts. It's more guilt by false association. We do this in Iraq and Afghanistan with these secret detention centers. Millions just assume that the hundred thousand people illegally detained are all clones of the people who planned 911. Those people don't deserve basic human rights! Dehumanize people and you can get away with all sorts of hijinks.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the Zetas have a graffiti that they use to note their presence? I have been aware of the presence of some kind of Surrenos in Topeka. I have suspected MS 13. I believe that the Surrenos and Los Zetas have no love for each other but I am not sure. We sit about an hour drive from I-35. Any info on Zetas is appreciated. fatgunman@yahoo.com No spam

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