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May 15, 2001

The Transit Zone: Strategy and Balance


Admiral James M. Loy
Commandant
United States Coast Guard
United States Interdiction Coordinator

Good afternoon, Mister Chairman and distinguished members of the Caucus. It is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss Coast Guard drug interdiction efforts in the Transit Zone.

The Coast Guard is the lead agency for maritime drug interdiction and shares lead agency responsibility for air interdiction with the Customs Service. As the only Armed Service with law enforcement authority, the Coast Guard is on the front lines, defending our nation’s borders against the constant threat posed by the smuggling of illicit drugs. Illegal drugs continue to be a significant societal problem and remain an enforcement challenge. According to the Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement, in calendar year 2000, an estimated 645 metric tons of cocaine left source countries en route to the United States. Of that total, 568 metric tons traveled via non-commercial maritime means.

The Coast Guard’s Role

The National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) calls for a balanced array of demand and supply reduction programs. The Coast Guard supports the balanced approach, and we work closely with our interagency partners to meet NDCS objectives. The Coast Guard provides crucial law enforcement assets and capabilities essential to reducing the supply of illegal drugs. Our primary role with respect to maritime and air interdiction operations is against non-commercial maritime smugglers operating in the Transit and Arrival Zones, since approximately 90 percent of the flow uses non-commercial maritime means for all or part of its journey. Goal Four of the NDCS requires us to shield America’s frontiers from illegal drugs and sets out clear performance measures. These measures call for us to increase the seizure rate of non-commercial maritime flow of cocaine through the Transit and Arrival Zones to 18.7 percent by 2002 and 28.7 percent by 2007, using the 1996 seizure rate of 8.7 percent as our base year performance measure. These are very ambitious goals, given the size of the transit zone and the resources available to our adversaries. The transit zone is a 6 million square mile area, roughly equivalent to the size of the continental United States and includes the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern Pacific.

The objective of our Counter-Drug Strategic Plan, STEEL WEB, is to deny the smuggler of their major drug routes and maintain a credible presence in high-threat Transit Zone areas by assigning assets to respond to all actionable information, and conducting combined operations. Our operations include our interagency partners as well as foreign military and law enforcement counterparts.

Current Threat and Effort

As I alluded to earlier, the sheer size of the Transit Zone presents a formidable challenge to our interdiction efforts. Currently, the primary threat vectors for cocaine are nearly evenly distributed between the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Basin, with the Eastern Pacific slightly ahead of the Caribbean for total drug flow. The go-fast boat continues to be the smuggler’s vehicle of choice. These vessels are not only fast and maneuverable, but they are small and difficult to detect. Our 15-25 knot cutters are no match for 35-45 knot go-fasts. That is why we must continue endgame initiatives such as Operation New Frontier including the armed HITRON helicopters and the Over-the-Horizon cutter boats. These endgame initiatives will improve our interdiction successes.

Our long-standing relationships with many Caribbean countries are extremely important to the sustained success of supply reduction efforts. The Coast Guard continues to engage these nations, frequently conducting combined operations with their respective military and law enforcement organizations. I am proud of the fact that the Coast Guard can and does benefit from 22 bilateral agreements with Caribbean and Latin American nations that improve our effectiveness in the counter-drug mission. Costa Rica has been especially cooperative as we have entered into a landmark agreement that we refer to as an International Maritime Interdiction Support agreement. We are hopeful that this initiative will lead to other such agreements in the region, such as the one we are negotiating with Panama. Another area of interest I would like to highlight is the Coast Guard’s participation in the State Department Excess Defense Articles program. Since 1995, the Coast Guard has transferred 28 decommissioned Patrol Boats to other nations to assist in their maritime law enforcement missions. In the coming year we plan to transfer excess vessels to include Patrol Boats to Colombia, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago; 180 foot Buoy Tenders to the Dominican Republic and Panama; and 44 foot Motor Life Boats to Guyana, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

In addition to deploying aboard U.S. Navy ships, U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDET) also deploy aboard British and Dutch naval ships involved in counter-drug operations. This provides increased law enforcement assets in the Transit Zone. Most recently we signed an agreement to also deploy aboard Belgium naval ships. Coast Guard LEDETs deployed aboard foreign ships seized more than 10 percent of the drugs we seized in FY 2000. This is strong evidence that our counter-drug partnerships with European maritime powers are strengthening. One final note concerning our Caribbean partners is the great success being realized by our Caribbean Support Tender. This ship operates out of Miami, with an international crew, and visits Caribbean nations to conduct law enforcement, security assistance, and international engagement operations in support of the NDCS and the U.S. Southern Command.

Results

In fiscal year (FY) 2000, the Coast Guard set a non-commercial maritime seizure record of over 132,000 pounds (60 metric tons) of cocaine. This marks the second successive year of record seizures. We also seized over 50,000 pounds of marijuana. The results are attributed to the continued maturation of the interagency cooperation process, improved sharing of information and intelligence, enhanced cooperation of the international community, and continued deployment of Coast Guard LEDET’s.

We continue to seek innovative solutions in expanding our efforts in the transit zone. Operation NEW FRONTIER – the Use of Force from Aircraft combined with Over-the-Horizon cutter boats using night vision goggles, proved highly successful in limited scope deployments and we are on the verge of full operating capability with this program in the near future. Similarly, our recent acquisitions of new 87-foot Coastal Patrol Boats has allowed us to reposition the homeports of a number of more capable 110-foot Patrol Boats further south to place them closer to the counter-drug threat, reducing patrol transit time and resulting in more "steel on target."

Future Efforts

Despite record setting seizure figures for the past two years, the Coast Guard’s drug seizure rate, defined as USCG seizure totals measured as a percentage of total flow, fell in FY 2000 due to dramatically increased flow. While our seizures increased markedly, the flow increased even more. Final seizure and cocaine shipment data for FY 2000 show a seizure rate of approximately 10.6 percent. Despite a strong effort and extensive interagency and international cooperation, we were unable to meet our 13 percent seizure rate target in 2000. We therefore face considerable challenges in meeting our 18 percent and 28 percent targets in 2002 and 2007 respectively. Doing so will require continued cooperation, innovation, and resource support.

Maritime drug interdiction operations take place in a challenging and ever changing environment. The international drug syndicates operating throughout our hemisphere are adaptable and extremely powerful. They are well financed and have the technology to defeat our intelligence and enforcement efforts. In order to respond to this adversary, the Coast Guard must continue to improve upon its ability to detect, track, intercept and stop smugglers. The greatest challenge facing the Coast Guard today is that its Deepwater assets (cutters and aircraft) are aging and technologically obsolete. To meet this challenge the Coast Guard must begin re-capitalizing and modernizing its assets, including sensors and communications equipment for our aging Deepwater cutters, aircraft and command centers. This effort has been addressed in the President’s FY 2002 budget under an initiative to support the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act (WHDEA). We will be ready to award a contract in FY 2002.

U.S. Interdiction Coordinator

I would like to close with a few comments on my role as the U.S. Interdiction Coordinator. As the U.S. Interdiction Coordinator, I am tasked with ensuring the adequacy and optimal employment of U.S. international counter-narcotics assets. In this capacity I have a small cadre of interagency personnel that work closely with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, and the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense and Justice to ensure U.S. interdiction efforts are coordinated and complementary. We develop Interdiction Planning Guidance that sets forth strategic guidance for agencies involved in international interdiction efforts to best focus planning and coordination of counter-narcotics operations. The USIC staff is working diligently to increase the degree of analytical rigor in these processes and products.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.