Western Hemisphere Drug Interdiction Efforts
2253 Rayburn House Office Building
Summary of Subject Matter
Official Hearing Transcript
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Hearing on “Western Hemisphere Drug Interdiction Efforts”
(Remarks as Prepared)
The Subcommittee is meeting today to review the federal government’s efforts to confront transnational drug smuggling and stem the flow of illegal drugs to the United States.
Let me start by saying that I had a great trip with the Commandant to South Florida where I had the opportunity to see first-hand the problem our Nation faces in stemming the flow of illegal drugs to our shores. My visit to Coast Guard units, as well as JIATF-South was insightful. I was able to witness the impact limited resources and deteriorating assets is having on the Coast Guard’s ability to effectively carry out its drug interdiction mission.
The flow of illegal drugs to the Unites States continues to be a problem. Illegal drugs place a strain on our Nation’s health care and criminal justice systems. Their smuggling routes and methods are easily translated into transport routes for other illicit goods that pose significant safety and security concerns to U.S. citizens. Some of the most notorious and violent criminals, cartels, and narco-terrorists are directly responsible for drug violence, crime, and corruption that are destabilizing foreign nations and endangering the lives of American citizens here and abroad.
Representing Southern California, I am very aware of the harm violent drug-traffickers inflict on our communities. In recent years, violence stemming from the drug trade has spilled over the Mexican border and has led to the kidnappings and murders of American citizens and U.S. law enforcement officers.
It was only a few years ago that a Coast Guard service member lost his life during counter drug operations near Santa Cruz Island, California. Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne was leading a boarding team when he was critically injured interdicting and apprehending illegal drug smugglers. The Coast Guard recently announced it will honor Senior Chief Horne’s sacrifice by naming a Fast Response Cutter after him.
The Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and allied partner nations continue their efforts to stop bulk drug shipments at sea. Interdicting shipments of drugs at sea before they are broken down into smaller packages is the most effective and efficient way to stop the flow of illegal drugs across our borders. The Coast Guard is the lead agency in maritime interdiction because it has unique military and law enforcement authorities which enable it to seamlessly disable a drug smuggling vessel, seize the drugs, and arrest the crew. But that only works when the Coast Guard, SOUTHCOM, and partner agencies and nations have the resources and assets to act on intelligence targets.
Unfortunately, however, cuts to the military’s budget, sequestration, and aging and rapidly failing Coast Guard assets are undermining mission success. In recent years, SOUTHCOM and the Coast Guard were only able to interdict slightly more than 20 percent of the cocaine bound for the United States. That is roughly half the national target for 2015. In addition, the Coast Guard has been consistently unable to meet its internal performance goal for drug removal in the Transit Zone. In fact, since 2009, the Coast Guard has only achieved its cocaine interdiction target once.
I hope today’s hearing will help clarify the direction we need to take in the future to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources and assets they need to carry out this and other critical missions.
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