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Thursday, May 23, 2024

PERSPECTIVE: The Integrated Approach Needed At The Southern Border To Degrade The Flow Of Narcotics Into The Homeland

Building a wall along the southern border of the United States is often promulgated as a partial solution to the ongoing narcotics and migrant crisis impacting the southern states, which has expanded as far as New York City. A wall is a feasible plan. However, it will only make a difference if integrated into a holistic border security program that mitigates all the vulnerabilities currently entrenched in Mexico-US border policies and processes.

The influx of immigrants, as well as the cross-border narcotics, weapons, and human/sex trafficking run by Mexican cartels, is ongoing and seemingly unstoppable with current regulations. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports an increase in drug seizures across the US in 2023, as well as increased smuggling back into Mexico of bulk currency or weapons – the profits of the cartels’ criminal activities.

Recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, deploying the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety to the southern border while hastening the construction of a wall in the state. Governor Abbot set the state’s personnel to work around the clock to deal with illegal crossings and cartel operations. He said, “While the federal government ignores this crisis, Texas is holding the line.”

The question is, how can we degrade the volume of migrants and narcotics streaming into our country? 

Creating manageable bottlenecks

A wall extending along the accessible southern border would make it more difficult for people attempting to enter the United States illegally or smuggle narcotics. In order to catch intruders, bottlenecks can be created at locations where crossings are possible, and border authorities can monitor them. However, this only focuses on illegal crossings and will not impact the legal crossings at official checkpoints on the US-Mexico border.

Mexico was America’s biggest trading partner in 2023, even compared to China. In 2023, the number of incoming commercial vehicles (trucks) crossing the five busiest US-Mexico border checkpoints exceeded seven million, while the number of personal vehicles exceeded 75 million – statistics for 2022 show that over seven million containers entered on trucks (excluding rail containers). 

Shutting the border entirely is not an option, nor is searching every vehicle before entry. Simultaneously, most of the fentanyl, among other illicit narcotics, is smuggled through checkpoints along the US-Mexico border. The US must develop an alternative to curb smuggling while allowing trade to continue uninterrupted. 

The first step is to improve commercial traffic, vehicle and personnel vetting to enable the CPB to minimize risks while keeping goods and people moving with minimal delays. Enhanced large-scale X-ray, drug identification, and facial recognition technology could significantly streamline the processing of people and cargo.

It is also essential to ensure commercial cargo is secured correctly before departure using protected containers that alert authorities of any attempts at tampering or opening the doors while en route. Any attempt to tamper with the cargo will be detected, and those vehicles will be stopped and searched.

As part of the enhanced vetting, each vehicle crossing into the USA must be linked to a driver and occupants. If the driver, with or without the occupants, leaves the USA for Mexico in a different vehicle, they must account for this. This policy will stop mules who go through the border with narcotics or weapons concealed in their car, switch cars, and then return for another run.

Currently, the Mexican cartels know that CBP border personnel can only search a few cars per day, meaning most of the narcotics hidden in concealed apartments in these vehicles pass through safely using a cartel method of “shot gunning” hundreds of cars into a border checkpoint at one time. The cartels capitalize on this method, knowing they can move tons of products into America.

A significant aspect of any new mitigation plan would be limiting the number of personal vehicles that could cross the border. Trucks carrying freight, manufactured goods, and raw materials vital for our trade and supply chains would be exempt from this but would still be thoroughly screened. CBP could amend this tactic as soon as it is evident that cross-border vehicle trafficking has been significantly reduced. With the rules strictly enforced and every vehicle checked, smugglers will think twice, and the narcotics supply chain would be degraded.

Furthermore, the current secondary checkpoints a few miles from the border would also need upgrading in terms of the personnel and technology used to apprehend traffickers, who may find a way to escape the tighter primary checkpoint controls.

Operating infrastructure and rapid response

A border wall cannot exist in isolation; it has to be monitored 24/7. Breaches at any location must be responded to in real-time to prevent the millions of got-a-aways from entering the country unchallenged. Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) located at regular intervals along the border should be constructed to act as a Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) equipped with the necessary infrastructure and equipment to significantly mitigate the national security threat of unchecked cross-border incursions.

Using all available Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Human Intelligence (HUMINT) resources available for border monitoring, from surveillance cameras to drones and even reconnaissance balloons, any border violation will be detected almost immediately. The closest FOB/RDF response team will automatically be dispatched via helicopter and be on-site in minutes.

The RDF will comprise existing RDF members, including DEA Special Response Team members, Border Patrol Tactical Unit members (BORTAC), and, in Texas, the Texas DPS Special Operations Group. These highly trained law enforcement personnel could efficiently deal with highly trained and armed cartel groups like the Sinaloa, CJNG, and Zetas, to mention a few. The state National Guard would provide “helo” air support for all RDF operations and ground support.

Cartels will find their drug smuggling operations grind to a halt. To supply the required volume of narcotics to the American market means they need to traffic tons of drugs regularly. With legal border crossings now closely monitored and illegal crossings no longer viable because of the wall and FOBs with RDF teams, the cartels will face a crisis as their cross-border smuggling routes are effectively closed. Any cartel’s violent response will be short-lived, and they will soon realize they are not dealing with overwhelmed border authorities or local police patrols, but highly skilled and armed forces they cannot overcome.

A proven solution

The idea of FOBs is not a new concept for America. From 2009 onwards, an American-sponsored project designed to stop terrorist incursions and militancy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border produced outstanding results. The Border Security Program (BSP) supported the Pakistani government’s fight against terrorists with assistance from the USA’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The INL funded the project with $65 million in equipment, air support, and strategic insights, including 14 Huey II helicopters, three Cessna Caravan aircraft, 2,500 vehicles, communications equipment, and surveillance gear.

If this program was able to significantly reduce terrorism along the 1,640-mile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, America could easily adapt it to the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border to deal with narcotics, weapons, and human/sex trafficking. With American personnel and management, a “Southern Border Security Program” will yield even better results. It could also provide new opportunities to effectively deal with the narcotics crisis facing many American towns and cities.

America can no longer wait for the governments of China and Mexico to assist in effective bilateral cooperation to significantly mitigate the cartel narcotics threat that is killing over 100,000 Americans a year. The enhanced official cross-border regulations and FOB/RDF are the only practical mitigation efforts that can significantly decrease the increasing numbers of fentanyl-related overdose fatalities, the increasing numbers of long-term substance addiction and mental illness, drug-related crime, and deadly gang violence. In addition, putting US boots on the ground in Mexico is not an option when there is another way.

Real harm reduction

Once the program is implemented, American cities can begin implementing harm-reduction policies that work. The idea of harm reduction is that the overwhelming street supply of deadly fentanyl pills would be reduced to a very low level, providing an opportunity to effectively treat those who have a substance addiction and related mental illnesses. Currently, the cartels are using the excessive fentanyl supply to drive the demand higher, making it impossible to treat substance users without them relapsing back into old habits.

By reducing the supply of narcotics, cities could implement policies to help people overcome their addiction and reintegrate into society. It will assist in making communities safer as cartels’ and their gang proxies’ drug supply dries up, reversing urban decay and poverty that too often thrive in inner-city communities of color, leading to higher levels of substance addiction.

One potential unforeseen positive consequence of securing the border could be that the Mexican government will feel emboldened enough to challenge what is now a weakened cartel infrastructure and take the necessary actions to regain a sense of law and order.

The failure of the current Administration’s border policies is clear: uncontrolled immigration, terrorists gaining entry, and deadly narcotics flooding into the country. Border states are taking matters into their own hands due to their perception of the federal government’s failure to do anything to assist. However, while states deal with the problem, their most significant weakness is that their operations are not synchronized. Siloed operations produce some success, but will simultaneously leave vulnerabilities the cartels can exploit, leaving authorities overwhelmed and once again reacting to problems rather than proactively averting them with a firm and integrated border policy.

The enhanced FOB Border Security Initiative is a way to create a united front that will effectively degrade the national security threat posed by an unchecked, evolving cartel menace.

author avatar
Michael Brown
Michael W. Brown is the global director of counter-narcotics technology at Rigaku Analytical Devices. He has a distinguished career spanning more than 32 years as a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Most recently he was the DEA Headquarters staff coordinator for the Office of Foreign Operations for the Middle East-Europe-Afghanistan-India. Prior to that he served as the country attaché in India and Myanmar providing foreign advisory support for counter narcotic enforcement. He also spent 10 years in Pakistan as a special advisor to the US Embassy on various law enforcement issues. Michael is a graduate of the United States Ranger Training Battalion and has a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Technology and Management from the University of Eastern Michigan. Contact him at [email protected]
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Michael Brown
Michael Brown
Michael W. Brown is the global director of counter-narcotics technology at Rigaku Analytical Devices. He has a distinguished career spanning more than 32 years as a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Most recently he was the DEA Headquarters staff coordinator for the Office of Foreign Operations for the Middle East-Europe-Afghanistan-India. Prior to that he served as the country attaché in India and Myanmar providing foreign advisory support for counter narcotic enforcement. He also spent 10 years in Pakistan as a special advisor to the US Embassy on various law enforcement issues. Michael is a graduate of the United States Ranger Training Battalion and has a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Technology and Management from the University of Eastern Michigan. Contact him at [email protected]

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