Military Involvement

For a variety of reasons, there was pressure throughout the 1980s to increase the extent of military involvement in drug interdiction. The drug problem was viewed as a national crisis with an important international element. The military was seen as having unique capabilities, both of equipment and of training, to protect the borders.

The military had been ambivalent about entering the drug interdiction arena to any significant degree, seeing it as potentially corrupting and an inappropriate diversion from its primary mission. With the collapse of its principal strategic enemy, the Soviet Union, the U.S. military has become more willing to play a major interdiction role. This has been reflected in large increases to the military budgets to handle these new responsibilities. Current law prohibits arrests by military personnel. Accordingly, military participation has been confined to detection and monitoring rather than pursuit and apprehension.

The U.S. Navy provides a number of ships for interdiction patrols in both the Caribbean and the Pacific, combining training with a useful mission. The military runs the integrated radar and communication system that links the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, and other agencies. There have been no reports of significant problems of corruption associated with the military role in drug interdiction, but relations between the military and the civilian law-enforcement agencies with primary jurisdiction have sometimes been strained, the result largely of differences in organizational cultures.

With the proliferation of U.S. government units involved in interdiction, the need arose for coordinated command. The government has two Joint Inter-Agency Task Forces, one based in Key West,

Florida, the other in Alameda, California. These task forces coordinate transit zone activities, including the U.S.-Mexico land border and air and maritime traffic along the borders and sea coasts. The U.S. Interdiction Coordinator is the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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