The U.S. Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have announced a broad new plan to reduce the amount of drug activity in the Southwest, calling for increased coordination between federal, state, and local agencies and strengthening of joint U.S.-Mexican anti-trafficking efforts.
The strategy is another step in the Obama administration's effort to fight continued drug smuggling, following the administration's announcement in March of a $700 million effort to jointly work with Mexico on slowing the main entry channel for illegal drugs sold in the US.
"Drug trafficking cartels spread violence and lawlessness throughout our border region and reach into all of our communities, large and small," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement announcing the new plan which, he said, provides a way forward to crack down on the cartels.
The new strategy aims to combat these cartels by establishing new channels of communication between involved agencies and utilizing new personnel and technologies to expand the amount of information available.
It includes a call for increased prosecutorial and disruptive efforts, including the assignment of attorneys from the Department of Justice's Violent Crime and Gang Unit to the southwest border and additional resources for the offices of southwest U.S. Attorneys.
These steps from the Justice Department are designed to work in tandem with efforts by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The plan aims to weaken drug-smuggling organizations, which account for between $18 billion and $39 billion in money laundering annually, and builds on already existing plans to improve coordination between the U.S. and Mexican judicial and prosecutorial systems.
"Together, we will continue to reduce the flow of illegal drugs across the Southwest border and ensure that those who ignore our laws are prosecuted," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
At the federal level, it reestablishes the Interagency Working Group on Intelligence Coordination, which links efforts from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
It also calls for an expansion in the use and integration of technology, including license plate readers and biometric recognition software and databases and for new "non-intrusive inspection technologies" to be sent to the 43 legal points of entry on the border. The plan for increased use of databases is linked to the Mexican government's expanding reliance on biometric information and raises the possibilities of "future comprehensive bilateral collection, maintenance, and sharing of information" on potential smugglers between the two nations.
The modernization effort includes a review of all airborne tracking technologies in use on the border, including the use of unmanned aerial systems.
In addition to efforts to learn more about the people crossing the border, the Obama administration has called for increased scrutiny for cargo. The new plan calls for expanded K9 units to examine both vehicles and cargo shipments and for additional communication with the Mexican government to identify shipments that are more likely to contain contraband. ABC News reported in April that Mexican cartels were smuggling drugs into the U.S. using hidden compartments in tractor trailers and that fewer than 5 percent of the trucks were inspected at the border.
The plan also seeks additional personnel to be sent to the region, including the possibility of "deploying additional intelligence analysts from headquarters-type roles into frontline operational organizations," as part of an increased emphasis on linking intelligence collection efforts to on-the-ground concerns. An increase in the number of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents operating in Mexico and on the southwest border is also planned.
The new strategy dictates increased military-to-military communication between the two countries in a bid to slow the transfer of weapons to drug gangs. ABC News reported in April that U.S. gun stores and gun shows are the source of more than 90 percent of the weapons being used by Mexico's drug cartels.
The effort fits into the Obama administration's wide-ranging effort to reduce both the demand and supply of drugs inside the United States. This includes the previous $63.9 million in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriation Act designated for use in reducing the number of drug addicts in the U.S.
Ben Buchanan is a 2009 Summer intern with the Brian Ross Unit. He is a student at Georgetown University.