United States Coast Guard (USCG)

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

The USCG plays a crucial role in efforts to keep dangerous narcotic drugs moving by sea from reaching the United States. Working within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in carrying out its responsibilities within the National Drug Control Strategy, the USCG maintains a multi-faceted, layered approach to combat Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) networks and their transport of illicit contraband from South America toward the United States via the Caribbean Sea, the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and through Central America and Mexico. The overarching strategy is to increase maritime border security through a layered system that extends beyond our land borders. This system begins overseas, spans the offshore regions, and continues into our territorial seas and our ports. The Coast Guard’s mix of cutters, aircraft, boats, and deployable specialized forces, as well as international and domestic partnerships, allow the Coast Guard to leverage its unique maritime law enforcement authorities and competencies to address threats and to improve security throughout the maritime domain. Coast Guard efforts focus on removing illegal drugs as close to their origins in South America and as far from U.S. shores as possible, where drug shipments are in their most concentrated bulk form. Moreover, these illicit cargoes are most vulnerable when they are being moved at sea through international waters. This is where interdiction forces have the highest tactical advantage, and best opportunity to interdict drug movements. The next step in the maturation of maritime law enforcement is conducting operations specifically targeted to disrupt and dismantle the TOC networks that traffic illicit materials. The result can produce deleterious impacts on criminal networks.

Counternarcotics Operations: Detection of narcotics trafficking vessels occurs principally through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of tactical information and strategic intelligence combined with effective sensors operating from land, air and surface assets. The six million square mile transit zone is far too expansive to randomly patrol; targeting information is necessary to focus efforts. Upon detection, U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies provide monitoring, relaying data, imagery and position information until an appropriate interdiction asset arrives on scene. The USCG is the lead U.S. federal agency for drug interdiction on the high seas, and takes tactical control of U.S. and Allied assets for the interdiction and apprehension operational phase. A crucial ingredient for continued maritime drug interdiction success, are the USCG’s counter drug bilateral agreements and operational procedures held with over 40 partner nations. By facilitating operational communications and enabling USCG law enforcement officers to stop, board, and search vessels suspected of illicit maritime activity, these agreements deter smugglers from using another nation’s vessel and/or territorial seas as a haven from law enforcement efforts.

International Cooperative Efforts: In 2015, the USCG had 52 personnel deployed abroad to facilitate maritime counterdrug activities including security assistance, intelligence collection and dissemination, and liaison internally and externally. The USCG, in concert with the Department of State, hosts three Counter Drug Summits per calendar year: two biannual Multilateral Maritime Counter Drug Summits (Central and South America) and the annual Multilateral Maritime Interdiction and Prosecution Summit (Caribbean). These summits have a combined annual attendance of more than 35 countries, over 60 international agencies and more than 300 people. Topics range from maritime interdiction to prosecution, criminal investigations and improving regional success in all aspects of the interdiction continuum. To counter trans-Atlantic drug flows, the USCG continues to work with U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to expand maritime training and operations for West African countries through the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP).

International Training and Technical Assistance: The USCG provides international training and technical assistance to enhance the interdiction capacities of international partners. The Technical Assistance Field Team (TAFT), a joint initiative between USCG and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), is a team of eight USCG engineers and logisticians whose purpose is to professionalize and improve the operational readiness of 13 Caribbean maritime forces through technical assistance visits. The USCG’s Security Assistance Program offers both resident training programs and mobile training teams (MTTs) to partner nation maritime services around the world to advance the capability of their naval and coast guard forces. In 2015, the USCG deployed 55 MTTs to 33 countries, and partner nation students attended 242 resident courses at USCG training installations.

Operational Highlights: In 2015, the USCG expended over 2,300 cutter days, 1,400 Airborne Use of Force capable helicopters days, and 4,000 surveillance aircraft hours on counterdrug patrols, and USCG Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDET) deployed for over 1,100 days aboard U.S. Navy, British, Dutch and Canadian warships. As a result, the USCG disrupted 228 drug smuggling attempts, which included the seizure of 145 vessels, detention of 503 suspected smugglers, and removal of 143 metric tons (MT) of cocaine and 35 MT of marijuana.