Senate Democrats

Border State Senators Urge Feds To Deploy Military-Grade Radar To Combat Increased Airborne Drug Smuggling Across US-Canada Border

Recent Reports Show Incidents of Drug Smuggling Along Northern Border Increasing – Federal Investigation Says Small, Low-Flying Planes Commonly Used

Washington, DC— With recent reports showing incidents of drug smuggling along the northern border increasing, U.S. Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) urged federal authorities to deploy tried and tested, military-grade radar technology to combat the illegal smuggling of drugs into the United States from Canada.  In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the senators urged the two federal agencies to deploy proven military radar technology to stop drug smugglers who use small aircrafts along the northern border.

“Federal and local law enforcement officials in Wisconsin who are charged with disrupting the flow of drugs through our state agree that northern border smuggling is a growing problem,” Sen. Kohl said.  “We hear about the path of illegal drugs from Chicago and the spread of meth from our western borders, but securing our northern border is too often overlooked.  We hope this strategy will be an effective part of our state law enforcement’s strategy.”

“This is about using all available resources to prevent drug smuggling on our northern borders,” Sen. Brown said. “We have the technology to prevent drug smuggling from low-flying aircraft, now we need to use it.”

“Drug trafficking into Pennsylvania that is feeding crime and gang activity must be stopped,” Sen. Casey said.  “A multi-pronged attack is required to catch drug smugglers or terrorists before they can cross the border over Lake Erie into Pennsylvania or other northern states.”

“An investigation that I asked for revealed that Customs and Border Protection has control over just one percent of the northern border.  That’s not acceptable.  We need to use every effective and affordable tool to do better,” Sen. Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said. “Folks on the ground in Montana understand the need to bolster border security, to keep our communities safe from illegal drugs, illegal immigration and terrorism.”

“These shocking reports make it clear that we have a long way to go when it comes to securing our northern border and keeping drugs out of New York,” Sen. Schumer said. “But it’s not all bad news. Fortunately, we have military-grade radar technology that has already proven effective in detecting low-flying planes that are chock full of illegal drugs and bound for the U.S. from Canada. The Department of Homeland Security and Defense Department need to work together to immediately bring these military-grade radars to the front lines in the fight to keep drugs from crossing the northern border into the U.S.”

“It is a fact. Vast drug networks along our northern border are exacerbating the gang-related violence in many communities across the state,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “This problem must be fought at its source. We need a commitment by Secretaries Napolitano and Gates to work with local communities along the border to make sure they have the resources to solve this problem and keep communities across the state safe from drug-related violence. With the right leadership and priorities, I’m confident we can put the resources we need on the ground to keep New York communities safe and drug-free.”

The senators pointed to the success of Operation Outlook, a pilot program run between 2005 to 2008 involving cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), which used sophisticated military radar technology along the Spokane, WA sector of the northern border to catch low-flying aircraft that would otherwise not have been caught with the current technology used by DHS. 

According to the Border Patrol, Operation Outlook “successfully identified air-related smuggling trends and patterns and organizations active in cross-border criminal activities” along the Spokane sector.  The senators are urging the feds to resume and expand the program.

The senators also urged that radar technology be included in the northern border counter-narcotics strategy currently being developed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).  The office is required to develop such a strategy as part of the Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act, passed by congress last year.

The increases in illegal drug smuggling across the U.S.-Canada border represent a real and serious threat.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in November 2010 signaling that “cross-border use of low-flying aircraft to smuggle drugs has been much higher than indicated by the number of drug seizures.”  In addition, a recent report from Hearst Newspapers indicates that “drug gangs ratcheted up shipments” of illegal drugs over the border during the last decade.

Given the success of Operation Outlook, and given the alarming increase in smuggling activity along the U.S.-Canada border, the senators wrote that they “stand ready to help with any legislation necessary to further…[the] mission of protecting America.”

A copy of the letter appears below.

February 10, 2010

The Honorable Janet Napolitano?Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security?U.S. Department of Homeland Security?Washington, DC 20528

The Honorable Robert Gates

Secretary of Defense

The Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Gates,

As Senators from border states, we write today to ask your agencies to further cooperate in combating the increased rate of drug smuggling across our northern border by deploying any and all available military radar technology to uncover and combat the smuggling of drugs by low-flying aircraft.

According to a recent report by Hearst Newspapers, incidents of drug smuggling along our northern border are increasing, and current efforts to combat smugglers are simply inadequate to address this growing problem.  Specifically, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in November 2010 that “cross-border use of low-flying aircraft to smuggle drugs has been much higher than indicated by the number of drug seizures.”

Fortunately, a proven solution exists and can immediately be deployed along the northern border to combat drug smuggling from low-flying aircraft.   In previous years, DHS and DOD have cooperated—as part of Operation Outlook—to use sophisticated military radar technology along the Spokane sector of our northern border to catch low-flying aircraft that would otherwise not have been caught with the current technology used by DHS.  According to the Border Patrol, Operation Outlook “successfully identified air-related smuggling trends and patterns and organizations active in cross border criminal activities” along the Spokane sector. 

Operation Outlook, however, was only a temporary program deployed in just one sector of our northern border.   Given what is at stake in combating illegal cross-border activity, and given its past success, I write to ask your agencies to coordinate in determining whether there is any unused radar technology that can be deployed along our northern border to combat drug smuggling—as was successfully done during Operation Outlook.  

Additionally, we ask that you work with the Office of National Drug Control Policy to include these radar technologies in their comprehensive plan to combat narcotics smuggling along the northern border.  The recently passed Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act requires ONDCP to develop such a plan.   

If there is any assistance you need from Congress in this regard, we stand ready to help with any legislation necessary to further this objective.   We thank you for your attention to this important matter, and look forward to working with you to assist you in your mission of protecting America.

Sincerely,

Sen. Herb Kohl?

Sen. Sherrod Brown?

Sen. Bob Casey?

Sen. Jon Tester?

Sen. Charles Schumer ?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

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