Senate Democrats

Following Senators’ Request, DHS Secretary Agrees 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 State-Based Pilot Program Showed Radar to Be Effective in Identifying and Catching Drug Smugglers – Senators Asked DHS To Resume and Expand Program

In Response To Question At DHS Oversight Hearing, Secretary Napolitano Agrees to Deploy Radar Along Northern Border – Announcement Follows Senators’ Request Last Month

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) last month 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.  Today, at a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversight hearing in the Judiciary Committee, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the department is working to deploy the radar.

“In this economic climate, federal agencies must find ways to do more with less,” said Senator Kohl.  “We know from experience that partnerships and more effective sharing of resources save costs and prevent wasteful duplication.  It’s good to see DHS working with DOD to move forward on securing our northern border from drug trafficking.”

“We have the technology to prevent drug smuggling from low-flying aircraft; today’s news means that we’re closer to using it,” said Senator Brown.  “Using high-tech radar technology along the Northern Border will detect drug smuggling and help stop illegal substances from entering the United States.”

“I’m pleased steps are now being taken to deploy radar at the northern border to combat drug traffickers who fly over Lake Erie,” said Senator Casey.  “This is an essential element to a broader strategy, that should also include increased support rather than cuts for local law enforcement, to tackle drug and gang crime.”

“Putting an effective new tool in our toolbox to better secure our border is good news for the Hi-Line  and for our country,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  “Folks on the ground in those communities understand the need to strengthen our border security—to keep our families safe from illegal drugs, illegal immigration and terrorism.  This radar is a cost-effective tool that takes us another step in the right direction toward getting smarter about northern border security.”

“Secretary Napolitano’s decision to deploy radar technology across the US-Canadian border to combat the increase in drug smuggling is a critical step in the right direction,” said Senator Schumer. “These recent shocking GAO 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 bordering states, and fortunately deploying this military-grade radar technology on the front lines has already proven effective in detecting low-flying planes that can be chock full of illegal drugs. I am pleased with today’s news, and will push the Department of Homeland Security to install these radars as quickly as possible.”

“There is no doubt 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. This commitment by Secretary Napolitano will put the resources we need on the ground to help keep New York communities safe and drug-free.”

A transcript is as follows:

SCHUMER:

I would also like to thank you for your service, Madam Secretary.

My question’s first on northern border and the radar system there. On December 17, 2010, the GAO issued a report on the state of security on the northern border, in which it indicated that, quote, “The northern air border is vulnerable to low-flying aircraft that, for example, smuggle drugs by entering U.S. airspace from Canada,” unquote.

A month ago, I along with many of my colleagues from northern border states sent you a letter, asking DHS to use military-grade radar along the northern border to detect low-flying planes. This technology was successfully used, as you know, in Washington State during Operation Outlook in 2008. Does the department plan on using this radar, and will the radar be deployed on the northern border in short order to deal with the drug smuggling, which has rapidly increased in my state and many others?

NAPOLITANO:

Senator, we are working with DOD and with NORTHCOM on radar and other related issues and technologies in efforts on the northern border.

SCHUMER:

How soon can we expect — can we expect to get it at some point?

NAPOLITANO:

Senator, I would prefer to answer some of those questions off-line, but I will simply state for open hearing purposes that this is moving very rapidly.

SCHUMER:

Yes. Good. And it’s a good idea.

NAPOLITANO:

Yes.

SCHUMER:

Thank you.

Background:

In their letter last month, 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 represents 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 they sent 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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