With recent reports showing incidents of drug smuggling along the northern border increasing, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Herb Kohl (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Charles E. Schumer (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.
"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."
"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."
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."