United States federal law enforcement lack the necessary resources and personnel in the Caribbean Sea to combat the escalation of drug trafficking, violence, and the threat of human smuggling and weapons of mass destruction destined for the U.S. Mainland. America's unprotected Caribbean border was the subject of a hearing before the Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee.
"This is an area that has been overlooked by the federal government," said Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the subcommittee. "This is a wide open back door to the United States and we need to shut it. It is a growing pipeline for drugs into our neighborhoods and we know that terrorists who seek to do us harm inside our borders look to exploit established criminal networks and smuggling routes. Without a comprehensive strategy and resources the region could continue to spiral out of control."
According to the Intelligence Chief for the Drug Enforcement Agency, larger and larger loads of both cocaine and heroin are taking maritime routes widely used in the 1980's from South and Central America, to Puerto Rico. As much as 80% of cocaine trafficked through Puerto Rico is directed to U.S. East Coast cities and distributed throughout the country. 30% of cocaine reaching the U.S. mainland comes through the Caribbean, according to the National Drug Threat Assessment.
In 2011, 165,000 metric tons of illegal drugs were seized in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico, up 36% over four years. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, once shipments of illegal contraband reach the Commonwealth, they are unlikely to be subjected to further U.S. Customs inspections en route to the continental United States. The threat this hole in security poses to national security is amplified as the Caribbean region is susceptible to smuggling nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological materials.
As drug trafficking organizations increase their use of semi-submersible vessels, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee testified they are pushing the limits of aerial surveillance and radar capabilities used to detect them. As DTO's enhance their technology, tracking will be impossible without help from U.S. Navy operations.
"The fact of the matter though is that as these organizations emerge into the fully submersible technology, which we know they already have the capability of doing we have no method of detecting them once they become subsurface," RADM Lee testified. "When the appropriate naval resources are in that area of operations some of them do have that capability."
The reality is that federal and state law enforcement have not been able to keep pace with this agile and well-funded enemy," Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno testified. "As a result, the U.S. Caribbean Border is experiencing a dramatic upsurge in drug related crime and violence."
Gov. Fortuno implored the Obama administration to implement a strategy and resources to help the local police force protect the island's 3.7 million citizens. He asserted there are disproportionately fewer federal law enforcement assigned to the Caribbean region and that agencies including the DEA, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) have a high rate of vacancies among their ranks.