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Feds Don’t Know If They’re Effectively Fighting Cartels Smuggling Drugs, People

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials are investing significant federal resources to combat drug smuggling and human trafficking by Mexican cartels, which are using aircraft, boats and tunnels, but the agency doesn’t know if what they are doing works, a congressional watchdog reported Monday.

“Agency resources are being invested to address cross-border tunnels, ultralight aircraft and selected maritime smuggling methods and without some type of performance measurement, DHS does not have reasonable assurance that efforts to address these selected smuggling methods are effective,” the Government Accounting Office (GAO) said in the report.

Agency officials formed a panel in 2012 to select new technologies to fight the cartels but “the co-chaired committee has never convened,” and the official “responsible for tunnel coordination and oversight was unaware of the existence of the committee,” according to GAO.

Meanwhile, illegal tunnel usage increased significantly after border security was previously heightened, which included a border fence, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.

“As transnational criminal organizations have adapted their techniques to smuggle drugs and humans through cross-border tunnels, ultralight aircraft, [fishing] boats and recreational vessels to evade detection, it is vital that DHS respond accordingly in its border security enforcement efforts,” the report said. “Opportunities exist to ensure these efforts are effective and that managers and stakeholders have information needed to make decisions.”

Officials at DHS don’t know how productive they are at stopping smuggling through these routes, according to GAO. Two interagency task forces identify and destroy tunnels, for example, but DHS only reports how many tunnels were destroyed, not how many drugs were prevented from crossing the border.

The agency needs to standardize how it detects and stops smuggling through aircraft, boats and tunnels to ensure competent enforcement. Creating centralized training programs would also be beneficial.

DHS doesn’t have “comprehensive department-level standard operating procedures” regarding tunnel interdictions, which would “provide strategic guidance and facilitate information sharing department-wide,” the report said. “CBP did not have an accepted set of tactics, techniques, and procedures, such as best practices and tunnel activity indicators.”

Consequently, “Border Patrol personnel conducting tunnel prediction operations may not have access to all pertinent information,” the account continued. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “and Border Patrol officials from three different sectors indicated a national-level office could help support counter-tunnel efforts by providing guidance, training and strategic-level insight on tunnels.”

There were 67 cross-border tunnels, 534 ultralight aircraft incursions and 309 drug smuggling incidents through fishing and recreational vessels from 2011 through 2016, according to GAO. DHS has “seized millions of pounds of drugs and hundreds of thousands of individuals attempting to illegally enter the United States, mostly along the southwest border,” the report said.

“The number of known smuggling events involving these methods generally declined over this period, but they remain threats,” the document said. “While these methods account for a small proportion of known smuggling, they can be used to transport significant quantities of drugs or for terrorist activity.”

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