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Border Smuggling Resumes After 9-11 Lull

In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, law enforcement and industry sources reported drug seizures were down dramatically. Now it's back to business as usual for the black market.
 
 
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Five weeks ago, the counter-terrorism measures along U.S. borders had put a temporary glitch in the cross-border drug traffic. But in compliance with the laws of the market, the border drug slow-down has ended, according to U.S. law enforcement sources. In the days immediately following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, law enforcement and industry sources reported a standstill on the borders with seizures down dramatically. The presumption was that smugglers were afraid to cross the border in the teeth of the massive security crackdown. By noon on September 11, the entire U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canadian border had gone from their normal status to the highest alert -- "level one" -- which calls for searches of every vehicle crossing the border.

In South Texas in the ten days immediately following the attacks, cocaine seizures were down 90% and marijuana seizures down 50%, according to U.S. Customs spokesman Roger Maier in El Paso. But, Maier told the Knight Ridder newspapers, within the next 10-day period, marijuana seizures doubled to their normal levels and cocaine seizures increased 13-fold.

The same pattern has also held true along the Mexican border in California. U.S. Customs made only 63 drug seizures along the California border from September 9-22, but in the following two-week period the number of drug seizures nearly doubled, to 105.

"Our inspectors are raising trunks, raising the hoods, poking the back seats, checking documents, and questioning people more carefully," said San Diego-based U.S. Customs spokesman Vince Bond. "Smugglers do not like that level of exposure," Bond said, "but they have payrolls to meet like anyone else, and they know there's a market on this side of the border."

"The drug business is a money business, and there is demand for it," seconded Maier.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Will Glaspy, looking north toward the Canadian border, admitted that Canadian marijuana supplies in the U.S. are unlikely to suffer any lasting effect. "The drug trafficking organizations are pretty resourceful," Glaspy told the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. "If there's an increase in security and they think they will be compromised, they will adjust as needed to get the drugs to their customers. You're talking about an awfully big border."

Official ports of entry, of course, are only one way through the border. While Customs spokesman Bond argued that because of intense surveillance of the border, ports of entry are "the most likely crossing points," smugglers are likely turning to the good, old-fashioned methods: walking or boating across the thousands of miles of unprotected border, often in harsh and inaccessible terrain on both frontiers.

Canadian marijuana seed entrepreneur Marc Emery agreed, telling the Portland newspaper that Canadian pot smuggling professionals do not use roads or airplanes, but instead come across on trails or over the water. "I haven't met anybody who says their transport people have been compromised," said Emery. "Not only would you have to detect someone walking over in the middle of a national forest, but you'd need someone there to apprehend them."

Even with the proposed addition of hundreds of new Customs and Border Patrol agents on the 3,000 mile Canadian border, the northern frontier will remain an easy walk-through. The war on terrorism's impact on cross-border drug trafficking was fleeting. Now, war on terror or not, it's back to business as usual for the black market.

Philip Smith is the editor of DRCnet Week Online