US puts finger in drug dike, but new leaks spring out
The latest attempts to prevent drug smuggling seem to be getting results. But whether these new crackdowns on smugglers amount to little more than sandbags stacked up against a flood remains to be seen.
Arrests of smugglers are increasing, especially in Florida, where the highly publicized South Florida Task Force, comprised of federal and local officials, has reduced to a trickle the flow of illegal drugs into the region. Nationwide, federal authorities seized more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine during the first six months of this year, up from 4,353 pounds for all of 1981.
Just last week, US Coast Guard officials seized a Danish freighter near Cape Cod, Mass., which they said contained up to 100 tons of marijuana. And officials in New York City announced the formation of a task force that will reportedly oversee the demolition of dozens of abandoned tenements in the city's Lower East Side, said to be a haven for a multimillion-dollar heroin and cocaine industry.
Moreover, as a result of a shift in federal responsibility, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), together with the US Navy and Air Force, is playing a far more active role in drug enforcement this year. For example, as of July 1, 1982, the FBI was working on 780 drug cases (compared with virtually none for the same period in previous years), including 170 in tandem with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which still bears most of the responsibility for drug enforcement.
Some DEA agents are concerned that the FBI lacks the necessary expertise on drug matters. And critics doubt the Reagan administration can sustain any measure of success in its crusade against drug smuggling.
Chief among them is US Rep. Leo C. Zeferetti (D) of New York, chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. In an interview in his Brooklyn office, Zeferetti told the Monitor that Washington's battle against drug smugglers was ''neither cohesive nor comprehensive.''
''We have to have a national strategy to combat the drug traffic on a long-term basis, every place it threatens us,'' Zeferetti contends. ''Short-term reactions to local crises are not the answer.''
While he was pleased with the number of drug smugglers arrested in southern Florida recently, Zeferetti stresses that extra enforcement efforts there have ''left other areas of the country more vulnerable to drug traffic.''
According to the DEA's latest figures, 57 DEA agents from other parts of the country and some US Coast Guard and US Customs contingents have been assigned temporarily to the South Florida Task Force. One direct result of this shift in manpower, Zeferetti maintains, is an ''enormous increase'' in the amount of heroin and cocaine being smuggled into the New York City area.
A sign that some smugglers have been able to bypass the massive federal enforcement effort in Florida was the seizure of a large cargo of cocaine from a Colombian ship docked in Brooklyn, Zeferetti says.
Another issue that concerns Zeferetti and others is the proposed budget cutbacks for the US Coast Guard. For fiscal year 1982 the budget was $2.4 billion; for 1983 the administration has proposed a $1.97 billion budget.
But Reagan administration officials contend the cuts will be more than compensated for by a bill Congress passed last year allowing US Navy and Air Force planes equipped with electronic gear to help the Coast Guard pursue smugglers.
Zeferetti and some Coast Guard sources disagree, arguing that these armed services agencies, lacking the Coast Guard's experience with drug matters, can only act as ''the eyes and ears'' of the Coast Guard.
As to the charge that drug enforcement lacks cohesiveness, some administration officials concede privately that that efforts are, indeed, somewhat ''in flux.'' But they point out that just last month the administration moved to solidify its efforts by using an executive order to create a Drug Abuse Policy Office within the Office of Policy Development in the White House. Among other things, the Drug Abuse Policy Office will help cordinate the drug enforcement work of a number of agencies, including the DEA, FBI, the US Bureau of Prisons, and the Coast Guard.