New drug strategy focuses on technology

/ Source: The Associated Press

Obama administration officials said Friday they will devote more resources to fighting Mexican drug cartels and use new technology to thwart them while trying to quell the U.S. demand for drugs that fuels the violent gangs.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a 2009 counternarcotics strategy at a press conference with White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. Holder called it "an effective way forward that will crack down on cartels and make our country safer."

The strategy calls for a number of steps along the U.S.-Mexico border to combat and detect smugglers.

Steps include:

  • Building visual shields near border-crossing points so drug cartel spotters can't alert approaching motorists about inspections.
  • Improving non-lethal weapons technology to help officers incapacitate suspects and disable motor vehicles and boats used by traffickers.
  • Revive an interagency working group to coordinate intelligence.
  • Use more intelligence analysts to ferret out drug-dealing networks.

"This strategy is tough, it's strong and it's balanced," Holder said.

The plan is outlined in a document to be sent to Congress.

'International cooperation'
More than 10,800 people have been killed in Mexico by drug violence since December 2006. Mexico has deployed more than 45,000 soldiers across the country to fight the heavily armed cartels.

Holder and Napolitano praised efforts by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and said the United States must contribute to the fight.

"International cooperation is very, very key," Napolitano said. "We have an unprecedented opportunity to work on drug trafficking on both sides of the border. We should not let this opportunity go by."

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the strategy is missing a key piece:

"I am disappointed that it does not call on departments of Homeland Security and Justice to resolve their long-standing turf battles over drug investigations," the Mississippi Democrat said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants more of its agents to have the authority to do drug investigations. But this can only happen if the Drug Enforcement Administration agrees. No such agreement has been reached.

Napolitano conceded the plan outlined Friday doesn't address that issue but said Homeland Security and Justice officials have been working on it and will announce a solution "very, very shortly."

Reducing demand
Dozens of state and federal law-enforcement officials, state elected leaders, emergency management officials and state and federal prosecutors crowded a University of New Mexico ballroom for the announcement.

The drug strategy's long-range goals include developing new technology to process biometric information from documents used by Mexicans crossing the border. That would allow Customs and Border Patrol officers to run fingerprint checks on Mexicans who have border crossing cards to enter the U.S.

The Obama administration has pledged to provide more help in the effort, sending additional federal agents, officers, and equipment to the border and to Mexico to fight the Mexican cartels.

Napolitano said the U.S. strategy would also focus on reducing demand from drug users. The plan includes improved ways for federal agencies to share information with state and local law enforcement agencies.

"We can't just fight drugs at the border. We can't just fight drugs by fighting traffickers. We must fight drugs in the United States," Napolitano said.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which supports regulating the drug like alcohol, criticized the plan.

"This new effort will keep a lot of cops and bureaucrats employed but will accomplish very little otherwise, because it ignores the central problem, which is that marijuana prohibition has handed the Mexican cartels a massive market that keeps them fat and happy," said the group's spokesman, Bruce Mirken.

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