New drug war strategy focuses on weapons and cash

June 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Obama administration plans to use a combination of new technology and old-fashioned police work to crack down on the extensive drug trade along the U.S.-Mexican border. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are due to announce a 2009 counternarcotics strategy at a press conference in Albuquerque, N.M. with White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

The strategy, obtained by The Associated Press, calls for a number of steps along the border to combat and detect smugglers, including:

-- Building visual shields near border-crossing points so that 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.

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

More than 10,750 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.

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," Thompson, D-Miss., 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.

The 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. If the person had a criminal record, that could help investigators stop more low-level drug mules.

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.

Speaking in Tuscon, Ariz., Thursday, Napolitano said the U.S. strategy would also focus on reducing demand from drug users.

"This is not just about slowing or impeding the flow of drugs from Mexico and Central America into the United States, it's also about reducing the demand for those drugs," she 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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Associated Press Writer Arthur H. Rotstein in Tuscon contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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