Drug Interdiction: The Rise of Terror Groups’ Narco Submarines



Mike O'Brien
06/05/2013

An international drug trafficking ring that for two years smuggled cocaine into Europe inside crates of frozen fish has been smashed, Brazilian police announced on Tuesday.

With the help of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, forces from five different countries arrested a Colombian, two Portuguese, three Spaniards and five Brazilians.

Federal police inspector Paulo Teles said the cocaine, which came from Colombia and Bolivia, was hidden inside bags of ice used to pack the fish in southern Brazil and then flown to Portugal. Assets belonging to the gang worth $5 million have been seized.

The case illustrates the increasingly inventive methods that drug interdiction authorities have to deal with in the continuing war on narco-terrorism.

In the Caribbean, U.S. authorities have in the past year found that semi-submersible and fully submersible vessels are the narco-terrorists’ transportation method of choice.

The submarines, or narco subs, typically tend to be low-slung, diesel-propelled vessels, usually painted a dark shade to blend with the water.

They are often built by independent contractors who are willing to sell the vessels to any group offering the right price.

The shifting trends in contraband distribution will be discussed at IDGA’s Counter Narco-Terrorism and Drug Interdiction event in September.

In the last year, the U.S. Coast Guard has come across at least three models of a new and sophisticated drug-trafficking submarine capable of traveling completely underwater from South America to the coast of the United States.

The fully submersible vessels can hold up to 10 tons of cocaine and, in an effort to avoid detection, surface at night to charge their batteries off the onboard diesel engine.

For the USCG, the narco subs represent a radical departure from the traditional speed boats and high-powered fishing and leisure boats that are much easier to spot.

From the subs, the drugs are unloaded in shallow waters or transported to shore by small boats.

Cmdr. Mark J. Fedor of the Coast Guard described, in an interview with the New York Times, the new breed of narco subs as "the Super Bowl of counter-narcotics."

He said: "When you hear one is moving, you say: ‘Wow. Game on’.

"These vessels are seaworthy enough that I have no doubt in my mind that if they had enough fuel, they could easily sail into a port in the United States."

Working within the constraints of budget restrictions, the new counter narco-terrorism push is part of a larger shift to new areas of focus for the nation’s security and intelligence agencies after years in Iraq and the oncoming withdrawal fromAfghanistan.

Aside from USCG ships, drones and aircraft combing the waters, a sophisticated command center has been established that combines intelligence from various U.S. agencies and from other nations in the region, which are increasingly cooperating to battle cocaine trafficking.

The enemy is usually Colombia’s FARC group which uses cocaine to fund its operations, plus the various Mexican drug cartels.

The command center, in Key West, is officially known as the Joint Interagency Task Force-South. It has a staff of 600 with the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State and Defense all being represented.

IDGA’s Counter Narco-Terrorism and Drug Interdiction summit is being held in Miami from September 16-18. For full details, go to www.CounterTerrorismEvent.com

Watch a video below of a narco sub being chased by counter-drug authorities.