Skip navigation.

Interdiction of Drugs

  1. "drug interdiction — A continuum of events focused on interrupting illegal drugs smuggled by air, sea, or land. Normally consists of several phases – cueing, detection, sorting, monitoring, interception, handover, disruption, endgame, and apprehension – some which may occur simultaneously.

    "Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms," Joint Publication 1-02, Nov. 8 2010 (As Amended Through Aug. 15, 2012), p. 96.

  2. (Interdiction Funding Request from US President's FY2015 Drug Control Budget)
    "The budget request for interdiction efforts, which include intercepting and ultimately disrupting shipments of illegal drugs and their precursors, as well as the proceeds, totals approximately $3.9 billion in FY 2015, a decrease of $184.8 million (‐4.6%) from the FY 2014 level. The major efforts are highlighted below.
    "Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ($2,189.5 million)
    "Department of Homeland Security
    "CBP supports disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations that move drugs, weapons, and illicit proceeds into and out of the United States, by using its wide range of resources and ground, air and maritime assets to interdict and disrupt the flow of narcotics and other contraband across our Nation’s borders. CBP's flexible narcotics interdiction efforts work to counter the constantly shifting narcotics threat at and between the ports of entry.
    "United States Coast Guard (USCG) ($1,205.4 million)
    "Department of Homeland Security
    "As a part of its larger mission to ensure maritime security, the USCG works to reduce the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States by denying smugglers access to maritime routes. In addition to maintaining an interdiction presence based on the availability of assets, the USCG also works to strengthen ties with partner nations to increase their willingness and ability to reduce the trafficking of illicit drugs within their sovereign boundaries.
    "Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Interdiction Support ($11.9 million)
    "Department of Transportation/FAA
    "Air traffic controllers staffing Air Route Traffic Control Centers monitor the Air Defense Identification Zones to detect possible suspicious aircraft movement. When suspicious movement is identified, the FAA notifies the DEA and USCG of such activity. Upon confirmation of suspicious aircraft movement, FAA controllers support interdiction efforts by providing radar vectors to track the time of arrival, traffic advisory information, and last known positions to intercept aircrafts of interest.
    "Department of Defense Drug Interdiction ($435.4 million)
    "Department of Defense
    "The Department of Defense (DoD) serves as the lead agency of the Federal Government for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs into the United States. It fulfills this mission through its operation of Joint Interagency Task Forces South and West, which work to detect, monitor, and disrupt the flow of illicit traffic to the United States, as well as its intelligence collection, maritime, and air capabilities."

    "National Drug Control Budget: FY 2015 Funding Highlights" (Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy), March 2014, pp. 9-10.

  3. (Customs and Border Protection Agency, 2009) "In fiscal year 2009 alone, CBP processed more than 360 million pedestrians and passengers, 109 million conveyances, apprehended over 556,000 illegal aliens between our ports of entry, and encountered over 224,000 inadmissible aliens at our ports of entry. We also seized more than 5.2 million pounds of illegal drugs. Every day, CBP processes over 1 million travelers seeking to enter the United States by land, air, or sea."

    Frost, Thomas M., "New Border War: Corruption of U.S. Officials by Drug Cartels," Hearing before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, (Washington, DC: United States Senate, May 10, 2010), pp. 6-7.

  4. (Worldwide Cocaine Seizures, 2010) "With 694 tons of cocaine of unknown purity seized in 2010, compared with 732 tons in 2009, global cocaine seizures have remained relatively stable in recent years (see figure 24). Comparing trends in cocaine seizures and manufacture, it can be noted that seizures increased significantly, at a much faster pace than cocaine manufacture, between 2001 and 2005, when drug control efforts were intensified, particularly in the vicinity of cocaine-manufacturing countries such as Colombia, which was then by far the world’s largest producer. During that period, South America and Central America accounted for more than two thirds of the increase in global cocaine seizures. After 2005, cocaine seizures decreased at a comparable rate to manufacture and drug control successes became increasingly difficult to achieve, as traffickers adapted their strategies and developed new methods. This could have contributed to the decrease in recent annual cocaine seizure totals, which failed to reach the peak level of 2005. While the total weight of seized cocaine remained rather stable from 2006 to 2010, the amount of pure cocaine removed from the illicit market was actually smaller because the purity of the cocaine on the market decreased. For example, the average purity of the cocaine seized in the United States fell from 85 per cent in 2006, the highest annual average in the period 2001-2010, to only 73 per cent in 2010, the lowest level in that period."

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), p. 36.

  5. (Seizure Statistics May Be Misleading) "Comparing absolute numbers of total cocaine seizures and manufacture could be misleading. To understand the relationship between the amount of annual seizures reported by States (694 tons cocaine of unknown purity in 2010) and the estimated level of manufacture (788-1,060 tons of cocaine of 100 per cent purity), it would be necessary to take into account several factors, and the associated calculations would depend on a level of detail in seizure data that is often unavailable. Making purity adjustments for bulk seizures, which contain impurities, cutting agents and moisture, to make them directly comparable with the cocaine manufacture estimates, which refer to a theoretical purity of 100 per cent, is difficult, as in most cases the purity of seized cocaine is not known and varies significantly from one consignment to another. The total amount of seized cocaine reported by States is also likely to be an overestimation. Large-scale maritime seizures, which account for a large part of the total amount of cocaine seized, often require the collaboration of several institutions in a country or even in several countries. 76 Therefore, double counting of reported seizures of cocaine cannot be excluded."

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), pp. 36-37.

  6. (Cocaine Smuggling to the US) "The smuggling of cocaine into the United States was dominated by two Colombian drug cartels, the Medellin and Cali cartels, until the early 1990s. Those organizations controlled the entire supply chain. They proved to be the last of their kind, though, as they were dismantled by the mid-1990s. A large number of smaller Colombian cartelitos (small cartels) then emerged and changed the operation of the supply chain by selling cocaine to Mexican groups, as well as to customers in the emerging cocaine markets in Europe. The Mexican groups controlled the trafficking from Mexico into the United States. The shipment methods have changed, too: while originally most of the cocaine shipments went directly from Colombia to the United States by air, nowadays the shipments are mainly sent by boat or semi-submarine to the Central American/Mexican corridor and then overland into the United States."

    UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), p. 84.

  7. (Heroin Smuggling into the US) "The smuggling of heroin into and within the United States was dominated by Italian organized criminal groups after the Second World War. Those groups purchased heroin and had it transported into the United States via Turkey and France. Later, major Chinese groups, known as “triads”, brought heroin via the territory of present-day Hong Kong, China, until Latin American heroin started to be trafficked into the United States in the mid-1990s, mainly by Colombian and Mexican groups. As heroin production in Colombia has declined in recent years, more of the heroin appears to be coming from Mexico."

    UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), p. 84.

  8. (Global Heroin Seizures, 2011) "The fluctuation in Afghan opium production affected the European market, which has seen decreased supply, owing in part to successful law enforcement activity, as well as to changes in trafficking flows. Heroin seizures have also decreased in Europe since 2009. In Western and Central Europe, greater access to treatment and alternatives to heroin, along with relatively smaller numbers of new heroin users, have contributed to a change in the structure of the European heroin market. While the decreased heroin supply also affected Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, structural changes on the demand side to the extent observed in Western and Central Europe were not reported in those subregions.
    "Increased law enforcement activity, as reflected in the figures for global heroin seizures, also affected the supply to Europe, where heroin seizures declined by 28 per cent in 2011 to 16 tons, only half the amount seized in 2008 (29 tons). A decline was also noticed in heroin seizures in the Islamic Republic of Iran (by 15 per cent to 23 tons) and Turkey (by 43 per cent to 7 tons) in 2011, two countries on the Balkan route through which Afghan opiates reach Europe.
    "Interestingly, heroin seizures had already started to decline in 2010 in Turkey and South-East Europe, despite the fact that they are further along the trafficking route than the Islamic Republic of Iran.
    "EMCDDA argues that the decline in seizures reported in Turkey and the European Union in 2010 and 2011 could be a result of changes in both trafficking flows and law enforcement activity.65"

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2013 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.13.XI.6), pp. 31-32.

  9. (Heroin Trafficking and Seizures in the Americas, 2011) "All countries in the Americas, except Canada, are supplied by heroin produced in the region. According to Government reports, the Canadian heroin market is supplied by heroin originating in Asia, mainly Afghanistan. Middle Eastern and Asian organized criminal groups both within Canada and abroad continued to be involved in the smuggling of heroin intended for Canada.78
    "The available information on heroin production in Colombia and Mexico, two important supply countries for the United States market, is inconsistent and does not fully explain the heroin supply situation in the region, given that the potential cultivation is greater in Mexico, while the United States reports Colombia as its main supplier.79 There is insufficient information about the role played by heroin originating in Afghanistan for the United States market.
    "In Colombia, between 2007 and 2011, 4 tons of heroin of unknown purity was seized, while potential production amounted to 6 tons of pure heroin. In 2010, the amount of heroin (of unknown quality) seized was even larger than the amount of potential production in the country. Allowing for lower purity of the seized heroin, this would indicate a very high seizure rate, which would leave only a small amount of heroin for local consumption and export. Though, with an annual prevalence of only 0.02 per cent among those aged 15-64 years, opiates are not widely used in the country, and the number of estimated opiate users is around 6,000.
    "Official data show a strong decline in opium and heroin production in Colombia over the period 1998-2007 and further declines to 2011. However, heroin prices did not increase. Nominal prices for heroin at the wholesale level were lower in 2011 in both dollars and Colombian pesos, than they were five years before, suggesting that the supply of heroin did not drastically diminish.
    "In comparison, in Mexico, potential heroin production is estimated to be 30 times higher than in Colombia, and heroin seizures reached the Colombian level in 2011. Despite this, and while acknowledging the growing importance of Mexico as a supply country for heroin reaching its market, the United States – on the basis of information from its Heroin Signature Program – continues to consider Colombia the primary source of heroin in the country,80 although heroin from South-West Asia continues to be available. The United States estimates poppy cultivation in Mexico at 12,000 hectares,81 with a correspondingly higher potential production of heroin.82
    "It is unclear how Colombia, given its much lower potential production, could supply larger amounts to the United States market than Mexico. This points to heroin production in Colombia having a greater degree of importance than that reflected in the available potential production estimates, and/or different interpretations could be drawn from the United States Heroin Signature Program, since 'investigative reporting suggests that heroin producers in Mexico maybe using Colombian processing techniques'.83

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2013 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.13.XI.6), pp. 36-37.

  10. (Trends in Cocaine Trafficking) "While their decline began in 2005, cocaine seizures in the United States have followed a downward trend similar to the prevalence of cocaine itself, suggesting that falling seizures reflect a decreasing supply of cocaine reaching the United States. One reason contributing to the time lag that emerges from these similar, but unsynchronized, trends, with changes in seizure data occurring earlier than changes in prevalence data, is that seizures usually occur relatively near to the start of the trafficking cycle, whereas consumption usually takes place at its end."

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), p. 37.

  11. (Cocaine Trafficking to Europe) "In contrast to North America, where prevalence of cocaine use and cocaine seizures have fallen in parallel, the stability of the prevalence of cocaine use in Western and Central Europe has not coincided with stable seizure levels, as the seizure levels have fallen by some 50 per cent since 2006. A report of the European Police Office (Europol) on maritime seizures of cocaine suggests that a change in trafficking modes could have contributed to this apparent mismatch.82 While overall seizures have decreased, the amount of cocaine seized in containers has actually increased in countries covered by the study, such as Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Seizures of cocaine found on vessels (but not inside containers) have decreased over the same period, implying that traffickers are increasingly making use of containers on the European route by taking advantage of the large volume of container shipments between South America and Europe.83 Semi-submersible boats, which are known to be used on the Pacific route, do not yet play a role in transatlantic trafficking.84 Meanwhile, the West African route, which became more and more popular up until 2007, has since become less important."

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), p. 38.

  12. (Cocaine Markets Expanding) "An even greater increase in cocaine seizures can be seen in East Africa and Oceania, where the 2009/2010 levels were about four times higher than in 2005/2006, and in East and South-East Asia. In Oceania (2.6 per cent and increasing in Australia and 0.6 per cent in New Zealand), annual prevalence of cocaine use is high compared with South-East Asian countries (Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand), where less than 0.1 per cent of the adult population use cocaine. However, for many Asian countries, including China and India, no recent information on cocaine use is available. Limited information from Africa suggests that cocaine trafficking via West Africa may be having a spillover effect on countries in that region, with cocaine use possibly emerging alongside heroin use as a major problem among drug users."

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), p. 40.

  13. (Global Opiate Seizures) "The world only intercepts one fifth of the global opiate flows every year, with very mixed performances at the country level. The Islamic Republic of Iran has the highest seizures rate, at 20 per cent. Next are China (18 per cent) and Pakistan (17 per cent). In the two main source countries, Afghanistan and Myanmar, seizures represent only 2 per cent each of the world total. An equally insignificant 2 per cent is seized in South-Eastern Europe, the last segment of the Balkan route to Europe. Along the Northern route (Central Asia - Russia), the interception rate is also low (4-5 per cent)."

    United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, "Addiction, Crime and Insurgency: The transnational threat of Afghan opium" (Vienna, Austria: October 2009), p. 7.

  14. (Effectiveness of Interdiction Spending) "In 2005, the federal government spent $2.6 billion to disrupt and deter the transport of illicit drugs into the United States. While international efforts to step up drug seizures may affect availability, price and consequences associated with a particular drug (i.e., cocaine or heroin), CASA was unable to find evidence that such strategies have an overall impact on reducing substance abuse and addiction or its costs to government."

    National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, "Shoveling Up II: The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets" (New York, NY: CASA, May 2009), p. 58.

  15. (US Customs and Border Protection Agency) "CBP is actually the largest law enforcement organization in the United States, comprised of 20,000 Border Patrol agents deployed between the ports of entry and over 20,000 CBP officers actually stationed at the various land, air, and sea ports of entry throughout our country. They are joined by an 1,000-agent force of air and marine interdiction agents, whose job it is to implement the air and maritime responsibilities of CBP. There are an additional 2,300 agricultural specialists and other professionals that bring the sum total of CBP staffing, as is reflected in the chart,2 to over 58,000 individuals."

    Tomsheck, James F., "New Border War: Corruption of U.S. Officials by Drug Cartels," Hearing before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration, of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, (Washington, DC: US Senate, May 10, 2010), p. 6.

  16. (Cocaine Transshipment Through Mexico, 2006) "The US authorities estimate that around 90% of the cocaine, which entered their country in 2006, transited the Mexico-Central America corridor. The amounts of cocaine trafficked into the United States declined, however, in 2006 and this trend became more pronounced in 2007 as Mexican authorities stepped up efforts to fight the drug cartels operating on their territory, which also increased the level of cocaine related violence in Mexico. US cocaine seizures along the country’s southern border declined by 20% over the first two quarters of 2007 on a year earlier and by almost 40% in the second quarter of 2007, as compared to the second quarter of 2006. The main entry point of cocaine into the United States continues to be the common border of Mexico with southern Texas (accounting for a third of all seizures along the border with Mexico in 2006), followed by the border with southern California (18%).14"

    United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, "World Drug Report 2008" (United Nations: Vienna, Austria, 2008), p. 77.

  17. (Transshipment Through Mexico) "As Mexican traffickers wrested control of the most valuable portions of the trafficking chain from the Colombians, Mexico itself has become by far the most important conduit for cocaine entering the United States. Today, some 200 mt of cocaine transits Central America and Mexico annually, bringing some US$6 billion to the regional 'cartels'. As a result, those who control the portions of the Mexican border through which the bulk of the drug passes have gained wealth and power comparable to that commanded by the Colombian cartels in their heyday. These groups command manpower and weaponry sufficient to challenge the state when threatened, including access to military arms and explosives."

    UNODC, World Drug Report 2010 (United Nations Publication, Sales No. E.10.XI.13), p. 237.

  18. (Reliance on Interdiction Backfires) "One flaw of current U.S.-Mexico strategy is the false presumption that international trafficking of drugs, guns, and cash can be effectively addressed through interdiction, particularly along the nearly two thousand- mile U.S.-Mexico border. After a three-decade effort to beef up security, the border is more heavily fortified than at any point since the U.S.-Mexico war of 1846–48. The United States has deployed more than twenty thousand border patrol agents and built hundreds of miles of fencing equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment, all at an annual cost of tens of billions of dollars. Although this massive security buildup at the border has yielded the highest possible operational control, the damage to Mexico’s drug cartels caused by border interdiction has been inconsequential.43 Meanwhile, heightened interdiction at the border has had several unintended consequences, including added hassles and delays that obstruct billions of dollars in legitimate commerce each year, the expansion and increased sophistication of cross-border smuggling operations, and greater U.S. vulnerability to attacks and even infiltration by traffickers.44 Further efforts to beef up the border through more patrolling and fencing will have diminishing returns, and will likely cause more economic harm than gains in security for the struggling communities of the border region.45"

    Shirk, David A., "Drug War in Mexico: Confronting a Shared Threat," Council on Foreign Relations, Center for Preventive Action (Washington, DC: March 2011), p. 18.

  19. One of the major problems with supply reduction efforts (source control, interdiction, and domestic enforcement) is that, "suppliers simply produce for the market what they would have produced anyway plus enough extra to cover anticipated government seizures."

    Rydell, C.P. & Everingham, S.S., Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army (Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND, 1994), p. 6.

  20. (Interdiction Estimate Accuracy) "As far as trafficking is concerned, a comparison with the interception rate of opiates in 1998 (17%), makes the interception rate of 46% reported for cocaine for the same year appear extremely high. Assuming a similar volume of seizures in 1999, the rate would be even higher (50%). For the reasons mentioned above, there are thus some doubts about the accuracy of the total potential cocaine production reported during the past few years (765 mt in 1999)."

    United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 2000 (New York, NY: UNDCP, 2000), p. 32.

  21. "Since the late 1990s, the US policy has linked its counternarcotics policy with counterterrorism policy in Afghanistan. However, there is modest proof of a direct involvement by Al Qaida in the international drug trafficking network. The 9-11 Commission found little evidence to confirm this accusation. Groups known to be involved in the illicit drug economy were rather the Sunni Hizb-i Islami group of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Taliban. [37] However, according to the World Bank and UNODC, the Taliban derived more income and foreign exchange in the period 1996-2000 from taxing smuggled goods from Dubai to Pakistan than from the drug industry. Even now, the Taliban have several sources of income and they are not economically dependent on the narcotics trade only. [38] This reality, however, has not stopped the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to argue that “fighting drug trafficking equals fighting terrorism”.[39]"

    Corti, Daniela and Swain, Ashok, "War on Drugs and War on Terror: Case of Afghanistan," Peace and Conflict Review (San Jose, Costa Rica: University for Peace, 2009) Volume 3, Issue 2, p. 5.

  22. (Price of Heroin) In 2010, a kilogram of heroin typically sold for an average wholesale price of $2,527.60 in Pakistan. The 2010 wholesale price for a kilogram of heroin in Afghanistan ranged around $2,266. In Colombia, a kilogram of heroin typically sold for $10,772.3 wholesale in 2010. In the United States in 2010, a kilogram of heroin ranged in price between $33,000-$100,000.

    UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2012 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.12.XI.1), Opioids: Retail and wholesale prices by drug type and country (2010 or latest available year)

  23. (Drug Detection Dogs) "The overwhelming number of incorrect alerts [by drug and/or explosive detection dogs] identified across conditions confirms that handler beliefs affect performance. Further, the directed pattern of alerts in conditions containing a marker compared with the pattern of alerts in the condition with unmarked decoy scent suggests that human influence on handler beliefs affects alerts to a greater degree than dog influence on handler beliefs."
    "In conclusion, these findings confirm that handler beliefs affect working dog outcomes, and human indication of scent location affects distribution of alerts more than dog interest in a particular location."

    Lit, Lisa; Schweitzer, Julie B.; Oberbauer, Anita M., "Handler beliefs affect scent detection dog outcomes," Animal Cognition (Heidelberg, Germany: January 2011), Volume 8, Number 3, pp. 202 and 204.