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Friday, April 18, 2008

Futility

USS Simpson, FFG-56, just returned to her homeport of Naval Station Mayport (Florida) after six months in the Southern Pacific chasing drug runners.

Oh, yeah, I remember that duty.

It's called a "Crackpac," and it's just about the last thing a Navy crew wants to do. It's miserable duty. It's hotter than hell itself down there in the south eastern Pacific, I can think of no more miserable place for an Alaskan like me - even Iraq wasn't as bad, climate wise that is. There were days where you'd get burned if you put your hand on the metal skin of the ship. The hull and superstructure would heat up to unbelievable temperatures during the day, and radiate heat into the ship all night, you slept covered in sweat - when you could sleep. Navy ships are cooled inside by chilled water systems that were designed for the northern latitudes (because we designed our ships to fight the Soviet Navy in the North Atlantic, duh), and the air conditioners don't work worth a crap in the hot waters off South America. For the same reason, the flash evaporators on older ships like mine and the Simpson don't work very well in warm water, so there's limited fresh water for showers, and what there is feels like warm piss. The humidity is almost always at a 100%, and you never feel clean, ever. Hell, I used to sweat in the shower.

The liberty in South America can be decent depending on where you are, but usually it's lousy, dirt, poverty, mosquitos and malaria pills. There's no fleet support. This means that instead of fueling at sea, we have to pull into port and fuel from tanker trucks - in some cases taking over a hundred tankers and up to twenty-four hours of backbreaking labor in sweltering heat.

Then there's the mission, hunting shithead drug runners on the high seas. It's dangerous, miserable, tedious, and frustrating. For every smuggler you catch, a hundred more get through to Mexico and California and it doesn't take you long to figure out that the war on drugs is a long lost cause. You can't stop cocaine smuggling by hunting down smugglers, or burning coca fields, or giving money to a hopelessly ineffective and corrupt Columbian government, or by making speeches, or by appointing a totally powerless sock puppet of a drug Czar. As long as there is a demand, there'll be a supply. Period. You see the utter, abject poverty of the Ecuadorian and Columbian peasants. You see the incredible, unbelievable amounts of money flowing south from gold bling wearing Los Angeles and New York and Bumfuck Indiana and you know there is an endless supply of desperate, hungry people willing to risk their lives on the open sea in order to get a piece of it. You see the hopelessly mired clusterfuck that is the American counter narcotics mission with the DEA, FBI, ICE, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Customs, and a dozen other agencies all scrabbling for their piece of the glory, their moment in the sun on the War on Drugs, their little bit of the money. Nobody is in charge. There's no cooperation between agencies. There's no plan, but everybody has a secret agenda. There's nothing but back stabbing incompetence and corruption and rice bowl bullshit. And it becomes apparent fairly quickly, often before you leave homeport, that the agency you work for in South America, Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South), is about as useful as a carbuncle on Dick Cheney's big white ass. JIATF South is where incompetent, back stabbing, glory hound officers go to die - or get rich and retire. The place is rotten from bottom to top, and side to side, but hell, it's duty in Key West, out of sight and out of mind.

Still, every time you make a bust you feel pretty dammed good about it. You might chase a go-fast smuggling boat for hours, pounding through the seas at flank speed until they run out of fuel, or crash, or just give up. Some times they shoot at you, and you get to blow them out of the water in a cloud of vaporized blow. Sometimes they throw the cocaine and heroin bales over the side of their boat in a desperate attempt to escape. Then you've got to go into the water after it, carefully because the concentration of cocaine HCL is so high that if you get any on your skin it'll stop your heart nearly instantly. And no matter how hopeless the War on Drugs is, at least those bales won't end up on the streets of America somewhere.

Cocaine CrewUSS Simpson came home with 16 tons, most taken from a submarine smuggling vessel. Sixteen tons of cocaine, if you're having trouble visualizing what several billion dollars worth of drugs looks like, here's a picture of me and my intelligence team sitting on about ten tons. This picture was taken off the coast of the Galapagos Islands on June 1st, 2004 on the flight deck of USS Valley Forge. Those big black cubes we're sitting on are literally worth billions when cut with powered baby formula or dried milk or rat poison or boiled in gasoline to make crack. That's me, third from the right, second row - the guy with the radio mic on my right collar.

Altogether we brought home nearly twenty tons of coke and 40 something prisoners. Did it make a difference? Well, we'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

6 comments:

  1. Gee, thanks, Jim for that bitter ray of Friday sunshine.

    I'm going to go build a "compound" now, for all my nearest and dearest...

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  2. You're welcome

    It's just that I can think of no more worthless pursuit than the War on Drugs - unless it's the War on Terrorism.

    I see the headlines - 16 Tons of Cocaine captured, and know from personal experience that we get less than 1% of the total amount of cocaine entering the US from the South Pacific. And I know from personal experience that it could be much, much better, but due to the utter incompetent assholes at JIATF South it will continue on as it is. And every time I see some bust hailed as a great victory, I think back to my own experience and know that it's hollow at best.

    Drugs are a supply and demand market. The demand is increasing every day - and the price of coke on the street has fallen steadily, we're having no effect at all.

    And it just chaps my ass.

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  3. What always pisses me off is how many agencies have overlapping jurisdiction. Why the fuck do we have a huge alphabet soup of agencies responsible for Drug Enforcement. Especially when those agencies get to pick and choose the sexy missions to pursue...not the effective ones.

    Why the fuck is FEMA part of Homeland Security? That's a recipe for disaster.

    I understand that DEA can't do their job without the Navy's involvement (and Coast Guard and Army, etc.), but why on earth should they have to compete with FBI and ATF? Yes, I know that guns and drugs go together. Why not combine ATF and DEA and tell FBI not to pursue drugs anymore...just turn over any drug info to the other new agency. FBI would still have plenty to keep them busy.

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  4. And that, Nathan, is the principle problem - and it's even worse than you imagine. All of those agencies have different assets, and they will not share, and they will not work together. And it gets much worse, see, because they all have informers and secret agendas that they want to protect and so they will literally steer you away from a bust - actually feed you bad information in order to drive you in the wrong direction. They'll also do this in order to keep the bust for themselves. And they'll do it because many of them are on the take. It's totally fucking insane to have a Navy Cruiser out burning hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel chasing little tiny boats around the South Pacific.

    And the real truth is that most of these agencies are compromised. The money is just so unbelievable that it's inevitable. I had indisputable proof on more than one occasion that somebody fairly senior on the JIATF watch floor was feeding information in real time to the smugglers. Hell, I heard it happen over the radio - nobody, nobody, wanted to hear it, or do anything about it - hence my statement in the post that the organization is rotten from bottom to top.

    And I know from personal experience that the FBI, ICE, and especially the DEA have no real interest in killing the drug trade - it's their bread and butter, it's endless appropriations and job security.

    When I returned from my last mission down there I wrote a 135 page follow up report that was utterly damming, I sited dates, times, names. I included detailed records and I got my chain of command all the way to Fleet to back it up. All of the senior staff at JIATF South were fired as a result.

    And not one fucking thing changed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That's because we don't learn from history. Anyone who has studied prohibition could have predicted what the result of the war on drugs would be; the corruption, the obscene amounts of money, the power of the drug cartels. The money we waste jailing users and small-time dealers.

    But oh my, suggest we decriminalize most drugs, tax and regulate them like we do alcohol, and people freak.

    And I quote Shawn from yesterday on a different subject:

    "...I think the general public is dumb. Not individuals (I think you personally are shiny), but rather as a whole."

    Actually he was polite. I would say stupid.

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  6. I'm going to concur with Vince. To me the bigger problem isn't the competing agencies and corruption--tho' Jim and Nathan are right about that--it's that interdiction is itself a futile strategy to start with. As long as there's a profitable black market, there will be someone who does a quick cost/risk analysis and decides it's worth the trouble.

    The solution is to treat substance abuse as a public health issue, instead of a criminal issue, and regulate the hell out of legalized drugs the same way we do for alcohol and tobacco and prescription meds. And get this whole stupid "war" out of our damn courtrooms. I don't know if you folks have any idea how much of your tax dollars are wasted on meaningless drug prosecutions when there are, you know, like, rapists and murderers who don't get tried because so much of a court docket has to be spent busting mostly-harmless crackheads. (Yes, yes, there are crackheads who get violent and crackheads who steal and crackheads who break into people's houses and cars--and then there are all the people who just sit around in cheap motel rooms until the police get a tip or who are just riding along in the passenger seat of a car that gets stopped and, oh look, they're dumb enough to agree to a frisk while carrying a bunch of rock. Smart folks, those crackheads, most of them. Well up on their legal rights, etc.)

    Waste of everyone's bloody time, is what it is.

    ReplyDelete

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