Latest U-Boat Threat

Another set of interesting posts to ponder together this week.

Sunday’s NYT Magazine ran a fascinating feature on semi-submersibles used by Colombian cartels to bring cocaine close to the US, where it is offloaded to speedboats for the final leg. The sub itself is then scuttled (it’s made out of wood and fiberglass for the most part).  Despite this, the economics tell the tale:

But because of their ability to elude radar systems, these subs are almost impossible to detect; only an estimated 14 percent of them are stopped. And perhaps as many as 70 of them will be made this year, up from 45 or so in 2007, according to a task-force spokesman. Made for as little as $500,000 each and assembled in fewer than 90 days, they are now thought to carry nearly 30 percent of Colombia’s total cocaine exports.

Nobody knows, of course, how much cocaine moves into the country — estimates for 2006 total about 1,000 metric tons — and a successful sub run brings in upwards of $200 million worth of the stuff.  What’s more interesting, narco-sub technology seems to be evolving at a rapid pace, with larger ships, sound and IR suppression, and possibly true subsurface capabilities.  Sounds like a thriving business to me, and our failure to end it has led to a movement to legalize drugs in this country.

On the other hand, an opinion piece in today’s WSJ claims that “progress in Colombia provides clear evidence that the war on drugs is winnable”:

Between 2001 and 2007, the U.S. government’s estimate of the maximum potential production of cocaine in Colombia dropped 24%. There is no certain method of translating that into drug profits, but even conservative estimates show that a 24% reduction equaled hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. There is now evidence that the combined effect of reduced production and increased seizures dropped the available Colombian cocaine supply to the U.S. from 2001 to 2007.

The problem with this is that both can be correct:  Maximum drug production undoubtedly did fall, but production appears to still be well within levels that the cartels find lucrative.

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Filed in Uncategorized | 4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Latest U-Boat Threat”

  1. senor tomason 28 Apr 2009 at 1:30 am 1

    “clear evidence that the war on drugs is winnable”

    The war on drugs will never be winnable – because – there will always be corrupt law enforcement officers willing to take bribes to look the other way. Also, crooked guards are a major route – perhaps the main route – of contraband getting into prisons.

  2. Duncan C Kinderon 28 Apr 2009 at 8:41 am 2

    Oh please, as is very well known, whatever decreases that have occurred in Columbia have been offset by increases in Bolivia and Peru.

    Not only cocaine production, but cocaine refinement is spreading:

    But now, said Nina, middle men from Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Bolivia are being hired by drug traffickers to do the final processing into cocaine in Bolivia. From there, the popular drug is smuggled by plane to Colombia and on to the insatiable markets of Europe and North America, or smuggled by men carrying backpacks walking into Peru or Brazil.


    Proponents of the “War on Drugs,” invariably presume that this “war” is something that they dish out and that that drug users and distributers must take. A question I have asked is, “What are you going to do when drugs start fighting back?” And events in Mexico suggest that this question is no longer hypothetical.

  3. cfsheridanon 18 May 2009 at 10:30 pm 3

    Apologies for the delayed comment. Had login and vacation interrruption.

    Excellent post. Have discussed some AAR from folks combating this development Suspect that USN efforts have had some effect, but that the cartel networks are adapting faster than the US drug warriors.

    The cartels’ cycle and networked resources seem to be acting within the US and their allies’ cycle, and the economics behind the cartels’ actions allow for losses (in fact are likely factored within their projections). Small losses compared to the incredible payoffs, and the miniaturization of communications and tracking technology favors their networks.

  4. Maxon 21 May 2009 at 5:34 am 4

    “the economics behind the cartels’ actions allow for losses (in fact are likely factored within their projections).”

    Excellent point.

    In that sense thier losses are reduced to a reletively minor
    and sustainable cost of doing bussiness, not unlike say
    employee pilperhage.

    In the larger sense, the enforcement activity and expendaures
    strike a balance producing the usual MOCKERY of a equitable
    and sustainable bussiness model. Enforcement interests remain
    gamefully employed in perpetuity.

    Another scam.