The Glamours Life of a Narco-Sub Captain which has been providing excellent coverage of the crisis in Korea, also found a piece of particular interest to the Coast Guard in Der Spiegel (in English) recounting an interview with a man purported to have piloted vessels smuggling cocaine North for two years including semi-submersibles.

It makes interesting reading.

Interview with Escanaba’s CO

There is a one hour previously recorded interview of CDR E. A. Westfall, CDR, USCG, Commanding Officer of the USCGC ESCANABA (WMEC 907) at this location. Cdr Westfall touches on a number of things including the recent exchange of gunfire with a suspected drug runner we talked about earlier, the Haiti disaster response, the importance of speed and endurance as ship characteristics, and the 76mm gun. (DER, thanks for the reminder.)

There is also a continuing dialog on the interview and related topics at the US Naval Institute site.

War on Drugs? Time for a Different Strategy

(Please forgive me for using this space to make a proposal that, if accepted, might result in diverting significant funds from the Coast Guard, but I believe this is important. I also know that the Coast Guard is adaptable and has survived major mission changes in the past–plus probably no one will listen.)

We have been waging the “War on Drugs” for decades now. Nixon declared war in 1971, but it started much earlier than that, and it would be hard to argue that our efforts have been successful.

US drug consumption finances terrorism in many parts of the world. Our anti-drug efforts often cause anti-American backlash. Mexico is in crisis and narco-terrorism is starting to spill over the border. To avoid the definition of insanity–continuing to do the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results–we need to do something different.

It’s not enough simply to make drugs more expensive, which is our current strategy. Like all economic activity, distribution of illegal drugs can be discussed in terms of elasticity of demand and supply. The attempt to stop the maximum amount of product assumes that Demand is elastic and that supply is not. That is, it assumes that the drug consumers will choose not to buy drugs if they become more expensive and that the suppliers will not create additional supply to offset losses by passing the higher cost along to the consumer.

This assumption is dead wrong because people who are addicted don’t make good financial decisions, and as the price goes up more criminals are attracted to the trade.

My suspicion is that supply is highly elastic, meaning as the price goes up, supply will expand rapidly, and as price goes down, supply is going to fall off rapidly. On the other hand, I suspect demand is not highly elastic. Those that want their fix will pay anything, while others would not buy it if the price fell to zero.

Whenever you hear officials talk about the “War on Drugs,” they inevitably talk about taking a multi-layered approach to  interdiction, as if that were obviously the best approach. Perhaps in terms of intercepting the maximum amount of product it is. But if the intention is to actually stop the trafficking in drugs, I think there may be a better way. (I am talking here only about hard drugs that represent a serious health hazard, because I’m going to suggest a radically different approach that would require a much more hard nosed approach on the part of the justice system.)

If we look at it from the smuggler’s point of view. There are lots of steps and lots of people involved. Bringing the product to market is a multi-step process, including growing or manufacturing, shipping to storage, warehousing, one or more additional legs of the journey to market,  warehousing at the destination, repackaging, wholesale distribution, and ultimately retail sale. In most cases, because  this is big business, the individuals responsible for each step are different and each makes a profit even if we successfully intercept the product at some step further down the chain. In addition there are management, facilitators, and agents who profit fro the trade. The risk is spread out so that the risk for any one highly profitable step may be less than 1%. No wonder this is a thriving business.

If the idea is to actually stop the trade in drugs, its not enough to interdict a small portion of the drugs at each step in the distribution chain. We have to break one link in the distribution chain (and really, it only needs to be one), by convincing the people involved, that the risks outweigh the rewards and they should go into another line of work. If we adopt a multi-layered approach, we are trying to convince people all up and down the supply chain that they all should go into a different line of work.  This isn’t necessary since breaking one link will stop the process and it dilutes our efforts. We need to target precisely and divert all the money and effort we now spread over many forms of drug enforcement to attack the most vulnerable link in the distribution chain.

What is that link? The retail representative, the one person in the chain who has to advertise that he is in the drug distribution business. We have to make the probable consequences of being a drug dealer so unpleasant that no right thinking criminal would choose that line of work. What will be the result? First the drug dealers share of the profit will go up as the risk increases. There will be attempts at “mass marketing” by internet sales that will have to be addressed, but if there are no direct sellers, wholesale demand will dry up at the same time supply competition will increase, destroying the profitability of the business.

Ultimately drug lords will have to get another job–like stock broker.

How do we go about this? Make taking drug dealers off the street a number 1 priority, then apply mandatory sentences of say 20 years. Overcrowd the prisons? I don’t think so. Once we start applying this vigorously and consistently, being a dealer will no longer be worth the risks, but if we need a bit more space in the prisons, start treating marijuana abuse like alcohol abuse. We need to establish priorities and apply them ruthlessly in order to destroy the traffic in hard drugs.

Need a moral basis for hard time for drug dealers? Every sale is an attempted murder. If they haven’t killed someone already, its just an accident. Its a serious crime and it deserves to be taken seriously. More importantly, without dealers, the entire organization will crash.

Smugglers shooting at the Coast Guard–Not a Trend We Want to Encourage

ESCANABA has released a statement about an incident in which her boarding party was fired upon by suspected smugglers.

In this case, the boarding party was “over the horizon” from ESCANABA. This highlights a potential concern in using this capability. When a cutter is clearly in view, it’s got to be rather intimidating. Smugglers can see, if there is a fight, they will lose. When both the boarding party and the smugglers are over the horizon, the odds look much more even, particularly if the smuggler feels escape is near by.

Perhaps a helicopter in support, particularly if it is equipped with an obviously devastating weapon, would restore a proper imbalance in our favor.

Giving More than 100%–Part 3, The Results and Recommendations

This is the third part of a detailed look at the “Annual Review of the United States Coast Guard’s Mission Performance (FY 2009)” from the office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.  The report is available in Acrobat PDF format from DHS. (I’ll refer to it as the DHS IG report.)

Here, we are going to look at what I consider the informative and important part of the report, that was buried in Appendices C and D. My earlier commentary, parts 1 and 2 are here and here.

Much of Appendices C and D is lifted from the United States Coast Guard Fiscal Year 2009 Performance Report which is also available as a pdf (couldn’t get a link to work, but it’s on google). (I’ll refer to it as the CG report.) This document does a much better job of explaining the categories and the performance measures than the DHS IG report but only goes back to 2004. It does, however, also include the targets for FY 2010. It would probably be better if the IG had just put a cover sheet on the CG report and forwarded it.

Both reports provide the essential same results but their are some differences, which I will note.

24 measured are applied to the eleven Coast Guard missions. For FY 2009, the Coast Guard met 8 of 11 performance measures for its 6 non-DHS missions, and 6 of 13 performance measures for its 5 homeland security missions.


“Non-Homeland Security” missions did well. Standards were high and even when targets were not met, we came close.

SAR: Percentage of people in imminent danger saved in the maritime environment. Target 76% Actual 77.3%
(I find the math used in this section hard to follow and somewhat questionable–there was a reported improvement over FY 2008, but deaths went up 20%, while total number in danger changed very little (see CG report p15,16))

Aids to Navigation:

  • Federal short-range aids to navigation availability. Target 97.5% Actual 98.0%
  • Five-year average number of collisions, allisions, and groundings. Target 1871 Actual 1878. This was very close to the target and the target is 390 fewer incidents than the target in 2001. I have no idea where they come up with this target, because it moves around getting lower from 2001 to 2007 and then going back up again.

Ice Operations: Number of days critical waterways are closed due to ice. Target 2 avg. and 8 severe. Actual 0. (Note there is no criteria for Polar Operations.) Success in this criteria is strongly influenced by weather.

Living Marine Resources: Percentage of Coast Guard boardings at sea in which no violations are detected when domestic fisheries regulations apply. Target 97% Actual 96.7%, a miss, but close enough to be insignificant.

Marine Safety: (None of these standards were in place until FY2008)

  • Five-year average number of commercial mariner deaths and injuries. Target <529 Actual 475.
  • Five-year average number of commercial passenger deaths and injuries. Target <251 Actual 228.
  • Five-year average number of recreational boating deaths and injuries. Target <4,248 Actual 4,038

Marine Environmental Protection: (Here too, these standards did not apply until FY2008)

  • Five Year average number of chemical discharge incidents per 100 million short tons shipped. Target <25.9 Actual 17.8.
  • Five year average number of oil spills per 100 million short tons shipped. Target <13.5 Actual. 11.8.
  • Percentage of oil removed otherwise mitigated as compared to the amount of oil released for reported spills of 100 gallons or more. Target 16%. Actual No data. this measure is to be replaced because it was found to be impractical.


Homeland Security missions did not fare so well. In general, even when targets were met, the targets were low.

Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security:

  • Critical infrastructure required visit rate. Target 100% Actual 74% (CG report says Actual 100%)
  • Percentage of risk reduction of maritime security risk resulting from Coast Guard efforts to prevent a weapon of mass destruction from entering the United States via maritime means. Target 3% Actual 17%.
  • Percent of reduction of all maritime security risk subject to Coast Guard influence. Target  21% Actual 31% (Why is the target being lowered to 19% for 2010?)
  • Percentage of reduction of maritime security risk resulting from Coast Guard efforts to prevent a terrorist entering the United States vial maritime means. Target 21% Actual 42%.
  • Number of Transportation  Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) spot checks. Target 94,500 Actual 39,100
  • Risk reduction due to consequence management. Target 6% Actual 9%
  • High Capacity passenger vessel required escort rate. Target 100% Actual 53%.

Drug Interdiction (This standard was not applied until FY2009): Removal rate for cocaine from noncommercial vessels in a maritime transit zone. Target 15.7% Actual 15%. (Probably reasonably accurate and probably about as good as we can hope for, but not good enough to truly discourage the smugglers.)

Undocumented Migrant Interdiction:

  • Percentage of undocumented migrants who attempt to enter the US via maritime routes “that are interdicted” Target 69.9% Actual 84.4%
  • (In the CG report there was a second measure: Percent of Undocumented Migrants who attempt to enter the US via maritime routes interdicted by the Coast Guard. Target 50% Actual 37.5%. Could it be the first isn’t really a CG performance measure. And why does this standard go down in 2010?)

Defense Readiness: These three measures are to be replaced next year.

  • Defense readiness of patrol boats. Target 100% Actual 94%
  • Defense Readiness of Port Security Units. Target 100% Actual 19.8%
  • Percentage of time that Coast Guard assets included in the Combatant Commander Operational Plans are ready at a Status of Resources and Training System (SORTS) rating of 2 or better. Target 100% Actual 44%
  • (CG report has an additional measure. Defense Readiness of High Endurance Cutters Target 100% Actual 20.7 This shows a consistent decline from 98.5% on FY2004)

Other Law Enforcement (Foreign Fisheries Enforcement):

  • Number of incursions into the U. S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Target <195 Actual 112
  • The CG report has a second performance measure, Interdiction rate of foreign vessels detected violating the U. S. EEZ. Target 9% Actual 14.3%


Some of the things we did not see measured, that we might want to get a handle on:

  • Safety Inspections and Training for crews of foreign flag oil rigs operating in our EEZ. (Why do we let foreign flag rigs drill in our EEZ anyway?)
  • Ice Operations: We need to have separate out Polar operations. Right now it is getting lost in measures of domestic icebreaking.
  • Percent sorties and return to port by major USN units such as CVNs, SSBNs, big deck amphibs escorted
  • Percent of ships carrying “Certain Dangerous Cargoes (CDCs) escorted
  • Percent of high interest vessels boarded
  • Percent maritime container traffic checked
  • Effectiveness of the Maritime Domain Awareness systems.


We really need to consider Domain Awareness for vessels under 300 tons too. Even sailboats can bring in some nasty weapons.

The Department needs to see that their future is in disaster preparedness from whatever cause. Hopefully the terror threat will fade. They need to see, that the “non-DHS missions” complementary DHS missions. When we have a disaster, we need to do SAR and restore Aids to Navigation. Icebreaking may be necessary to get access to a disaster or to prevent one, and environmental disasters are still disasters.

The Coast Guard needs to embrace the DHS missions and recognize that the greater capability, that we really do need to do these missions, also means greater capability to do traditional missions. That Long Rang Identification and Tracking (LRIT) will help SAR is just one example. More boats, more aircraft, more command, control, communications, information, and reconnaissance systems translate to doing all our missions better. To get those assets, we need to make our case, and it can only be made on the basis of DHS missions.

Congress needs to recognize that we are an Armed Service. They don’t expect to see a product out of the Air Force every year. It’s buying insurance. Most of the time, there is no product. Counter terrorism missions are dealing with statistically unlikely, but high impact events. Congress and DHS have a hard time dealing with a multi-purpose organization. From year to year they don’t know what we will be doing because we don’t know either. Mariel Boatlift, Katrina, Haiti, Deepwater Horizon, what’s next? We don’t know!

When it comes time to decide the Coast Guard budget, I would suggest Congress take a different approach. Consider return on investment. If you like the return you are getting from the Coast Guard now, invest more.  Don’t say, “Agency ‘X’ isn’t working, we need to put more money into that.” “The Coast Guard, is doing a good job with their current budget so we don’t need to give them any more.” I don’t quote scripture very often. I’m not religious, but there is some wisdom there. Check out the story of the “good and faithful servant” Mathew 25:14-30.