DHS' expanded drone use in Caribbean targets drug runners

The Homeland Security Department reportedly plans to increase the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the Caribbean to help crack down on drug trafficking, despite doubts about UAVs’ effectiveness over water.

The plan, which comes after a year and a half of testing in the Bahamas, would double the area along U.S. borders now covered by UAVs, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Increasing the coverage area is one thing, however. How well they can track speedboats and submarines hauling drugs is another. "The question is: Will they be effective? We have no systematic evidence on how effective they are," Bruce Bagley, who studies U.S. counter-narcotics efforts at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., told the Times, which noted that military and domestic law enforcement officials have expressed misgivings.

The ocean’s lack of identifying landmarks and trail could present a problem, the article said.

The use of drones could be another cog in a broader, coordinated effort to step up enforcement along the nation’s borders. In written testimony submitted June 21 to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management, a group of DHS component agencies discussed their multilayered approach to policing the borders.

“No one entity can tackle these transnational criminal enterprises alone,” according to the testimony, submitted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Coast Guard. The testimony, which did not mention UAVs specifically, discusses working with state, local, tribal, territorial, international and other federal agencies.

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