Cocaine Subs: More Government-Driven Innovation


In yet another illustration of the "balloon effect," The New York Times reports that cocaine smugglers are commissioning diesel-powered submarines that "would be the envy of all but a few nations" from "machine shops operating under cover of South America's triple-canopy jungles." These vessels, which can travel underwater "all the way from Ecuador to Los Angeles," carry up to 10 tons of cocaine, compared to the one-ton capacity of a more easily detected "fast boat." The Times highlights the intelligence gathering and surveillance technology that the Joint Interagency Task Force-South, based in Key West, uses to help the Coat Guard intercept the occasional cocaine-laden sub. But it notes toward the end of the story that "three-quarters of potential drug shipments identified by the task force are not interdicted, simply because there are not enough ships and aircraft available for the missions." So drug warriors miss 75 percent of the shipments they know about, plus 100 percent of the shipments they don't know about. Depending on the relative sizes of those two categories, the actual interception rate may be infinitesimal. Add to this abysmal failure the fact that illegal drugs acquire most of their value after they arrive in this country, and it is not suprising that interdiction efforts have no observable impact on drug consumption. The Times reports that  whenever it helps seize a big shipment the task force raises a flag bearing "a large image of a cocaine snowflake with a larger red 'X' across the center." A plain white flag might be more appropriate.