Drug War

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.

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  1. The Times reports that the 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.”

    Spurious “the”, Jacob.

    More importantly, what flag do the smugglers raise when they get a big shipment through?

    1. The roof. Or should I just say roof?

  2. We’re just not spending enough money or diverting enough resources or violating enough privacy. WE CAN DO THIS!

    1. We’re also not equipping every Coast Guard boat with depth charges. The Coast Guard is wasting its time rescuing people and stuff, when it could be blowing up any unidentified object underwater instead.

      1. Bad news for Manatees…

        1. We’re fighting a War on Drugs?, so if a few manatees are inconvenienced to death, it’s a small enough price to pay.

      2. That might be bad if the unidentified underwater object was a Russian boomer.

        1. Only for the russians.

    1. Can’t follow the link at work, but I hope it has to do with everyone’s favorite rock’n roll clown.

    2. Yeah, I’m not sitting through that damn long commercial just to hear Dr. Rockso.

  3. Cool. This sounds like a better pre-retirement transition bidness than the meth lab I was going to open in my basement. Just sold the boat, so I got room for a sub – woo hoo!

    1. Hmm, I just retired from the navy – I wonder if they’re hiring.

  4. I’ve always thought if I was a billionaire, I would definitely have a submarine.


    1. Noyce! I’ll meet you a the tip of the Florida keys for lunch and some cocaine.

      1. Lunch to obviously be taken care of first.

  5. “We all live in a cocaine submarine, cocaine submarine, cocaine subamarine!”

  6. “Clear the Bridge! Seal all watertight hatches! Roll up the windows and turn off the TV! Dive! DIVE!”

  7. So drug runners are like the Fremen? We oppress them and they grow stronger? Then we co-opt them and take over the world? Strange, that’s a more sophisticated explanation for the WoD than I thought possible, given the SoP for our government.

  8. I question that these things are being built under triple canopy in machine shops. 10 tons of cocaine by volume is about 8500 liters. That’s a not inconsiderable volume, plus engine,crew, and supplies for a trip from Ecuador to LA. This is not something you put together in a jury rigged facility. There’s more going on here, and it being South America, I’ll bet somebody is on the take to look the other way.

    1. From these articles in various editions of Wired, I’m with T on how feasible these boats are. 22m long is tiny for a sub. The German Type 2 coastal boats were 40 m long in overall length, and they were extremely tiny as subs go. Even the German Type 23 “elektro boats” were over 34m long, and had nowhere near the range to go 3228 nm from Ecuador to L.A., never mind getting the boat back. And I’m having a hard time thinking there was enough air on the boat to support 18 hours of submergence, even considering extensive automation.

      It’s probably what they’ll have to do though to dodge a serious air and hydrophone net. That or just co-opt fishing boats like I’m sure they do already.

      1. Yeah. I know a little something about building things to survive under the water, and it ain’t as easy as it looks. I don’t doubt there’s enough money in the cocaine trade to justify the expense, but there’s some serious work going on if they’re spitting these subs out at a pace that justifies losing 1/4 of them. You’re not doing that much work completely under the radar. Somebody’s getting paid to ignore what’s going on, and it’s not happening in hidden submarine factories in the jungle.

        That’s assuming this isn’t all bullshit in the first place, given ONDCP’s mission to lie to us for our own good.

        1. Assuming the 4 cylinder marine diesels were Volvo Pentas, and why not: they’re one of the most heavily used marine engines out there, at the 10 knot speed range that’s cited in the article, a two engine setup is burning, conservatively, 1 gallon of diesel per nm. Given the heavy wetted area of the hull and short length, I’m guessing it’s a lot more. So, ~6300 gallons of diesel, minimum, to get to Ecuador and back. Not counting the energy needed to charge a battery bank. 6300 gallons is about 850 cubic feet. That’s a pretty big tank.

          It’s a sexy concept, but I’m wondering just what I’m missing here? Not to mention that these boats should sound like every other fishing boat, and it shouldn’t be that difficult to cross-correlate diesel sounds with no radar signature or radio traffic.

          Something doesn’t add up.

          1. Maybe they bought surplus Soviet boomers? You’re right, the more I think about this, the more this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

            1. Surplus diesel fast attacks maybe – kilo’s are popular on the aftermarket, but they’re 70 m long

          2. Looking at the specs for CG cutters, it seems they don’t tend to carry sonar.

            In any case, hull mounted sonar on surface ships tends to be poor and has difficulty listening through layers.

  9. Shit’s cool as hell.

  10. With yer bitch-slap rappin’ and yer cocaine sub
    You get commerce done.

  11. This is some horseshit right here:

    “Until 2008, in accordance with maritime law, the crew was rescued and, if there was no physical evidence of wrongdoing, released without criminal charges. To address this legal loophole, the US Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act was enacted in September, 2008, making it a “felony for those who knowingly or intentionally operate or embark in a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) that is without nationality and that is or has navigated in international waters, with the intent to evade detection.””

    You are under arrest for minding your own business and not having evidence for us to charge you with anything.

    1. It was a “legal loophole” that let people get away with such shinnagins before.

  12. This sounds like an excellent opportunity for Navy’s submarine fleet to get some tracking practice.

    1. The Navy doesn’t do police work. And our subs are blue water types – they don’t work as well in shallow water.

      Though to be honest, they’re so overpowered that the drop in capability still leaves them way overmatching these things.

  13. “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.”

    I’m thinking that if we don’t have enough ships and aircraft available then maybe, just maybe, the CG stop being used to shakedown oil tankes in the middle east and chase down boaters with expired registrations inside the US.

    On the other hand, I don’t see how a bajillion ships and planes will help as you can’t really “intercept” a sub like you cn a surface ship. There’s no chasing it down and blocking it – you either follow it until it reaches its destination (and arrest people when it docks) or you sink it. Not much middle ground, you aren’t going to board it at sea.

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