Martha Mendoza, Associated Press
The crew members aboard the USS Underwood could see through their night goggles what was happening on the fleeing go-fast boat: Someone was dumping bales.
When the Navy guided-missile frigate later dropped anchor in Panamanian waters on that sunny August morning, Ensign Clarissa Carpio, a 23-year-old from San Francisco, climbed into the inflatable dinghy with four unarmed sailors and two Coast Guard officers like herself, carrying light submachine guns. It was her first deployment, but Carpio was ready for combat.
Fighting drug traffickers was precisely what she’d trained for.
In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade. U.S. Army troops, Air Force pilots and Navy ships outfitted with Coast Guard counternarcotics teams are routinely deployed to chase, track and capture drug smugglers.
The sophistication and violence of the traffickers is so great that the U.S. military is training not only law enforcement agents in Latin American nations, but their militaries as well, building a network of expensive hardware, radar, airplanes, ships, runways and refueling stations to stem the tide of illegal drugs from South America to the U.S.
Phi Beta Iota: Following Viet-Nam, CIA ran drugs into the USA with Marine Corps complicity, while the FBI and DEA cut deals with selected drug smuggling rings. In 1989 then Commandant of the Marine Corps, no doubt with some irony, signed off on the below ghoast-written article that made it clear narcotics was a “type threat” and seeded sustained throughful invesment. 20 years later, the US military is still unable to execute this mission, and US counterintelligence is unable to close down CIA, FBI, DEA, Mossad, and other drug-running operations that provie off the books revenue streams. As unlikely as it may be, Senators Kerry and Hagel may represent the last chance this generation of leaders has to start doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing wronger, of “business as usual.”
Graphic: Four Threat Classes (1990’s)