WASHINGTON, D.C. - During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the defense authorization budget request for fiscal year 2017 and the future of defense programs, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) called for additional resources to support the fight against transnational drug trafficking at our nation's ports of entry (POE). Senator Heinrich also highlighted the stunning lack of resources that the Department of Defense dedicates to drug interdiction.
The committee received testimony from U.S. Southern Command Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Northern Command Admiral William E. Gortney. Admirals Tidd and Gortney are responsible for the Department of Defense's efforts in the Western Hemisphere.
During the hearing, Senator Heinrich called for additional investments to support U.S. Custom and Border Protection's (CBP) officers who protect our homeland security at our nation's ports of entry. The responsibilities of CBP officers include stopping illegal entry of drugs, money, and other contrabands, and they assist in facilitating lawful international trade. CBP officers in southern New Mexico are responsible for overseeing the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in Doña Ana County and the Columbus Port of Entry in Luna County.
Later in the hearing, Senator Heinrich advocated for increased military interdiction assets and resources in order to curb drug trafficking. Heinrich noted that in 2014, then-Commander of U.S. Southern Command General John F. Kelly said he saw 75 percent of the cocaine trafficking heading toward the United States, but they had to "simply sit and watch it go by" because of a lack of resources.
Senator Heinrich questioned Admiral Tidd about the number of interdiction assets available to him and his requirements for interdiction in the Western Hemisphere. Admiral Tidd responded that on a given day he has only between 5-7 surface ships available out of a required 21 surface ships. In terms of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Admiral Tidd responded that he is only able to meet approximately 11 percent of his requirements due to a lack of assets.
In his submitted testimony, Admiral Tidd stressed that, "For every additional ship and air asset we are able to dedicate to the detection and monitoring mission, we can disrupt approximately 20 more metric tons of cocaine."
Senator Heinrich noted that drug cartels are earning more than $85 billion annually and are responsible for fueling the violence and corruption in Central America, which is driving the refugee crisis at the U.S. southern border. Heinrich cosponsored an amendment in 2014 to increase funding for interdiction assets by $122 million.