Cocaine in high-tech submarines? What's next—unmanned aerial vehicles making drops over the border? Yes, the modern-day drug smuggler is not afraid to buy and use technology to get his illegal goods to the U.S. But the DEA is one step ahead. Here's how the U.S. is fighting a smarter smuggler.
Illustration by Gabriel Silveira
In the late 1990s, U.S. Drug Enforcement
Following intelligence leads, DEA agents and local police found a homebuilt submarine, the first proof that cartels are fielding fully functional submarines to haul drugs. The diesel–electric sub has engine snorkels, electronics, a ballast system, a periscope and air conditioning, all of which speaks to a sophisticated manufacturer. “It looks like they built secondary and tertiary systems,” says DEA Andean regional director Jay Bergman.
A semisubmersible can cost up to $1 million to build, but hauls enough profitable cargo (between 2 and 6 tons of cocaine) that smugglers will discard it after a one-way trip and return home on commercial airlines, Bergman says. Now, DEA agents wonder if more advanced subs are making repeat journeys—literally under the radar. “If it’s the first, it won’t be the last,” Bergman says. “In the maritime domain, there’s nowhere else to go.”
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