MINOT, N.D. – The nation's acting drug czar promised more coordination with Canada on drug trafficking issues Tuesday and highlighted his northern border strategy by touring an area in North Dakota where authorities say heroin and other drugs are being pushed by motorcycle gangs and Mexican cartels.
Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, told The Associated Press he picked the oil patch as a backdrop because of the administration's focus on combating the growing drug problem in the prosperous Bakken region. He said the area's proximity to the Canadian border also was a factor.
"Obviously with the explosion in terms of the oil industry and people, there have been some significant issues that are related to larger crime issues," Botticelli said in an interview before a press conference in Minot. "I think it really kind of highlights our overall strategy on the northern border and particularly our work here."
The population in the North Dakota oil patch grew an estimated 17 percent between 2005 and 2012, driven by the addition of more than 20,000 jobs. Crime in that period went up 32 percent. Violent crimes — including murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery — ballooned by 121 percent, according to the updated northern border report released Tuesday.
While the report doesn't specifically provide for more money for federal crime stoppers in North Dakota, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Botticelli's visit should help gain support with a Congress that spends "a tremendous amount of focus and energy and dollars" on southern border issues.
"We struggle every day, literally, in the United States Senate to get attention to the northern border," said Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.
The 54-page update to the original 2012 report emphasizes improving intelligence and information sharing with Canadian authorities and enhancing capabilities at the port of entry stations along the 5,000-mile line. Ecstasy and marijuana are the most significant Canadian drug threats to the United States, while the U.S. remains the primary transit country for cocaine into Canada from South America.
The document emphasizes the use of airplanes, helicopters, unmanned aircraft and boats to monitor illegal drug activity, including along mountain valleys in Washington and Idaho and coulees in Montana. The Great Lakes also form a long, mostly rural coastline that allows some vessels to travel undetected, the report says.
There also are plans to improve communication with officials on tribal lands that have been fertile ground for drug dealers and an area where local and state authorities are hampered by lack of jurisdiction. There are Indian reservations within close proximity to the northern border in North Dakota, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and New York.
A recent federal investigation on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, dubbed "Operation Winter's End," netted 67 defendants, most of them for heroin.
Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney from North Dakota, said the federal response on the oil patch has been robust, evidenced by bumping up the number of FBI agents in Minot from one to five during the oil boom. But drug cases often come down to the "local cop on the beat" and those agencies "desperately need more resources," he said.