‘With the intent to evade detection’

U.S. Navy helicopter are now patrolling in search of semi-submerged vessels ("the size of a humpback whale") gliding just beneath the surface of the ocean between Colombia and Mexico — nowhere near U.S. territorial waters, not even bound for the United States — The Associated Press reports.

"A Coast Guard ship dispatches an armed team to board the small, submarine-like craft in search of cocaine. Crew members wave and jump into the sea to be rescued, but not before they open flood valves and send the fiberglass hulk and its cargo into the deep. Colombia has yet to make a single arrest in such scuttlings because the evidence sinks with the so-called semi-submersible," The AP reports.

The vessels, hand-crafted in coastal jungle camps from fiberglass and wood, have become the conveyance of choice for large loads, hauling nearly a third of U.S.-bound cocaine northward through the Pacific, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Joseph Nimmich, commander of the Joint Interagency Task Force-South based in Key West, Fla.

With just over a foot of above-water clearance and V-shaped prows designed to leave minimal wakes, semi-submersibles are nearly impossible for surface craft to detect visually or by radar outside a range of about two miles.

Propelled by 250- to 350-horsepower diesel engines, they take about a week averaging 7 knots (8 mph) to reach Mexico’s shores, Colombian and U.S. investigators say. Engines and exhaust systems are typically shielded to make their heat signatures nearly invisible to infrared sensors used by U.S. and allied aircraft trying to find them.

Cocaine in Mexico is now fetching $6,500 per kilo, The AP reports. (Note that at less than $200 an ounce this is way down, both nominally and inflation-adjusted, proving the ongoing ineffectiveness of interdiction efforts.) But since that’s still triple the Colombian wholesale price, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, an average 7-metric-ton load can yield $30 million, making this a paying proposition even if some of the boats are scuttled en route.

Though authorities caught 11 semi-subs last year in international waters off the Pacific — with 7 tons of cocaine seized in one off Mexico in September — they estimate from intelligence and interdiction that another 60 delivered their cargo, Nimmich said.

Yeah. And by the time we pulled out of Vietnam, our guys "estimated" we’d killed what, 2 million enemy combatants? Again, street cocaine in the U.S. is widely reported to be up in quality, down in price. Give these "estimates" of our highly effective interdiction efforts as much weight as you think they deserve.

But not to worry. The U.S. Congress — not sufficiently busy, apparently, trying to destroy our own economy by authorizing the Wall Street bankers to print themselves as much money as the please — has waded in, enacting "a new U.S. law" designed "to thwart what has become South American traffickers’ newest preferred means of getting multi-ton loads to Mexico and Central America," the AP reports. The U.S. "Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008" went into effect in October. It outlaws — and threatens crew members with up to 15 years in prison for — plying international waters in such unregistered craft "with the intent to evade detection."

"It’s very likely a game-changer," said Jay Bergman, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s regional director, based in Colombia. "You don’t get a get-out-of-jail free card anymore."

Right. I’m sure the DEA will be able to shut down the last of the cocaine and marijuana smugglers and close up shop in a few weeks, now.

Read it again. Rather than re-legalizing (and, presumably, taxing) this commerce — as we’ve done with booze since 1933 — our armed forces are arresting people in international waters, far from American shores, for transporting not bombs or worthless fake greenbacks designed to ruin our economy (as though Washington needs any help in that department) but rather agricultural products that have legitimate medical uses and that cause far LESS death and social disruption on these shores than plain old alcohol, on the supposed grounds that the United States can reach its long arm thousands of miles from our shores to arrest and imprison people for "intending to evade detection."

First, imagine how Americans would respond if some foreign nation chose to ban cigarettes and Budweiser and Playboy magazine and books containing "disrespectful" depictions of the prophet, and proceeded to throw into prison for decades any Americans caught carrying or transporting such stuff IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS, on the grounds "this might eventually have reached our shores and corrupted the youth of Packratistan."

But closer to home, think of the precedent we’ve now set. Shall we soon make it illegal to walk down the street or enter a "federal reservation" in dark glasses or with your hat pulled down over your eyes, "with the intent to evade detection" by increasingly omnipresent security cameras hooked up to "facial recognition software"? Shall we make it illegal to pay your bills and otherwise conduct your business via cash, gold coin or barter, rather than put all your money in a government-scannable bank account ("Yes, sir! How high?" your banker responds when the IRS suggests they jump), all with the "intent to evade detection" of how much money or other assets you’ve got squirreled away?

(I wish that still sounded far-fetched.)

The new law faces court challenges. The defendants have filed pretrial motions arguing it violates due process and is an unconstitutional application of the so-called High Seas clause, which allows U.S. prosecution of felonies at sea.

But how many of today’s high court justices are former drug prosecutors, or spent their lower-bench careers denying as "absurd" any and all defense motions demanding that prosecutors show where in the Constitution the Congress is authorized to launch or finance any "War on Drugs"?

Don’t hold your breath.

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