WASHINGTON — Federal officials, alarmed by a growing influx of drugs across the Mexican border, are planning a new initiative in which hundreds of law enforcement officers from five U.S. agencies will be added to patrols along the border.
In disclosing the plans Thursday, Treasury Department officials who are coordinating the program refused to say how soon it will begin or what techniques will be employed. But the anti-smuggling drive will include aircraft and a variety of new detection devices, they said.
To Try to Halt Aliens
To a lesser extent, the new complement of agents along the 2,200-mile border will also seek to curtail arms trafficking, illegal immigration and related criminal activity, officials said.
The program will resemble that of the interagency South Florida Drug Enforcement Task Force, whose agents blanketed the Miami area in 1981 and were assisted by the Air Force and Navy. Officials said that the Southwest border program results, in part, from the fact that many Latin American drug smugglers have found it is easier to bring narcotics across the Mexican border--particularly into Texas--than into the heavily policed Florida peninsula.
However, the success of interagency narcotics task forces has not always been apparent. Three years ago, the White House created six such units to cover the Southern borders from Florida to California, but congressional studies of their work have largely been critical.
And, last year, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said that the drug interdiction system "fell far short of what is needed to substantially reduce the flow of drugs into the country." Other congressional investigators have termed the system inefficient and uncoordinated.
The new Southwest initiative is being directed by Frank Keating, assistant Treasury secretary for enforcement, who has general supervision over the Customs Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Other agencies participating are the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Coast Guard.
Officials, who refused to be named, said that cocaine smuggling, mainly from Colombia, has increased across the Mexican border. In addition, they said, Mexico has become the largest supplier of heroin, marijuana and illegal amphetamines to the United States.
"Particularly alarming is the fact that many middle-class Americans are becoming addicted to heroin," one official said.
Mexican Stance in Doubt
The extent of Mexican cooperation with the new program remains uncertain. William von Raab, head of the Customs Service, which will lead the drive, suggested in Senate testimony on May 13 that Mexican authorities were involved in massive corruption linked to drug traffic. The Mexican government strongly protested that statement, which U.S. officials have since sought to tone down.
"Well, we can't unring that bell," one Treasury official said Thursday with an air of resignation. "But there's some hope that Willie's outburst may result in more cooperation from Mexican officials after all."