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News (Media Awareness Project) - Ecuador: Narco Sub Is No Rumor, Authorities Discover
Title:Ecuador: Narco Sub Is No Rumor, Authorities Discover
Published On:2010-07-04
Source:Houston Chronicle (TX)
Fetched On:2010-07-05 15:00:20

Find in Jungle of Ecuador Called a Game-Changer in the War on Drugs

It has long been the stuff of drug-trafficking legend, but federal
authorities announced on Saturday that they have helped seize the
first known and fully operational submarine built by drug traffickers
to smuggle tons of cocaine from South America toward the United States.

The diesel-electric powered submarine was captured in an Ecuadorian
jungle waterway leading to the Pacific Ocean, according to the Drug
Enforcement Administration.

The sub, which is about 100 feet long and equipped with a periscope,
was seized before its maiden voyage by Ecuadorian authorities armed
with DEA intelligence.

The discovery is seen by authorities as a game-changer in terms of
the challenge it poses not only to fighting drugs but to national
security as well.

"The submarine's nautical range, payload capacity, and quantum leap
in stealth have raised the stakes for the counter-drug forces and the
national security community alike," said DEA Andean Regional Director
Jay Bergman.

It is unclear how far the camouflage-painted submarine could have
traveled, but it is believed to be sophisticated enough to cover
thousands of miles -- and certainly to make it to the North American coast.

"There is a sense of urgency for naval engineers and submariners to
take a look at this thing and dissect it and take it apart and figure
out what its real capabilities were," Bergman said. "The police have
seized this structure, but the people that need to get on there are
naval engineers."

Bergman noted that traffickers have used speed boats, sail boats,
fishing boats and specialized craft that float low in the water, but
this is the first true submarine discovered.

"Now that the Loch Ness Monster has been found, the interdiction
community is going to retool their search patterns and how they
conduct business," he said.

Back in 2000 in a Bogota, Colombia, warehouse authorities thought
they'd found the first ever narco submarine, but it turned out to be
an enclosed boat that floated low in the water, rather than
completely under the surface. The final frontier

The submarine seized in Ecuador was built in what was described as a
clandestine dry dock of industrial proportions and even had housing
for dozens of workers.

It marks what could be argued as the final frontier for traffickers
who have squared off against law enforcement on the land, in the air
and on the sea, and now look to go beneath the waves to reach
lucrative drug markets.

"There is no place else they can go in terms of maritime," Bergman
said. "The traffickers have now exhausted every possibility."

Among the questions is who could have designed such a sophisticated
machine, as well as piloted it.

But the biggest issue haunting federal agents is this: How many more
might be out there?

"The DEA is very good," Bergman said, "but what are the odds of us
detecting the first one ever built before it got underway? I'd say
this is the first one we caught."

Larry Karson, a retired Customs Service agent who is a criminal
justice lecturer at the University of Houston Downtown, said the DEA
very well could have found the only real narco sub. Hard to hide

He noted that it isn't easy to keep a dry dock covert, let alone all
the people involved.

"It is feasible," said Karson, who noted that for years authorities
have heard rumors of drug traffickers getting a submarine. But most
figured traffickers would most likely buy a used one, not make their own.

"I think everybody has been looking for it, it has been a matter of
time," he said. "There was a rumor somebody would find a used one on
the market. We've been using them since the Civil War."

He noted that the former Navy P-3s that now are used by U.S. Customs
and Border Protection to search for sea and airborne traffickers
sneaking loads toward the United States might have to revert to their
old submarine hunting mission.

Finding the sub comes as part of a long-term cat and mouse game in
which authorities have combed jungles and flown over thousands of
miles of open ocean each week in an attempt to deny traffickers easy
access to their U.S. markets.

As Bergman put it: "This is the final frontier for the maritime drug
traffickers. We remained completely incredulous until the last minute."

"Good cops never underestimate their enemy or the ingenuity of the
adversary," he said. "But seeing is believing and that is what this day is."
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