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Study Says Military Can’t Stem Drug Traffic

May 18, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Using the military to intercept illegal drugs entering the United States, as proposed by Congress, would neither greatly raise street prices nor reduce the amount reaching the country, a new study says.

″There are dozens of ways of bringing drugs into the country, and only a few of them can be effectively blocked by the military,″ said Rand Corp. economist Peter Reuter, main author of the 154-page report by the California think tank.

″Smugglers adapt,″ Reuter said in an interview Tuesday. ″As interdictors make risks and costs higher, smugglers shift to other methods of bringing drugs into the country.″

The House has passed a far-reaching amendment to the $299.5 billion entagon appropriation bill ordering President Reagan to have the military basically seal off U.S. borders against illegal drug-trafficking.

The Senate passed a slightly less sweeping version but still gives the military a bigger role in stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country. It would give new arrest powers for Navy officers aboard warships that stop suspected drug boats on the high seas.

Differences between the two bills will be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee.

Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci and other administration officials have opposed using the military in the war against drugs.

Reuter provides support for their position, saying his study found that use of the armed forces against drug smugglers has had little effect so far, despite big increases in expenditures.

Pentagon expenditures in the drug war rose from $1 million in 1981 to $196 million in 1986, while non-military expenditures rose from $263 million to $605 million.

Seizures of cocaine rose from less than 2 million metric tons in 1981 to more than 25 metric tons in 1986, but the amount of cocaine estimated to have entered the country jumped by 150 percent over the same period.

The main contribution of the military so far has been the use of radar planes to spot possible smugglers as they approach U.S. shores, said the RAND study.

But the military may not shoot down suspected drug smugglers, who have the right of due process of law, and ground-based law enforcement officials have had mixed results intercepting suspicious planes as they land.

As the small boats and planes traditionally favored by smugglers become subject to search and seizure, said Reuter, drug traffickers find more imaginative means. Two recent cocaine seizures, he said, were four tons aboard a lumber ship from Brazil and one ton in an Ecuadoran ship carrying frozen fruit pulp.

Reuter and two colleagues from RAND, Gordon Crawford and Jonathon Cave, designed a computer model to determine the effect of increasing the risks and costs of smuggling drugs into the United States.

If a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine costs $15,000 to deliver to the United States, it has a value of $250,000 when sold on the street in one ounce packets, they found.

Tripling the smuggling cost ″will have a very small impact on the street value of the cocaine,″ Reuter said, because the increase can be passed down the chain or partially absorbed in the huge retail price.

″I do not have a solution to the problem. I have looked into the pilot program, and I don’t have any good news,″ said Reuter.

The report was prepared by RAND’s National Defense Research Institute, which is funded by the Pentagon. However, the institute operates independently of the Pentagon, and the department does not have editorial control over the institute’s reports and conclusions, said Reuter.

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