Following Sen. Brown Request, Department of Homeland Security Agrees to Deploy Military-Grade Radar to Combat Increased Airborne Drug Smuggling Across US-Canada Border by November 2011

In 2009, Three Northeast Ohio Residents Sought to Smuggle 100 Pounds of Hydroponic Marijuana into Ohio through Northern Border

Recent Reports Show Incidents of Drug Smuggling Along Northern Border Increasing—Federal Investigation Says Small, Low-Flying Planes Commonly Used

Washington State-Based Pilot Program Showed Radar to Be Effective in Identifying and Catching Drug Smugglers

WASHINGTON, D.C.Following a request from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)—along with other border state senators—the U.S. Department of Homeland Security today agreed to deploy military-grade radar technology to combat the illegal smuggling of drugs into the United States from Canada and to have that program in place by November of this year. Today, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, Alan Bersin— Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection bureau at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—testified that DHS plans to have the system set up, at the senators’ request, by this November.

In February, Brown—along with U.S. Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—urged federal authorities to this technology to help crack down on drug smuggling.  In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the senators urged the two federal agencies to deploy proven military radar technology to stop drug smugglers who use small aircrafts along the northern border.

“The government should employ all available resources to combat drug smuggling—on both the northern and southern borders of the United States,” Brown said. “The technology to prevent drug smuggling through low-flying aircraft is available and has a track record of success when used elsewhere in the United States. I’m pleased that the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to have this program up and running by November of this year and I applaud the agency for their work to help combat illegal drug trafficking in our country.”

In 2009, federal law enforcement officials uncovered a drug-smuggling operation along the Northern border involving three Northeast Ohio residents. According to reports, the Ohio residents planned trips to the New York – Canadian border, with the goal of bringing 100 pounds of hydroponic marijuana back to Ohio after each trip.

In the initial request to Secretaries Napolitano and Gates, the senators pointed to the success of Operation Outlook, a pilot program run between 2005 to 2008 involving cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), which used sophisticated military radar technology along the Spokane, WA sector of the northern border to catch low-flying aircraft that would otherwise not have been caught with the current technology used by DHS. 

According to the Border Patrol, Operation Outlook “successfully identified air-related smuggling trends and patterns and organizations active in cross-border criminal activities” along the Spokane sector.  The senators are urging the feds to resume and expand the program.

The senators also urged that radar technology be included in the northern border counter-narcotics strategy currently being developed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).  The office is required to develop such a strategy as part of the Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act, passed by congress last year.

The increases in illegal drug smuggling across the U.S.-Canada border represent a real and serious threat.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in November 2010 signaling that “cross-border use of low-flying aircraft to smuggle drugs has been much higher than indicated by the number of drug seizures.”  In addition, a recent report from Hearst Newspapers indicates that “drug gangs ratcheted up shipments” of illegal drugs over the border during the last decade.

Given the success of Operation Outlook, and given the alarming increase in smuggling activity along the U.S.-Canada border, the senators wrote that they “stand ready to help with any legislation necessary to further…[the] mission of protecting America.”

A copy of the original letter to Secretaries Napolitano and Gates can be found here.


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