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Western Hemisphere Strategy Seeks to Achieve Cycle of Success

New platforms provide offshore presence for layered defense.

 

 

In September 2014, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft released the service’s “Western Hemisphere Strategy,” an operational guidebook for the Coast Guard. “Although active in every region of the world, the U.S. Coast Guard’s primary operating area will remain in the Western Hemisphere,” the document states. “The ‘Western Hemisphere Strategy’ addresses transnational threats and maritime challenges that threaten the security of our nation, markets, and oceans over the next 10 years.”

Shutting down one drug pipeline moves the illegal shipments to another, but information gained through each apprehended smuggler has the potential to unlock a key piece of the puzzle when trying to define and attack a transnational organized crime network.

“As residents of the Western Hemisphere, the United States has a keen interest in the safety and security of the hemisphere, including the waters within it and approaching it,” said Rear Adm. Peter J. Brown, assistant commandant for response policy. “We have developed a ‘Western Hemisphere Strategy,’ and we execute that strategy through three main pillars: […] combating networks – primarily criminal networks; securing borders; and safeguarding commerce.”

The strategy is both offensive and defensive in nature.

Combating networks is a new approach for the Coast Guard, according to Capt. Mark Frankford, director of law enforcement, maritime security and defense operations policy. “It’s a modern concept; instead of a nation or criminal group, we’re now also focused on an opponent that is a ‘network,’ and using technology that is very difficult to defeat for illicit purposes on the water.”

Frankford said that identifying and understanding these networks is intelligence based. “We’re trying to learn as much as we can, and build a picture with our partners. Defeating the networks is also a challenge, because even if you significantly damage a network, you don’t really know when it has been defeated. These networks are complex. It’s hard to declare victory, because it’s hard to say what victory is.”

Shutting down one drug pipeline moves the illegal shipments to another, but information gained through each apprehended smuggler has the potential to unlock a key piece of the puzzle when trying to define and attack a transnational organized crime network.

seized cocaine

Coast Guard National Security Cutter Waesche crewmembers
are shown with seized cocaine in San Diego, California, on Oct. 27, 2016. Nearly 20 tons of narcotics were interdicted in
international waters off the coast of Central and South America
during Operation Martillo. The operation is an annual joint,
interagency, and multinational collaborative effort to deny transnational criminal organizations air and maritime access to the littoral regions of the Central America isthmus. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrea Anderson

Metrics can be misleading, but by any measure, the Coast Guard and its interagency partners succeeded by removing more than 416,600 pounds of cocaine worth more than $5.6 billion in fiscal year 2016. The service’s previous record was 367,700 pounds of cocaine removed in FY 2008.

“This impressive record not only reflects the extraordinary accomplishments of the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard but the continued threat our nation faces from transnational criminal organizations determined to move drugs into our country by any means necessary,” stated Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson in a Coast Guard press release.

The second pillar, securing borders, is “the defensive posture of this strategy [and] sustains effective offshore interdiction capability and a comprehensive ability to detect threats and safeguard our homeland,” the strategy notes. “This defensive plan emphasizes improving awareness, prioritizing threats, and establishing a layered defense that supports interdiction of threats far from U.S. interests and borders.”

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...