Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2001
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Fox Butterfield, New York Times


But Confiscations  Have No Clear Effect On Price Or Supply

Heightened security after the Sept. 11 attacks has had a major side effect:
Seizures of illegal drugs along the nation's borders and at its ports of
entry increased substantially in October and November over the corresponding
period a year ago, law enforcement authorities say.

The greatest increase, 326 percent, was in seizures from commercial traffic
along the Canadian border. But the overall figure was also large: The amount
of drugs seized from commercial trucks, ships and planes at all borders and
ports was up 66 percent, the Customs Service says.

Experts have no clear evidence that the increased seizures have created a
shortage of drugs on the street or raised their price there.

And although Afghanistan has been the producer of about 75 percent of the
world's heroin, most of it going to Western Europe, it is far too early to
determine what effect the war against the Taliban or its outcome will have
on drug supply.

But the commissioner of the Customs Service, Robert C. Bonner, said, ``There
has been a definite unintended consequence of the effort against terror: We
are doing a better job of keeping illegal drugs out of the United States.''

Seizures initially dropped after Sept. 11 as drug traffickers slowed
shipments, apparently to gauge what would happen as customs inspectors went
on highest alert. The decline was very short-lived, however. The total
amount of drugs seized by the Customs Service at borders and ports, from
commercial traffic and non-commercial alike, jumped 30 percent in October
from the same month last year.

At the same time, heightened anti-terrorism patrols forced the Coast Guard
to pull back most of the ships and planes it had been using for anti-drug
operations in the Caribbean and the Pacific and assign them to areas closer
to the coast, a step that brought a drop in its drug seizures. From Sept. 11
to Nov. 30, the Coast Guard seized 10,600 pounds of cocaine, for example,
compared with 30,122 pounds in the same period a year ago, and 480 pounds of
marijuana, compared with 7,500 pounds, an official said.

``We recognize that there is a challenge for us in doing both homeland
security and drug patrols,'' said Capt. Mike Lapinski, ``so we've started to
push the borders back out and interdict the seas again in the drug-transit
areas. We're almost back to pre-9/11.''

The Coast Guard has been able to do this by putting its own detachments on
Navy ships. In the past few weeks, Lapinski said, these joint patrols have
led to the seizure of two sizable shipments of drugs on vessels off the
Pacific coast of Central America.

Law enforcement officials are uncertain whether the increase in seizures
means only that they are intercepting a larger proportion of the narcotics
being smuggled into the United States, or whether the traffickers are
themselves contributing to the trend by increasing the number or size of
their shipments as a way of overwhelming the tighter security.

``It could be either, or both,'' said Joe Keefe, chief of operations for the
Drug Enforcement Administration. ``It's too early to tell.''

Keefe said he had not yet seen any evidence that major drug producers in
Colombia had increased their production since Sept. 11. He also said he had
not heard of any significant shortages of drugs on the street, or of major
changes in prices. But because drug dealers often maintain large stockpiles,
it can take months for a drop in supply from abroad to be reflected in
higher street prices.

Two academic experts who study drug dealing and drug use agreed that street
prices had not changed. They are Rick Curtis, head of the anthropology
department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and Mike
Agar, a senior research scientist with Friends Research International of
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