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The National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy: Closing a Window of Criminal Opportunity

By Sharon L. Cardash

Last week, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued the National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy. Unless you knew it was coming and happened to be keeping an eye peeled for it, the document may well have escaped notice—with its release on a Friday, in the heat of primary season, and in the immediate lead-up to the President’s State of the Union Address. This is something of a shame because the plan contains some welcome elements that, if well executed, could make a positive contribution to the field.

Among other things, the Strategy highlights the challenges posed, and faced, by tribal communities along the border. Public safety issues (including smuggling) have long been a concern here, and the ramifications may extend far inland in both countries. The complexity of the challenge manifests, in part, in the multiplicity of jurisdictions at play—not just U.S. and Canadian, but intra-U.S. (federal/state/local/tribal) as well. In reference to the St. Regis Mohawk reservation, the Strategy states: “This unusual intersection of governmental authority of multiple sovereigns and geographical complexity has created an opportunity for criminals seeking to smuggle narcotics into the United States.”

To help stop this gap and clamp down on criminal enterprise, the strategy proposes several “Supporting Actions:”

  1. “Enhance coordination of intelligence and law enforcement resources between tribal, Federal, state, and local agencies;”
  2. “Enhance consultation between Federal law enforcement agencies and tribal governments;” and
  3. “Develop resources and provide training opportunities to tribal law enforcement agencies” (see page 31).

Coordination and consultation are indisputably good things in this context—and the commitment to resource the effort, all the more so. With equipment and personnel levels commensurate to the challenge, outcomes could be significantly affected (for the better).

In a high-tech era of drones, foreign espionage, and other eye-catching threats and countermeasures, it is relatively easy for problems and solutions deemed more pedestrian to be underestimated and underappreciated. Yet “ordinary” crime still takes a significant toll, especially if left to fester. Solid fundamentals such as those outlined in the strategy work to redress and prevent that toll. Let’s hope those measures are effectively implemented and succeed.

Sharon L. Cardash is Associate Director of The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute.