DOJ: ‘Ethnic Asian’ Gangs Dominate Drug Smuggling From Canada, Increasingly Active Inside US

Edwin Mora | October 3, 2011 | 5:21pm EDT
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U.S. Border Patrol agents use All Terrain Vehicles to conduct routine patrols near the U.S.-Canadian border near Sweet Grass, Montana. (Photo: CBP/Gerald L. Nino)

( – Vietnamese and other ethnic Asian criminal gangs smuggling illicit drugs from Canada into the U.S., dominate the narcotics trade along the northern border, according to the Department of Justice.

The department’s most recent National Drug Threat Assessment says these “transnational criminal organizations” (TCOs) are smuggling mostly MDMA (ecstasy pills) and “high-potency marijuana.”

“Canada-based ethnic Asian TCOs are – and should remain – the primary suppliers of MDMA to the United States, producing tens of millions of tablets for the U.S. market,” says the 2011 assessment, released on September 7.

“Asian TCOs, principally Canadian-based ethnic Vietnamese criminal organizations, produce MDMA and marijuana in Canada and subsequently smuggle large amounts of the drugs over the Northern Border for distribution in U.S. markets,” it says.

The department projects that “MDMA and marijuana smuggling will remain the primary drug threats along the Northern Border.”

The quantities of MDMA seized along the border with Canada have risen significantly in recent years.

“The amount of MDMA seized along the Northern Border increased overall from more than 1.9 million tablets in FY2006 to more than 3.9 million tablets in FY2010, the greatest amount seized in the past 5 years,” the DOJ report states. “The number of MDMA seizures per fiscal year along the Northern Border shows a significant increase from FY2006 through FY2010. In addition, the average load size of these seizures continues to increase.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency, as of the end September 30, 2010 the U.S. government did not have “effective control” of an estimated 98 percent, or 3,931 miles, of the 4,000-mile northern border (it similarly does not have “effective control” over more than 56 percent of the estimated 2,000-mile long border with Mexico.)

In DHS terminology “effective control” (also known as “operational control”) applies to those areas where the U.S. government can be “reasonably” be expected to intercept illegal cross-border activity.

In May, CBP commissioner Alan Bersin told lawmakers that the U.S. government had apprehended more suspected terrorists attempting to enter the country across the northern border than through its southern counterpart.

An excerpt of a CBP map shows the U.S. Border Patrol sectors along the U.S.-Canadian border (Image: CBP)

The Canadian Press reported on Sept. 29 that according to a draft CBP document the U.S. is considering erecting a fence along the border with Canada, designed to prevent crossings by terrorists and other criminals. A CBP spokesperson denied that the U.S. was contemplating such a plan “at this time.”

‘Operating inside the US’

The DOJ’s drug intelligence center warns that the Asian traffickers operating out of Canada are also expanding production operations in the U.S.

The Asian “TCOs are reportedly moving some operations to the United States to escape effective law enforcement pressure in Canada, to lower transportation costs, and to avoid the risk of seizure at the U.S.-Canada border.”

“An increase in marijuana grow sites operated by ethnic Asian traffickers has been reported in the Pacific, West Central, Great Lakes, and New England” regions,” the assessment states. “[I]mports of high-grade marijuana from Canada appear to be decreasing as producers shift operations to the U.S. side of the border.”

According to the assessment, Asian groups are the most common drug traffickers along the northern border, while “independent Caucasian groups are active but less prominent.”

“Ethnic Asian” criminals favor trafficking contraband through land ports of entries (POEs) in the states of Washington, Michigan, New York and Vermont.

“They also smuggle large quantities of MDMA and marijuana between POEs at locations such as the Akwesasne Indian Reservation in New York,” the report says. “Air and sea routes are used to some extent, but not to the level of cross-border smuggling by land.” When they do use sea routes, waterways off northwestern Washington state are favored.

The report says illegal drugs flow in both directions.

“Significant quantities of cocaine are smuggled out of the United States into Canada, particularly through POEs in Washington,” it states. “Canadian authorities assess that the United States is one of the primary transit countries for cocaine destined for their country.”

Southwest border still the biggest problem

Despite the dominance of “ethnic Asian” gangs of drug activity along the northern border, Mexican organizations “will continue to dominate wholesale drug trafficking in the United States for the foreseeable future and will further solidify their positions through collaboration with U.S. gangs,” the report says.

“The primary gateway for illicit drug smuggling to the United States is the Southwest Border,” it says. “Smugglers under the direction of Mexican traffickers move most of the cocaine, heroin, foreign-produced marijuana, and foreign-produced methamphetamine available in this country through, between, and around land border crossings in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.”

Illegal drugs move at a “significantly” greater volumes across the U.S.-Mexico border than they do by air, sea, and the northern border combined.

“Nonetheless, enhanced border enforcement appears to be forcing traffickers to rely more on alternative smuggling conveyances such as noncommercial maritime vessels and ultra-light aircraft,” adds the DOJ. “Traffickers also smuggle drugs into the United States through rudimentary and sophisticated underground tunnels and aboard freight trains.”

Sensor technologies deployed along the southwest border have detected nearly 100 tunnels under that border between FY 2005 and FY 2010.

In the assessment, the DOJ conceded that Mexican drug cartels “control access to the U.S.-Mexico border” when it comes to drug smuggling activity.

Mexican drug gangs operated in more than 1,000 U.S. cities during 2009 and 2010 penetrating every corner of the country – as far from the southwest border as the Great Lakes and New England, where the Asian traffickers are also operating.

The reach of their operations inside the U.S. in the past two years showed an increase of more than 300 percent from 2008, when the DOJ’s 2009 drug assessment recorded that the Mexican gangs were operating in 230 cities.

The 2011 report does not mention any link between the Mexican and ethnic Asian criminal gangs, although both are contributing to the wholesale availability of ecstasy in the U.S.

“High levels of MDMA production by Canada-based ethnic Asian criminal organizations, and increased MDMA trafficking by Mexican TCOs, have increased the availability of MDMA in the United States,” it says. “As a result, the drug is readily available in markets throughout the United States, and its availability is increasing in some areas, particularly in the Great Lakes, New York/New Jersey, Southwest, and Pacific.”

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