In early March 2014, the world was captivated in a way never seen before by the news of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, MH370.
The last voice contact with the flight crew was early morning 8th March somewhere over the South China Sea, just over an hour after take-off. Soon after the plane disappeared from Malaysian Air traffic Control radars, but was tracked shortly after flying over the Malay Peninsula, and tracking across the Andaman Sea.
MH370 was a Boeing 777-200ER, which had 227 passengers and 15 crew members aboard that night. This disappearance of the aircraft has led to one of the largest and longest searches in history for the aircraft, which is still going on today in the Southern Indian Ocean, the most probable place authorities believe that plane went down.
MH370 is not the only aviation mystery. There have been a long line of aviation mysteries, many which still have not been solved today. One of the most famous cases that have attracted a lot of speculation was flight 19, a group of 5 TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle in 1945. A PBM Mariner flying boat that went searching for the lost planes also disappeared.
Charismatic Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, mysteriously disappeared in the Pacific while on a round the world flight in a twin engine Lockheed Electra 10E. In 1956, a fully nuclear armed B-47 Stratojet disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea and was lost without a trace. In 1962, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation flight from Travis Air Force Base in California to Saigon disappeared without a trace after a mid-air refuelling over Guam. In 1979, a Boeing 707-323C transporting valuable paintings disappeared mid-flight between Tokyo and Rio de Janerio and was never found.
However, some aircraft have disappeared by design. In 2003, a Boeing 727-223 was stolen in Angola from the airport, took off and has never been seen again.
All the above cases have not been solved and led to speculation and conspiracy theories ranging from the plausible to the extra-terrestrial explanations.
Yet time has allowed similar cases to be solved when someone stumbles across wreckage or other artefacts from these besieged flights. Such a case included a South American Airways Star Dust aircraft that disappeared in 1947. It took 50 years to solve this mystery when glacial ice in the Andes melted, exposing the aircraft wreckage. More recently, the remains of Air France Flight 447, were only found two years after it disappeared.
However the search area for the ill-fated MH370 is hundreds of times more expansive than flight 447.
As the events of March 2014 panned out, several things became clear.
The first thing exposed by the MH370 tragedy was the ad hoc haphazardness of the Malaysian Government. The early responses of the government were heavily criticized for uncoordinated and sometimes contradictory approach to the disaster. The chief spokesman for the Malaysian Government Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein was criticized for his smugness, evasiveness, sometimes condescending attitude, and delay in providing information to the families of MH370 passengers and public.
It took Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak a week before he appeared on television after the plane vanished. This delay made Malaysia appear very unprofessional to people who were not familiar with the political culture of Malaysia.
The families and relatives of the missing were particularly critical of the search operation. Critical time was lost searching for flight MH370 in the South China Sea. Voice370 representing the families of the passengers accused the Malaysian Government of a cover-up. The families and relatives of the passengers, mainly Chinese nationals, were angered by the coarseness of an English language text message “we have to assume beyond all reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and all those on board haven’t survived”. This led to Chinese protests outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing.
After more than a year since the disappearance of flight MH370, criticism still persists about Malaysian Airlines safety issues which were found wanting. Malaysian Airlines has performed very poorly financially, since the disappearance of MH370, the shooting down of MH17, and boycotts by Chinese that brought a reported 50% drop in tourists compared to the previous year.
The Malaysian Government’s poor response to the MH370 disappearance showed up both the lack of transparency and the dismal state of the Malaysian media that has been shackled for years. Ministers and public officials were not used to the scrutiny the international media put them under.
The second issue was the poor coordination between civil and military authorities. This was not unique to Malaysia, the same problem purportedly occurred during the 911 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. Although Flight MH370 was detected by Malaysian military radar crossing the Malay Peninsula soon after the final voice communication to Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control, it took civil authorities a number of days before they moved the search from the South China Sea to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean. Vietnam also expressed concerns that Malaysia was not forthcoming with new information and cooperative.
This leads onto the third issue of international defence capabilities and cooperation, which appear very poor out of this disaster. MH370 must have come up as a radar signature across Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. According to reports, it was only after MH370 had disappeared 9 days that the Thais informed the Malaysians that they had picked up an unidentified flight crossing the Malay Peninsula. According to Indonesian authorities no unidentified flight was ever picked up on radar, which hints that either the system wasn’t being used or MH370 very skilfully flew along the boundaries of the radar detection area of Indonesia.
This raises questions about actual ASEAN military surveillance capabilities.
Given that military authorities may be hesitant to disclose the extent of their respective early warning radar systems, The Mail suggests that air defences may not be what they are supposed to be.
The delay in sharing vital information with Malaysia shows the poor state of defence cooperation within the region.
The fact that a large modern airliner could just disappear has been met with much disbelief, leading to a number of conspiracy theories.
Some claim that the aircraft was hijacked by North Korea over the sea for the new technologies that Boeing 777 has incorporated within the plane. A US science writer Jeff Wise, who regularly appears on CNN postulated that the aircraft flew north rather than south into the Indian Ocean and landed in Kazakhstan. Other theories put forward include the United States shot down the plane to prevent a drone shot down by the Taliban over Afghanistan with secret technology in the cargo bay, didn’t get into the hands of the Chinese. A variation on this theory is that the aircraft was forcibly taken to a US base on the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia, where the crew and passengers are captives.
Conspiracy theorists put weight on the fact that 20 employees of a semi-conductor company Freescale Semiconductor developing components for hi-tech military weapons and navigation systems were on board MH370. Their disappearance according to some could have been the result of stealth technology this group had been working on. Alternatively others have proposed that the disappearance of these engineers allowed a member of the Rothschild family to secure sole ownership of an important patent.
Still more theories speculate the plane’s disappearance was about a life insurance scam, the plane was captured and exchanged for MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine, later in August 2014, the plane was cyber-jacked electronically, and the plane was abducted by aliens.
Even though fragments of MH370 found on Reunion Island and have been confirmed as parts of MH370, there are some who claim that the pieces are fake, and one of the above conspiracy theories hold.
Debris found washed up on a beach along the East Coast of Thailand last month was suspected of being parts of MH370, until this was discounted by aviation authorities in Bangkok.
The initial suspicion on the disappearance of MH370 was related to two passengers using false passports. This indicated a possible hijacking. The turn flight MH370 made over the South China Sea and around Indonesian territory appeared to support this deliberate act. News breaking out that the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid had allowed passengers into the cockpit during a previous flight also made this theory appear plausible.
The phone call Fariq was reported to have tried to make over Penang even adds more weight to the MH370 disappearance being a deliberate act. However upon investigation of all the passengers and crew, no links to terrorism was ever made with anybody on the flight. This only exposed a lapse in security as the two passports of the passengers involved where actually on the Interpol database, but not checked by Malaysian Immigration.
This doesn’t count out a disturbed member of the crew having a ‘death-wish’ and using the flight to commit suicide. The captain could have locked the co-pilot out of the cockpit and proceeded down to the Southern Indian Ocean and take the whole plane to a deep ocean grave. This scenario happened on a Silk Air flight some years ago where the captain lost his savings on the stock-market and committed suicide, and with Egypt Air flight 990 where the co-pilot committed suicide by diving the plane straight into the sea.
The latest explanation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATAC) suggests a power failure, which probably disabled avionic systems where the plane would have flown on auto-pilot until fuel was exhausted, where it would turn into a spiral nose dive going straight into the Southern Indian Ocean. The rebooting of the ACARS system which transmits engine data to the ground suggests a power failure. The lithium batteries in the cargo hold could have been a source of that fire which disabled electronic systems, vital to control and manage a sophisticated aircraft like a Boeing 777. Lithium batteries have caused fires on aircraft before. This is what happened to a South African Airways flight in 1987.
The crew and passengers may have been disabled through hypoxia, where the plane flew on autopilot. This could have been a similar scenario to the Helios Airlines Flight 522 crash in 2005, where two jets were scrambled and the pilots saw all the passengers incapacitated, when the flight eventually crashed after it ran out of fuel.
However this explanation doesn’t explain the apparent deliberate flight around Aceh, where MH370 avoided Indonesian radar. This would have to be a carefully planned part of the flight. This scenario points to a purposeful act, and MH370 could have been a hijacking gone wrong, something like Ethiopia Airways Flight 961, where the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea in 1996.
Although it was confirmed pieces of wreckage washed up on Reunion Island where part of MH370, what happened and the whereabouts of the fuselage and remains of the passengers and crew still remain a mystery. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said that the search effort will now have to retrace some previously searched locations due to the complexity of the ocean surface and possibility the wreckage may have been missed. The search has been extremely hazardous resulting in a loss of the deep water sonar which hit an underwater volcano and sank to the bottom of the ocean a few weeks ago.
A French team is currently developing another theory of what happened to flight MH370 based upon the piece of wreckage washed up on Reunion Island, which was found in an unexpected location in relation to the targeted search area. Another report expected to be released by the Malaysian Government on the 2nd anniversary of the plane’s disappearance may incorporate this theory in the report.
The shocking truth about MH370 is that we don’t really know what happened on that night of 8th March 2014, how the flight ended, and what became of the passengers and aircraft. Everything the authorities have said is pure speculation. The black box data recorder holds all the secrets to the doomed flight. This needs to be recovered before the truth can be known with certainty.
Even with all the technology we have today, the Earth is larger than we think. Satellite photography, the US ability to identify any missile launch on the face of the Earth, aviation procedures and protocols, and defence surveillance around the globe failed to notice and find a rogue aircraft, even post 911.
Ideas are needed and resources allocated to help prevent this scenario ever happening again. However almost two years after the disappearance of MH370, nothing has been put in place to enable the tracking of rogue aircraft, should they deviate from flight plans and procedures.
The solutions exist and are in practice. Over the vast region of Hudson Bay, radar blind spots are covered by approximations using flight plans, GPS, and broadcasts under an Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADSB) system. Such systems are not operating within South-East Asia and Indian Ocean. The MH370 tragedy indicates that the skies over the region are not being watched closely at all. This lack of diligent surveillance has made the search for MH370 the most costly in history.
With the present search only planned to continue until June this year, the shocking truth about MH370 is that the relatives and loved ones of the people on MH370 may not get closure for two or three generations to come.
Authorities are now beginning to return to some of the original hypothesized theories to explore the MH370 disappearance further, such as a flame out or rogue pilot scenario similar to the Andreas Lubitz case where he deliberately crashed a Germanwings Airbus A320-211 into the French Alps. The questions about whether the pilot deliberately turned off the transponder over the South China Sea will probably be open to debate once again.
The mystery of MH370 may only be finally put to rest in the later part of this century, and this may only happen by accident.
Mounting Cyber Espionage and Hacking Threat from China
Earlier this month a ransomware attack on America’s Prospect Medical Holdings, which operates dozens of hospitals and hundreds of clinics and outpatient centres across the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Southern California was forced to shut off its centres in several locations as the healthcare system experienced software disruptions. In June India’s premier hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) faced a malware attack on its systems which was thwarted by its cyber-security systems. This is not the first time that the premier hospital’s data was breached. In November 2022, AIIMS had experienced a cyberattack within weeks of announcing that from January 2023, it would operate on a completely paperless mechanism. The cyber attack which involved ransomware, designed to deny a user or organisation access to files, lasted for nearly a month affecting the profile of almost 4 crore patients – affecting registration, appointments, billing, laboratory report generation, among other operations of the hospital. Regarding the quantum of data that was compromised, the government revealed that “five servers of AIIMS were affected and approximately 1.3 terabytes of data was encrypted.”
Till June this year, Indian Government organisations faced over one lakh cyber security incidents and financial institutions saw over four lakh incidents. Data presented by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), which has the mandate of tracking and monitoring cybersecurity incidents in India, indicates rising Cyberattacks to government organisations. or systems year on year. From 70798 in 2018, to 112474 in 2023 (up to June) incidents of cyber attacks have been on the rise, on a year on year basis. Presenting this data at the Parliament, Minister for electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “With innovation in technology and rise in usage of the cyberspace and digital infrastructure for businesses and services, cyber-attacks pose a threat to confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and services, which may have direct or indirect impact on the organisation.”
A lot of the hacking activity points towards China. Western intelligence agencies are becoming increasingly wary of digital intrusion by hacking teams that they believe are being backed by China’s government. Almost a decade ago, American computer security firm Mandiant had made the startling claim that these hacking groups are operated by units of China’s army. The firm was able to trace an overwhelming percentage of the attacks on American corporations, organisations and government agencies to a building on the outskirts of Shanghai. Mandiant made the case that the building was one of the bases of the People’s Liberation Army’s corps of cyberwarriors. US intelligence analysts have detected that a central element of Chinese computer espionage is Unit 61398 which targets American and Canadian government sites. Mandiant, which was hired by The New York Times, found that hacker groups like “Comment Crew” or “Shanghai Group” were behind hundreds of attacks on U.S. companies, focusing “on companies involved in the critical infrastructure of the United States — its electrical power grid, gas lines and waterworks” thereafter bringing that information to the military unit 61398.
In their defence the China’s authorities simply denied any form of state-sponsored hacking, and have in turn dubbed the US National Security Agency (NSA) as “the world’s largest hacker organisation.”
Nonetheless, since the 2013 revelations, Chinese hacking teams have generated a lot of interest and Western cybersecurity companies and intelligence agencies have accused them of global digital incursion. They allege that Chinese government-backed hackers attempt to target everything from government and military organisations to corporations and media organisations.
Most recently in the footsteps of the incident involving the Chinese spy balloon Microsoft claimed that in an ongoing effort Chinese state-sponsored hackers group ‘Storm-0558’ was forging digital authentication tokens to gain unauthorised access to Microsoft’s Outlook accounts and urged users “close or change credentials for all compromised accounts”. On May 24, Microsoft and US intelligence state-sponsored hackers of ‘Volt Typhoon’ were engaged in ongoing spying of critical US infrastructure organisations ranging from telecommunications to transportation hubs, using an unnamed vulnerability in a popular cybersecurity suite called FortiGuard, and had been active since mid-2021.
According to US cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks cyber espionage threat group ‘BackdoorDiplomacy’ has links to the Chinese hacking group called ‘APT15’and they are all involved in cyber intrusions and financially motivated data breaches for the Chinese government. During the visit by then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, APT27 initiated a range of cyber attacks targeting Taiwan’s presidential office, foreign and defence ministries as well as infrastructure such as screens at railway stations. Television screens at 7-11 convenience stores in Taiwan Began to display the words: “Warmonger Pelosi, get out of Taiwan!”
Mara Hvistendahl’s article in Foreign Policy, 2017 ‘China’s Hacker Army’ estimated China’s “hacker army” anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 individuals, but rejected the belief that it was a monolithic cyber army. Mara contends that Chinese hackers are for the most part dangerous ‘freelancers’ whose ‘causes neatly overlap with the interests of the Chinese government’ and these hackers are left alone as long as they target foreign sites and companies.
Although cyber attacks have gone up globally, data by Check Point, an American-Israeli software company, reveals that weekly cyber attacks in India have gone up by 18 per cent this year, which is 2.5 times more than the global increase. Furthermore the cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated as hackers try to weaponize legitimate tools for malicious gains. For instance the use of ChatGPT for code generation, enables hackers to effortlessly launch cyberattacks.
Last year in a massive case of cyber espionage, Chinese-linked hackers broke into mail servers operated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in February 2022 and stole sensitive data. At the recent ‘Conference on Crime & Security on the theme of ‘NFTs, AI and the Metaverse’, current G20 President India, has highlighted the need for cooperation to build cyber-resilience in an increasingly connected world. Both cyber attacks and cyber crimes have national security implications.
In India, investigations into the cyberattack, which had crippled the functioning of India premier health institution AIIMS, revealed that “the IP addresses of two emails, which were identified from the headers of files that were encrypted by the hackers, originated from Hong Kong and China’s Henan province”.
Earlier this year, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray had an alarming metric, – that Chinese hackers outnumber FBI cyber staff 50 to one. Addressing a Congressional panel he said, China has “a bigger hacking programme than every other major nation combined and has stolen more of our personal and corporate data than all other nations — big or small — combined.”
China is today home to some of the most sophisticated hackers, whose capabilities have only improved with time. Their motivations and actions might be independent but are conveniently entwined. However, much more needs to be understood about the hacker culture from China in recent years, if the menace of cybercrime and ransomware is to be mitigated successfully .
Whistleblowers: the Unsung Heroes
Whistleblowing is a bribery and corruption prevention strategy that does not receive the credit it deserves. In fact, rather than relying exclusively on laws, regulations, and resolutions, whistleblowing can be considered a highly effective method to combat bribery and corruption in any field, including government or corporate settings. Whistleblowing often leads to sustainable solutions, as it involves voices from various levels, ranging from grassroots to top-tier management. However, there are plethora of challenges whistleblowers face when they blow the whistle. Nonetheless, whistleblowers play a crucial role in preventing bribery and corruption, and this pivotal role enables preserving the security of any nation.
As stated by the National Center for Whistleblowing (2021), at its core, a whistleblower is an individual who discloses instances of wastefulness, fraudulent activities, misconduct, corruption, or hazards to public well-being, with the intention of prompting corrective actions. While whistleblowers are often affiliated with the organization where the wrongdoing occurs, it is not a prerequisite; anyone can assume the role of a whistleblower as long as they reveal information about the wrongdoing that would otherwise remain concealed. In simple terms, a whistleblower is a person who acts responsibly on behalf of themselves as well as others. Whistleblowers play an extremely imperative role in any society, as they stand for justice, promote accountability, and advocate transparency.
When looking at its link to national security, whistleblowers play a crucial role. One prominent action is whistleblowers exposing imminent and occurred security threats. They are capable of disclosing breaches of security, illegal surveillance, and in situations where individuals or entities are attempting to divulge material information. Whistleblowers uncover injustices, misconduct, and beyond-the-scope activities of decision-makers within government or private entities. If individuals engage in unethical practices, illegal actions, or actions jeopardizing integrity, whistleblowers blow the whistle. One such example, as reported by St. Francis School of Law in 2022, is whistleblower Frank Serpico’s case. He was the first police officer who openly testified about corruption within the New York Police Department, reporting instances of police corruption, including bribes and payoffs, despite facing numerous obstacles. His revelations contributed to a 1970 New York Times story on systemic corruption in the NYPD, leading to the formation of the Knapp Commission. In 1971, he survived a suspicious shooting during an arrest, raising concerns about potential attempts to harm him. Serpico’s bravery emphasized the importance of accountability and transparency in law enforcement.
Whistleblowers also contribute by facilitating accountability by bringing into light corrupt practices such as mismanagement of money. An example is, in 1968 when A. Ernest Fitzgerald, known as the “godfather of the defense movement,” exposed a staggering $2.3 billion cost overrun related to the Lockheed C-5 transport aircraft. His courageous testimony before Congress shed light on issues in defense contracting and resulted in substantial government savings. Fitzgerald’s contributions went beyond the immediate case, playing a crucial role in the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. This results in a culture of accountability where representatives of the public are answerable to their actions. Whistleblowers uphold the rule of law and promote justice by defending the rights of the citizens. It fosters democracy.
However, whistleblowers are often subjected to criticism for standing up against injustice. They fear retaliation, as guilty parties may try to silence them out of revenge. Additionally, companies or institutions may not take whistleblowers seriously, leading them to avoid addressing the reported issues. In many cases, this happens because governments or authorities in power might be involved in bribery and corruption. Public recognition and appreciation of whistleblowers’ contributions to society are vital and should not be perceived as excessive. In addition, there are situations where groups of individuals create sub cultures within organisation and act against rules and protocols jeopardising inclusive culture. In such situations, reporting to a superior will be seen as favoritism or being overly devoted to the institution. This toxic environment demotivates valuable employees or those willing to stand against injustice. The lack of adequate legal protection further compounds the challenges faced by whistleblowers. Moreover, the courage to stand against bribery and corruption is in dire need, as many individuals may lack the moral fortitude to do so.
Whistleblowers are internationally and domestically protected, primarily through the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Other international agreements, such as the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the Organization of American States Inter-American Convention against Corruption, also demonstrate a commitment to whistleblower protection. Various influential international organizations, including the G20, OECD, and APEC, have played a role in promoting whistleblower laws and best practices worldwide. On the domestic front, countries like Sri Lanka have specific laws dealing with corruption, while OECD findings highlight countries with comprehensive whistleblower laws such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and others.
Despite these efforts, there are still some ambiguities and gaps in provisions that hinder effective whistleblowing. For instance, the proposed anti-corruption bill in Sri Lanka allows public officers to accept gratifications authorized by written law or employment terms, which undermines the core objectives of the bill and enables influential individuals to evade accountability for corrupt gains. In Russia, whistleblower protection is limited, with unsuccessful attempts to establish protective measures in 2017. This puts Russia behind the EU, which has implemented robust whistleblower protection through the Whistleblowing Directive.
It is evident that whistleblowers play an indispensable role in combatting bribery and corruption, acting as a highly effective strategy to preserve the security of any nation. Despite facing numerous challenges, these individuals contribute significantly by uncovering wrongdoing, promoting accountability, and upholding transparency. By exposing imminent security threats and holding corrupt practices accountable, whistleblowers safeguard the rule of law and foster democracy. However, to harness the full potential of whistleblowing, it is crucial to address barriers to reporting and remedy afore mentioned legal hurdles. Encouraging a whistleblowing culture and recognizing their contributions will enable society to effectively mitigate and combat bribery and corruption, by creating a more just and transparent environment. To accomplish this, organizations can embrace a culture of whistleblowing, by conducting awareness campaigns, implementing training programs, and fostering a safe and supportive environment for whistleblowers to come forward. In addition, implementing technical measures and policies to ensure whistleblower protection, authorities can demonstrate their commitment to supporting those who expose wrongdoing. These collective actions will strengthen the pivotal role of whistleblowers in preserving security by combating bribery and corruption, fostering a safer and more ethical society for the future.
Breaking the Grip: Comprehensive Policy Recommendations to Defeat Drug Cartels
In 2022, drug overdoses claimed the lives of over 100,000 Americans. The primary sources of illegal drugs flooding into the United States are the Mexican drug cartels, who exploit a network of corrupt politicians, police officers, and military personnel in Mexico. Within Mexico itself, these cartels are responsible for a staggering level of violence, including tens of thousands of homicides each year. Within the United States, the cartels establish distribution cells, collaborating with either Mexican gangs or affiliated criminal organizations.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers the Mexican drug cartels to be the number-one threat to the United States. Among them, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) are the richest and most powerful. Their exceptional earnings allow them to invest in soldiers and weapons, as well as payoffs and bribes, enabling them to expand their territorial control.
To effectively address the challenge posed by the cartels, the United States should adopt a comprehensive set of policy measures. These include securing the southern border, fostering enhanced cooperation with the Mexican government, implementing immigration reforms, bolstering drug enforcement efforts domestically, designating the cartels as terrorist organizations, imposing targeted financial and economic sanctions, and considering if limited military intervention is necessary.
While these measures hold significant potential, there exist political barriers that hinder their implementation.
Secure the Southern Border
Since January 2020, over five million people have illegally crossed the southern border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identifies protecting the border from illegal movements of people and drugs as being essential to homeland security. Transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG, are responsible for most of the drugs entering the country. On an average day, CBP seizes 1,797 pounds of illegal narcotics. In 2022, CBP seized a total of “more than 1.8 million pounds of narcotics and 14,700 pounds of fentanyl.” Preventing the cartels from being able to transport drugs into the United States would take away their income, causing their soldiers and friendly politicians to stop cooperating with them.
In order to better secure the border, CBP has created a preparedness plan which consists of a number of crucial elements, such as increasing the number of personnel, while improving technology and infrastructure. In addition to new hires, the number of personnel can be augmented through increased cooperation with other branches of law enforcement and the military. In May, President Biden, in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP, ordered an additional 1,500 troops to the border for a 90-day deployment. This was on top of the 2,500 already in place. Texas Governor Ron Abbot deployed his national guard and the new Texas Tactical Border Force to the border. North Dakota and Tennessee, as well as other states, also sent members of their national guard to Texas. In addition to national guard troops, the state of Florida sent a mix of state law-enforcement officers from varying branches. To effectively control the border, however, and have a major impact on illegal immigration, the number of troops will have to be drastically increased and the deployment would have to be permanent.
The technological improvements called for by the DHS include increased use of high-tech assets for aerial surveillance such as drones and manned aircraft. They also want sensors on border barriers, land sensors, cameras, radar, and autonomous surveillance towers. This technology will allow the DHS to better detect, monitor, and track unauthorized border crossings. Additionally, improved data analytics and artificial intelligence would help with screening and processing of legal entrants as well as illegals who have been apprehended.
The DHS has called for improved infrastructure towers, as well as facility expansion and upgrades. Some U.S. lawmakers would also like to see the border wall completed, particularly along vulnerable areas. A wall would impede illegal entry to the country, while making it easier for officials to spot illegal crossings.
Plans to secure the border have been rejected on a number of grounds. First, it would be expensive to station the necessary number of personnel at the border. Increased infrastructure, particularly the wall, would also be very costly and would not provide a 100-percent solution. Even more, it would be seen as racist, with Bloomberg calling the border wall a monument to White Supremacy.
Increased Cooperation with Mexican Government
One part of the cooperation with Mexico has to include Mexico’s willingness to help staunch the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. Mexican President López Obrador formed a national guard tasked with this purpose, but the group has been condemned by human rights activists. Furthermore, the national guard, like other elements of Mexico’s law enforcement and military, suffers from corruption.
If migrants were turned away by the U.S. in large numbers, Mexico would have to stand ready to accept them. Mexico would also have to form agreements with other countries in the chain of drug transit, from Colombia, through Central America, to the U.S. border. These countries will have to similarly agree to help prevent migrants from entering Mexico and they will have to stand ready to receive those migrants returned by Mexico.
Inside of Mexico, the Mexican government must actively fight the cartels, disarming them, disbanding them, and loosening their hold over both territory and people. This includes targeting high-profile cartel leaders. This will create command and control vacuums which historically have caused in-fighting among cartel members. Large cartels would then splinter into independent and warring groups with considerably less power. Changes within Mexico, however, would be dependent on reducing corruption, and these policies would be very unpopular among politicians, police, and military officers who benefit from the status quo.
Because of the massive corruption and the influence the cartels have over the Mexican authorities, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) has abandoned any hope of cooperating with the Mexican government, calling the country “a failed narco-state.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has similarly given up on the Mexican government, saying that the U.S. should notify Mexico that the cartels will soon be designated as terrorist organizations.
The screening process for legal immigrants must be strengthened, while backdoor avenues, such as illegal entry and asylum-seeking, must be curtailed. Under the Biden administration, anyone arriving at the southern border can claim to be seeking asylum. This allows them to remain in the United States awaiting their asylum hearing. Republicans see this as an enticement for people wishing to enter the country, bypassing normal immigration procedures. Rights groups, on the other hand, complain that Washington should not curtail its acceptance of asylum seekers. In this case, asylum seekers should be returned to Mexico to await their court date. Knowing that they cannot get a free pass into the U.S. would reduce the number of people seeking to exploit the system. This change in immigration procedure would have to be coordinated with Mexico, however, as the undocumented would be entering Mexican territory.
Increased Drug Enforcement in the U.S.
Drug laws in the U.S. must be rigorously enforced in order to reduce the demand for drugs. Law enforcement must be strengthened, including additional training, and increased investigation and prosecution of drug-related crimes. Intelligence gathering must be enhanced through the creation of specialized units and task forces. The DEA reported that drug cartels are exploiting social media to sell fentanyl and methamphetamine. The authorities should closely monitor these social media in order to identify and arrest buyers and sellers. Furthermore, the DEA must coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to increase arrests of people selling or buying illegal drugs.
Beyond law enforcement and prosecution, there must be comprehensive drug prevention and treatment programs, education campaigns, addiction treatment, and rehabilitation programs. Opponents of strict enforcement claim that enforcement does not work because drug use has increased during the 50 years that the U.S. war on drugs has been going on. The war on drugs has cost $1 trillion, and roughly one in five incarcerated people were arrested on drug charges. Opponents also complain that prisoners are disproportionately Black and Latino. Although only 13.4 percent of the population is African American, about 25 percent of all persons arrested for drugs are African American adults.
Identify Cartels as International Terrorist Organization
The cartels are known to cooperate with international terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, Taliban, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and al-Qaeda, in order to sell their drugs in other parts of the world. They also aid terrorism by smuggling terrorists into the United States. To launder their illicit income, they employ the services of Chinese criminal organizations which pose their own threat to the United States. U.S. lawmakers have proposed designating the cartels as terrorist organizations, because they use violence and threats of violence to influence and control judges, politicians, and lawmakers. Designating the cartels as terrorist organizations would facilitate U.S. government seizure of cartel assets. It would make it easier for the U.S. to arrest cartel members inside of the United States, and possibly inside of Mexico. The U.S. could deport or bar from entry persons associated with the cartels. A terrorism designation would also enable the U.S. to deploy the military, even inside of Mexico.
However, there would be a number of disadvantages. First, violence would most likely increase, particularly if the U.S. military became involved. Next, it would effectively destroy U.S.-Mexico relations. The U.S. would be able to sanction or arrest high-ranking members of the Mexican government and security forces, which might be perceived as an act of war. These types of purges might destabilize the Mexican government and would, at the very least, cause a breakdown in cooperation between the two nations. Furthermore, bilateral trade, valued at $800 billion and accounting for millions of jobs on both sides of the border, would dry up. Increased violence, a destabilized government, and a loss of jobs would increase the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw and other U.S. lawmakers have called for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to target Mexican drug cartels, saying “We must start treating them like ISIS – because that is who they are.” Those who back an AUMF point to the fact that the cartels are responsible for more American deaths each year than the entire Vietnam War. An AUMF would provide the president with the sophisticated hardware and expert personnel of the U.S. military, more powerful assets than those possessed by law enforcement or the DHS. Supporters of an AUMF also make the point that the soldiers would be engaging foreign hostiles in a foreign nation and, therefore, would not be infringing on the civil rights of U.S. citizens.
In addition to arresting or killing key cartel members, military intervention could disrupt drug supply chains by destroying growing fields and drug labs. The government of Mexico has protested discussions of U.S. military operations in his country, calling it an offense to the Mexican people. Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador said that he would not “permit any foreign government to intervene in our territory, much less that a government’s armed forces intervene”.
Another disadvantage of U.S. military operations in Mexico would be an increase in violence. Inevitably, civilians would suffer, and the U.S. would be portrayed as the villain in the international and liberal press. The threat of cartel violence against Americans would also increase. Historically, the cartels have tried to avoid killing Americans, for fear of provoking Washington’s wrath. If the U.S. military began engaging in cross-border operations, the cartels would most likely declare all-out-war on Americans. Cartel violence within the U.S. would also accelerate as the cartels would be risking nothing by upping the ante.
Increased Financial and Economic Sanctions
Financial and economic sanctions can be powerful tools to break the cartels and to punish those who assist them. This includes enforcement of anti-money laundering laws, as well as targeting financial institutions that handle cartel money. Cartel assets held in banks around the world could be seized if U.S. allies also participated in the sanctions. If Mexico is legitimately interested in curbing corruption in their own government, this intense scrutiny would also help them to discover which public officials were accepting bribes.
Sanctions have already been used against the cartels: In 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department, in cooperation with their Mexican counterparts, brought sanctions against a cartel member who was trafficking weapons from the United States. Under the sanctions, Obed Christian Sepulveda Portillo had his property in the U.S. seized. U.S. Entities and persons from the U.S. are also prohibited from doing business with him or completing transactions on his behalf. Those who violate these sanctions may face criminal charges or civil lawsuits. In July 2023, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against ten individuals, including several Sinaloa Cartel members, as well as one Mexico-based company, for their role in the production of illicit fentanyl and the precursor chemicals necessary for fentanyl production. Under the sanctions, all of their properties and interests in the U.S. were seized. Americans were banned from doing business with them. Companies in which they had a direct or indirect stake of 50 percent or more were also prohibited from doing business in the U.S. or with Americans. These are good examples, but to break the cartels, these types of sanctions would have to increase in scope, hitting large numbers of people participating in criminal networks.
From an efficacy standpoint, the above policy recommendations, if taken together, would result in a decrease in the supply side, a decrease in the demand side, and a long-term reduction in drug deaths and violent deaths in both the U.S. and Mexico, eventually leading to the stabilization of Mexico. Breaking the hold the cartels have on the country would allow Mexico to develop economically. This would benefit the entire population and the United States. But this success, which could take painful years to achieve, would come with a political and human cost which politicians may not be willing to pay.
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