n a bare office near the airport here, Charles Rinkevich, coordinator of Vice President Bush's joint anti-drugs task force for south Florida, displays a map of the Florida coast, the front line of the Reagan administration's well-publicized, multimillion-dollar war against narcotics traffic.
Arrayed against those who smuggle marijuana and cocaine through south Florida from South America and the Caribbean are several hundred Drug Enforcement Administration and Customs Service agents backed up by ships and planes of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Navy radar installations in Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and here in Florida provide early warning of smugglers' aircraft. Military electronic intelligence facilities in Florida and Georgia intercept radio transmissions of suspected ships and planes as far away as the coast of Colombia.
This net has snagged large illicit shipments of narcotics and is soon expected to produce 200 or more indictments here, according to government officials, one of whom said "they will involve businessmen and bankers that heretofore have been considered outside the drug trade."
But Rinkevich acknowledged that this massive effort, which has diverted enforcement resources from the rest of the nation for what some critics have called a primarily political extravaganza in an election year, cannot be expected to accomplish much more than make narcotics trafficking through here more risky and divert some of it elsewhere.
"We haven't stopped all the drugs from coming in and never will," Rinkevich said. But he added, "We've put the fear of God" in smugglers who little more than a year ago operated at will. "We've caused them to adopt new methods."
Back in Washington, in his Executive Office Building suite next to the vice president's office, Adm. Daniel J. Murphy, Bush's chief of staff and the prime architect of the drug war, said he believes the 2 million pounds of marijuana and nearly 6,000 pounds of cocaine seized since the south Florida task force was established represents "a bigger dent" in the trade than anyone expected.
"I never promised more than a dent," added Murphy, who said the government decided to concentrate on south Florida because 70 per cent of the nation's illegal drug traffic flows through here. The operation was announced last February in a speech here by Bush, who also called for more vigorous prosecution of offenders.
Assistant Attorney General Rudolph W. Guiliani told reporters at the White House recently that south Florida had been "an emergency situation" when the Reagan administration took office. The task force, he said, had achieved "some very, very significant successes," one measure of which was that "the price of drugs . . . in the United States had increased fairly significantly" because "we've been successful in holding the drugs away from the United States."
However, some other law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified said a recent government survey found that the south Florida operation has not significantly reduced available supplies of the drugs or their street price.
"It's political," said an experienced DEA official, citing radio ads by the Florida Republican Party that call the drug war a reason for voting for GOP candidates. And he complained that the additional enforcement personnel brought here "were taken out of the hides of the agencies' operations elsewhere."
Another official said the problem is that "we haven't decided whether we really want to enforce the drug laws." Comparing the situation to Prohibition, the 1920s attempt to ban intoxicating liquors, he said government investment in enforcement of the law has not increased in proportion to the illegal use of so-called recreational drugs across the country.
Responding to these critics, Murphy said, "Some of them have worked the problem for almost 30 years and they've come to think it is hopeless. This president, however, has made it one of his number one priorities."
Guided by his military experience, Murphy is still shaping the south Florida task force. He is pushing to complete a central war room here for operations against the smugglers, along with another facility for the coordination of intelligence now collected individually and often competitively by various agencies.
Over the next few months, as smugglers attempt to bring the autumn harvest of marijuana and more cocaine into the country, "we will get the first real test" of the task force concept, said Customs Service official Bill Mason.
Intelligence from individuals or electronic intercepts is supposed to provide the first warning about a shipment. U.S. Navy ships sailing the Caribbean would be alerted, and special Coast Guard "SWAT" teams could board and inspect American vessels on the high seas. Coast Guard cutters have been placed to block the Windward passages, forcing smugglers to take their ships eastward into the Atlantic where there is more room and time to find them.
From a specially designed radar room at Miami's International Airport, customs agents direct intercepts of incoming, unidentified airplanes with their own planes or U.S. Army Cobra helicopters.
In addition, there are plans to carry the battle to the Bahamas, where smugglers have begun dropping off their loads for later shipment to the mainland. Army HU1 Huey helicopters and American pilots are on loan to help Bahamian police make seizures and perhaps arrests with information provided by drug enforcement agents stationed on islands throughout the area.
The task force has even won changes in Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Under old FAA rules, aircraft flying slower than 180 knots did not have to file flight plans, which made it easier to carry drugs in small planes without raising questions. Now, all planes flying in the south Florida area must file flight plans.
Aircraft from abroad could in the past land at any of several dozen Florida airports to clear U.S. customs. This also was changed, reducing the number of such entry airports to seven on the East Coast and eight on the West Coast.
"With these new rules, we look for deviations," one official said, "and we get them."
Asked how the smugglers have reacted, customs official Mason said, "They are changing their mode of operation."
Rinkevich pointed to a decrease in large airplane shipments of cocaine and boat deliveries of marijuana. He noted also a recent rise of "bodypackers" -- people who for $2,000 swallow several grams of cocaine wrapped in rubber and carry it in their stomachs on commercial flights. Dozens of them were caught here in Miami last month. Two weeks ago, four Colombians were discovered as bodypackers for the first time at the New Orleans International Airport.
There also are reports of increased deliveries of marijuana and cocaine up the Atlantic coast in the Carolinas and Georgia and along the Gulf Coast. In North Carolina this month, Robert L. Spence, who heads the FBI's office in Charlotte, called narcotic traffic there "the number one growth crime today." In Georgia, a twin-engine Beechcraft was sighted in the northern mountains dropping duffle bags and blue fiberglass containers that turned out to be filled with 550 pounds of cocaine when eventually recovered by Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents.
New investigators have meant more potential cases, so the Justice Department has authorized additional prosecutors. U.S. Attorney Stanley Marcus, with experience on strike forces in New York and Detroit, has brought 10 prosecutors here from around the country plus experts from the criminal division's narcotics and tax and fraud sections in Washington. He also is adding 17 new assistant U.S. attorneys to his Miami office.
More prosecutions mean more trials. To prevent a backlog in the courts, Vice President Bush arranged with Chief Justice Warren Burger for an unusual rotation into this judicial circuit of four outside federal judges each month. Each spends 30 days in Florida handling the shorter criminal cases, thus permitting the permanent judges to work on the longer trials and regular civil cases. CAPTION: Picture, Customs agents at Miami International Airport inspect the largest cocaine cache ever confiscated -- 3,748 pounds worth $925 million. The cartons are labeled "blue jeans." UPI