Vice President Bush announced yesterday that a new dragnet against drug smuggling had dropped into place along the perimeter of the United States.
Under the new plan, which is an expansion of the administration's much ballyhooed South Florida Task Force, the entire border of the United States will be covered by one of six offices.
The five new regional offices, which join the task force office in Miami, are located in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Long Beach, Calif., and El Paso, Tex. The vice president said he will coordinate the network.
In announcing details of the plan, called the "national narcotics border interdiction system," Bush called the estimated $100 billion a year drug importation business "the most deadly and dangerous criminal activity known."
The new network will use CIA agents to gain intelligence about U.S.-bound drug shipments, and then use the customs service, the Coast Guard, and the military to intercept shipments.
The expanded effort to secure the border against drug smugglers was inspired partly by the apparent success of the experimental South Florida Task Force which Bush also coordinated.
Bush said that effort had led to a dramatic increase in drug arrests and drug seizures in the South Florida area. But he acknowledged that the success has had a price:
"Some of the drugs that were coming into South Florida kind of squirted out into other places."
But, said Bush, "The new task force sites are broad enough so that, if they are effective, there won't be those gaps."
Answering questions, Bush defended the administration's anti-drug effort, which was criticized earlier this week in a General Accounting Office report as being fragmented and inadequately coordinated.
The GAO report recommended the creation of a central authority--a sort of drug "czar"--to coordinate the effort, a suggestion Bush dismissed.
"We think the system I've outlined today, in terms of interdiction, is a better, more action-oriented approach to this problem than having a czar," Bush said. "And when you get a czar, with him comes a whole new bureaucracy."
The new anti-smuggling network, which Bush said is in place, will not cost the taxpayers any additional money. It involves "a reallocation of existing assets" of the agencies participating, he said, "with no separate appropriation."