Friday, August 24, 2007

How I Spent My Summer

(or “Support the Troops”)

Been trying to post for a while, but the Intar-webs have been uncooperative.

My wife forwarded me an email from my Hotmail account from my college roommate and best man asking what I’d been up to this summer. The Navy’s Internet servers are set up to block free email services like Hotmail, which is why I had to switch the contact address on the blog to my work address. It’s a big pain in the ass, but I digress.

For starters, yes, we did run down the go-fast I was talking about in the last post. Endurance and the appearance of being totally crazy won that one for us. We chased the four guys in that boat for 22 hours, running at top speed the whole time for about 450 miles. They were maneuvering erratically a lot of the time because the seas were rough and the weather was bad. If you’ve ever tried to drive a speedboat on rough water, you can probably relate.

When they finally slowed enough for us to catch up to them, we fired warning shots across their bow again and they stopped. When the Coast Guard law enforcement detachment got on board, they found the boat was full of vomit because these guys had gotten so seasick, and a key of cocaine that they hadn’t jettisoned for speed. They told us they had finally stopped because it was so dark they didn't think we could see what we're aiming at, and that we might've actually shot them. The key in the boat plus the bales we picked up when the chase started is enough to put them away for a few years.

We dropped them off with the DEA in Guatemala. Good riddance, they were interefering with our participation in other cases and screwing up our port schedule. I enjoyed the comments people left on the last post – this deployment is considerably lower stress than the last one, but communication outside the lifelines is always nice.

That said, there was one comment I found interesting:

Robert M. has left a new comment on your post "500 Mile Club":

No offense, I admire your service, but I'm against drug laws, so unless the boat you were chasing contains PCP, I can't, in good conscience wish you luck.

Interesting post though.

Posted by Robert M. to People Covered in Fish at 14 August, 2007 16:30

I’ve found in the past that when people qualify statements with “no offense” they’re about to say something offensive. It’s just like if a sailor tells me, “No disrespect intended,” or “permission to speak freely.”

I find your comment intriguing, however, Robert, because you are, or were, an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq and I could probably peruse your blog and find that you have expressed disdain for the “I support the troops, but not the mission” mantra, if I had reliable web browsing capability. Regardless, it is inconsistent to be against drug laws, unless it's PCP.

From a purely philosophical standpoint (unless your personal philosphy incorporates reality), the situation is indeed simple. Legalize drugs, let people destroy themselves. From an objectivist standpoint it doesn’t matter one way or another whether drugs are legal or illegal; I wouldn’t use them because they’d limit my potential and I wouldn’t support anyone else using them, either - though I wouldn't stop you unless I cared about you or were in someway responsible for you.

I also know that drugs support terrorism – it is not within my power to legalize drugs and I don’t believe that is a panacea anyhow, unless you are going to find yourself a valley in Colorado with a bunch of like-minded people and let the world fall apart so you can rebuild it later. I’m not ready to give up on the world yet.

The Uribe Administration in Colombia has been very supportive in curtailing the illegal drug trade, they also recently found a submarine capable of transporting 11 tons of cocaine. The reason Uribe has been so helpful in the War on Drugs is because he, like I and the Bush Administration, understand that it is an extension of the Global War on Terror. It’s in Colombia’s self-interest to help us in our mission because they’ve got a terrorist group, the FARC, running about half the country and using coca farmers and cocaine smuggling to support their activities. Legalizing drugs in the United States doesn’t prevent them from funding their agenda of murder and destruction or plotting the downfall of a popularly elected democratic government. If you know anything about the history of Latin America, you must know how special and rare a thing that is. These people are already starting to succumb to populism and socialism, why is it wrong to try to preserve democracy where it exists?

Here’s the case I just got done working on before arriving in Panama yesterday. I thought it was cool because it made the news; we participated in the search but didn’t end up getting the bust.
Feds Nab Suspected Cocaine Smugglers in Pacific
Suspects Allegedly Caused the Vessel to Sink to Hide Contraband
Aug. 22, 2007 —
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday that it stopped a vessel allegedly smuggling an estimated five metric tons of cocaine, worth an estimated $353 million.
Authorities arrested four suspected smugglers Sunday, but not before they apparently intentionally sank the semi-submersible vessel. A Coast Guard detachment made the arrests and recovered 11 bales containing 1,210 pounds of cocaine. More than four metric tons of cocaine are believed to have gone down with the watercraft.
A CBP P-3 Orion aircraft, based in Jacksonville, Fla., began tracking the semi-sub Sunday, after the crew noticed the suspicious vessel while conducting a routine patrol in the Pacific Ocean, according to a CBP press release.
"The P-3 aircraft then guided a U.S. Navy ship to the scene as the suspects scuttled the vessel along with the majority of the contraband aboard," the CBP statement said. The Coast Guard then moved in to make the arrests and seize the cocaine.
CBP's Office of Air and Marine maintains P-3 aircraft for transit zone surveillance needs in Corpus Christi, Texas, in addition to its Jacksonville, Fla., base at Cecil Field. According to CBP, the Jacksonville operations center has confiscated more than 32 metric tons of cocaine, with a street value of $2.2 billion, so far this fiscal year. The aircraft are also in use by the CBP in Central and South America.
In March, the Coast Guard announced that it made the largest maritime cocaine bust in U.S. history. The Panamanian ship stopped in that bust was allegedly carrying more than 40,000 pounds of the narcotic or approximately 20 tons.
Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

It turns out not all the drugs sank with the SPSS. The P-3 got the scuttling on tape, so we knew exactly what was going on when the DEWERT arrived on scene. When the USS DEWERT’S small boat approached the four guys in the water, the conversation went something like this:

Coast Guard: “So, what are you guys doing out here?”
Smugglers: “We were fishing and our boat sank.”
Coast Guard: How long have you been out here?”
Smugglers: “We don’t know.”
Coast Guard: “Where did you leave from?”
Smugglers: “We don’t know.”
Coast Guard: “Where are you headed?”
Smugglers: “We don’t know.”
Coast Guard: “Where did all these bales of cocaine come from?”
Smugglers: “We don’t know.”

SOUTHCOM was thrilled about how this case went down and sent a congratulatory email that filtered down to me that I thought I’d share.

From: Stavridis, James, ADM (L)
Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2007 10:31 AM
Cc: Nimmich, Joseph RADM (L)
Subject: Drug Submarine Captured with Over 5 Tons of Cocaine from Colombia Headed to USA [U]


Shipmates, here is a news story about a Colombian Drug submarine that our team at JIATF-S with other interagency partners (Customs, Coast Guard, Navy, DEA) tracked and caught as it transited through our area.

Like the similar submarine now parked on the traffic circle outside our HQ, this should be a reminder to us of the seriousness with which our opponents take INNOVATION. They constantly strive to out-think us. We are engaged in brain-on-brain warfare, and through innovation and your good ideas, we will win.

The submarine caught in this news release carried over 5 tons of cocaine -- enough for every High School student in the USA (all 17 million of them) to be subjected to 80 hits of cocaine. And if you can bring in 5 tons of cocaine, what else could you carry -- a NUCLEAR weapon of mass destruction? Terrorists? Biological agents?

This is serious work, and you are all part of a VITAL national effort -- be proud of what you do, and always, always, always, think innovatively -- our opponents certainly are doing so!


Subject: U.S. Interagency Team seizes semi-submarine loaded with millions of dollars in cocaine

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A submarine-like vessel filled with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine was seized off the Guatemalan coast, U.S. officials said.

Four suspected smugglers were operating the self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel when it was located and seized on Sunday evening by officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol said in a news release Wednesday.

When the suspects realized they had been spotted by drug-surveillance aircraft patrolling the eastern Pacific, they scuttled the vessel but were unable to escape.

Coast Guard officials, guided by the reconnaissance plane, intercepted the vessel and detained the reputed smugglers, who were transporting approximately 5 metric tons (5.5 U.S. tons) of cocaine worth US$352 million (EUR260 million), the Border Patrol said.

The interception occurred off the coast of Central America about 480 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of the Mexico-Guatemala border, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a separate statement.

Several drug-carrying submarines operated by Colombian drug cartels have been discovered in recent years.

So now after six weeks underway, I get to enjoy a bit of liberty. Just taking it easy today, going out fishing in Lake Gatun tomorrow and then out in Panama City with the other officers for some dinner and fun. I get to call my wife and my family today too, so I’mm looking forward to that after going for a run around the old Rodman Naval Base.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

500 Mile Club

The last couple of days have been interesting, but not particularly rewarding. We stopped a coastal freighter suspected of having several tons of cocaine onboard. We found nothing, but couldn’t access every tank and void due to some freight containers stacked strategically on top of it, making it inaccessible. Anyway, we let them continue to port. Such is the way of Counter Narco-Terrorism operations.

We are currently shooting at another drug runner. No kidding, they just started as I was typing. When we get into a chase, all uninvolved personnel remain inside the skin of the ship. The last thing I need to be doing right now is crowding the bridge or combat watching the show, like all the additional officers, chiefs and senior petty offers are probably doing right now. It happens every time, despite the fact they should stay out of the way. So I'm staying out of the way - I have the next watch, so I'll get my piece of the action soon enough.

They have these boats that we call go-fasts; they're large, low-profile speedboats with three or four outboard engines and they can hold a couple tons of cocaine. They guzzle gasoline, though, so they stop at fishing boats strategically spaced throughout the eastern Pacific to refuel, sometimes to offload the cargo. This way, they leapfrog the shipment up to Mexico or other Central American countries where the product is processed or shipped to the U.S. They don't need to drop off in the U.S. because the border is so porous it's ridiculously easy to get the product in.

So we sit out here doing our best to intercept them. What stinks about these go-fasts is that they can go up to 40 knots and therefore can outrun us. So we use our helicopter to stay on top of them and shoot out their engines. Last time I did this in 2002, we weren't allowed to shoot from the helo, so we would follow them and drop message blocks with sternly-worded notes that they should stop. Even without shooting from the helo, sometimes all we have to do is pursue and wait until they break down or run out of gas.

When they’re fully loaded they don’t go as fast, which is why they dump their cargo in the water, like the one we were just shooting at did. They also know we’ll stop to pick it up – if we don’t they’ll come back for it and the drugs still get to the U.S. We’ve got a P-3 following him and when he breaks down or runs out of gas, we’ll be there. So we’re going out to collect the bales of cocaine that he just dropped in the ocean.

These moments of action are infrequent, we’ve been here for five weeks (I think) and this is only the second go-fast chase. The cargo ship was the third boarding; the other two were fishing vessels with no drugs onboard, but we rendered medical assistance to one of the fishermen on the second one. The rest of the time, we are training and fixing things and doing other things for fun.

For example, we started a couple of fitness challenges, like the Million Pound Club, for weightlifters. Say for example you lift a 20-pound weight 10 times, that’s 200 pounds. You do that the whole deployment and try to make 1,000,000 in 180 days. I signed up for the 500 Mile Club, where you add up the total of cumulative miles you run, walk, bike, etc. You can only do half on the exercycle, because it’s too easy to do the whole thing that way. Since I’m only going to be on deployment for three months (my relief arrives in October), I’m doing the full 250 on the exercycle, so I can actually accomplish 500 miles before I leave. I’ve got 188 miles with 65 days left to go, so not too bad so far - especially considering I broke a toe in El Salvador. Everyone who makes it gets a T-shirt, but I’m the only one who has designed one so far. I’ll post it if I get a little time later.

Hopefully the chase goes well and we can nail these guys. I wish I could take pictures of any of this, but if I do, it's all considered evidence and has potential to make or break a case. Had to stop writing for bit because we needed to do some fuel calculations, figure out how long our legs are for chasing these guys. Time for watch, wish us luck!

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Alive and Well

And once again fighting the War on Drugs. You probably figured that out if you ever stop by here. Sorry for the long silence, but operational committments are keeping me rather occupied and the Internet by satellite is, as always, iffy.

I just got word today about the collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis yesterday. Happily, my family and friends are, as far as I know, fine. I never thought I ever be thankful that most of my family dislikes going to the city, even though they all live in and around it. The bridge is right outside the University of Minnesota campus and collapsed during rush hour - I used to drive it every day in college (when I owned a car). My daughter and I drove it a couple of times when I was home in March. It's a surreal thing, here; I'm just getting my head wrapped around it. I'm sorry for the families of the victims; so far there have been only four confirmed deaths and 79 injuries, but there are still 20-30 people missing.

I'm back in the EASTPAC and doing some exciting stuff. Once we've executed, and I'm sure it won't compromise OPSEC, I'll post a little about it. If I find it posted somewhere, there is a neat story out there of a couple of Jacksonville Starbucks stores collecting donations of coffee for my ship for her deployment. One of the baristas is the wife of one of our sailors and she was dismayed to hear that we were drinking Maxwell House, or worse.

Also, I'd like to plug my best friend Joel Hafvenstein's new book, "Opium Season: A Year on the Afghan Frontier". It's a riveting account of his time spent as an international development consultant in Afghanistan trying to help poppy farmers make an honest living. He's talking about going back, but I wish he wouldn't.

Mahndisa, I got your post, I'll try to make time to respond, but I haven't really been following the stock market, so I've got some catching up to do.

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