How Drones Are Being Used To Carry Drugs Across The US-Mexico Border

by John Haltiwanger

A remote-controlled drone carrying six pounds of methamphetamine just crashed in a supermarket parking lot in Mexico, not far from the US border.

Jorge Morrua, spokesman for Tijuana police, said that the drone crashed on Tuesday night near the San Ysidro crossing at Mexico’s border with California (about 15 miles from San Diego).

The unmanned aerial vehicle had six packets of meth strapped to it with plastic webbing and black tape.

The weight of the drugs is likely what caused the drone to crash. It is not yet known where the drone originated, and it's possible that the drugs were being transported from one neighborhood to another.

Drug cartels have often been quite creative with their smuggling methods, which have included the use of catapults, tunnels and ultralight aircraft.

Accordingly, it's not surprising that their tactics are evolving.

It all sounds like something straight out of "Breaking Bad," but this is fact, not fiction. What's more, this is hardly the first time that drones have been used to smuggle drugs.

Cartels Are Using Drones As Drug Mules

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), drug-trafficking organizations have been using drones to smuggle drugs since 2011.

The DEA claims that an average of 150 trips were made with unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) that crossed the US-Mexico border in 2012. Cocaine and other drugs were transported during these trips.

Drones appeal to these criminal groups for many of the same reasons that the US government uses them in counterterrorism operations: They're cheap and stealthy; they require less manpower and can operate in remote and dangerous areas.

None of this should come as a huge surprise, as drones have already been used in other criminal pursuits around the world. Not too long ago, inmates tried to smuggle marijuana into a high security prison by flying it in with a drone (they failed). There have also been reports of mobsters smuggling cigarettes into Russia with drones.

As the US and Mexican governments step up their efforts in the War on Drugs, it was really only a matter of time before drug-trafficking organizations began using drones to smuggle their product.

After all, the US government is already using drones to patrol the Mexican border. Not to mention, the Obama administration has been sending drones into Mexico to gather intelligence on drug cartels and locate their major traffickers.

It's not unexpected that these organized crime groups have responded in kind by also employing this relatively new technology.

With that said, don't expect an army of drug-mule-drones to be flying over the border any time soon. In a statement to KSWB-TV, DEA spokesperson Amy Roderick contended:

We would not call using drones a new trend in smuggling. This method will only allow a small amount of drugs to be flown at a time and coupled with the ease of detection, does not make this method very profitable to these drug trafficking organizations.

Yet, as this technology continues to develop, and the government increases pressure on the cartels, it's reasonable to believe that drug traffickers might turn to drones even more in the future.

Simply put, drones might not be the standard for drug smuggling at present, but it's not that farfetched to imagine a world in which they are.

Indeed, drones will become a more common aspect of many facets of life in the not-so-distant future. CNN and other media organizations are planning on using it for news reporting, and drones are already being used in commercial applications.

Correspondingly, with governments, businesses, the media and even criminal organizations using drones, one wonders who else might employ this technology.

If Drug Cartels Are Using Drones, Terrorists Could Use Them To Stage Attacks

The United States has been using drones to combat terrorism for over a decade at this point. The Obama administration has relied on this technology quite heavily in its counterterrorism operations, which has generated a great deal of controversy.

The US military use of drones and drone strikes often occurs in countries that America is not currently at war with. Not to mention, drone strikes often result in the deaths of civilians.

Concurrently, drones have enraged local populations in places like Pakistan, and arguably create more enemies than they eliminate.

Hence, it's not unfair to contend that the use of drones and drone strikes by the US is ineffective, immoral and illegal.

Likewise, the US is setting a very dangerous precedent for the use of drones in the international arena by other actors. This is particularly true in regards to its enemies.

America's unfettered use of drones against terrorism could inspire other countries and non-state actors (terrorist organizations) to use drones against Americans.

With drug cartels already using this technology, it wouldn't be all that shocking to see terrorist organizations utilize them as well. Planes have been used in suicide attacks, as we learned all too well on 9/11.

Drones could be used in the same way, and they don't require a pilot. Not to mention, they can also be equipped with advanced weaponry.

There is already evidence that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has used drones. Accordingly, one wonders if terrorist organizations might begin planning attacks involving drones. Relatedly, last October, New York Police Department Deputy Chief Salvatore DiPace told CBS news:

We look at it [drones] as something that could be a terrorist's tool. We've seen some video where the drone was flying at different targets along the route and very accurately hitting the targets with the paintball.

Therefore, it's in America's interest for the government to have a more transparent conversation about its use of drones against terrorists. In the process, the American public might better understand this technology, and the potential threat that it poses.

It's true that drones have the potential to be used for many beneficial purposes, and in many ways already have been. Yet, the US government is not doing its citizens any favors by keeping them in the dark about its use of drones and drone strikes.

Ignorance is not bliss.