Identification in Transshipment of illicit drug

Mexico faces an array of drug-related problems ranging from production and transshipment of illicit drugs to corruption, violence, and increased internal drug abuse. Powerful and well-organized Mexican organizations control drug production and trafficking in and through Mexico, as well as the laundering of drug proceeds. These organizations also have made a concerted effort to corrupt and intimidate Mexican law enforcement and public officials. In addition, the geographic proximity of Mexico to the United States and the voluminous cross-border traffic between the countries provide ample opportunities for drug smugglers to deliver their illicit products to U.S. markets. The purpose of this study was to develop informed and timely answers to the following research questions: (a) How serious is the trade in illicit drugs between Mexico and the United States today and what have been recent trends? (b) How does drug trafficking fund terrorist organizations in general and trade between Mexico and the U.S. In particular? (c)

What interdictions have proven most effective in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico? And (d) What further steps need to be implemented to reverse the tide of drugs and violence that continues to threaten Mexican-U.S. security relations? These answers are presented in the study’s conclusion together with recommendations for law enforcement authorities in both countries.

Table of Contents


Purpose and Need

Project Beginning

Theoretical Framework

Goal and Objectives

Literature Review

Critical Assets Identification

Threat Assessment

Vulnerability Assessment

Risk Analysis



Purpose and Need

In the United States, Pennsylvania and Delaware are home to over 13 million people; the cities of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware, are part of the sixth largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the country. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania comprises the 22nd largest Metropolitan Statistical Area. This paper will address an analysis of heroin availability, purity, pricing, and abuse trends for Pennsylvania and Delaware. At the conclusion of this document the source country that supplies most of the heroin, cocaine and often prescription medication into the United States will be identified as Mexico.

Heroin poses a formidable threat throughout Pennsylvania and Delaware, as evidenced by the increasing availability of high purity, low priced heroin and the resulting escalation in abuse, drug treatment admissions, and overdose deaths. This threat is exacerbated by the widely-reported trend of prescription drugs abusers migrating to heroin, seeking a cheaper and more available high. The DEA Philadelphia Division routinely assesses and ranks the drug threats to Philadelphia and the Delaware area as determined by availability, threat to public health, community impact, attendant crime, enforcement activity, seizures, drug abuse and treatment statistics, as well as propensity for abuse. Analysis of these factors, supplemented by investigative reporting, human intelligence, liaison, and open source data, allows for a comprehensive overview of each drug area, culminating in the ranking of drug threats throughout the Philadelphia and Delaware area. Based on the aforementioned analysis, for each the past five years, heroin has ranked as the primary drug threat to the Philadelphia area and the State of Delaware. In addition, in each reporting area (Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as Wilmington, Delaware), heroin has ranked as either the primary or secondary drug threat in each of the last five years.

Along with Canada, the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship is one of the most important for the United States today (Montesclaros, 2011). The U.S.-Mexican relationship, though, is characterized by a number of ongoing serious problems, including how to best manage the relationship in view of the deteriorating security in border regions and even into the interior of Mexico, as well as how to conceptualize the salient issues from a security perspective that takes into account the legitimate views of both Mexico and the United States (Montesclaros, 2011). According to Montesclaros, although bilateral trade and immigration remain among the most important issues facing both countries, there are also three security threats that have assuming higher priority in recent years: (1) organized crime (this category also includes narcotics trafficking and arms smuggling); (2) illegal migration and trafficking in persons; and (3) terrorism (Montesclaros, 2011). Many authorities agree that there is an inextricable interrelationship between the former and latter categories as well (Trafficking and transnational crime, 2010).

Although these problems have been recognized for some time by law enforcement authorities in both countries, there have been some changes in the situation in recent years that have made the Mexican-U.S. border conditions worse than ever, with escalating levels of violence that Mexican law enforcement authorities have been unwilling or unable to address. In this regard, Montesclaros (2011) emphasizes that, “What is new in this mix are the unprecedented levels of violence and audacity displayed by criminal organizations, particularly the drug trafficking organizations, which are increasingly emboldened-committing more acts in public, targeting Mexican police forces without hesitation, and even hiring ex-special forces members from the Mexican military” (p. 98). These recent violent trends in the narcotrafficking industry along the Mexican border have been well publicized in the international media in general and the United States press in particular, causing growing public condemnation and demands for resolution of these increasingly serious issues by the governments of both the United States and Mexico (Montesclaros, 2011).

Indeed, drug-related violence has already claimed the lies of more than 43,000 Mexicans, the majority of them civilians, just since December 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a military initiative designed to counter the growing power of the drug cartels (Carpenter, 2012). Government authorities in the United States, though, remain concerned about the possibility of the growing violence destabilizing the Mexican state as well as the potential for the violence to cross the border into America (Carpenter, 2012). Indeed, the editors of Americas Quarterly (2010) emphasize that, “Narcotics trafficking and the transnational criminal organizations that sponsor it represent the gravest and most complex threat to democracy and human rights that our region faces today” (Trafficking and transnational crime, p. 38).

In response to these growing threats, some analysts have formulated three broad policy options that should be applied to the Mexico-U.S. drug trade problem: (a) increased engagement with Mexico, (b) maintaining current levels of aid and support, and (c) retrenchment from the status quo (Montesclaros, 2011). According to Monteclaros, “Recent dialogue has centered on variations of the first two options, while there is little talk of pulling back. In fact, most observers say “more, faster, wider, and deeper” with regard to the amount, speed of application, and breadth and depth of U.S. aid to Mexico” (2011, p. 98). These are vitally important issues because the suffering that has taken place as a result of the drug war in Mexico has been appalling (Buxton, 2012). Indeed, some estimates indicate that more than 60,000 people have been killed in violent exchanges between drug trafficking organizations and law enforcement authorities since 2006 (Buxton, 2012). Moreover, the ability of Central American governments to stem the flow of drugs and violence is minimal, and the optimal outcome that most of these nations can hope for is to minimize the so-called “bridge” factors that keep them vulnerable to drug trafficking activities (Buxton, 2012).

With respect to the ability of Mexico to respond to the growing threat, many authorities agree that there are few viable alternatives available. According to Kilmer and Caulkins (2010), “The difficulty is that, for Mexico, there are almost no alternative sources to the press, in either Mexico or the United States, which typically reports whatever large number a government agency chooses to provide” (p. 37). Currently, the Mexican government does not release this type of information so gauging the effectiveness of interdictions can be problematic (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). Although drug-related violence has become a global problem in recent years, this study focuses on these issues as they relate to the United States and Mexico as discussed further below.

Project Beginning

While precise numbers are not available, it is possible to estimate the amount of the revenues that are being generated by Mexican drug cartels each year, at least in a general fashion. For instance, Kilmer and Caulkins (2010) posit a scenario wherein heroin users in the United States spend $30 billion at an average retail price of $145 per pure gram, those figures translate into about 207 metric tons of pure heroin, an amount that is increased to 252 metric tons when the drug is cut to the 82% purity levels that are typical of U.S.-Mexico border trade. Based on these calculations, it is estimated that approximately $4.3 billion worth of heroin alone is being smuggled into the United States from Mexico, a figure that does not take into account marijuana or other drugs (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). Also assuming that Mexican drug trafficking organizations receive the standard 80% of the $4.3 billion total, their share comes to about $3.4 billion per year, and many authorities are concerned that a significant percentage of these funds are being diverted into terrorist organizations around the world, funding attacks against U.S. interests domestically and abroad as well as introducing a continuing supply of illicit drugs into American communities (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010).

In particular, heroin from Mexico poses a formidable threat throughout Pennsylvania and Delaware, as evidenced by the increasing availability of high purity, low priced heroin and the resulting escalation in abuse, drug treatment admissions, and overdose deaths. This threat is exacerbated by the widely-reported trend of prescription drugs abusers migrating to heroin, seeking a cheaper and more available high. The DEA Philadelphia Division routinely assesses and ranks the drug threats to Philadelphia and the Delaware area as determined by availability, threat to public health, community impact, attendant crime, enforcement activity, seizures, drug abuse and treatment statistics, as well as propensity for abuse. Analysis of these factors, supplemented by investigative reporting, human intelligence, liaison, and open source data, allows for a comprehensive overview of each drug area, culminating in the ranking of drug threats throughout the Philadelphia and Delaware area. Based on the aforementioned analysis, for each the past five years, heroin has ranked as the primary drug threat to the Philadelphia area and the State of Delaware. In addition, in each reporting area (Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as Wilmington, Delaware), heroin has ranked as either the primary or secondary drug threat in each of the last five years.

Theoretical Framework

This study used a novel theoretical framework since a viable theoretical framework for studying cross-border drug trafficking is not yet available (Campbell, 2009). Therefore, the theoretical frame was that the same financial incentives that are driving the heroin trade between Mexico and the United States by traditional drug trafficking organizations are also increasingly being used by terrorist organizations to fund attacks against the U.S. At home and abroad. In this regard, Campbell emphasizes that, “Cross-border drug trafficking cannot be fully understood without reference to international crime networks and global social and economic power structures” (2009, p. 38). Further, there remains a lack of a formal and standardized model concerning the primary factors contributing to violence in illicit drug markets in general and for Mexico in particular (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010).

What is known for certain is that, “The commercial and organized character of illicit drug trafficking is given by the law of offer and request by the fact that acquiring as much profit as possible is the sole purpose of illegal drug trafficking networks” (Alecu, 2012, p. 283). In addition, law enforcement authorities have learned the hard way that drug trafficking organizations typically operate in a fashion that defeats the best abilities of the United States and its allies in combating the drug war (Campbell, 2009). In fact, it is the demand for drugs from developed nations such as the United States that fuels the enormous global drug markets (Campbell, 2009).

In addition, the violence that has erupted in some developing nations such as Mexico has been due to high levels of illicit drug production (Campbell, 2009). From this perspective, the developed nations of the world possess the capability to reduce drug consumption to some extent through pressure on developing nations (Campbell, 2009). As Campbell puts it, “Whether or not the United States is still the dominant world power, it is clearly in a superordinate relationship with Mexico and has been since taking half of the country in the Mexican War, even though this relationship is one of dominance without [cultural] hegemony” (2009, p. 38). It is within this convoluted and increasingly dangerous context that cross-border drug trafficking is taking place in the North American marketplace (Campbell, 2009).

Goal and Objectives

The overarching goal of this study was to deliver a critical and systematic review of the literature concerning drug trafficking and terrorism in general and its implications for U.S.-Mexico security relations to develop timely and informed answers to the following research questions which represented secondary objectives:

1. How serious is the trade in illicit drugs between Mexico and the United States today and what have been recent trends?

2. How does drug trafficking fund terrorist organizations in general and trade between Mexico and the U.S. In particular?

3. What interdictions have proven most effective in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico?

4. What have been the implications of drug trafficking with Mexico on American communities in Pennsylvania and Delaware?

5. What further steps need to be implemented to reverse the tide of drugs and violence that continues to threaten Mexican-U.S. security relations?

Literature Review

Critical Assets Identification

The general objective of terrorist organizations is to compel other people to do their will, intimate other people, or to destabilize or otherwise destroy the support structures of a nation or an organization (Smith & McCusker, 2010). The motivations or rationales that are used by terrorist organizations vary, but typically include support for a specific religion, advancement of international recognition, to change a specific practice or policy (e.g., product testing on animals), political self-determination for minorities, or to accomplish a political ideology (Smith & McCusker, 2010).

To date, the primary responses to terrorist activities have included financial transaction monitoring and reporting (Smith & McCusker, 2010). This response is effective in two different ways: (1) by placing impediments in the path of those who seek to accrue and to move funds using the regulated financial sector and; (2) by enabling law enforcement and intelligence agencies to follow the financial trail of transactions left by those who make use of the regulated financial sector, so as to detect and to prevent possible attacks (Smith & McCusker, 2010, p. 2). In addition, there have been several other trends that have taken place in the international community in recent years that have affected responses to global terrorism. For instance, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, there has been a significant decrease in state-funded terrorist activities and an increase in international condemnation (Levitt & Jacobson 2008). Consequently, many terrorist organizations have been forced to become self-supporting financially through drug trafficking (Levitt & Jacobson 2008).

Likewise, there has been a noticeable increase in so-called “homegrown” terrorism, especially in countries located outside of the primary conflict zones (Gartenstein-Ross & Grossman, 2009). Some analysts have maintained that these homegrown terrorist organizations are increasingly contacting international terrorist organizations for training and funding (Smith & McCusker, 2010). For instance, Smith and McCusker report that, “In the European Union (EU), the number of persons associated with home-grown extremist Muslim terrorist groups increased in 2008 owing to developments in conflict zones and politically unstable countries, such as North Africa, the Sahel region, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India” (2010, p. 3). Moreover, there is growing concern over the increasing radicalization of Islamic communities in the Middle East and elsewhere (Smith & McCusker, 2010). Today’s situation is a far cry from just a few decades ago when Osama bin Laden was not even a blip on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) radar. Indeed, the head of the DEA’s international programs, John Warner, reported in 1984 that “among the transnational terrorist groups, the two Armenian ones stood out as the most ruthless and dangerous of all” (cited in Marshall, 2012, p. 155).

The recent budget for drug trafficking interdiction in the Western Hemisphere by country is set forth in Table 1 and depicted graphically in Figure 1 below.

Table 1

Recent drug trafficking interdiction budget


FY 2005


FY 2006


Western Hemisphere













Latin America Regional



Southern Cone



Caribbean and Central America (Transit Zone)



Subtotal Western Hemisphere



Source: U.S. Department of State (2006) International Narcotics Control Strategy Report at

Figure 1. Recent drug interdiction budget

Source: Based on tabular data in U.S. Department of State (2006) International Narcotics Control Strategy Report at

In addition, there is an increasing number of urban areas in the United States that participate in the nationwide High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, an undertaking run by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (Fifer & Sturgeon, 2013). The purpose of the program is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States by:

Facilitating cooperation among Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities;

Enhancing law enforcement intelligence sharing among Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies;

Providing reliable law enforcement intelligence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations; and Supporting coordinated law enforcement strategies that make the most of available resources to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in designated areas of the United States and in the nation as a whole (HIDTA program, 2014).

At present, there are 28 HIDTAs, a total that includes about 16% of all U.S. counties and approximately 60% of the American population (HIDTA program, 2014). Forty-six states as well as in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have HIDTA-designated counties (HIDTA program, 2014). Locally, HIDTAs are overseen by executive boards that are comprised of equal numbers of regional federal and non-federal (e.g., state, local, and tribal) law enforcement authorities (HIDTA program, 2014). The HIDTA program sponsors hundreds of national initiatives, including the following:

Enforcement initiatives comprising multi-agency investigative, interdiction, and prosecution activities;

Intelligence and information-sharing initiatives;

Support for programs that provide assistance beyond the core enforcement and intelligence and information-sharing initiatives; and Drug use prevention and drug treatment initiatives (HIDTA program, 2014).

In addition as part of their anti-drug strategies, several HIDTAs place a high priority on prevention and treatment such as:

The Southwest Border HIDTA – California Region works closely with more than a dozen other organizations on prevention initiatives, including drug courts, youth service organizations, and a U.S. Border Patrol program that works on youth drug use prevention.

In Washington, the Northwest HIDTA promotes links with drug courts, community coalitions, public awareness campaigns, and other groups to support initiatives to reduce substance abuse and prevent the initiation of drug use (HIDTA program, 2014).

Furthermore, the HIDTA program provides funding for projects that support HIDTAs by addressing specific drug trafficking concerns including:

The Domestic Marijuana Investigation Project

The National Methamphetamine and Pharmaceuticals Initiative

The Domestic Highway Enforcement Project (HIDTA program, 2014).

The federal programs are focused on combating major drug trafficking in the United States and to provide local and state law enforcement agencies with the resources they need to participate as active partners in the national effort to curb drug trafficking (Fifer & Sturgeon, 2013). According to Fifer and Sturgeon, “To date, drug trafficking organizations have been pushed out of other urban areas by similar efforts, only to move to regions that have the least resistance where there’s not as much coordination between law enforcement agencies” (2013, p. 8).

In response, Congress passed the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA) after several previous efforts to develop an effective drug trafficking maritime enforcement power for American law enforcement authorities (Bouzid, 2011). Furthermore, pursuant to United States v. Matos-Luchi, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined for the first time that stateless vessels could be boarded and seized and the crew charged if the vessel was suspected of being used for drug trafficking purposes (Bouzid, 2011). In this regard, Bouzid adds that, “The court held that because the vessel failed to meet any of the criteria that would classify it as possessing nationality under the MDLEA, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) had authority to seize the vessel and subject the suspected traffickers to criminal prosecution in the United States” (2011, p. 459).

According to Burns (2013), lawmakers in the United States should not misunderstand or underestimate the severity of the problem. In this regard, Burns emphasizes that, “We’re in the midst of a “war on trafficking.” It’s similar to the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror” in that we have removed these acts – drug use, terrorism, trafficking- from the contexts in which they occur” (p. 9). Successful prosecution of the “war on trafficking,” though, requires a systematic and methodical approach that takes into account the various factors that contribute to drug trafficking besides the obvious. As Burns points out, “When we talk about trafficking, we need to think about both “push” and “pull” factors meaning, social factors like poverty and racism that push people to become vulnerable to begin with, as well as abusive or exploitative arrangements they may be pulled into because resources are inadequate” (p. 9). Successful prosecution of the war on trafficking, then, requires understanding and responding to the issues as they are rather than as the United States would prefer them to be. As Burns concludes, “Instead, we ignore all that and focus on the “bad people” – usually portrayed in the media as urban men of color kidnapping young, white girls. We assume that if we put them in prison, everything will be solved” (2013, p. 9). Unfortunately, the threat of drug trafficking organizations continues to grow in the Western Hemisphere, and these issues are discussed further below as they relate to an assessment of these threats.

Threat Assessment

Today, there are some independent Mexican drug traffickers to be sure, but the Mexican drug trafficking industry in general is widely regarded to be controlled by several large drug-trafficking organizations (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). Although hard facts are difficult to come by, most major drug trafficking organizations seem to be hierarchically organized and have clearly identifiable leadership (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). In some cases, organizations such as the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have survived the removal of their leadership (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). According to Kilmer and Caulkins, “The configuration of organizations is not stable; new drug trafficking organizations emerge from established ones. For example, the Zetas, now a major trafficking group, were originally a set of ex-soldiers hired by the Gulf cartel to provide enforcement services” (2010, p. 38).

The drug trafficking organizations that have been around the longest typically began with marijuana sales during the 1970s when Mexico emerged as a dominant supplier to the United States (Astorga & Shirk, 2010). During this period in the history of Mexico-U.S. drug trafficking, a number of leaders were from the state of Sinaloa, situated on Mexico’s northern Pacific coast (Astorga & Shirk, 2010). Currently, there remains a lack of evidence that any particular Mexican drug trafficking organization specializes in a certain type or types of drugs (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). Because Mexican drug trafficking organizations deal in a number of different types of illicit drugs, it is not possible to determine with any accuracy how much violence is attributable to heroin, marijuana, cocaine or other drugs (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010). Many observers suggest that given marijuana’s less harmful qualities, any violence must be related to other drugs. As Kilmer and Caulkins point out, though, “Marijuana-related violence may currently be a small part of the overall violence landscape in Mexico. However, one must also consider that marijuana may influence violence by keeping some potentially violent individuals on payrolls and/or providing revenue that is used to purchase weapons and ammunition” (2010, p. 38).

Besides Mexico, the threat of drug trafficking from Central American countries is also severe and complex. The governments of the Central American countries share a number of challenges in this area. For instance, Buxton (2012) reports that, “They are all small countries, tiny territories to police but geographically complex, with weak institutions, wedged between drug markets and producers north and south” (p. 250). Complicating matters even more is the fact that the Central American countries are permanent wedged into geographic locations where law enforcement is less effective or nonexistent (Buxton, 2012). In this regard, Buxton advises that, “Geography emerges as the most difficult bridging factor for these countries to address. Countries in the region possess long Caribbean and Pacific coast lines, micro islands, lagoons, mangrove swamps, deep-water ports, and the longest barrier reef in the hemisphere” (2012, p. 251). The Central American countries also contain continental roadways and links through the Panama Canal that facilitate drug trafficking (Buxton, 2012). According to Buxton, “In sum, they make for the perfect illicit drop-off and transit zone for methamphetamine and cocaine produced in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia to be sold to markets in the U.S. And Europe” (2012, p. 251). Because there is so much money involved, the threat of drug trafficking from Latin and Central America remains exceedingly high. In this regard, Buxton concludes that, “This is a region where the security sector is weak, vulnerable to corruption, inefficient, and with a long history of involvement in the drugs trade. Impunity and lack of civilian oversight are ongoing problems” (2012, p. 251).

These assertions were confirmed in October 2008 when, following a 2-year collaborative investigation by Colombian and U.S. law enforcement authorities, the Colombian government charged 36 people with money laundering and drug trafficking (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). The connection between drug trafficking and terrorism was also made apparent during this operation. Law enforcement authorities reported that the drug trafficking organization they had disrupted consisted of expatriates from Lebanon who were transferring a percentage of the profits to the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). Unfortunately, these types of “hybrid” drug trafficking organizations are becoming increasingly commonplace. In this regard, Jacobsen and Levitt (2010) point out that, “These “hybrid” organizations-part terrorist group, part organized crime network-are “meaner and uglier than anything law enforcement or militaries have ever faced” in the view of senior U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials” (2010, p. 119).

Although this increasingly close association between drug trafficking organizations and terrorist group is widely regarded as a growing threat from the perspective of the United States, these trends also represent new opportunities for American lawmakers (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “As the nexus of terrorism and criminal activity intensifies, targeting terrorist groups’ criminal activities becomes an increasingly effective strategy. Terrorist networks are becoming increasingly transnational and a key challenge in confronting them is achieving international cooperation in counterterrorism initiatives” (2010, p. 120).

These trends may help strengthen the position of the U.S. with the international community in prosecuting drug trafficking organizations since they have also began participating in regime-changing activities that threaten regional stability around the world (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). In this regard, Jacobsen and Levitt point out that, “By capitalizing on terrorists’ increasing criminal activity, the Obama administration could leverage its strategy of international cooperation and diplomatic engagement to gain broader support against illicit financing of transnational threats” (2010, p. 120). Part of the problem, though, is the dynamic nature of drug trafficking organizations that fund terrorist groups. According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “The terrorist threat is not static. Terrorists adapt and evolve, partly in response to the very countermeasures we enact. As the terrorist threat has evolved, the means by which terrorist groups raise, store, and move funds have also changed and have often hindered government efforts to thwart terrorist activities” (2010, p. 120). The research to date confirms that terrorist organizations are in close communication and collaborate with one another on tactics and intelligence gathering, especially with respect to financing and supporting terrorist activities

(Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

Prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the al-Qaeda terrorist group provided resources and oversaw operations from Afghanistan (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). Thereafter, al-Qaeda subsequently funded the embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, and the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “Today, the terrorist threat is more decentralized, with the al-Qaeda core no longer funding other terrorist groups, cells, or operations as they did in the past. Local cells are being increasingly left to fund their own activities” (2010, p. 120). This is not to say, though, that terrorist groups rely on drug trafficking funding solely, but it is to say that a majority of their funding is coming from illicit drug trade. According to Jacobsen and Levitt (2010), “While many fundraising techniques remain popular, including abuse of charities and otherwise legitimate businesses, terrorist cells increasingly engage in criminal activity to fund their actions. For example, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia, helped to finance the 2002 Bali bombings by robbing jewelry stores. Another example is the 2005 attacks in London, which were partially financed by credit card fraud” (p. 121).

In fact, terrorist groups receive funding from a wide range of illegal activities, ranging from counterfeit goods to cigarette smuggling, but there is growing evidence that the lion’s share of funding for terrorist groups is being derived from drug trafficking money (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). The DEA reports that 19 out of 43 designated foreign terrorist organizations have been positively linked with the illicit global drug trade, and as many as 60% percent of terrorist groups have links with the illicit drug industry (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). A good example of this arrangement was the Madrid train bombings in 2004 that killed nearly 200 people and which were funded in large part by the sale of hashish (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

The amounts of money that are involved in the illicit global drug trade are staggering. The United Nations has estimated that the illicit global drug industry pulls in around $322 billion each year, making illicit drug trafficking the most profitable terrorist group activity by far (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). In addition, besides drug trafficking revenues, illicit drugs can generate revenue for terrorist organizations through taxes on local cartels and farmers (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “Groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and Lebanon’s Hizbollah generate significant revenue from extortion fees collected from drug cartels and poppy or coca farmers operating in their territory” (2010, p. 121).

Although drug trafficking may appear to be a suboptimal funding method for any type of religious group, the terrorist organizations that are using drug trafficking to raise funds justify the practice by rationalizing its ultimate impact on their enemies. For example, in 2006, a member of the Taliban, Khan Mohammed, was sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking and narco-terrorism who characterized his activities in drug trafficking as being based on a “desire to see God turn all the infidels into corpses — whether it is by opium or by shooting, this is our common goal” (cited in Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010, p. 121). Likewise, a leader of Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist group in Lebanon that has links with al-Qaeda, rationalized bank robberies by the organization by claiming they were “stealing money from the infidels” and “their institutions is something that Allah has permitted us to do,” pointing out that the stolen money was rather “directed towards jihad” (cited in Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010, p. 119)

Different terrorist organizations generate revenues from drug trafficking differently. For example, the Taliban is independent in Afghanistan, and manages its own bases and training camps, territorial holdings, smuggles weapons and generally controls all aspect of their illicit drug production (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). Not surprisingly, the Taliban has struggled to maintain control over its geographic holdings in recent years despite repeated efforts by the United States and the DEA to half the flow of drugs from Taliban-held country (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “Indeed, an increasing number of DEA arrests in recent years have targeted drug kingpins closely tied to the Taliban, such as Baz Mohammad and Haji Juma Ka Khan. In October 2005, the U.S. government formally extradited Mohammad from Afghanistan to New York” p. 119). The DEA reports that Mohammad Khan was a “Taliban-linked narco-terrorist” who had been responsible for conspiring to smuggle in excess of $25 million worth of heroin into the United States and other countries from Afghanistan (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). The charges filed in the United States against Khan, who was the first defendant to be prosecuted pursuant to the 2006 Federal Narco-Terrorism statute, alleged that Khan had “trafficked massive quantities of drugs with the intent to support a terrorist organization” (cited in Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010, p. 120)

Today, many retired Cold Warriors can be heard to lament the “good old days” of communism when the threats arrayed against the United States were state-sponsored and well-known. By very sharp contrast, the nebulous quality of most terrorist organizations means that they can operate with impunity and, lacking state sponsors, there is no geographic area that can be targeted in response. In some ways, though, these trends can be regarded as positive. For instance, Jacobsen and Levitt point out that, “All things considered, the growing nexus between international terrorism and organized crime may actually be a positive development. For one, tracking terrorists for their illicit activities, rather than their terrorism-based endeavors, is less complicated” (p. 120). In addition, although some nations may vacillate about waging a war on terrorism because of differing definitions, there is a universal consensus among the international community concerning the need to fight crime (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

The historical record also confirms that some other nations have the means and wherewithal to ally with the United States in waging a global war on terror, other countries are less willing or even reluctant to participate in counterterrorism efforts for a number of reasons. For example, some nations may not want to publicly confirm that they have a problem with terrorism because it reflects poorly on their abilities to deal with the issues effectively. Other countries may be reluctant to cooperate with the United States in the global war on terrorism simply by virtue of its being the unpopular “Great Satan” with its neighboring countries (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “The governments in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, where Hizbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations have had a long-standing presence, is a good example of the former” (p. 120). A good example of this reluctance occurred in December 2006 when the U.S. Treasury charged a number of Lebanese expatriates in the Tri-Border Area as terrorists due to their affiliations with Hizbollah. The three governments of the Tri-Border Area responded by issuing a joint statement that cleared the Lebanese suspects of all charges and rejected the U.S. claims of their terrorist activities in the Tri-Border Area (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

It is important to note, though, that a 2007 U.S. State Department annual report on terrorism also determined that the governments of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil are much more aggressive in prosecuting other criminal activities in this region: “The governments of the Tri-Border Area have long been concerned with arms and drugs smuggling, document fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of contraband goods through this region” (cited in Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010, p. 120). These incidents indicate that it would be in the best interests of the United States to collaborate with the governments of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil on drug-related crime enforcement rather than pursuing counter-terrorism cooperation (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

This alternative strategy is attractive since it involves no substantive changes to the legal structures of other countries nor does it require any reorganization of governmental agencies (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). As Jacobsen and Levitt conclude, “Drug laws are comprehensive and ubiquitous; governments must simply enforce existing laws and hold terrorists accountable for their transgressions. Enforcing domestic laws is not a political statement, but merely a function of law and order and of national sovereignty” (2010, p. 120).

Although the global war on terrorism remains in relative infancy, there have been some real-world examples of how these different strategies play out. For example, Kenya provides a useful example of how the law enforcement approach can be used to fight narco-terrorism. For instance, according to Jacobsen and Levitt, “Kenya lacks stringent counterterrorism laws, but could effectively combat terrorism by enforcing domestic criminal legislation” (2010, p. 120). An important point made by Jacobsen and Levitt is that in some parts of the world, the global war on terrorism is actually viewed as a war on Islam by the United States. In this regard, Jacobsen and Levitt point out that, “U.S. authorities commenting on terrorism in Kenya have drawn negative responses from Kenyan officials; the Kenyan government views such public statements as unfriendly act[s] and threat[s] to the country’s vital tourism industry” (2010, p. 120).

There are some pragmatic reasons behind this approach as well. For instance, charges of criminal activity are easier to substantiate than crimes of terrorism. Successfully prosecuting an individual for terrorism requires evidence that may be difficult or even impossible to obtain in some countries (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). In addition, even when evidence is produced, it may be challenged as inadmissible, rejected as being detrimental to national security interests or viewed as being an undesirable public acknowledgment of cooperation with the United States (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). By contrast, criminal charges are far easier to prove and prosecute (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “Zacarias Moussaoui’s prosecution on terrorism-related grounds provides a paradigmatic example of the difficulties in trying suspected terrorists. Although the “20th hijacker” ultimately pleaded guilty, the trial persisted for more than three and a half years as a result of disputed intelligence” (2010, p. 120).

Another important point made by Jacobsen and Levitt is that every successful prosecution of a terrorist suspect as a terrorist rather than an ordinary criminal provides additional support for further prosecutions. In this regard, Jacobsen and Levitt report that, “Redefining terrorists as criminals sullies the upright reputation they seek to portray among their followers, be it as “freedom fighters” or principled religious activists” (2010, p. 120). Therefore, redefining terrorists as the criminals they actually are also removes the perception of these individuals as being religiously motivated. For instance, Jacobsen and Levitt report that, “Publicly pursuing terrorists through the criminal activity track taints the political, religious, or practical legitimacy so critical to building financial support and recruiting operatives for terrorism” (2010, p. 120). Based on the foregoing, Jacobsen and Levitt predict that the 2006 Federal Narco-Terrorism statute will become an even more important tool in underscoring the involvement of terrorist organizations in drug trafficking activities (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

Although every terrorist organization is unique in some fashion, this strategy could be used to good effect with some groups such as the Lebanon-based Hizbollah. According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “The United States and many of its allies, particularly the Europeans, disagree on whether or not Hizbollah is a terrorist organization. There is far more agreement, however, that Hizbollah’s global criminal activities and infrastructure pose a serious problem and need to be addressed” (2010, p. 120). The European Union (EU) has not yet determined that Hizbollah or any part of it is a terrorist organization; however, the EU did include several members of Hizbollah as being culpable in a series of terrorist acts (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). Perhaps because of the social work performed by the group, the United Kingdom has even been hesitant to call all parts of Hizbollah a terrorist organization (Jacobson & Levitt, 2010). In fact, the UK government even announced that it was rejoining negotiations with the political arm of Hizbollah in March 2009 (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010). According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “Unlike the United States, which has blacklisted the entire Hizbollah organization, the United Kingdom has banned only Hizbollah’s terrorist (External Security Organization) and military wings” (p. 120). The ban on Hizbollah’s military wing was in response to the group’s announcement that it intended to increase its support to Palestinian and Iraqi militants in March 2008 (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

Notwithstanding the sharp differences between U.S. And EU policies regarding Hizbollah, law enforcement against drug trafficking is one area where the U.S. And its European allies agree. According to Jacobsen and Levitt, “The United States and its European counterparts have a particularly strong interest in combating Hizbollah’s burgeoning role in illicit drug trafficking” (2010, p. 120). Irrespective of various definitions of what constitutes terrorism, drug trafficking is an area where law enforcement activities are well established and recognized as essential to national security. In this area, Hizbollah stands alone as having engaged in criminal activities to fund its operations longer than any other Islamic group (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

In this regard, Jacobsen and Levitt report that, “While Hizbollah is involved in a wide variety of criminal activities, its role in the production and trafficking of narcotics is particularly salient. Hizbollah has capitalized on the vast Lebanese Shi’a expatriate population, mainly located in South America and Africa” (p. 120). Using its well established position in Africa as a springboard, Hizbollah has exploited the strategic location to generate and transfer monies to support their international terrorist activities (Jacobsen & Levitt, 2010).

A survey of security analysts concerning the situation in Mexico found that the country was woefully under prepared across virtually all the rating measures related to counternarcotics, counterterrorism and border and maritime security along the following scale:

1. Very low: entirely lacking

2. Low: beginning to develop

3. Neither low nor high: minimal but functioning

4. High: functional but room for development

5. Very high: strong and no major improvement needed.

Generally, the respondents scored all of Mexico’s capabilities across the three security issues at 3.18 or below, indicating that Mexico’s core capabilities related to these three security issues are minimal but functioning at best and entirely lacking at worst (Paul & Schaefer, 2011). The respondents’ average rating for capabilities in each of the three security issues was low as shown in Table 2 and depicted graphically in Figure 2 below.

Table 2

Assessment of Mexico’s Counternarcotics Capabilities



Control corruption in counternarcotics operations


Integrate military and law enforcement operational support


Police, prosecute and incarcerate drug traffickers


Maintain law and order (public safety)


Train civilians and military forces in counternarcotics operations


Control roadways, airspace and waterways


Develop rapid and mobile reaction capabilities based on real-time intelligence


Collect intelligence on narcotics traffickers


Establish drug eradication and interdiction programs


Maintain border and coastal security




Source: Based on table in Paul & Schaefer, 2011, p. 70

Figure 2. Sector assessment of Mexico’s core counternarcotics capabilities

Source: Based on tabular data in Paul & Schaefer, 2011, p. 70

The respondents rated all of Mexico’s counternarcotics capabilities as being either low or very low while the scores for Mexico’s counternarcotics capabilities ranged from a high score of 2.55 for the country’s capability to maintain border and coastal security to a low score of 1.27 for its capability to control corruption in counternarcotics operations (Paul & Schaefer, 2011). The average score assigned by the respondents across all the capabilities related to counternarcotics was 2.10 (Paul & Schaefer, 2011).

Vulnerability Assessment

The average annual per capita GDP in Mexico is below $5,000, and local economies provide few employment opportunities, especially for younger people just entering the job market (Buxton, 2012). Moreover, despite the promises of the North American Free Trade Agreement, many regions of Mexico remains impoverished, further contributing to an environment in which drug traffickers can prosper (Buxton, 2012). Vulnerability to drug trafficking becomes even more severe when law enforcement authorities are corrupt and when drug traffickers change their routine to avoid detection and capture (Campbell, 2009).

Innovations in technology and communications equipment in recent years have facilitated the fight against drug trafficking in North America, including the disruption of activities to plan, coordinate, and execute their criminal activities (Disrupt drug trafficking and its facilitation of other transnational threats, 2012). Consequently, a growing number of drug trafficking organizations have transformed into “versatile, loose networks that cooperate intermittently but maintain their independence. They operate worldwide and employ sophisticated technology and financial savvy” (Disrupt drug trafficking, 2012, para. 2). A particularly insidious aspect of these criminal organizations is their ability to circumvent the law through bribery or threats as well as their ability to exploit weaknesses in border security and law enforcement operations (Disrupt drug trafficking, 2012).

At present, Mexico’s security sector does not possess the ability to effectively respond to drug trafficking and terrorism, and the country’s land and maritime borders are also vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist organizations (Paul & Schaefer, 2011). To date, the Mexican government has succeeded in gathering a significant amount of intelligence concerning drug trafficking organizations operating in its territory, but here again, corruption — even at the highest levels — can derail anti-drug trafficking operations (Paul & Schaefer, 2011). Indeed, Paul and Schaefer emphasize that, “Corruption in the forces of order is the single biggest barrier to effectively opposing the drug trafficking organizations” (p. 127). Some observers, though, fail to identify any actions that indicate the Mexican government is actively working to combat drug trafficking or terrorist organizations; rather, the current emphasis seems to be characterizing local groups as being terrorists (Paul & Schaefer, 2011). In fact, Paul and Schaefer (2011) are of the mind that if the United States was not involved in combating drug trafficking from Mexico, there would be little or nothing substantive accomplished. In this regard, Paul and Schaefer (2011) report that, “Mexico’s ability to disrupt financing by terrorist or insurgent groups from within or outside the country is perhaps the greatest shortcoming of the Mexican strategy and plan to fight narcoterrorism. There is really no evidence that Mexico is capable of doing this without the support and leadership of American intelligence” (p. 128).

Despite the fears of the U.S. government that the cartel-related violence that is wracking Mexico today will spill over the borders into the United States, the violence appears to be headed south into Central American countries (Carpenter, 2012). As Carpenter points out, “That may prove to be only minor comfort to U.S. officials, though, because the expanding influence of the Mexican cartels is posing a security threat to fragile Central American countries” (2012, p. 33).

If drug-related violence continues to spill into the countries of Central America, the region of the hemisphere could once again become a major foreign policy issue for the United States (Carpenter, 2012). Indeed, the spread of violence into the Central American countries is believed to be due in part to the actions being taken by the Mexican government to curtail drug trafficking activities in the country (Carpenter, 2012). The chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, David Gaddis, characterized the move into Central America as a natural eventuality given the circumstances. In this regard, Gaddis advised that, “They are dispersing some of their operations to safer arenas. The cartels are moving into countries where they feel, quite frankly, more comfortable than they do in Mexico” (cited in Carpenter, 2012, p. 33).

Some indication of this transition into Central America can be discerned from an interview with Honduran political leader Julian Aristides Gonzalez with Time magazine in December 2009. During the interview, Gonzalez noted that during his 6-year tenure, he had witnessed the numbers of Mexican cartels that had relocated to Honduras increase dramatically. According to Gonzalez, “Almost all of the big Mexican organizations are carving out territory here. And when they run into each other, they will fight over it” (cited in Carpenter, 2012, p. 33). Ironically, Gonzalez was murdered a short time after his interview with Time magazine (Carpenter, 2012).

In another time and another place, these events might not be so troubling, but the events that are transpiring south of the U.S. border are harbingers of what may yet come. In this regard, Carpenter emphasizes that, “What is so worrisome about the mounting presence of the drug cartels in Central America is the vulnerability and overall weakness of the region. There has been speculation that the violence in Mexico could ultimately cause that country to become a “failed state” (p. 33). Certainly, the United States does not want and cannot afford a failed state on its southern border, but there are some positive signs on the horizon as well that may help counter the current drug-trafficking trends that are emerging from Central America. Although concerns about drug trafficking are legitimate, Mexico does have some other attributes that will likely help avoid it from becoming the failed state that many observers fear. For instance, Carpenter points out that, “For all of its problems, Mexico still maintains powerful institutions that serve to keep the country relatively stable. One is the Catholic Church, a prosperous, well-organized and pervasive factor in Mexico” (2012, p. 34). Another institution that provides Mexico with stability is its business community that has significant interests in combating drug trafficking by the cartels. According to Carpenter, “There are three stable political parties that have the same incentive and impressive capabilities. Though Mexico faces a serious threat from the drug cartels — and there are a few areas of the country in which the government’s writ has become precariously weak — it is still a long way from becoming a failed state” (2012, p. 34).

The situation in Central America, though, is significantly different and far more worrisome than the situation in Mexico. According to Carpenter, “Mexican drug cartels now operate virtually uninhibited in their Central American backyard” (2012, p. 34). As noted above, drug traffickers began moving into Central America from Mexico following crackdowns there, and the same processes have continued to push drug traffickers into Central American regions where law enforcement is absent and where local gangs offer manpower for new criminal activities (Carpenter, 2012). In this regard, Carpenter points out that, “Indeed, the marked deterioration of the security environment in the region seemed to begin in 2008, when the Zetas, a cartel that originated with special-forces units in Mexico’s military trained by the United States to combat the drug traffickers, defected to the Gulf cartel. Later, the Zetas broke with their new employer and became a competing trafficking organization” (2012, p. 34). Initially, drug traffickers in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala welcomed their counterparts from Mexico, but their numbers continued to grow and Mexican cartels have assumed power in these Central American countries as well (Carpenter, 2012).

While fears that Mexico may become a failed state may be misguided, the same cannot be said of the Central American governments, some of which are already politically unstable. In fact, compared to its Central American counterparts, Mexico is a political rock. In this regard, Carpenter notes that, “Even though the country now has a multiparty system and the PRI has lost the last two presidential elections to the conservative National Action Party, Mexico is still a bastion of political stability compared to its Central American neighbors” (2012, p. 34). Except for Costa Rica which has enjoyed relative political stability in recent years, the other countries of Central America have experienced a relentless series of coups, rebellions and civil wars (Carpenter, 2012). According to Carpenter, “Mexico’s weaknesses, especially the pervasively corrupt police forces and prison system, as well as the dysfunctional court system, are not only replicated but also greatly magnified in most Central American countries” (2012, p. 34). With Mexican drug trafficking cartels moving into these Central American countries, it is reasonable to suggest that the problem will become even more severe in the foreseeable future (Carpenter, 2012).

Not surprisingly, government authorities in these and other Central American countries have grown concerned about the increasing presence of drug trafficking organizations in their countries. In June 2012, a regional summit meeting was attended by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who reassured her Central American counterparts that: “The United States will back you” (cited in Carpenter, 2012, p. 34). In addition, Secretary Clinton also assured the Central American attendees that, “Everyone knows the statistics, the murder rates surpassing civil war levels. We know that the wave of violence … also threatens our own country” (cited in Carpenter, 2012, p. 34)

The reassurances from Secretary Clinton were matched by a promise of $300 million for interdiction but some of this amount was already approved as part of the new Central America Regional Security Initiative that was enacted by the U.S. Congress in September 2010 (Carpenter, 2012). These funds had been reallocated from a previous 2007 counteroffensive for Mexico and neighboring countries (Carpenter, 2012). The Central American political leaders, though, insisted that far more money was needed for antidrug campaigns than the amounts being discussed by the United States (Carpenter, 2012). For example, Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom maintained that, “For us, it is the difference between life and death” and suggested that at least $900 million would be needed to make a substantive difference in the drug trafficking industry in Central America (Carpenter, 2012, p. 34).

President Colom’s perspective about the threat represented by the Mexican drug cartels is based on his country’s recent experiences with the Mexican drug cartels. For instance, in late 2010 and early 2011, President Colom announced a state of siege for the mountainous northern state of Alta Verapaz, situated near the border with Mexico in 2008 (Carpenter, 2012). According to Carpenter, “That area was a major corridor for the transportation of drugs from South America through Honduras and eventually into Mexico” (2012, p. 34). For some Americans sitting in the comfort of their living rooms, it may not be possible to conceptualize what these trends mean for the average citizen, but the people of Guatemala learned what it meant to have their communities taken over the drug cartels the hard way. In this regard, Carpenter reports that, “The Zetas operated with such impunity that before the siege declaration and the deployment of several thousand troops, the cartel’s heavily armed gunmen effectively controlled the streets of several towns in Alta Verapaz and even imposed curfews on the inhabitants” (2012, p. 34).

Indeed, Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice president of Costa Rica and currently a fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes that drug trafficking cartels have taken over as much as half of Guatemala and exert complete control over their regions. For instance, Carpenter points out that in a large northern region known as the Peten, “The Zetas have roadblocks there. You can only enter the Peten if the Zetas allow you to” (cited in Carpenter, 2012, p. 34). In addition, Mexican drug trafficking cartels have also penetrated large portions of El Salvador and Honduras in recent years and these regions have little or no government control (Carpenter, 2012). According to Carpenter, “El Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes reveals that the Zetas are bribing elite police units with $5,000 monthly payments to cooperate with the cartel and to steal high-powered weapons and grenades from the military. In the spring of 2011, nearly a dozen El Salvadoran soldiers were arrested trying to sell two thousand grenades to traffickers” (2012, p.34)

In fact, the president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, maintains that Mexican drug traffickers now outnumber his own country’s law enforcement and military forces combined (Carpenter, 2012). Moreover, even Costa Rica has recently experienced pressure from Mexican drug trafficking cartels. According to Carpenter, “The drug trade [in Costa Rica] is more prominent than ever before, and, for the first time, the Obama administration put that country on the official list of major drug transit or major illicit drug-producing countries” (2012, p. 34). The security ministry for Costa Rica maintains that drug trafficking organizations are currently using their country as a storehouse for drugs (Carpenter, 2012). In response, Costa Rican authorities have implemented a Strategic Association Accord with Mexico which coordinates intelligence-sharing and other initiatives that are designed to respond to the growing drug trafficking threat (Carpenter, 2012).

In fact, even Central American countries that are belligerent towards the United States have recognized the threat posed by Mexican drug trafficking organizations. According to Carpenter, “Even the leftist government of Nicaragua — governed in the 1980s by Washington’s archnemesis, the Sandinista National Liberation Front — seems not only receptive to aid from the United States to combat the traffickers but also eager for such assistance” (2012, p. 34). Likewise, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States, Francisco Campbell, made it clear that “unlike the imaginary threats of the past, this one is real. This is the first time we can talk about an honest hemispheric threat” (cited in Carpenter, 2012, p. 34). Given that a hemispheric threat exists, a risk analysis of drug trafficking organizations represents a timely and valuable enterprise which is addressed further below.

Risk Analysis

The risk of drug trafficking organizations and the violence they spawn spilling over the border into the United States is real, but recent trends indicate that cartel members are moving into the Central American countries at present rather than attempting a move into the United States. Because drug trafficking organizations are clearly in violation of international law, once their activities have been identified, the next logical step is interdiction. In this regard, Alecu (2012) advises that, “The flagrant finding of the illicit activity – considering the international co-working and the incrimination based on international conventions regarding the trafficking of drugs and drug abuse – may be developed in any of the stages, as a strategy issue, the only question remaining being the right time for the intervention” (p. 283). The goal of any interdiction initiative is to completely disrupt the criminal network (Alecu, 2012). In this regard, Alecu reports that, “There are many cases in which the drug traffickers are connected to organized networks of prostitution, gambling or money falsification” (2012, p. 283). The connection between drug trafficking and terrorism has also been well established, and it is reasonable to suggest that at least a portion of the revenues that are being generated by these organizations are being channeled into international terrorist organizations (Alecu, 2012).

Based on their analysis of data from the Rand Corporation Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents, the Heritage Foundation calculated that of the nearly 40,000 terrorist incidents from 1969 to 2009, 7.8% (2,981) were directed at the United States as shown in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3. Terrorism incidents worldwide: 1969-2009

Source: Based on graph at

As can be seen from Figure 3 above, the United States has been fairly well insulated against terrorist attacks, with the September 11, 2001 attacks notwithstanding. According to Muhlhausen and McNeill (2011), “In fact, the majority of terrorist acts against the United States occur outside the nation’s borders. Since 1970, more than half of all international terrorist acts targeting the United States occurred in either Latin America and the Caribbean (36%) or Europe (23%)” (2011, para. 2) as shown in Figure 4 below. As can be seen in Figure 4 below, the Middle East accounts for 20% of all terrorist attacks, and anti-U.S. terrorist attacks were the least likely to occur in the North America and Africa.

Figure 4. International terror attacks against the United States by regions of the words: 1969-2009

Source: Based on graph at

There have been some ebbs and flows in terrorist activity against the United States, though, that makes risk assessment for future terrorist attacks problematic. International terrorist attacks against the United States have varied significantly over the years, with a peak of 150 terrorist acts being reached in 1991 (Muhlhausen & McNeill, 2011). After 1991, the rate of terrorist attacks declined significantly until 2000 at which point only 14 incidents occurred (Muhlhausen & McNeill, 2011). The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center reversed this downward trend until 2005 when 87 incidents were recorded (Muhlhausen & McNeill, 2011). In 2009, the lowest number of terrorist attacks in 40 years was recorded with just five international terrorist attacks against the U.S. (Muhlhausen & McNeill, 2011).


The research showed that Mexico’s security sector has limited capabilities to respond to drug trafficking and terrorist activities due in large part to its porous land and maritime borders. Although drug trafficking organizations in Mexico have left a trail of mayhem in their path, the path to date has led to Central America where these organizations have found safe haven due to lax security processes and a lack of relevant laws on the books. The research was absolutely consistent in showing that there is a direct connection between drug trafficking organizations and terrorism, and that drug trafficking organizations openly support terrorist organizations such as Lebanon-based Hizbollah. Finally, although the threat and vulnerability assessments painted a clear picture of drug trafficking organizations supporting terrorist groups, the risk analysis for the United States was less severe than for the Central American countries where these groups are currently headquartered.


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Drug Addictions and Drug Trafficking Details from within the Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA Areas

Availability and Purity

Since the proliferation of South American heroin into the United States’ illicit drug market in the 1990s, heroin users in Pennsylvania and Delaware have increasingly demanded and are consistently supplied with a highly pure product. Occasional attempts by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to introduce lower-quality Mexican brown or black tar heroin to users in the Pennsylvania and Delaware area in the last decade have been unsuccessful in generating a sustainable market against that of higher purity South American heroin. Historically, Philadelphia was a secondary market for heroin received indirectly through transshipment areas in New York, Chicago, the Caribbean, or Southwest Border locations. However, intelligence and investigative activity that occurred during the past decade have clearly demonstrated the evolution of Philadelphia as a direct recipient of South American heroin trafficked by myriad Mexican DTOs that operate in foreign source areas or U.S.-based staging locations (DEA Philadelphia Division Trends in the Traffic Reports, 2009-2013).

As such, the multi-kilogram quantities of heroin received directly from source areas often exceed purities of 70%, with a recent seizure testing more than 87% pure (DEA Philadelphia Division Significant Intelligence Reports, 2011-2013). In addition, the average purity of street-level quantities of heroin obtained in Philadelphia rose from a 10-year low of approximately 41% in 2010 to more than 63% in 2011, and is consistently among the highest in the country. As a result, Philadelphia has further evolved into a regional hub for markets both within and outside area. (e.g., Allentown, Harrisburg, Scranton, Delaware, Baltimore, and Washington, DC). In addition, Philadelphia, Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, are also prominent sources of supply for the Pittsburgh area, which, in turn, supplies neighboring markets in western Pennsylvania. (DEA Philadelphia Division Trends in the Traffic Reports, 2009-2013). Heroin purity levels for the Pittsburgh source cities of Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, are also among the highest in the east coast market.

Intelligence indicates that street-level suppliers in Philadelphia supply high purity heroin based on user demand.

Local DTOs frequently use heroin “testers” to sample the product and determine a rating of the drug on a 1-10 scale. A product rated as low purity is sent to adjacent markets for resale, as the drug will not be purchased by established users (DEA Philadelphia Division Significant Intelligence Reports, 2011-2013). In addition, the use of fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid, to adulterate heroin is popular in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as users seek an even better high, and sellers strive to increase both the volume of product available for sale, as well as the quality (DEA Philadelphia Division Significant Intelligence Reports, 2011-2013). The use of brand names and stamps, particularly in Philadelphia, act as product differentiators, and allow users to employ a “brand loyalty” to distributors who sell higher purity heroin. The DEA Heroin Domestic Monitor Program (HDMP) was established in 1979 to capture price and purity information for structured undercover heroin purchases in established U.S. heroin markets.

Historically, heroin was most readily available in the Pennsylvania cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and in Wilmington, Delaware. However, intelligence gathered from confidential sources, treatment professionals, and law enforcement investigations corroborates the establishment of new heroin markets in previously untouched urban and suburban areas of Pennsylvania and Delaware. The impact of this increased suburban availability is discussed in the Abuse section of this report. In addition, recent intelligence indicates that Mexican-produced white heroin, mirroring South American heroin in appearance and purity, is increasingly available throughout the Philadelphia and Wilmington area with the potential to flood an already saturated South American heroin market (DEA Philadelphia Division Significant Intelligence Reports, 2011-2013).

DTOs operating in Philadelphia, a regional distribution hub, supply many of these new heroin markets. An indicator of this trend is the Philadelphia/Camden HIDTA Hidden Traffickers Program, which tracks non-Philadelphia residents arrested on drug charges within Philadelphia city limits. Analysis of Hidden Trafficker data between 2007 and 2013 (to date) reveals that 80% of non-Philadelphia resident heroin arrests were of individuals from suburban Philadelphia counties (Bucks — 30%, Delaware — 21%, Montgomery — 20%, Chester — 9%), while Berks, Lehigh, and Lancaster counties ranked next. Overall, more than half (37 of 67) of the Pennsylvania counties, and all three of the counties in Delaware, had residents arrested in Philadelphia on heroin-related charges during this time period (Philadelphia/Camden HIDTA Hidden Trafficker Program).

As a supply and demand product, heroin prices reflect the increase in availability. Recent intelligence shows that the current price of a kilogram of heroin has fallen to as low as $57,000 in Philadelphia. This represents a marked decrease in price from as recently as 2007, when a kilogram of heroin ranged from $95,000 to $105,000. Similarly, the price (per milligram pure) of heroin purchased in Philadelphia fell from a 10-year high range of $1.56 to $.60 in 2011 (among the cheapest in the country). In Pittsburgh, prices fell from a reported high of $200,000 per kilogram in 2007 to a current range between $50,000 and $80,000 (average price per milligram pure of $1.18 in 2011, down from a five-year high of $1.85 in 2010). Likewise, in Delaware, the wholesale price of heroin fell from a range between $90,000 and $110,000 in 2007 to a current price of approximately $70,000.

Street Level Distribution

Street level distribution of heroin in the Philadelphia and Wilmington occurs in small glassine bags containing approximately .01-.03 grams of heroin; a bundle contains approximately 10-14 bags and about one gram of heroin. Prices for heroin vary slightly throughout Philadelphia/Wilmington; in Philadelphia/Wilmington, user bags cost approximately $10, and bundles sell for $60-90. A heroin “log,” consisting of 10 bundles/10 grams, retails for $700-900. In central Pennsylvania, intelligence indicates that the purchase price for a heroin bag hovers around $15, with bundle pricing at approximately $120. In western Pennsylvania, a bag retails for $10-15, bundles for about $100, and a heroin brick (five bundles) costs $250-350 (DEA Philadelphia Division Trends in the Traffic Reports, 2009-2013). Intelligence and sources of information indicate that users transitioning from prescription drugs find a much cheaper, and more plentiful, alternative in heroin. Due to the decrease in prescription drug availability in the last several years, pill prices have increased substantially. Current local street prices for Oxycontin and/or oxycodone are approximately $1.00 per milligram, a 30-50% increase from five years ago (DEA Philadelphia Division Trends in the Traffic Reports, 2009-2013). Conversely, a heroin user can purchase a bag containing .01-.03 grams of high purity heroin for $10-15, with up to five times the potential potency and resulting “high,” depending on the purity of the heroin and how it is administered (snorted or injected) ( As stated by a heroin user, “if your heroin is of any decent purity, oxycodone is not going to be economically viable” (

Law Enforcement Indicators

Nationally, DEA domestic heroin seizures have increased dramatically in the past two decades, growing 192% from 1996 to 2012. (DEA Seizure Statistics,

In addition, law enforcement heroin seizures at the Southwest Border, the primary point of entry for South American and Mexican heroin into the U.S., increased 232% from 2008 (558.8 kilograms) to 2012 (1,855 kilograms). This trend is continuing in 2013. During the first six months of 2013, 1,039 kilograms of heroin were seized at the Southwest Border ( EPIC National Seizure System Data).19 Locally, two of the largest heroin seizures ever reported in Pennsylvania occurred in the last four years, 22 and 15 kilograms, respectively. In addition, analysis of seizure data shows the average weight of heroin seized per incident in Pennsylvania and Delaware has increased over 150% from 2006 to 2012 (from 167 grams to 423 grams) (EPIC National Seizure System Data). In September 2013, the New Castle County Police Department in Delaware reported an 860% increase in heroin seizures over the same time period in 2012 (The Delaware News Journal, September 2013).

The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) reports that statewide arrests (Pennsylvania State Police and municipal police arrests) for driving under the influence of drugs (illicit and controlled prescription substances) increased 170% from 2004 to 2012. It should be noted that the number of officers trained to detect a driver under the influence of drugs also significantly increased during that same period. Marijuana was increasingly the most commonly suspected drug offices detected at the time of arrest during for diving under the influence. Heroin was the second most suspected illicit drug and held third place in 2008, fourth place in 2009, and fifth place in 2010 and 2012.

Nationally, heroin-related overdoses and overdose deaths are increasing (National Drug Threat Assessment, 2013). In addition, intelligence and information gathered from Pennsylvania and Delaware treatment professionals indicate that the widely reported national trend of prescription drug abusers transitioning to heroin for a cheaper and more effective “high” is clearly occurring in the Philadelphia and Wilmington area. In concert with this increase is the trend of snorting heroin, allowing users, at least initially, to avoid intravenous use, and thereby, increasing ease of use, while avoiding the perceived stigma of a heroin “junkie.” According to the Philadelphia Office of Addiction Services, Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) 2012 Report, treatment data revealed the preferred route of administration for heroin shifting to the “Other” category (74% of admissions), inclusive of oral and snorting methods, as opposed to the traditional leading category of “Injection” (58% in 2011) (Philadelphia Office of Addiction Services’ Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) 2012 Report).

Nationally, the number and percentage of persons aged 12 or older who reported heroin use in 2012 was approximately 146% higher than the reported number in 2005 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This demonstrates an evolution in the profile of a typical heroin user to one who is younger and inexperienced, yet has easier access to an ample supply. In addition, users transitioning from prescription drugs are often unprepared for the potency of heroin and are at high risk for potentially fatal overdoses; the trend of street-level DTOs adding fentanyl to heroin greatly increases that risk among both established and new user populations. In Pennsylvania and Delaware, the deadly combination of inexperienced heroin users and increasingly available high-purity heroin is of great concern to both the law enforcement and public health communities. Several examples of this dangerous combination were experienced in June 2013 in multiple parts of the Philadelphia/Wilmington and in neighboring locales. Numerous overdoses, including at least three fatalities, were attributed to fentanyl-laced heroin in suburban areas of Pennsylvania as well as in Philadelphia. Intelligence indicates that the afflicted users were not aware of the presence of the fentanyl; laboratory tests confirmed several were acetyl fentanyl, an illicitly produced non-pharmaceutical version approximately five times more potent than heroin. The dangers of fentanyl were also experienced in epidemic proportion from April 2005 to March 2007 when over 1,000 deaths nationally were attributed to heroin laced with illicitly manufactured non-pharmaceutical fentanyl; 269 of those deaths occurred in the Philadelphia area (DEA Philadelphia Division Trends in the Traffic Reports, 2009-2013).

In addition, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs 2012/2013 Annual Report, the 21-24 age groups represents 31% of heroin treatment admissions statewide, compared to 19% nationwide. The 18-20 age group represents 22% of heroin treatment admissions statewide, compared to 6% nationwide, further illustrating increased heroin use among young adults (Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, 2012/2013 Annual Report).

According to the CEWG, in 2012 the percentage of treatment admissions in Philadelphia with heroin as the primary drug reported saw a large increase from 17.6 to 23.0%, placing it second (behind alcohol) for the first time. In addition, primary treatment admissions for heroin in Philadelphia increased in 2012 across all age groups; this increase resulted after a five-year declining trend, with a slight bump in 2010. (Philadelphia Office of Addiction Services’ Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) 2012 Report). As heroin availability has spread beyond inner-city neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and smaller urban populations, heroin is available to new users in more affluent suburban areas previously unaffected by rampant drug abuse. These areas are more vulnerable to heroin distributors seeking new markets and filling the vacuum caused by the lack of availability, or elevated price, of prescription opioids. The impact is measured through analysis of drug treatment data. For example, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, adjacent to Philadelphia, treatment data included in the 2012 Annual Report of the Delaware County Office of Behavioral Health, Division of Drug and Alcohol reflects staggering increases for opiates and for heroin among young adult treatment patients covering fiscal year 2009-2010 to fiscal year 2011-2012 periods. Both categories made dramatic initial leaps from fiscal year 2009-2010 to fiscal year 2010-2011.

Similarly, in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, heroin was the second most frequently reported drug at the time of admission (behind alcohol) for fiscal years 2007, 2009, and 2010, and was third in fiscal year 2008 (Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, 2012/2013 Annual Report). Confirming this, the clinical director of a medication-assisted opioid treatment program in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, indicated that there has been an “explosion” of opiate problems, especially heroin and oxycodone, in Luzerne County over the last few years (Philadelphia Division Pharmaceutical Threat Assessment for Pennsylvania and Delaware, 2012).

In western Pennsylvania, heroin was the second most commonly reported substance in admissions for years 2007-2010. Despite an 18% decrease in year 2008, primary heroin admissions rose 20% in year 2009 and increased another four percent in year 2010 (Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, 2012/2013 Annual Report).

In 2012, representatives from the Western Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Commission stated that the number of heroin and non-heroin opiate/opioid admissions exceeded the number of alcohol admissions for the first time. The representatives agreed that 95% of heroin addictions began by persons using prescription opioids (DEA Philadelphia Division Pharmaceutical Threat Assessment for Pennsylvania and Delaware, 2012).

In 2013, a representative from a treatment center in western Pennsylvania, indicated that approximately 10 years ago, roughly seven percent of the center’s treatment admissions were due to heroin or non-heroin opiate/opioid abuse. In 2012, the percentage of admissions for heroin or non-heroin opiate/opioid abuse was 57%. The representative stated that for several years, patients who presented with heroin problems either used prescription opioids in addition to heroin, or started using prescription opioids before turning to heroin (DEA Philadelphia Division Pharmaceutical Threat Assessment for Pennsylvania and Delaware, 2012).

In Delaware, data shows a decrease in heroin-related treatment admissions on an annual basis for years 2008-2011, with a marked increase in 2012. Conversely, the “Other Opiates” category, inclusive of prescription drug-related admissions, rose annually for the same period (2008-2011), then fell dramatically in 2012. The implications of this inversely proportional pattern are twofold: first, it shows the interrelated nature of prescription drug and heroin abuse, and second, the seeming effectiveness of the newly implemented state of Delaware Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Overdoses and Drug-Related Deaths

An indicator of the magnitude of heroin use in the Philadelphia and Wilmington area can be viewed through toxicology and mortality data. In Philadelphia, heroin remains the leading drug detected in deaths due to drug intoxication (overdose), attributed in 52% of cases in 2012; this followed the first reported increase in the heroin mortality rate in 2011 after declining between 2006 and 2010. In addition, analysis of toxicology results for decedents in Philadelphia showed that approximately 38% had morphine/heroin positive toxicology results at the time of their death (regardless of causation) in 2012 (Philadelphia Office of Addiction Services’ Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) 2012 Report). Moreover, decedent detections of 6-acetylmorphine, a heroin metabolite, increased from 162 cases in 2011 to 220 cases in 2012. In Philadelphia, the 358 deaths with the presence of morphine/heroin in 2012 represented the highest such total since 2007 (Philadelphia Office of Addiction Services’ Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) 2012 Report). In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, a suburban county north of Philadelphia, the medical examiner reported heroin detections in decedents have gradually risen from 28 cases in 2010, to 32 cases in 2011, to 37 cases in 2012 (Montgomery County (PA) Medical Examiner’s Office). 36 In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, also adjacent to Philadelphia, the Bucks County Coroner’s Office reported heroin-detected deaths tracked a steep ascent, from 14 in 2010, to 25 in 2011, to 40 in 2012 (Bucks County (PA) Coroner’s Office).

In addition, Westmoreland County, located in western Pennsylvania, experienced a record high for annual overdoses in 2012 with 78 cases (the county had only 22 cases in 2002 — an increase of 255%), and is on pace to break that record in 2013 (72 cases through October). Heroin was linked to more than one-third of the cases, with prescription drugs involved in the remaining two-thirds (Westmoreland County Seeing Drug Overdose Surge; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via internet); August 15, 2013). 38 Nearby Allegheny County, including the city of Pittsburgh, recorded 32 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2007; that number tripled by 2012 (Parents Share Pain as Heroin Overdose Deaths Keep Climbing; WTAE 4 (ABC) News (via internet); February 20, 2013).

Authorities in Delaware report a similar increase in overdose rates. Bayhealth Medical Centers, located in Smyrna, treated 67 patients for heroin overdose between January and March 2013, a nearly 380% increase from the same period in 2012 ( Bayhealth: DE Heroin Overdose Up Over 300% in 2013; WMDT 47 (ABC) News (via internet); May 31, 2013). Another means of measuring the impact of heroin abuse is to analyze heroin-related human exposure calls to local poison control centers (PCC). Specifically, the Philadelphia PCC received approximately 60 heroin-related calls annually for the term 2008-2010, and then observed a notable increase to 79 calls in 2011, followed by a more significant increase to 109 calls in 2012. The Philadelphia PCC fielded 96 such calls as of October 31 of this year, set to outpace last year’s total and continue the escalating trend. Similarly, the Pittsburgh PCC fielded approximately 50 heroin-related calls annually for the term 2008-2011, with a dramatic rise to 96 calls in 2012. That elevated rate is expected to hold steady, with 75 calls in 2013 (through October).


In response to the dramatic increase in heroin abuse in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the Delaware County Heroin Task Force was established in 2012. Led by Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan, the Task Force aims to raise awareness about the ongoing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse. These efforts have spawned a Heroin Task Force Coalition, as well as several other initiatives, that have pooled parents, health care professionals, educators, service providers, and concerned citizens in generating a grassroots-level educational campaign. In addition, following several reported incidents of heroin-related fentanyl overdoses in Pennsylvania (as well as similar reports nationwide, and in Canada), the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs spearheaded an Overdose Task Force, comprised of state and local health officials and law enforcement bodies, tasked with establishing parameters to enable and enhance information-sharing and awareness with respect to drug overdose incidents. Thus far the seminal achievement of the Task Force is the proposed creation of a real-time information-sharing platform, accessible by both approved public health and law enforcement bodies, whereby pertinent drug-related overdose data is entered into a central database for use in law enforcement investigations, as well as for implementing rapid and appropriate public health responses.


The Philadelphia and Wilmington cities face a formidable threat posed by the scourge of heroin abuse and the resulting impact on public health and safety. The well-documented association between prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse casts an even wider net of risk atop vulnerable addicts. As a prescription drug abuse habit becomes too expensive, or as procurement proves too difficult, a shift to heroin is a convenient, cost-effective measure that provides a seemingly identical, or better, “high.” Easing this transition is the swelling supply line of heroin into the U.S.; Pennsylvania and Delaware are no exceptions to heightened availability. The recent reports of Mexican-produced white heroin threaten to add even more voluminous totals to already-saturated heroin markets. With increasing availability, and evolving pathways to heroin abuse, the demographic breakdown of the typical heroin abuser is changing. As a result, as the increasing number of young heroin users (25-years-old and younger) experiment with an extremely potent heroin product, the general user population is more vulnerable to overdose and death.


Mexico is a source country for heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine available in the United States. Mexico is also a source country for pharmaceutical drugs bound for the U.S. From my personal knowledge in working in the law enforcement field, there is no known cultivation of the coca leaf in Mexico. In the past several years there has been increased reports of cocaine base being smuggled into Mexico for final processing to be turned into cocaine hydrochloride. Mexico continues to be the principal transit route for cocaine available in the United States. Mexico is the principal transit country for 70 to 90% of cocaine entering the U.S., and the largest outside source of marijuana and methamphetamine (Bahnsen C.J., 2007). Currently, the Eastern Pacific Ocean corridor (EPAC) is the primary route used to smuggle cocaine to Mexico for further transshipment to the United States. In the most recent Presidential election, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) party candidate (Enrique Pena Nieto) was elected as the next president of Mexico. The PRI had been in power for 70 years and was accused of allowing the criminal organizations in Mexico to operate with impunity, which led to the power and strength obtained by the Drug Trafficking Organizations (making them hard to weed out of the Government of Mexico and local institutions). Under the leadership of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The PRI ruled the country for 71 years until 2000 after the democratic elections removed it from power (Berggruen, Nicolas, 2013). The PRI was defeated by the PAN (National Action Party) when Vicente Fox was elected, and President Calderon was his successor. The public grew weary of the fight against the Drug Trafficking Organizations, which was Calderon’s primary agenda, and the resulting violence and instability; the PRI capitalized on the declining public support for Calderon’s tactics. With a new government in place and the corrupt leaders removed from office, Mexico made tangible victories against drug trafficking organizations. The Mexican public was urged to expunge any negative elements from Mexican society. Mexico considers trafficking in narcotics a national security issue. Even under new government, Mexico continues to struggle against drugs and faces daunting challenges. The drug trafficking organizations that control the production and shipment of drugs and related money laundering and criminal activities remain powerful. These organizations are corrupting and intimidating public officials in Mexico and pose serious threats to the United States controlling drug distribution networks throughout much of the country. Based on eleven national surveys from 1994 to 2006, the study analyzes the effects of perceptions of corruption on presidential approval before and after the 2000 democratic transition in Mexico. The main proposition is that corruption became a relevant issue after the transition and had a strong effect on citizen evaluations of the president (Gomez-Vilchis, Ricardo R, 2012).

The corruption that exists throughout the Mexican government makes it easy for trafficking organizations to cross our borders by use of tractor-trailers, passenger’s vehicles, and railcars to transport cocaine via overland routes through Mexico. Cocaine is frequently transported by vehicle through Mexico to the northern border locations for further transshipments into the United States. During traffic stops and at checkpoints within close proximity to the border, multihundred-kilograms quantities of cocaine and heroin are periodically seized from commercial trucks modified with hidden compartments and concealed within legitimate cover loads. Smaller amounts of cocaine concealed in compartments of privately owned vehicles have also been seized. The high volume of truck and passenger car traffic crossing the Mexico-U.S. Southwest border facilitates the smuggling of cocaine and heroin by vehicles to U.S. border cities. Daily pedestrian traffic crossing the border also accounts for small quantities of cocaine and heroin entering the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 29 suspected drug traffickers in sweeps from the New York region to Michigan to New Mexico. The extent of the Mexican smuggling operation, which carried cocaine, heroin and marijuana and profits in tractor-trailers; The role of the Carillo-Fuentes Cartel (Wren, Christopher S. 1997). Imagine if the Carillo-fuentes cartel is transporting tractor-trailer loads full of cocaine, heroin and marijuana that ultimately pass into the U.S. this is only one cartel that is mentioned. There are numerous additional cartels that are attempting the same method of transport.

Mexican drug traffickers continue to form secret, underground routes to smuggle drugs across the Southwest border. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) an increase in drug seizures in the Nogales, Sonora, area during March 2001, lead Mexican counterdrug officials to discover that a complex drainage system running underground between the city of Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, was used to smuggle drugs and illegal aliens to the United States. In February 2002, a 1,200-foot tunnel was discovered by U.S. Federal Agents on a ranch in the community of Tierra Del Sol, approximately 70 miles east of San Diego, California. The tunnel opening in Mexico was located on a ranch at the outskirts of Tecate, about 200 feet from the border fence. This tunnel is believed to be among one of the longest and most sophisticated tunnels ever encountered by law enforcement authorities on the U.S. — Mexican Southwest border. The tunnel had been framed with wooden planks, and rail tracks had been installed to transport large quantities of drugs in carts. The tunnel was also equipped with electric lighting and a ventilation system. Although the tunnels are continuing to be built, Mexican and Columbian Cartels continue to find new and more clandestine ways to transport drugs across our borders; including by way of submarine.

In 2001 the Mexican government extradited seventeen fugitives to the United States, as compared to twelve in the year 2000. As of 2012, one hundred and fifteen fugitives have been extradited. Significant Mexican figures, extradited to the United States included Arturo Paez-Martinez, a high ranking kingpin of the Mexican Cartel known as the AFO. Jose Antonio Acosta-Hernadez leader of La Lina Mexican Cartel in March 2012 to the Western District of Texas on drug and murder charges. Sandra Avila Beltran “Queen of the Pacific” was extradited to the Southern District of Florida on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Beltran took part in arranging shipments of cocaine from Columbia to the Unites States by ship. The U.S. — Mexico extradition treaty dates from 1978. The Mexican Government’s extradition proceeding is generally slow. Thus, extradition has long been a sore point in the U.S. — Mexican relations. However, since President Fox’s inauguration, there have been some positive developments in this area. However, Beltran, well-known drug trafficker, blames the Mexican government for allowing drug trafficking to flourish and has stated that the government has to be involved in everything corrupt in the country (CNN.Com, 2012). The fight against drugs at our borders is an ongoing battle. With the help of the Mexican government to extradite drug traffickers will allow us to bring down the major players, but we also need to infiltrate the corruption in the Mexican government to ensure both Mexico and the U.S. are fighting the drug war together

Drug Trafficking and Terrorist Activities

Prior to September 11, 2001, drug trafficking and terrorist activities were usually addressed by the law enforcement community as separate issues. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, the public now perceives these two criminal activities as intertwined. For the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), investigating the link between drugs and terrorism has taken on renewed importance.

Throughout history, various aspects of the criminal world have been linked together, such as drug traffickers with connections to illegal gambling, prostitution, and arms dealing. Perhaps the most recognizable illustration of this linkage is the expansion of the Italian Mafia in the United States during the early 20th century.

The links between various aspects of the criminal world are evident because those who use illicit activities to further or fund their lifestyle, cause, or well-being often interact with others involved in various illicit activities. For example, organizations that launder money for drug traffickers also launder money for arms traffickers, terrorists, etc. The link between drugs and terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Globalization has made the world a smaller place, changing the face of both legitimate and illegitimate enterprise. Criminals, by exploiting advances in technology, finance, communications, and transportation in pursuit of their illegal endeavors, have become criminal entrepreneurs. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this “entrepreneurial” style of crime is the intricate manner in which drugs and terrorism may be intermingled. Since September 11th, the public’s image of terrorism is magnified. Not only is the proliferation of illegal drugs perceived as a danger, but also the proceeds from drugs are among the sources for funding for other criminal activities, including terrorism.


The nexus between drugs and violence is not new; in fact, it is as old as drug abuse itself. The mind-altering strength of drugs has always had the power to create violence, but there is another kind of connection between drugs and violence — the use of drug trafficking to fund the violence perpetrated by terrorist groups.

Within the context of current world events, narco-terrorism is difficult to define. Historically, DEA has defined narco-terrorism in terms of Pablo Escobar, the classic cocaine trafficker who used terrorist tactics against noncombatants to further his political agenda and to protect his drug trade. Today, however, governments find themselves faced with classic terrorist groups that participate in, or otherwise receive funds from, drug trafficking to further their agenda. In this respect, are narco-terrorists actual drug traffickers who use terrorism against civilians to advance their agenda? Or are narco-terrorists first and foremost terrorists who happen to use drug money to further their cause? Perhaps, the correct answer is that narco-terrorism may apply in both situations.

DEA defines a narco-terrorist organization as “an organized group that is complicit in the activities of drug trafficking in order to further, or fund, premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets with the intention to influence (that is, influence a government or group of people).”

Narco-Terrorism vs. Drug-Related Violence

When looking at the connection between drugs and violence, it is important to differentiate between drug-related violence and narco-terrorism. By definition, terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets. With drug-related violence, we see financially motivated violence perpetrated against those who interfere with or cross the path of a drug trafficking organization. While we see drug-related violence on a daily basis on the streets of major cities, narco-terrorism is, in many cases, less visible. Drug-related violence permeates society at all levels and is visible at every stage of the drug trade, from domestic violence to turf warfare between rival drug trafficking gangs or groups. With narco-terrorism, the acts of terror are clearly evident, but the funding source is often well-disguised.

History has shown that narco-terrorist organizations fall into different categories. One category includes politically motivated groups that use drug proceeds to support their terrorist activities; activities that will confer legitimacy upon them within the state. These groups usually call for a ceasefire with the government or take measures to establish a legal political party whereby their political goals are realized through nonviolent, legal means. Groups that fall into this category are generally viewed with skepticism by the state. An example of a group in this category is the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Another category consists of groups that continually pursue their ideological goals while participating in aspects of the drug trade; for example, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC). There are notable examples of narco-terrorist groups in almost every corner of the world. Many insurgent and extremist groups are suspected of drug trafficking involvement, such as Hezbollah and the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) in the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil; Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) in Peru; and the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) in Spain. The level of involvement in drug trafficking by actual narco-terrorist groups and the evolution of the groups and their purposes are often very different.

Kurdistan Worker’s Party

The PKK in Turkey was founded in 1974. Developed as a revolutionary socialist organization, the goal of the PKK is to establish an independent nation of Kurdistan. In 1984, the PKK began to use violence against Turkish security forces, gradually escalating the level of violence to include civilians. In the early 1990s, the group added urban terrorism to their repertoire of violent activities. The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by most Western Governments, is represented in Kurdish immigrant communities throughout the world and is particularly prevalent in Europe.

The PKK is known to benefit from drug trafficking, but the extent of their involvement is often debated. The Government of Turkey consistently reports that the PKK, as an organization, is responsible for much of the illicit drug processing and trafficking in Turkey. Turkish press reports state that the PKK produces 60 tons of heroin per year and receives an estimated income of U.S.$40 million each year from drug trafficking proceeds. According to historic DEA reporting, the PKK may receive funding from a number of illicit means, including kidnap-for-ransom and drugs. Reporting from the early 1990s indicated that several large drug trafficking families were supporters or sympathizers of the PKK, and that direct funds from their trafficking organizations were provided to the PKK to buy supplies. However, recent changes in the structure of the organization, due in part to the group’s founder declaring a peace initiative in 1999, have led elements of the PKK to strive for legitimacy and possible involvement in Turkey’s political process.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

The FARC is one of Colombia’s major insurgent groups. The FARC is a pro-Communist group that wants to replace the current Colombian Government with a leftist, anti-U.S. regime. The FARC emerged in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, with the goal of overthrowing the government and the ruling class of Colombia. The FARC is the largest, best-trained and equipped, and most effective insurgent group in Colombia. Over the past two decades, the FARC has controlled large areas of Colombia’s eastern lowlands and rain forest, which are the primary coca cultivation and cocaine processing regions in the country.

The FARC is an economically self-sufficient organization, supporting its mission through kidnappings, extortion, bank robberies, and the drug trade. Some FARC fronts are promoting coca cultivation, managing cocaine processing, selling drugs for cash, and negotiating arms deals with international drug trafficking organizations to support their broad-based weapons procurement program.

Recent DEA reporting indicates that some FARC units in southern Colombia are directly involved in drug trafficking activities, including controlling local cocaine base markets and selling cocaine to international smuggling organizations. At least one FARC front — the 16th Front — has served as a cocaine source of supply for one international drug trafficking organization.

In March 2002, the United States announced its indictment of several FARC members. This case marks the first time that members of a known terrorist organization have been indicted in the United States for their drug trafficking activities, including selling cocaine in exchange for currency, weapons, and equipment.

Despite the differences between the PKK and the FARC, both were initially motivated to take action in furtherance of their ideological goals — the desire for independent homelands or political thought. The drug trade and terrorist activities were the means through which these groups furthered their missions. Changes in leadership, politics, and economics affected the varying outcomes; that is, movement toward political legitimacy for the PKK, and pursuit of an ideological mission through engagement in the drug trade by the FARC.

International Efforts against Narco-Terrorism

There are three crucial elements to attacking narco-terrorism: law enforcement efforts, intelligence gathering, and international cooperation. Many terrorist groups rarely act within the borders of one state, but tend to have a more global view in regard to their activities and fundraising. This means that combating narco-terrorism requires a global network of law enforcement and intelligence officials tackling this issue wherever it appears. It is the cooperation at all levels of law enforcement and intelligence organizations that will prevent atrocities such as those financed by drug money in South America, Southwest Asia, and the rest of the world.

Several international measures have been taken over the years to combat terrorism. According to the U.S. Department of State, there are 12 major multilateral conventions and protocols on combating terrorism. International efforts to combat narco-terrorism are focusing on asset seizure and control of all funding sources used by terrorist organizations. In 1999, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism was adopted. It required signatories “to take steps to prevent and counteract the financing of terrorists, whether directly or indirectly, through groups claiming to have charitable, social or cultural goals or which also engage in such illicit activities as drug trafficking or gun running.” Under this convention, signatories also were required to hold those who finance terrorism to be criminally, civilly, or administratively responsible for their acts.

In response to the incidents of September 11, 2001, the international community is expanding their efforts to control and extinguish financing that supports terrorism. On September 28, 2001, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted an anti-terrorism resolution that called for the suppression of terrorist group financing, and improved international cooperation against terrorists. The resolution, identified as Resolution 1373 (2001), requires all states to prevent and abolish the financing of terrorism, and to criminalize the willful collection and distribution of funds for such acts. Furthermore, the resolution created a committee to monitor the implementation of the guidelines set forth in this resolution. The Security Council noted, “the close connection between international terrorism and transnational organized crime, illicit drugs, money-laundering, illegal arms-trafficking, and illegal movement of nuclear, chemical, biological and other potentially deadly materials, emphasizes the need to enhance coordination of efforts on national, sub-regional, regional and international levels to strengthen a global response to this serious challenge and threat to international security.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as they pertain to the control of illicit drugs, controlled substance pharmaceuticals, and listed chemicals. With close to 10,000 onboard employees dedicated to this single mission, DEA is the world’s leading drug law enforcement agency. In order to provide the critical resources necessary for DEA’s special agents, intelligence analysts, diversion investigators, and other personnel to continue their honorable and courageous efforts to reduce the availability of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals in America, DEA’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget request totals $2,418,869,000. This request includes $360,917,000 derived from fees, permanent cancellation of $10,000,000 in prior year unobligated balances and provides for 8,316 Full-Time Equivalents (FTE) including 4,294 special agents (, The Drug Enforcement Administration).

Every day, DEA wages a battle that involves disrupting and dismantling significant drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, attacking the economic basis of the drug trade, and contributing to counterterrorism activities tied to drugs. The work is dangerous, time- consuming, and multifaceted. DEA investigations are also becoming increasingly complex and frequently require more sophisticated investigative techniques, such as electronic surveillance. Furthermore, many of the crimes transcend standard drug trafficking and are directly tied to issues of national and border security.

Despite these challenges, DEA has made great strides against the plague of drug trafficking and is proud of recent accomplishments. As an example, “Project Below the Beltway” targeted the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels and violent street gangs and their distribution network in America. This initiative began in May 2010 and concluded on December 6, 2012. The Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels are responsible for bringing multi-ton quantities of narcotics, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana, from Mexico into the United States. These cartels are also believed to be responsible for laundering millions of dollars in criminal proceeds from illegal drug trafficking activities. “Project Below the Beltway,” comprised of investigations in 79 U.S. cities and several foreign cities within Central America, Europe, Mexico, South America, and elsewhere, resulted in 3,780 arrests and the seizure of 6,100 kilograms of cocaine, 10,284 pounds methamphetamine, 1,619 pounds of heroin, 349,304 pounds of marijuana, $148 million dollars in U.S. currency, and $38 million dollars in other assets (, The Drug Enforcement Administration).

Individuals indicted in the cases are charged with a variety of crimes, including various felony provisions of the CSA; conspiracy to import controlled substances; money laundering; and firearms violations. DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) coordinated “Project Below The Beltway,” which involved the participation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the United States Marshals Service, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, and numerous state and local law enforcement entities.

While the success of this operation and many others from the past year are encouraging, drug abuse remains a very serious problem in the U.S. Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicate that an estimated 3.1 million persons aged 12 or older used an illicit drug for the first time within the past 12 months. This averages to about 8,400 initiates per day. Furthermore, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) paints a bleak picture when describing the consequences of illicit drug use.

“Drug use, including the abuse of prescription medications and underage drinking, significantly affects the health and well-being of the Nation’s youth and young adults. Substance use affects academic performance and military preparedness and is linked to crime, motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, lost productivity, and increased health care costs. The consequences of illicit drug use in America’s workforce include job-related accidents and injuries, absenteeism, health care costs, and lost productivity.” (National Drug Control Office of Policy)

Along with the rest of the Department of Justice (DOJ), DEA continues to be committed to using its resources as effectively as possible. For example, in FY 2007, DEA initiated the Zero-Based Budget (ZBB) process as a way to allocate funding to program offices based on a review of current program requirements and agency priorities, rather than prior year allocations. The goal of the process is to provide sufficient resources to all programs, while ensuring that priority programs and mandatory bills are fully covered. Since its creation in 1973, DEA has evolved from a small, domestic-oriented law enforcement agency to a globally recognized agency with almost 10,000 employees. As the only single- mission federal agency dedicated to drug law enforcement, DEA’s reputation and success can be attributed to the outstanding and collective contributions of the men and women of DEA (, Office of Personnel Management).

To effectively accomplish its drug law enforcement mission, DEA works cooperatively with various law enforcement agencies worldwide. DEA participates in and contributes to the investigative efforts of Federal, State, and local law enforcement through direct partnerships, including task forces and information sharing initiatives. DEA also supplies intelligence and information that supports the disruption or dismantlement of drug trafficking organizations and leads to numerous drug seizures and arrests worldwide.

DEA is not authorized to operate unilaterally overseas, so cooperation with the U.S. State Department, as well as foreign law enforcement agencies is essential to the DEA mission.

DEA’s cooperative partnerships with foreign nations help them to develop more self-sufficient, effective drug law enforcement programs (, Department of Homeland Security).

DEA has proven its ability to disrupt and dismantle powerful drug organizations, which has resulted in fewer drugs on the street, millions of dollars kept out of the hands of criminals and terrorists, fewer dangerous drugs in the hands of our children, and less violence in our communities. Every day, DEA shuts down criminal networks, bolsters national security, and restores peace and safety to citizens. The Drug Enforcement Administration was created by President Richard Nixon in July 1973 in order to establish a single unified command to combat “an all-out global war on the drug menace.” I firmly believe that the strategy and the mission of the DEA does not need to change. If anything I completely support the strategy to dismantle and disrupt drug trafficking. Since 1973, not much has changed with the DEA other than to higher more employees and to request a bigger budget to continue to manage the ever growing drug abuse and trafficking problem we face on U.S. soil. If any change is needed within the organization it is not the mission or the strategy that I would change. It would in fact be the upper and middle management levels that I would recommend a fresh view on what the overall big picture of how DEA should fight this drug war on a day-to-day basis. These management levels lose focus on attacking the cartels that have a strong hold on the U.S., such as Mexico and Columbia. I often find myself being directed by management to invest my time investigating small meaningless investigations as opposed to the large drug trafficking investigations.


The events of September 11th brought new focus to an old problem, narco-terrorism. These events have forever changed the world and demonstrate the vulnerability to acts of terrorism of even the most powerful nation. In attempting to combat this threat, the link between drugs and terrorism came to the fore. Whether it is a state, such as formerly Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or a narco-terrorist organization, such as the FARC, the nexus between drugs and terrorism is evident. Nations throughout the world are aligning to combat this scourge on international society. The War on Terror and the War on Drugs are linked, with agencies throughout the United States and internationally working together as a force-multiplier in an effort to dismantle narco-terrorist organizations. Efforts to stop the funding of these groups have focused on drugs and the drug money used to perpetuate violence throughout the world. International cooperative efforts between law enforcement authorities and intelligence organizations are crucial to eliminating terrorist funding, reducing the drug flow, and preventing another September 11th.

Wilmington, DE

State Facts



Law Enforcement Officers:


State Prison Population:


Probation Population:


Violent Crime Rate National Ranking:

9 (Delaware fact sheet, 2014).

According to the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center, Delaware ranks fourth in the United States in the number of admissions to drug rehabilitation centers for cocaine and fifth for heroin rehabilitation. These facts help to explain the serious crime problem for Wilmington where, in 2009, the city’s violent crime rate was 330% above the national average (Drug threats in Wilmington). Its per capita crime rate makes it one of the worst cities in the country in terms of drug-related crimes as well. In October 2012, Parenting magazine ranked the city of Wilmington as the most dangerous city in the country (Drug threats in Wilmington, 2014). Currently, Philadelphia is the primary source for heroin distributors and users in Delaware (Drug threats in Wilmington, 2014). According to the Drug Enforcement (2014), “The increasing availability of cheaper, higher purity heroin over the last few years has caused concern in Delaware over a growing heroin use problem that reaches all socioeconomic backgrounds” (Drug threats in Wilmington, 2014, para. 3).

Philadelphia, PA

State Facts

Population: 12,287,150

Law Enforcement Officers: 29,557

State Prison Population: 71,000

Probation Population: 125,928

Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 23

Drug Situation: Heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana are the four most available, popular, and trafficked illegal drugs in Pennsylvania.


Delaware fact sheet. (2014). Friends of Narconon, International. Retrieved from http://www.friendsof


Drug threats in Wilmington. (2014). Drug Enforcement Retrieved from http://www.

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