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Crime The Almighty Buck Transportation Technology

Drug Runners Perfect Long-Range Subs 428

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Authorities have captured a 74-foot camouflaged submarine — nearly twice as long as a city bus — with twin propellers and a 5-foot conning tower that, with a crew of four to six, has a maximum operational range of 6,800 nautical miles on the surface, can go 10 days without refueling and was probably designed to ferry cocaine underwater to Mexico. The vessel carries a payload of 9 tons of cocaine with a street value of about $250 million and uses a GPS chart plotter with side-scan capabilities, a high-frequency radio, an electro-optical periscope and an infrared camera mounted on the conning tower—visual aids that supplement two miniature windows in the makeshift cockpit. "This is the most sophisticated sub we've seen to date," says Jon Wallace who has headed the Personal Submersibles Organization, or Psubs, for 15 years. "It's a very good design in terms of shape and controls." In the meantime jungle shipbuilders continue to perfect their craft."
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Drug Runners Perfect Long-Range Subs

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The DEA perfects the Depth Charge.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @05:25PM (#35695722) Journal
      The problem isn't attack, this thing has a crush depth of under 100 feet and is 'armed' only to the extent that the cartels probably send a heavy or two along to make sure that the crew don't decide to find a higher bidder for the cargo.

      The tricky bit is detection: There's a lot of ocean out there, and a composite-skinned boat barely sticking out of the water is going to have a comparatively minimal radar presence, a worthwhile thermal signature only if they are running on diesel, and probably count as fairly quiet by the standards of all but substantially more expensive combat subs.
  • The number of people I know who think drugs are legal now because of the medical Marijuana laws. Let me be the first to say though, 9 tons of processed plant matter should not be worth $250 million. Isn't that $14k/lb? Who the heck is snorting it at that price? A sub is a small price to pay for that.
    • Re:What's funny is (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:10PM (#35695338) Journal

      Let me be the first to say though, 9 tons of processed plant matter should not be worth $250 million. Isn't that $14k/lb? Who the heck is snorting it at that price?

      It's been said a before, I know, but it's a direct result of the legal restrictions on the trade - they reduce supply and increase the risks of doing business, both of which increase the sale price. Of course, the profits to be had go (by definition) to outlaws, and those who already operate outside the law are more likely to protect their business by violent means, further increasing price by (literally) killing off competition, as well as creating the destabilising gang warfare as seen in Mexico.

      If the manufacture and sale of drugs were a legitimate business, of course, then this revenue stream to organised crime would be dramatically curtailed, and the combination of increased tax revenue and reduced enforcement costs would more than account for any predicted increase in addiction treatment costs. The one thing I can't work out is why there is so little debate on the matter among those with the power to change it, despite repeated calls for reform from their scientific advisers. I'm not that surprised that they ignore the scientists, but I am surprised that they miss an opportunity to take money and power from the criminals and exploit it themselves.

      • Re:What's funny is (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:22PM (#35695436)

        "The one thing I can't work out is why there is so little debate on the matter among those with the power to change it"

        Three words: Private prison lobbyists

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          Oh, bull crap. There were no private prisons when drugs were made illegal. Up until the early 20th century you could buy cocaine in the local drug store.

          Drugs are illegal as a result of the same nanny-state impulse that brought us seat belt laws and Social Security. Some people can't resist the urge to run your life, and they'll enlist the government to do it.

      • Right and legal drugs don't have an underground market. You name one drug including Tylenol and cough syrup and you can find a black market for it.

        Hell American's are going to Canada to buy their prescription medications because those same drugs made by the same company are being sold in the USA at 10 times the price.

        Just because you make it legal doesn't mean the price will go down on it. Drugs are dealt with poorly in this country for the sake of profits.

        • If a drug is freely and legally available the patent owner (though patent licensing fees) if there is one and/or the governement (through taxes or lack of taxes) will largely control the price and provided they aren't too greedy will get the lions share of the profit. Illegal sources that want to survive will have to undercut the legal source.

          Patent holders will set the price at what the market will bear, clearly they have determined that the american market (where the buyers are largely private insurance c

      • Re:What's funny is (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:30PM (#35695474)

        Just wanted to add to what you said: look at the parallels to Prohibition in the twenties and early thirties.

        Alcohol was made illegal and what happened? Gang warfare. Smuggling. Higher addiction rates, instead of lower ones like you might expect, only now the addicts are going broke because of the increased prices. Criminality of all stripes caused by desperate, broke addicts. Illegal products contaminated by poisons (methanol, mostly). Law enforcement resources diverted when they were sorely needed elsewhere. Officials bribed and corrupted. Assassination and murder for hire, the inevitable result of unscrupulous people flush with cash operating outside the law. This was not a good time to be alive.

        Every negative consequence of Prohibition is mirrored in the modern War on Drugs. And what happened when Prohibition was repealed? The problems slowly went away. There wasn't an explosion of alcoholism; the addicts were there all along and nobody suddenly decided to join their number now that it was legal to do so. The criminal empires built on moonshine and smuggling collapsed. Things got better once we stopped trying to force people to live up to the ideals of sobriety, as if it were ever possible to coerce someone to be a better person.

        • I wish someone would mod you down, only so I could mod you back up again. Bravo.
        • Per capita alcohol consumption in the US went down.

          I don't have a link for that, but I get my numbers from a chart I saw in a museum at Mt. Vernon. Alcohol consumption per capita was massive at the end of the 19th century, but through Prohibition it stayed flat and when Prohibition ended, it decreased.

          My first guess would be that the vicarious thrill of being a law-breaker increased consumption. I suspect that something like that is also true of drug consumption in the US. Take away the thrill of eating the

        • Comparing it to prohibition misses one giant point tho:

          During prohibition noone made money fighting the smugglers and mafia.

          Today the war on drugs is a huge industry with enormous momentum.

          Smugglers using subs is an economic gift to the whole industry, now they get to dust off the old cold war sub defenses and sell them again.

        • Re:What's funny is (Score:4, Informative)

          by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @06:08PM (#35695934)

          It is not as simple as you describe it. In the 1980ies Gorbachev more or less introduced alcohol prohibition to the USSR. And while it indeed lead to moonshine contaminated by poisons and alternative drug abuse, it actually lowered criminality somewhat, raised birth rates and boosted life expectancy to the highest value in the whole history of Russia before or after it.

          • Not exactly. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Saturday April 02, 2011 @06:36PM (#35696100)

            Gorbachev's changes were more about limited access. You could still buy vodka but you could only buy limited quantities and at limited times. Which drove sales to the black market. Which hurt the Russian economy.

            Hell, that's kind of like Washington state's laws as of 10 years ago when you couldn't buy vodka on a Sunday because all the liquor stores are state-owned.

            Alcohol (and other drugs) are complex subjects that cannot be "solved" with simplistic solutions.

            Unfortunately, most politicians can only think in the most simplistic of sound-bites so that's all we ever get.

        • The problem was a combination of two things. First, it became cool to drink. It was a thrill ride because you never knew when the sting came and the fines were ridiculous, so you could just "risk" it.

          And second, and more importantly, the law had no backing in the general population. There wasn't the big consensus that this was a good idea and that booze should be banned. Quite the opposite. And laws that have no backing in the population are dangerous. For more than one reason.

          First, nobody cares about thos

        • Re:What's funny is (Score:5, Informative)

          by westlake ( 615356 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @07:35PM (#35696422)

          Alcohol was made illegal and what happened?

          Alcohol consumption dropped to less than one gallon per person per year.

          1906-1910 2.60 gal.
          1916-1919 1.96 gal.
          1934 0.97 gal.
          1955 2.0 gal.
          1973 2.62 gal.
          1980 2.76 gal.
          2007 2.31 gal.

          Apparent per capita ethanol consumption for the United States, 1850-2007. (Gallons of ethanol, based on population age 15 and older prior to 1970 and on population age 14 and other thereafter). []

          Higher addiction rates, instead of lower ones like you might expect

          If this were true, you should be seeing higher liver cirrhosis mortality rates.

          In fact, the rates between 1920 and 1940 are about half those of 1910. Age-Adjusted Liver Cirrhosis Mortality U.S. 1910-1996 [] [chart]

          • Re:What's funny is (Score:5, Insightful)

            by definate ( 876684 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @10:16PM (#35697130)

            With the same accuracy, can you please tell me how much PCP is currently consumed? What about Marijuana? How's about crack? Since none of those operate on an open market, all of these statistics would be heavily inferred from other proxy variables, and all would be WAY off the mark. If you're seeing a drop, that doesn't necessarily mean there was a drop, but instead there was a change in reporting. Additionally, even in an unregulated market with an open exchange giving us all the awesome information we could want, it can be hard to estimate these rates. While I would have expected prohibition to have had an effect, from seeing documentaries about people who lived in that time, and talking to people who lived through it, I know that the effect was more for show.

            In fact, the rates between those dates, from the source you've listed, are under-reported by its own admission. They did not calculate those rates over this period, which is odd, given they were calculating it consistently before and after. This could suggest that the rates didn't change at all. In fact, given the market was flooded with lower quality alcohol (READ: Dangerous), it could mean it was higher. But that's just speculation.

            Additionally when looking at epidemiology (an often deeply flawed method), you need to scrutinize what they're doing to the data to display it. For instance, this data is mostly Age-Adjusted [], which means that it likely doesn't truly represent the observed rate at that time.

            Lastly, while liver cirrhosis is terrible, I think the worst thing about prohibition was the "super gangs" it created. Some of which are still around, and many of which used this model for other things that were made illegal, that shouldn't have been. The statistics from that, would be way worse than any others, but calculating run on effects, is always hard.

          • Re:What's funny is (Score:4, Insightful)

            by melikamp ( 631205 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @10:50PM (#35697306) Homepage Journal
            Apparent per capita ethanol consumption. If you read the papers linked to the Wiki, you will see that the estimates based on cirrhosis rates and on drunkenness arrests show a 10-20% improvement at best. Your figures come from retail, as far as I can tell, and it totally makes sense that right after prohibition has ended, the established underground market did not go away all at once, hence the dip in the apparent consumption. The actual consumption was not affected in any significant way.
      • by harrytuttle777 ( 1720146 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:48PM (#35695554)

        I've been around rich people and around poor people. Almost without exception, the poor people have been more honest and a better class of people.

        You are extremely naive if you don't think that a large percentage of the drug money isn't being laundered into the hands of the 'legitimate' people who run the government and wear three piece suites. That is why the drug trade is allowed to go on. It is making too many people too much money. If there was a real desire to shut down the trade, it could be shut down overnight. It would be nice if drugs were legalized, but i don't think it will happen as long as so many people are making so much money.

        Think about it. The coast guard and the DEA are the drug runners best friends. Who else would artificially inflate the price of these plants. Likewise the DEA, and coast guard have to love the drug runners. Their jobs, and all the neat toys they get to play with are all purchased to fight this endless war on drugs.

        When prohibition was finally lifted, it was the rum runners who came to power in the USA (Kennedy et. al) The ironic thing is that even when alcohol was legitimately taxed, it was still the rum runners who were making the money (Kennedy et. al). The only difference is the instead of the crooked individuals being gangsters they became politicians.

        • I'm curious - do you have a source for the assertion that Kennedy was a rum runner?

          • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @06:03PM (#35695910) Homepage Journal

            I'm curious - do you have a source for the assertion that Kennedy was a rum runner?

            Joseph Kennedy [] was widely reputed to have been in cahoots with the Canadian Bronfman brothers. They made their fortune running rum from Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean up to Canada and then slipping it across the US border from there.

            Canadian Club whiskey is a legacy of that trade route. 'Canadian' clubs tended to have the best booze, you see. The families involved in this trade became extremely wealthy. The Bronfmans founded Seagrams distillery and one of their scions actually owned entertainment giant Vivendi/Universasl for a while.

      • The price would still be astronomical, but if they were legal it'd be because of all the lawsuits people would bring due to all of the side effects of things like Cocaine or Meth or whatever / all the extra regulation that'd go into their manufacture. Mary Jane may be pretty much fine, but the bulk of the others are not just illegal; they're super bad for you in any kind of fun quantity. And right now they can be made in the bed of a pickup truck by a guy losing hair into the mix; it'd cost a tad more to

        • the bulk of the others are not just illegal; they're super bad for you in any kind of fun quantity

          Citation needed. Yes, methamphetamine is a fairly dangerous drug to use, and it does cause brain damage, but where is the evidence that the "bulk" of other drugs are dangerous for you? Can you cite any studies that have found that those drugs are more dangerous than, say, alcohol?

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Really? The U.S. port industry was legal yet it was infiltrated by organized crime, La Cosa Nostra. The Teamsters were a legal trade union, but in thrall to the mob. What makes you think the organized crime syndicates running drugs are going to take legalization lying down? Cigarettes are legal yet there is a thriving underworld devoted to avoiding taxes and shipping them around the globe. Medical drugs are legal, yet there is a thriving industry devoted to producing and shipping counterfeit drugs. Hell, ev

    • Re:What's funny is (Score:4, Interesting)

      by leathered ( 780018 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:20PM (#35695418)

      That would be the street price. The sub would transport high purity (>90%) coke, by the time it gets to the consumer it's usually around 10-15%.

      However the authorities always grossly over-estimate the value of a haul. Looks good for their totals, and helps prosecutors secure higher sentences.

      • The Wikipedia article on Narco submarines, linked in the summary, estimates the construction cost of (older) semi-submersible craft at $2 million. They're scuttled after a one-way trip. If they're spotted by the Coast Guard, they're scuttled, with a complete loss of the cargo and (now) the arrest of the crew. They're spending enormous amounts of wealth on risky ventures, and have been doing so for some time. It seems reasonable to conclude that the profits are even more enormous..

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        That would be the street price. The sub would transport high purity (>90%) coke, by the time it gets to the consumer it's usually around 10-15%.

        However the authorities always grossly over-estimate the value of a haul. Looks good for their totals, and helps prosecutors secure higher sentences.

        I agree with your first point, so in this case it seems like your second point isn't true.

        We agree it wouldn't make any sense to smuggle low-purity cocaine using so costly and risky a method. That's going to be nine tons of nearly pure coke.

        But by my math, $250 million divided by nine tons comes out to a little less than $31 a gram, or $93 for an eight ball. Of pure cocaine? I don't think so. They could easily step on this shipment five times, still have the best stuff around, and make considerably more tha

        • Price at the ships destination. Stated to be Mexico so I'd say it was about right, maybe a little high.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      You're right, that's outrageous. Aspirin (the low dose stuff they sell to people with heart and stroke problems) is only about $2000 / lb.

    • $14k/lb? Who the heck is snorting it at that price?

      Charlie Sheen must account for a lot of it.

  • by LordNacho ( 1909280 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @03:57PM (#35695266)

    Sounds like the kind of thing that takes more than a few engineers to build. I wonder what toys they hand out at recruitment fairs?

  • Enough now (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @03:58PM (#35695274)

    Can we just fucking legalise and tax drugs, rather than let murderous druglords make billions off the black market? It 's a choice of two evils, but at least the corporations will pay tax.

    I can't believe people think that if you pretend it doesn't happen it will go away. Let's fucking deal with it using scientific enquiry and logical, rational arguments related to economics and crime. Emotional appeals to 'the evil drugs' are a fucking waste of time. It's a shame that it is political suicide to even entertain ideas about legalisation, thanks to all the fuckwit voters out there. Mostly old people stuck in their conservative ways. I can't wait for these people to die off and we can start learning lessons from history and move forward as a species.

    • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:20PM (#35695406) Journal

      at least the corporations will pay tax.

      What if GE got into the drug trade?

      • by rtaylor ( 70602 )

        Make it a 20% sales tax.

        Have 5% of that go to funding programs to help addicts and 5% go toward product quality enforcement. A large number of expensive hospital visits are from what the drug is cut with rather than the drug itself.

      • at least the corporations will pay tax.

        What if GE got into the drug trade?

        Mod parent insightful, seriously. If giant businesses started selling our drugs, they wouldn't be paying taxes, just like they don't pay taxes now.

  • legalize it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:02PM (#35695290)

    Can you imagine how bad the cartels would be hurting if this stuff got legalized? You'd better believe they'd be buying up senators left and right to keep it banned.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      As violent as the drug trade is now, think how much more violent it would become as the market for illicit drugs shrinks. Your average cartel foot soldier is uneducated and comes from poor areas. He isn't going to want to go back to the old neighborhood and make a couple of bucks a month when he is now used to making a couple thousand. These guys have money, power, and status. When these things are threatened, people will go to extraordinary lengths to keep it. Think Iraq 2003. You have a bunch of guy
      • Re:legalize it (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RebelWithoutAClue ( 578771 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:18PM (#35695392) Homepage
        The increase in violence, if any, will be temporary. People won't continue fighting if there isn't that much money to be made.
    • Just because someone bad doesn't like something, doesn't mean it's a good thing.

  • by failedlogic ( 627314 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:02PM (#35695296)

    This should be motive enough to legalize some drugs or at least restrict sales such that it would stop the South Americans from shipping coke to the US.

    Once naval and intelligence experts become concerned of the sub building capabilities and detection of these subs it acknowledges that this poses a risk to US security. I read earlier articles that indicated ex-Russian sub designers were being hired by the Cartels to build their sub.

    I don't think there's any major worry of these subs being virtually undetectable like the current American subs or carrying nukes or torpedoes but I think there might be a concern that some of these people would go to work for some other country at some point. Hell, if they're building these kinds of subs in the jungle, I'd be concerned about what they can do if they don't have to be so conspicuous.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've been building autonomous vessels since 2004 and the very first potential customer was a guy who wanted to smuggle weed and cigs from Switzerland to Italy with one. Had to wait a few months for an actual legit customer and I get that sort of call/email twice a year on average. I could've made a lot of money, but eh.

  • by jamrock ( 863246 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:12PM (#35695356)

    GPS chart plotter with side-scan capabilities

    I've heard of side-scan radar and side-scan sonar. What the fuck is side-scan GPS? Wouldn't the vessel have to be on the surface to receive a GPS signal, or if submerged, extend some sort of antenna above the ocean surface? What in the name of Cthulhu are they scanning laterally for? Does the US Navy have a secret GPS constellation that orbits underwater or something? Methinks the writer studied journalism at the University of Make Shit Up.

  • Wake me up when they're delivering drugs via spaceships. Then I will be impressed.
  • that when you restricts something its value sky rockets and make people rich by dealing in that item. Mind you the DEA and company probably rake in more money then the cartels so there's no reason to make that item legal.

  • By having these drug laws, we provide incentive for criminals to circumvent them. It's no surprise that these drug rings have used more sophisticated methods to smuggle their products into the U.S. The more we ramp up "protecting" our population from drugs, the more drug lords ramp up their methods of importing drugs. Now that these methods exist, there's no reason why terrorists can't use it to piggyback dangerous devices. In summary, add another "+1" to the long list of negatives stemming from our War on
  • Acoustic Signatures (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:20PM (#35695412)

    You can bet the USN & CIA detection equipment from sea floor mounted sensors will be able to pick up the known propulsion signatures.

    Sounds transmit underwater for very long distances which will limit the number of sensors particularly if "well placed" at known transit spots.

    It won't be long before they can pretty much find, follow and intercept as they wish.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:38PM (#35695504)
      Don't forget about the P-3 Orion. These were designed and built to track and sink Soviet subs during the Cold War. Now, the Soviets had some pretty noisy boats, especially their diesels, but these things have to be just as noisy as they were. DHS already has several P-3s, and the Navy still has well over 100. They can loiter on station for hours and could easily detect these subs on the surface with radar/sonar and underwater with sonar. The article says it's hard to detect with sonar because of the Kevlar/carbon-fiber used to make it, but I would assume that passive sonar can easily pick up the screw noise. Recent events in Libya have shown that P-3s can engage and hit targets as small as 100ft with ASMs. I'd imagine on the surface these subs would have at least 50ft above water. And if not, they can always just drop a torpedo. However, I'd say it is more likely that they'd work in tandem with a Coast Guard cutter or a Navy ship and would send them to interdict the sub. The article says the batteries can let it stay submerged for up to 18 hours without recharging(which subs have to surface to recharge), but I wonder if it can really stay under for that long, or if it would have to surface sooner to vent air.
    • It won't be long before the DEA, DHS, and the FBI all argue for their own independent submarine fleets before congress and get them.

    • These subs travel to close to the surface for those methods to work.

      What's the difference between a surface vessel that goes 20 feet under water, and a sub traveling 20 feet under water?

      Sonar can't tell you.

    • These "subs" won't go below any thermocline ( and so sea floor mounted sensors will be mostly useless. Also small boats like these won't sound significantly different than pleasure craft and trawlers, especially as they use COTS engines and propellers.

      The only way to reliably track these kinds of vessels is extremely sensitive airborne magnetometers (they have non-metallic hulls) and the mark I eyeball.

  • by DrJimbo ( 594231 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:57PM (#35695598)
    Outlaws are going to become fucking billionaires. They are going to spend a lot of that money arming their own private armies. Thousands of innocent people will be slaughtered and displaced.
  • space (Score:4, Insightful)

    by t2t10 ( 1909766 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @07:26PM (#35696380)

    Now we only need to figure out how to make drug smuggling to Mars profitable and we'll have manned interplanetary space flight in no time.

  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @07:55PM (#35696516)

    ...the source of this whole raging drug war river is "ZOMG, we can't let Joe Nobody in Pootville get high!"

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.