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Feds: Cartels heavily rely on GPS systems to track drug shipments

May 17, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Feds: Cartels heavily rely on GPS systems to track drug shipments

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GPS systems have grown to become a drug dealer’s new sidekick.

Drug trafficking organizations are now using GPS systems to monitor drug packages as they make their way from Central America and Mexico to the U.S.

The dealers connect the shipments to floats, send them off into the Pacific, and use signals they emit to track a package’s location through unique codes, InSight Crimes reports.

The GPS provides dealers with the benefit of drug shipments picked up by others observing their movements without being detected by police.

GPS devices are also enabling drug cartels to track lower-level smugglers to ensure they are doing what they are intended to do.

Barbara L. Carreno, the public affairs officer for the U.S. DEA, indicated that drug dealers have been using GPS devices for years. However, use has vastly increased as the devices have become smaller and cheaper.

File photo (REUTERS/Leovigildo Gonzalez)

“Traffickers need to know that their mules are doing what they are supposed to and delivering their valuable shipments where they are supposed to go,” Carreno said. “We often find devices in shipments we seize.”

According to the DEA, the device is so simple that it eludes more sophisticated instruments used for drug seizures by various governments.

“Traffickers wouldn’t use a system that would lead law enforcement back to them or create records that would implicate them,” Carreno added. “They want cheap, unsophisticated, and untraceable.”

Salvadoran authorities revealed that boatmen from Ecuador have become a principal part of the criminal activity. They transport the shipments to the coasts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

In this Feb. 23, 2017, photo, a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement team from the USCG cutter Stratton detain four men who were caught on a small fishing boat carrying close to 700 kilos of pure cocaine, in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border. Hidden in the bales of cocaine was a GPS tracking device wrapped inside a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Once the loads are moved to particular locations in the Pacific, traffickers use the GPS to signal those waiting for them by sending information to cell phones and computers.

One of the most infamous drug lords, Ecuador’s Washington Prado Alava, reportedly operated a highly sophisticated trafficking enterprise. His operation, which transported 250 metric tons of cocaine into the U.S. over a four-year period, was highly reliant on GPS trackers.

In sum, conventional technology such as GPS trackers can outsmart national state-of-the-art devices and play a fundamental role in drug trafficking from Latin America to the U.S.

In one instance, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered a GPS device that was concealed in a condom inside of a package of cocaine. InSight Crime indicated that in some cases, a GPS tracker is attached to the bottom of a vessel and if authorities stop that boat, it frees the container with the drugs. Another vessel will later retrieve it.

Close to three-quarters of the cocaine that finds its way into the U.S. arrives through the Pacific, and U.S. authorities fail to keep up with the flow. At most, five Coast Guard ships will monitor an area of about six million square miles ranging from the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific.

In 2016, the amount of land devoted to coca production in Colombia increased 18%, according to a report released by the White House. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. started to invest billions in an anti-narcotics strategy, known as Plan Colombia, in 1999.

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