ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Obama administration officials said yesterday they would devote more resources to fighting Mexican drug cartels and use new technology to thwart them while trying to quell the U.S. demand for drugs that fuels the violent gangs.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a 2009 antidrug strategy at a news conference with White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. Holder called it "an effective way forward that will crack down on cartels and make our country safer."
The strategy calls for a number of steps along the Mexican border to combat and detect smugglers, including:
Building visual shields near border-crossing points so drug-cartel spotters can't alert approaching motorists about inspections.
Improving nonlethal weapons technology to help officers incapacitate suspects and disable motor vehicles and boats used by traffickers.
Reviving an interagency working group to coordinate intelligence.
Using more intelligence analysts to ferret out drug-dealing networks.
"This strategy is tough, it's strong, and it's balanced," Holder said.
The plan is outlined in a document to be sent to Congress.
More than 10,800 people have been killed in Mexico by drug violence since December 2006. Mexico has deployed more than 45,000 soldiers across the country to fight the heavily armed cartels.
Holder and Napolitano praised efforts by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and said the United States must contribute to the fight.
"International cooperation is very, very key," Napolitano said. "We have an unprecedented opportunity to work on drug trafficking on both sides of the border. We should not let this opportunity go by."
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the strategy was missing a key piece:
"I am disappointed that it does not call on Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to resolve their long-standing turf battles over drug investigations," the Mississippi Democrat said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants more of its agents to have the authority to do drug investigations. But this can happen only if the Drug Enforcement Administration agrees. No such accord has been reached.
Napolitano conceded the plan outlined yesterday did not address that issue but said Homeland Security and Justice had been working on it and would announce a solution "very, very shortly."
The strategy's long-range goals include developing new technology to process biometric information from documents used by Mexicans crossing the border. That would allow Customs and Border Patrol officers to run fingerprint checks on Mexicans who have border crossing cards to enter the United States.