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Agate Path / Enhanced Ops

In 1989 the US government decided to attack the drug problem along three lines: countering the production of illegal drugs at their source; detecting and stopping their transit into North America; and, reducing distribution and use throughout the United States. Since the passing of the Defense Authorization Act of 1989, NORAD was tasked with carrying out the second line of defense -- the detection and monitoring of the aerial drug smuggling threat into North America. Although early warning of attack against North America remains NORAD's primary focus, counterdrug operations have added a new dimension to the command's day-to-day operations.

The command developed procedures to coordinate counterdrug activities with Canadian and US law enforcement agencies, delving into delicate civil and diplomatic areas normally not included in day-to-day military affairs. Federal law prevents the Department of Defense from apprehending smugglers or shooting them down. Fighters can only identify and monitor the planes, then notify law enforcement agencies of their whereabouts. Out of the 880 aircraft in 1994 initially categorized as unknown, only about 10 to 15 percent were narcotics smugglers. Some agencies estimate that only about 5 percent of the drugs coming into the country arrive by air. Most mysterious tracks are nothing more than planes that have lost their way, aircraft squawking the wrong codes, malfunctioning radios, or pilots who have improperly filed their flight plan.

In 1989 the 964th Airborne Warning And Control Squadron started special operations known as Agate Path (later changed to Enhanced Ops) in support of the war on drugs. AWACS assets provide a quantum improvement over ground-based radars and augment the perimeter radar system in times of increased alert. AWACS aircraft can detect targets out to ranges of about 350 miles, then guide Canadian or US interceptors to visually identify the unknown aircraft. During 1996, while conducting a routine counterdrug mission, the 964th tracked a vessel to what would ultimately become the largest drug interception by weight since 1989.

On 01 May 1994 the Defense Department shut down an operation in which four ground radar stations and AWACS surveillance airplanes shared information with Columbian and Peruvian authorities about clandestine flights suspected of carrying drugs. The decision came after Columbia adopted a policy to shoot down planes suspected of carrying drugs if necessary. US lawyers feared that innocent civilians might be killed, which could violate US laws protecting civilian aircraft and might lead to la wsuits if American radar were blamed. The target of the surveillance had been aircraft thought to be involved in the shipment of raw coca leaf from Peru to cocaine processing laboratories in Columbia and aircraft flying cocaine out of Columbia to the United States.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:20:12 Zulu