Drug traffickers engineer creative ways to smuggle their products in cities, across borders, and even underwater. Their goal? Avoid detection by law enforcement. Every day DEA gathers intel to thwart their efforts and stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. When agents confiscate new smuggling tools in the field, those objects sometimes make their way to the DEA Museum. One recent acquisition—a submersible tube—carried drugs from South America to Puerto Rico attached to the bottom of a cargo ship.
In March, the Museum’s collections team met DEA agents at a Virginia airfield to pick up the innovative but unsuccessful underwater smuggling tool. A Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) clamped two hollow metal “parasitic devices,” or tubes, to a ship’s hull bound for Puerto Rico. Roughly 160 kilograms of cocaine filled the tubes. TCOs traffic drugs from Colombia and Venezuela to the Caribbean. Crew aboard maritime vessels are often unaware that they transport the drugs to their destinations.
DEA agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers identified the tubes using an underwater drone. The San Juan Municipal Police Department Dive Team detached the devices and surfaced the cocaine for confiscation. DEA partners with local, national, and international law enforcement agencies and judiciaries to conduct investigations, make arrests, and prosecute offenders. If agents no longer need an item for a case, they sometimes contact the DEA Museum to donate it.
The Museum collects objects, photographs, and other materials related to the history of drug law enforcement. Its assortment of smuggling tools, including a hollow I beam and a wooden Thai village model, chronicles the different ways traffickers move illegal drugs worldwide. Collections Manager Vince Lutes and Museum Technician Emma Miller are currently researching the newly-acquired submersible tube to use it in Museum programming and highlight DEA’s efforts to intercept smuggled drugs.
The Museum’s collection is always growing thanks to the generosity of individuals. Each donation helps the Museum fulfill its mission to collect, preserve, and share the stories of America’s connection to drugs, including public policy, federal drug law enforcement, and the work of DEA employees around the world. If you have objects, images, or documents you believe would add to the Museum’s collection, please fill out the Collection Donation Form.