Headquartered in Seattle, the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) is the Washington state arm of a national program created by Congress through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. As with other HIDTAs across the nation, the NW HIDTA provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas that are known for the movement of drugs and other illicit substances. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is coordinating authority for the nation’s HIDTAs.
In the state of Washington that constitutes 14 counties, including the nine counties along the I-5 corridor between Oregon and the U.S.-Canada border, the three counties in south central part of the state that lie along the main interstate highway and two other counties that are centers of high population. The counties served by NW HIDTA are Clark, Cowlitz, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston, Whatcom, Benton, Franklin, Spokane and Yakima.
These counties are the region's main drug trafficking gate-way, facilitating five different importation routes. These routes are (1) SeaTac Airport; (2) large scale container traffic through the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma; (3) I-5 corridor traffic coming north from the U.S.-Mexican border; (4) the Yakima Valley (Highway 97), the predominant corridor to Eastern Washington; and (5) cross-border traffic to and from Canada in Whatcom County.
The mission of Northwest HIDTA s to measurably reduce large-scale importation and local drug trafficking by intercepting shipments, to disrupt local manufacturing and trafficking operations, and to reduce demand by supporting treatment and effective demand reduction programs. The Northwest HIDTA focuses on high value drug trafficking targets and financial. The goals of the Northwest HIDTA are to:
· Disrupt the market for illegal drugs by dismantling or disrupting drug trafficking and/or money laundering organizations.
· Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of HIDTA initiatives.
Land Threat – Washington’s highway system, specifically the I-5 corridor, remains the most commonly used drug smuggling route into and through the region. The National Forests and National Parks are another commonly used route for the movement of drugs, and money. At the US-Canada border, high potency marijuana or “BC Bud” continues to come south, and cocaine and money move north to Canada. Washington State is a primary staging area for smuggling of BC Bud into other states as far as Florida. Seizures of MDMA (Ecstasy) and pseudoephedrine (a methamphetamine precursor) from Canada appear to be increasing. Mexican‑controlled drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) use the highway system to move black tar heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine to the state from California and Arizona. Since September 11, 2001 there has been a significant increase in security at the border ports of entry (POE). As a result, land routes between POEs are seeing increased activity in drug smuggling, and it appears that these activities are increasing in the eastern half of the state.
Maritime Threat – The Puget Sound contains numerous islands and an extensive internal shoreline. Over 1 million US and Canada registered vessels use the waterway between the two countries for commercial and recreational purposes. The combined ports of Seattle and Tacoma are the third largest load center in the United States with over 2.9 million TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent units (containers), annually. Increased enforcement efforts at land POEs have resulted in the increased use of maritime routes to transport drugs.
Air Threat –Washington State has 7 international airports, 138 public-landing sites, 100 heliports and numerous private-landing sites. Smugglers in the movement of illicit cargoes via air transportation have increasingly exploited the “Open Skies” policy between the United States and Canada. There has also been an increase in the number of “air-drops” of contraband into the National Forests and National Parks.
Domestic – Locally obtained and imported precursors are used to produce a significant supply of methamphetamine, increasingly in rural areas. The state was ranked third in the nation in lab seizures for both 2001 and 2002. Indoor marijuana grows also provide a substantial supply of locally grown high potency cannabis, which rivals BC Bud, for state residents. However, in 2002 the number of marijuana plants eradicated from outdoor growing operations surpassed the number for indoor operations. The primary method Mexican DTOs use to move illegal drug proceeds back to Mexico is wire remitter services in the state.