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Strategic Drug Threat Developments

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HIDTA Overview

The Houston HIDTA region, which encompasses 16 counties along the Gulf of Mexico in southeastern Texas, is a key distribution and transshipment area for illicit drugs supplied to drug markets in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast and a consolidation point for the smuggling of illicit drug proceeds into Mexico. The proximity of the Houston HIDTA region to the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico makes the area susceptible to drug trafficking as well as other national security and law enforcement threats, such as alien smuggling, weapons trafficking, and terrorist entry into the United States. Houston, located in Harris County, is the principal drug market area in the HIDTA region. Smaller, outlying drug markets, such as Corpus Christi and Beaumont/Port Arthur, exist in the area.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) exploit the geography and economy of the Houston HIDTA region to smuggle illicit drugs from Mexico and to launder their illicit proceeds. The HIDTA region's geographic makeup varies from sparsely populated ranch land in the south to major metropolitan areas in the north--including Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. A large segment of the HIDTA region is located along undeveloped areas of the Gulf Coast, which are susceptible to maritime drug smuggling from Mexico. Well-developed economic and financial infrastructures in metropolitan areas of the HIDTA region, particularly in Houston, provide DTOs with the means to launder illicit drug proceeds through traditional financial institutions and money services businesses (MSBs).

The Houston HIDTA region has a dynamic transportation infrastructure that offers DTOs extensive land, sea, and air modes of transportation. Overland transportation through an intricate network of interstates, highways, advanced secondary routes, and railroads provides DTOs with numerous means with which to smuggle illicit drugs into and through the area. Moreover, Houston is a major hub for the trucking industry; tractor-trailers are commonly used by DTOs to smuggle large drug shipments from Mexico through the HIDTA region to markets throughout the United States. The Houston HIDTA region's transportation system also is supported by four major railroads in Houston, Beaumont/Port Arthur, and Corpus Christi, which provide access to Mexico. Drug smuggling by sea and air conveyances poses a moderate threat to the Houston HIDTA region, which contains or immediately borders 10 seaports. The sheer volume of maritime traffic and foreign cargo that passes through these ports offers another avenue for drug smuggling. The Port of Houston has long been the nation's leading port for foreign tonnage and is the sixth-largest seaport in the world. Additionally, the Padre Island National Seashore (PINS), an undeveloped natural barrier island that extends south from Corpus Christi to the Mansfield Channel, poses a distinct maritime smuggling vulnerability to the area. Commercial aircraft are also used by traffickers to smuggle drugs and U.S. currency through the three major international airports in the Houston HIDTA region.

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