January 13, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King today urged a top Pentagon nominee to rethink their strategy for stopping illegal drug shipments from entering the country. In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, King asked Melissa Dalton – the nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs – to evaluate the Department of Defense’s inadequate response to the “invasion” of drugs that are killing nearly two Maine people a day. Senator King rejected a response that law enforcement is responsible for stopping the drug shipments, and urged Ms. Dalton to rethink her answer and the Pentagon strategy to ensure that all resources are brought to bear to tackle this ongoing threat.
“This country’s under attack, and two people a day in my home state of Maine are dying. The attack is transnational drug shipments coming into this country that are literally killing Americans at a record rate over the last couple of years. It’s an absolute tragedy,” said Senator King. “We know of shipments coming by sea to North America from Latin America, but because of limitations on our capacity to react, we can only interdict 25% of the shipments we know about. And it strikes me that this is one of these things where it’s falling in the cracks between the Coast Guard and the Navy. Would you commit to me to really taking a serious look at the allocation of resources so that we can do something about this, what I consider an outrageous failure of the United States government to interdict shipments of drugs into this country that we know about?”
“Senator, thank you for highlighting this challenge, and it’s why I think it was really important that President Biden’s interim national security strategic guidance highlighted the threat of transnational criminal organizations, both to US national security interests as well as to allies and partners in our greater hemispheric region, which is why, if confirmed, I would look forward to working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and other interagency counterparts to address this challenge,” replied Ms. Dalton. “I do believe that it is primarily a law enforcement function to address this challenge, but do believe there is an important role for the Department of Defense to play in support of those operations.”
“Well if these were invaders headed for our borders to kill people, we wouldn’t view it as a law enforcement function, we’d view it as an invasion, as an attack, and people are dying as a result of this. So I hope you rethink – you mentioned law enforcement – somewhere we’ve got to find the ships to stop these shipments, and to say it’s law enforcement, and you know, the Coast Guard doesn’t have enough ships, that’s not a satisfactory answer,” Senator King responded. “As long as I keep having this testimony that we’re only able to interdict 25% of the shipments that we know about, I’m not going to be satisfied, and I hope you’ll rethink your answer and there’ll be an interagency discussion about an adequate response to this.”
Senator King has made combating the opioid crisis one of his highest priorities in Washington. In previous hearings of the Armed Services Committee, Senator King has urged top Navy officials to improve efforts to stop drug shipments, and to allocate more resources for the crisis. Since the pandemic separated Americans from their loved ones and made it more difficult to access resources, Senator King has worked to connect with Maine people virtually and raise awareness about resources available to for support. Last year, he urged President Biden to request robust funding and increase the federal investment in our nation’s response to the ongoing opioid and substance use disorder (SUD) epidemic, and secured nearly $1 million for SUD treatment in Maine from the American Rescue Plan.