Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On March 29, the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force unsealed an indictment charging 19 persons with operating a global crime and terrorism ring spanning Lebanon, Canada, China, Brazil, Paraguay and the United States. The ring sold counterfeit drugs and other contraband materials, largely through direct consumer shipment from Canada, to Americans seeking cheaper drugs. It, in turn, directed its profits to support of the criminal terrorist group Hezbollah.

Less than four months later, as Hezbollah rockets rained down on Israel, the Senate voted for an amendment offered by David Vitter of Louisiana to ban U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents from seizing prescription drugs that Americans import from Canada. For Mr. Vitter, the passage was a defeat of sorts: He wanted to ban Customs agents from seizing medicines imported from anywhere, which suggests that the politicians who voted for the measure knew that dangerous people were trying to sell fake drugs in America.

How they deluded themselves into thinking that banning law enforcement from seizing drugs purchased from Canada would not be like creating a safe haven for terrorists is another question. Indeed, Canada is already the favorite port of call for fake medicines. According to customs, most of these drugs are not shipped through wholesale distribution channels but are shipped directly to consumers, with Canada being the major transshipment point because of its access to the U.S. market

In 2003, the FDA and Customs confiscated thousands of drug shipments headed for the United States. When opened, nearly half claimed to be of Canadian origin, but, according to FDA and Customs officials, 85 percent of them were from 27 other countries, such as China, Iran and Ecuador. And 30 percent of the drugs were counterfeit.

Banning Customs enforcement is tantamount to giving terrorists a free pass to flood America with fake and dangerous drugs. Customs and Border Protection is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. It plays the leading role in targeting criminal organizations that produce, smuggle and distribute counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Hence, Mr. Vitter and the Senate are handcuffing Customs from policing the very trafficking corridors that Hezbollah and gangsters use to penetrate our borders.

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