Space Force Wages Its First War (on Cocaine)

Space Force Wages Its First War (on Cocaine)
A package of cocaine discovered near Cape Canaveral Space Force Base on May 19, 2021. (Photo: Space Launch Delta 45, Fair Use)

Whoever dumped some 30 kilograms of cocaine that washed up on a beach near Cape Canaveral, Florida, unintentionally gave the Space Force its first taste of the War on Drugs.

On May 19, the Space Force’s 45th Security Forces Squadron (45th SFS) had its first engagement in the unending, unwinnable, and astonishingly unpopular conflict started by Richard Nixon with the recovery of two dozen packages of cocaine, estimated by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to be worth around $US1.2 ($2) million, Business Insider reported. That unit is part of Space Launch Delta 45, which is based at Patrick Space Force Base. The drugs were first discovered on the shoreline at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station by a civilian wildlife manager with Delta 45’s civil engineering squadron.

According to a press release from the unit, the wildlife manager, Angy Chambers, noticed a tightly wrapped plastic package on the beach when conducting a sea turtle nesting survey. Chambers said in the release she “immediately contacted” the 45th SFS and “While I was waiting for them to arrive, I drove a little further and noticed another package, and then another. At that point, I called SFS back and suggested they bring their UTV, or Utility Terrain Vehicle, as I counted at least 18 packages.”

Drugs washing up on the Florida coastline is hardly a rare occurrence, whether it’s the result of traffickers dumping evidence overboard to foil police and the Coast Guard, floating packages dropped from a plane or boat found by someone other than the intended recipient fails, or simply losing product in inevitable shipping accidents.

“After securing the scene and collecting the contraband, a Brevard County Sheriff’s Office narcotics agent performed a field test on one of the packages and verified that it was cocaine,” Joseph Parker, a 45th SFS flight sergeant and the commanding officer present when the drugs were recovered, said in the press release. “We then documented all 24 packages and placed them in evidence bags.”

Parker said the Space Force takes “pride” in protecting its base and locals, adding, “There is also a higher level of job satisfaction knowing that these drugs will not make it into our community.”

A Homeland Security Investigations agent is now on the lookout for any possible leads on the packages. (While interdicted smuggling vessels and their crews are a great source of evidence for authorities, the origin of washed-up drug shipments is virtually never uncovered.) From the release:

David Castro, HSI special agent who responded to collect the drugs, said HSI then examined the drugs for any unique markings and identifiers, took photographs of the scene and contraband, weighed the drugs, and conducted a field test to determine the drug type.

The intelligence collected during the examination is provided to the El Paso Intelligence Centre who serves as a repository for information regarding abandoned drugs discovered within the United States.

That the drugs were discovered near the Space Force facility doesn’t necessarily indicate they were dumped close by, as ocean currents are capable of carrying objects long distances. Despite the vast resources the U.S. has committed to enforcing drug prohibition ($US47 ($60) billion a year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance), most of it slips into the country barely impeded. In 2017, the Coast Guard estimated it had seized 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kilograms) of cocaine worth $US88 ($113) billion in wholesale value during the past three years. The agency has “visibility” on 85% of cocaine smuggling from South America to the U.S., but only the manpower and resources to investigate what it believes is 25% to 30% of total shipments.

Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is located directly next to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre on a region of the eastern Florida shoreline called the Space Coast, known for its large quantity of spaceflight facilities. The area is also known for large populations of rare sea turtles that take advantage of protected beaches such as those near Patrick SFB and Kennedy, as well as the 25-mile (40-kilometre) long Canaveral National Seashore. NASA estimates the area sees more than 5,000 turtles nest annually.

Many of them are green turtles, which are classified as an endangered species with a severely fragmented and decreasing population on the IUCN Red List, and loggerhead turtles, which are classified as vulnerable. One of the biggest threats to their continued existence is artificial lighting, which confuses hatchlings on their way to the ocean and often sends them crawling to their deaths, as well as encroaching humans who often scare the turtles away from their nests and back into the sea. Other threats to sea turtle populations include poaching, which feeds an underground trade in turtle eggs, skins, meat, and shells. Tasty-smelling plastic pollution has also added to turtles’ woes.

It also turns out plastic netting used to lash together bales of cocaine also poses a risk to the turtles. But to the best of Gizmodo’s knowledge, the coke itself is primarily a threat to any humans who discovers it.