The crew might be four people. I interviewed a man who described the journey as nightmarish. You’re underwater for eight, nine, 10 days. A constant roar of the engines. You’re sweating. There’s a bucket for excrement that everyone uses. It’s a hard job. The pay is $20,000 and they always get half up front, in case they die on the way or are captured, so their families have something.
Friedersdorf: You spent time aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship that patrols the Pacific in hopes of intercepting smugglers using boats as well as these semi-subs. What are those missions like?
Muse: After 9/11, there was a move to militarize the Coast Guard. And part of its job is to patrol one of the loneliest spots on the planet, the eastern Pacific Ocean––and it’s the biggest cocaine corridor. It's so vast that it's almost like four or five police cars patrolling the continental United States. They're making these busts of three, four, six tons of cocaine, more than any other U.S. agency. One guy related a story to me on the ship. He has a buddy back home on a police force, and they get excited when they seize one kilo of cocaine. We were laughing because there were three tons of seized cocaine behind us. They really feel they're performing their part. They say, “Every time we seize a kilo, it's a kilo that doesn't get through to the home market.”
Friedersdorf: Is that true, or do the cartels just send more?
Muse: No one really has trouble getting cocaine in Europe or the United States. And all of these countries are announcing record seizures. Last year in America, on one boat just off Philadelphia, there were 20 tons of cocaine. The U.K. is seizing more than ever. Germany. Costa Rica.
With the Coast Guard, they are very proud of the work they’re doing and they should be. These are three-month missions that they're out there on. I don’t want to say it’s hopeless, because they’re working very hard. But I do think that it is incumbent on the U.S. to rethink its drug policy because up to now, everything in the drug war has been that the drug war is failing, so the solution must be just a bit more drug war. The cliché is what’s the definition of madness? Doing the same thing and expecting different results. We’ve been trying to kill and destroy cocaine militarily. And thousands of lives have been lost. This business runs on demand, and until the U.S. and Europe get their act together and reduce demand, cocaine will keep being produced.
Read: The key thing missing from Narcos
Friedersdorf: Is legalizing drugs the answer?
Muse: Former President Juan Manuel Santos described the drug war as “riding an exercise bike”—you pedal and pedal and sweat and sweat, and you look down and realize you haven’t moved an inch. He said the world needed to rethink the drug, and suggested he would be open to discussing legalization. Unfortunately, the rest of the world ignored him, to the international community’s shame.