The U.S. Southern Command Uses A State-Of-The-Art System To Confront Drug Trafficking By
Sea, Land And Air
Sandra Marina/Diálogo Staff
In Key West, where the Florida Peninsula overlooks some of the islands of the
Caribbean, the Cooperating Nations Information Exchange System (CNIES) has been carrying out
a backstage role since 1998 in the regional battle against drug trafficking and
transnational organized crime.
But now a revolutionary new information exchange platform – the Cooperative
Situational Information Integration system (CSII) – is using state-of-the-art technology to
make multinational cooperation faster, easier and more seamless for participating nations.
Financed by a partnership between the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S.
Department of State, and coordinated by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the CSII
project responds to the need to reinforce the multilateral exchange of counternarcotics
information among partner nations, and to take better advantage of each country’s resources
to fight illicit trafficking and transnational organized crime.
“Agreements like the CSII one are the developmental foundation that regional domain
awareness and Caribbean security are built upon,” said Rear Admiral Charles Michel, Joint
Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S) director, during his presentation at the Caribbean
Nations Security Conference (CANSEC). The conference, organized by SOUTHCOM, was held
December 11-12, 2012.
A Leap into the Future
For more than a decade, in the JIATF-S operation center in Key West, and in similar
centers in 20 nations of the Western Hemisphere, CNIES operators have closely followed the
movement of vessels and planes that, in the system display, are represented by dots and
To the trained eye, these dots and lines symbolize radar and sensor signals that
are fundamental for quickly detecting the presence of drug trafficking boats and planes, as
well as prompting coordination of international efforts to go after them, arresting the
operators and seizing their illegal cargo.
“Any time you see in the news there is a partner nation either interdicting an
illicit trafficking movement at sea or an aircraft that illegally flies into a country
carrying out an illicit movement, coordination takes place between U.S. and partner nations’
operation centers allowing those interdictions to happen,” said Cal Demier, SOUTHCOM’s
JIATF-S operation center’s chief and coordinator of the individual country centers in the
“The great thing about this system is that it is not just one person in the U.S.
operation center looking at that information, but also partner nations’ operation centers
looking at the same information. They are experts on activities that should be moving in
their countries, so when they look at those dots and see a surface vessel or an aircraft and
realize that they should not be moving this way, they can take coordinated action with us
and among themselves,” he said.
Thanks to that information exchange, air, maritime and land forces from nations
taking part in the system can coordinate interdictions that start in international waters,
continue along the maritime borders of a certain nation, and end up on the coast of another
CSII, the new system created by SOUTHCOM, integrates live feeds from sensors,
radars and identification systems into a platform using Internet-based software and social
media tools available worldwide. “In 1998, when we started, the users of CNIES had never
seen the Internet, [they] had no idea of what a chat was,” Demier said. “But by now, all of
them are used to Facebook, Google, Twitter … and they are looking at new capabilities to do
Several technologies have been tried over the years, but CSII really showed the
promise to build on what the community had developed through CNIES, according to Demier.
With the recent emergence of the CSII, that community of operators now has a system
that considers the needs they have identified in practice and incorporates the technological
advances from the past decade. For instance, integration with Google Maps provides
geomapping to visualize air and maritime tracks. And an easy-to-use alert system allows the
community to know what an operator recognizes as a suspicious activity.
More Flexible, More Secure
So far, CSII creates a unique operational image from radar signals that reach
JIATF-S through an unclassified network. Among these signals are those from the Tethered
Aerostat Radar System at Cudjoe Key, Florida, and the Maritime Safety & Security
Information System, a U.S. Department of Transportation data collection and distribution
network. Participating nations exchange feeds from maritime transponders installed on cargo
and passenger boats, and the Dominican Republic has made the signals of three air radars
available to the group.
Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Harmon, who was in charge of coordinating the CSII
project from SOUTHCOM, said the command expects to add feeds from the Relocatable
Over-the-Horizon Radar (ROTHR), a U.S. Navy radar mainly used to combat drug trafficking,
and plane tracks received from Federal Aviation Administration radars in the Caribbean.
Additional national radar feeds and other sensors from CSII participants will also be
Harmon explained that the current system is based at SOUTHCOM and protected by
strict physical and cyber security measures. In terms of effectiveness, he added, one of the
main advantages of the transition from CNIES to CSII is that the latter does not require
either specialized software or a dedicated computer, just an Internet connection. In the
near future, this will make it possible for the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations’ ships
with Internet connections to access CSII information.
For Demier, who knows perfectly well the expectations and needs of the operators’
community, the capacity to grant usage privileges in accordance with the role of each
operator is one of the most significant characteristics of the new technological tool. “The
administrator assigns roles to each user and determines what information each one can see.
The participating nations can determine with which countries they want to share the feeds
from their radars,” he said.
At the moment, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia, and St.
Vincent and the Grenadines have already signed Memorandums of Understanding and Aerial
Intercept Assistance Agreements. These legally binding bilateral documents prohibit the use
of U.S. information to disable, damage, destroy or threaten civil aircraft in service, which
would violate U.S. law and international civil aviation conventions. These countries have
started the transition toward CSII, and it is only a matter of time until the rest of the
nations already using CNIES take the leap into the new technology, Harmon said.
Like Demier, he agreed that beyond its value to capture criminals, CSII has broader
potential. “The primary purpose of CSII is to support U.S. government and partner nation
efforts to counter illicit trafficking, but it will also support other missions, such as
search and rescue, monitoring of fishing waters, exercise support and humanitarian
assistance/disaster relief,” he concluded.
CSII in Brief
The Cooperative Situational Information Integration system (CSII) is an ambitious
project that integrates radar and sensor feeds to show the movement of vessels and
airplanes. This technological tool developed by the U.S. Southern Command is a
nonproprietary, open-standard system, with the following capabilities:
Alerting of suspicious activities by marking them on the map with geolocalization
Chatting between users and translating messages from English into Spanish and vice
versa. In the future, other languages of the Western Hemisphere, including Portuguese,
French and German, will be added.
Secured access through double-factor authentication (user name and password), as
well as using a smart card with public key infrastructure certification or a VeriSign RSA
Choosing who will have access to the signals from certain radars or sensors.
Assigning visualization privileges in accordance with roles assigned to each
CS-I I on the Internet is an open invitation to hackers working for our enemies – clearly a mistake. As long as the efforts are focused on fighting drug trafficking and other illegal activities, I think it’s good, and we congratulate Southcom, for improving and practically replacing CNIES with CSII, which makes things more difficult for the transnational criminals.