The US already spends more on its “intelligence budget” than almost any nation spends on their entire military. Umpteen spy agencies track terrorists, dissidents, money launderers, and spy on virtually every nation on the planet. What was originally a pretty limited mission of counter-espionage has spread into a terrifying leviathan. Like a large-tusked elephant or a giant rhino with a big horn.
It makes some sort of sick sense then, at least to somebody, that the US intelligence community is now throwing entire teams at “wildlife poaching” in third world countries, terming the dealers in ivory and rhino horns an honest to god threat to national security, on extremely shaky grounds.
Poachers have weapons that could theoretically be dangerous to people, but it was ever thus, and poachers motivated by the profit on the illegal ivory trade probably picked that over straight-forward burglary in the first place because the locals don’t have much to take. The poor are easy targets, to be sure, but in nations where they are at subsistence levels, burgling the rhino is probably the more economical choice.
Beyond that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues that the places poachers sell banned goods could also be used to sell banned drugs. Of course the exact opposite case could be made as well, and if the myriad US chemical prohibitions hadn’t created massive black markets for a zillion plants and pills there wouldn’t be ready-made conduits for poachers to use.
It seems extremely disingenuous to point the finger at the wildlife poaching and its sale on the black market, estimated at a few hundred million dollars a year, as the prime motivator for those markets, when the Afghan opium trade reaches into the billions of dollars annually and the Mexican smuggling operations are estimated at $35-$45 billion a year.
The failed drug war and the juicy profits it created are why there’s an enormous global black market thriving, and no matter how irked governments are by a black market, throwing what will undoubtedly be many millions of dollars at tracking poachers is obviously not going to have any measurable effect.