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A major federal investment in drug interdiction has done little to slow the flow of cocaine through Central America into the United States, congressional investigators say.

Efforts to catch drug smugglers using small planes to ship cocaine across borders have netted hundreds of tons in seizures. But the smugglers are adapting and cocaine remains readily available on U.S. streets, the General Accounting Office reported Tuesday."Traffickers have turned to more complex and evasive means of air delivery and to less detectable highway and sea transportation," the congressional investigative agency said.

"The supply of drugs entering the United States via Central America remains virtually uninterrupted despite U.S. interdiction efforts," GAO national security specialist Benjamin Nelson told the House Government Operations justice subcommittee.

The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 880 tons of cocaine was produced worldwide last year; U.S. and international law enforcement agencies seized one-third of that total. And of the cocaine coming into the United States, two-thirds crosses over from the Mexican border.

In all, the government spends $56.5 million a year to curb the flow of drugs through Central America, with 85 percent of that devoted to interdiction, Nelson said.

In addition to the uninterrupted supply, the purity of cocaine coming into the United States is increasing, Nelson said, and prices to wholesalers and users across the United States are falling.

"These things would indicate that our efforts are not having a very great impact on availability in this country," Nelson said.

DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine supported Nelson's comments, saying cocaine remains the nation's top drug enforcement challenge.

"It remains readily available throughout the United States at relatively low prices and high purities at all levels of the traffic," Con-stan-tine said.

The Clinton administration's drug strategy is to place less emphasis on interdiction of drug supplies and greater emphasis on stopping drug kingpins in their home countries and treating addicts in the United States in hopes of reducing demand.

Meanwhile, Congress reduced funds available for worldwide drug efforts from $147.8 million last year to $100 million this year.

According to Nelson, drug smugglers are increasingly moving supplies into the United States in trucks and cars and by boat.

In addition they are moving cocaine in relatively small batches mixed in with legitimate cargo either on ships or planes.

Flights for the sole purpose of smuggling drugs appear to be decreasing because of the success of U.S. interceptors using radar and aircraft, Nelson said.