Pubdate: Tue, 06 Nov 2001
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Chris Roberts, Associated Press


EL PASO, Texas - At the Santa Fe International Bridge in El Paso, customs 
inspectors looking for terrorists are flinging open hoods and trunks, 
knocking on car body panels, and getting down on their hands and knees to 
peek under vehicles.

Last week, inspectors dug out nearly 50 packages of marijuana, weighing 70 
pounds, from a false gas tank in a shiny Toyota Tercel.

The seizure illustrates what Customs Service and Border Patrol officials 
are seeing: Drug smugglers are getting back to business - and drug seizures 
are up sharply - after a lull prompted by the stepped-up security along the 
US-Mexican border that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Investigators say that smugglers are trying to push more drugs across the 
border to make up lost profits and are getting caught by the tighter security.

"They're desperate," said Carlos Quevedo, a spokesman for the Border 
Patrol's sector in McAllen, Texas. "They don't even care if it's daylight. 
They just want to get lucky."

Before Sept. 11, most vehicles were waved through border checkpoints. Now, 
with border officials on the highest alert, nearly every vehicle is looked 
over. Inspections include an examination of the trunk and the engine 

In the two weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks, drug seizures 
along the 1,962-mile US-Mexico border fell 80 percent, compared with the 
same period last year. But the trend has reversed since then.

Drug smugglers "decided to wait it out, hoping it would go back to the way 
it was, and that hasn't happened," said Vincent Bond, customs spokesman in 
Southern California. Now, he said, they have "decided to risk the increased 

Customs Service seizures of marijuana between Sept. 24 and Oct. 25 are up 
from 58 percent along the South Texas border to 394 percent in Arizona. 
Altogether, more than 32,000 pounds were confiscated in Texas, New Mexico, 
and Arizona.

In Southern California, where the records are kept differently, an 11 
percent increase in marijuana seizures was recorded in the first 25 days of 
October. Nearly 31,500 pounds were seized.

The situation is similar at the US-Canadian border, though the seizures are 
in far smaller quantities than at the Southwest border, said Dean Boyd, a 
Customs Service spokesman in Washington. The Canadian border is not as 
closely guarded as the nation's southern edge.

Smuggling from Canada often involves a potent marijuana referred to as 
"B.C. bud" because some of it is grown in British Columbia. Customs 
officials seized 980 pounds of the pot, worth as much as $8 million on the 
street, on Oct. 3 in Blaine, Wash., Boyd said.

Marijuana smugglers are in a bind. The end of September marked their 
harvest, and dealers are eager to move old supplies, Boyd said. Increased 
scrutiny of US airspace means that flying drugs into the United States is 
no longer a good option, he said.

"They owe people, and they need to get it to market," Boyd said.

Cocaine is the second most commonly seized drug, though in far smaller 
amounts. For every Southwest border state except Arizona, seizures 
increased between Sept. 24 and Oct. 25, compared with the same period last 

In South Texas, customs officials have netted 378 percent more cocaine. "I 
guess they're trying to move what they held back," said Rick Pauza, a 
customs spokesman in South Texas.

Bond said smugglers entering Southern California are picking the busiest 
checkpoints, "trying to be a very small needle in a very large haystack."

Others are searching for ways around official checkpoints. In Arizona, 
smugglers are using backpacks or pack horses to avoid official border 
crossings. That means Border Patrol agents also are picking up narcotics.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom