Pubdate: Mon, 26 Aug 2002
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2002 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Walter Berry, Associated Press


PHOENIX -- For three decades, the Shadow Wolves have helped stem the flow 
of illegal drugs across the desert linking Mexico and the Tohono O'odham 
Nation's sprawling reservation in southern Arizona.

Now the U.S. Customs Service's only American Indian tracking unit is taking 
its skills to Europe in an attempt to curb the smuggling of nuclear, 
chemical and biological weapons.

Three of the 21-member group are spending most of this month in Latvia, 
Lithuania and Estonia. Others have already traveled to Kazakstan and 
Uzbekistan to train customs officials, border guards and national police to 
detect and follow the ground tracks of anyone suspected of carrying 
components of mass-destruction weapons.

The goal is to improve those countries' tracking techniques so they can 
better train their own people.

"Our environment is getting more and more dangerous every day. A lot of law 
enforcement agencies are looking to beef up at their borders and the Shadow 
Wolves can provide some of that training," said Kyle Barnett, associate 
special agent in charge for Customs' Arizona district.

The overseas trips are being conducted under the auspices of the Export 
Control and Border Security program, a joint effort of the State 
Department, Customs Service and other agencies to assist more than two 
dozen nations, most of them in the former Soviet bloc.

Customs officials said the one-week training sessions consist of classroom 
lectures on tracking techniques and outdoor simulations.

"They basically teach them how to pick up foot signs," Barnett said. "The 
terrain in the Baltics is very similar to the Arizona desert. There's a lot 
of rocky terrain, so our trackers adapt well."

Only a few members of the Shadow Wolves make the overseas trip at one time 
so it does not interfere with their Arizona jobs.

It was only after a few original members retired in recent years that the 
Shadow Wolves' membership was opened up to other tribes and women.

"We're in the process now of asking (the federal government) to increase 
the group's number by an additional 10 trackers plus one supervisor," 
Barnett said. "There's enough work out there where we could quadruple their 
size and still keep them all busy."

The group comprises 19 men and two women, all Indians from nearly a dozen 
different tribes around the country.

It began in 1972 with around 12 men from the Tohono O'odham Nation under a 
program created by Congress to foster better relations with the tribe and 
help it patrol its reservation, which shares 76 miles of border with Mexico.

"They have been a great asset," said Joseph Delgado, assistant tribal 
police chief. "They've helped us numerous times in everything from tracking 
down suspects in stolen vehicles to finding missing children. They assist 
us a lot."

Headquartered in Sells, Ariz., the Shadow Wolves' size has steadily 
increased over the years. But its main mission has remained constant: to 
track down and stop smugglers hauling marijuana, cocaine or heroin on foot 
or horseback across the Mexican border.

Customs officials say the armed Indian trackers seize more than 70 percent 
of the drugs the agency finds on the 3 million-acre Tohono O'odham 
reservation west of Tucson.

Instead of relying on new high-tech equipment, the Shadow Wolves track the 
old-fashioned way -- by looking for footprints, broken branches, disturbed 
rocks or fibers left behind by a burlap bag. And they do it at all hours of 
the day or night.

"It's their heritage. Those tracking skills have been passed on from 
generation to generation," Barnett said. "They're a tremendous group of 
folks and they work harder than anyone I know. They have success, and 
success breeds success."

So far in the fiscal year that began last Oct. 1, the Shadow Wolves have 
arrested 400 smugglers and seized 96,000 pounds of marijuana, said John 
Martelli, one of the group's supervisors.

"Marijuana is the drug of choice coming out of the Sells area," Barnett 
said. "But these people are successful at whatever they trail. They're the 
best I've ever seen."

On the Net:

Customs Service:

Tohono O'odham information:
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