Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jan 2005
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2005 Bellingham Herald
Author: Katie N. Johannes


Anti-Terrorist Steps Uncover More Marijuana

U.S. border protection agencies seized more than 5.5 tons of marijuana 
coming into the country through Whatcom County from January through 
November of 2004.

That's enough of the potent Canadian variety, known as B.C. Bud, to fill 
nearly three semi trailers and outweigh three Honda Accords.

In an effort to catch terrorists, the federal government has spent millions 
of dollars more on protecting Whatcom County's border with Canada since the 
terrorist attacks of 9/11, adding about 200 border-related jobs, and 
high-tech detection and intelligence equipment.

One side effect of the additional scrutiny is that officers are netting 
tons more drugs.

"I just think law enforcement as a whole has gotten better," said Joe 
Giuliano, U.S. Border Patrol deputy chief of the Blaine sector. "It would 
be speculative to try and attribute it to more drugs."

If there were more drugs, there likely would be more consumers. But 
Giuliano said the customer base seems to be about the same.

The amount of marijuana seized is down from 7.7 tons in 2003, but still is 
double what was seized in the years just prior to 9/11.

The numbers dropped significantly at the ports of entry in Whatcom County, 
from 11,590 pounds in 2003 to 4,777 for all but December of 2004.

Conversely, Border Patrol agents - who monitor the lands between official 
ports of entry - seized more than 6,200 pounds of marijuana in the first 11 
months of 2004 - up from 3,744 pounds in all of 2003.

Officials say it could be that smugglers have been scared off from the 
ports of entry.

"With our resources, technology and intelligence, we like to think we're 
displacing them," said Jerry Jensen, Customs and Border Protection 
assistant area director. "The drug operations are going more to easier 
types of ports along the border."

The seizure of such quantities of drugs has little or no effect on the drug 
market in Whatcom County, in part because much of it is destined for other 
locations, said Sgt. Kevin Hester of the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force.

And there seems to be an endless supply that law enforcement isn't catching.

"There's just too much of it," Hester said, though he could not provide 
statistics.Marijuana sells for about $2,200 to $3,000 a pound.

The tons of marijuana seized on the way into Whatcom County are only a 
fraction of the total amount of drugs seized coming into the country.

In 2003, Customs and Border Protection seized 2.2 million pounds of drugs 
and $51 million in currency nationwide. Marijuana accounted for the bulk of 
the drugs seized.

In addition to marijuana, in 2004 CBP and Immigration and Customs 
Enforcement working in Whatcom County seized:

52.12 pounds of cocaine.

4pounds of hashish.

977 pounds of other narcotics.

$2.2 million in currency.

Border Patrol seized:

88.2 pounds of cocaine.

230 pounds of ephedrine, used to make methamphetamine.

59.8 pounds, or 400,000 tablets, of Ecstasy.

CBP officers in Whatcom County use a number of methods to detect suspicious 
cargo in passenger cars and commercial trucks, including secondary 
inspections and a gamma ray machine that looks through semi trailer walls 
and into shipments like a doctor's X-ray machine.

But Jensen attributes a lot of the big busts to officer intuition.

During routine interviews, officers pay close attention to driver and 
passenger behavior, and they are trained to notice irregularities in 
vehicle bodies and engines.

While CBP guards the five ports of entry that dot the county line, U.S. 
Border Patrol tries to catch everything - and everyone - in between.

"They'll (smugglers) try just about anywhere," Giuliano said. "Guys with 
hockey bags, or vehicles will drive through wherever they shouldn't."

Officers have to pay close attention to Boundary Road on the U.S. side that 
runs parallel to Zero Avenue in Canada, where it's easy for people to run 

In the summer, when farmers' raspberry fields grow high and thick, drug 
smugglers have better cover, he said.

The Border Patrol uses cameras and motion detectors as additional eyes, and 
plain-clothes officers work undercover.

Even with technology and additional staff, border agents can't be 
everywhere and see everything. A few determined smugglers will traverse 
mountains and forests, and paddle cross-border lakes to get into the United 

Giuliano said that's why border agencies' relationships with park rangers 
and other law enforcement agencies are essential.

Despite drug seizures being a tangible result of the beefed-up border 
protections, officials say the focus hasn't changed.

"Mission one is terrorism, and it's going to continue to be," Giuliano 
said. "With things that go bump in the night, you don't know what you've 
got until you've got it. Through night scopes and cameras, they all look 
the same."
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman