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War on Terrorism Helps Increase Drug Seizures Along US-Mexico Border - 2003-09-24

U.S. law enforcement officials are reporting a significant increase in drug seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border, partly, they say, because of increased security measures that are part of the war on terrorism. Seizures of narcotics along the Mexican border so far this year are already close to the total for all seizures made last year. The amount of drugs being found in single incidents has also tended to be higher than in previous years.

Marijuana represents 90 percent of the narcotics captured, but there have been some record seizures of heroin and cocaine as well. In El Paso, Texas, this month, agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency took nearly 40 kilograms of heroin out of a false compartment in a pickup truck. Authorities estimate the value of that record seizure at $6 million.

Rick Pauza, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection agency in Laredo, Texas, said stepped up enforcement on the border has created a log-jam of illegal drugs that smugglers are desperate to get across the line.

"The quantity of narcotics builds up along the border and so, occasionally, we will do a seizure and it will be a significant amount," he said. "It is just a function of the amount of narcotics that have been stockpiled and they are trying to move all at one time."

Mr. Pauza says an increase in the number of agents, as well as new technology, has helped stem the tide of drugs at the border. He cites the use of density meters to check if gas tanks contain something other than fuel, X-rays and gamma rays to check truck contents without having to open them, and fiber optic cameras to peer into various openings.

Mr. Pauza says many of the tactics used to search for drugs also fit with the effort to stop terrorists. Although he says agents in his area have not arrested any terrorist suspects, they remain vigilant and have the technical capability to detect such things as explosives and radioactive materials.

The Customs spokesman says the folding of 22 separate agencies into the Department of Homeland Security in March has benefited cooperation and streamlined the border inspection process.

"Previously, when you had these different agencies you would have three different port directors at a port of entry," added Mr. Pauza. "Now, under CBP you have one port director who oversees all the inspection operations at our ports of entry."

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency consists of elements from four previous agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of Agriculture Quarantine program, the Border Patrol, and the U.S. Customs Service.