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Facts: Courier to Kingpin

Interesting Facts Related to This Episode

CBP Supervisory Officer Anthony Campos tests a substance found in three express courier packages, and finds it's positive for methamphetamines, or crystal meth.

A substance found in three express courier packages tests positive for methamphetamines. (View larger version)

Photograph by National Geographic Television

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  • Jamaica is a major transshipment area for cocaine going from South to North America and Europe.

  • There are several different versions of the United States passport in circulation which may make it difficult for the average immigration officer, like airport personnel, to detect the difference between a real and a fake passport.

  • Secretary General Ronald K. Noble of INTERPOL stated in an interview with CNN in 2010 that the use of fake passports is the most significant threat to international security.  He stressed that security personnel at airports should be more focused on identifying false identification such as fraudulent passports than using such common security measurements as body scans.

  • Russia is a big source of heroin-related chemicals. It is also a transshipment area for cannabis, Asian opiates, and Latin American cocaine.

  • Prison time for drug traffickers can vary greatly on the repetition of the offense. For example, on June 12, 2012, Haji Bagcho was sentenced to life in prison for having distributed heroine in over twenty countries, including the US. DEA investigations reported that Bagcho was one of the most prominent heroin traffickers in the world.

  • According to the Controlled Substances Act, to distribute either: >= 5 kilograms of cocaine, >= 1 kilograms of heroin, >= 100 grams of PCP, >= 1000 kilograms of cannabis, or >= 50 grams of meth, will result in a minimum of 10 years in jail for a first offense. Penalties double for the second offense (minimum of 20 years) and, for the third offense, they receive mandatory life imprisonment.

  • “Body packers” are people who conceal drugs internally in attempt to smuggle the illicit materials across borders.  They are also known as “swallowers,” “internal carriers,” “couriers,” or “mules.”  Typically body packers carry about 1kg of drugs sometimes of a mixed variety.  The most commonly concealed drugs are heroin and cocaine, but amphetamines, ecstasy, marijuana or hashish are also commonly concealed.

  • From October 2001 to April 2002, JFK International Airport arrested 193 body packers in a span of seven months compared to the 202 cases from the entire previous year.  

  • Customs officials identify suspected body packers through basic observation of red flags like shaking hands, excessive rates of perspiration or baggy clothing to hide a person’s natural shape. Questioning of passport-holders can also reveal inconsistencies in stories, and drug-sniffing dogs or intelligence from other law enforcement bureaus can also raise concern. Officers can then detain suspects initially for 24-48 hours for questioning in most jurisdictions. However, most customs officials contact the U.S. Attorney’s office if they plan to hold a suspect for longer than eight hours.

  • Another underground means of acquiring controlled substances is by making medical patients attain pain-relievers when not needed, such as narcotic OxyContin, which they then sell for as much as $1,000. According to the Government Accountability Office in its 2009 report, 65,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in just a few states visited doctors to acquire duplicate prescriptions.  One tablet of OxyCotin  is equivalent to twelve hours’ of pain relief. Drug abusers ingest, crush, snort or inject it to get the full heroin-like rush.

  • The most abused medications in recent years were pain relievers with 5.1 million users, followed by tranquilizers with 2.2 million, stimulants with 1.1 million, and sedatives with 0.4 million, according to the NIDA report. The report further establishes that  amongst 12th graders the use of medications, after cannabis, accounts for the most commonly abused drugs.

  • 43,564 pounds of marijuana were intercepted in the mail across the nation in 2009, 35,773 pounds in 2010.  The frequency of cocaine being mailed and then intercepted is on the rise; in 2009, 506 pounds were intercepted, and in 2010, 657 pounds. 

  • ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is not only responsible for monitoring aircraft for attempts of the trafficking of illegal substances but also in such places as high-speed vessels, cargo containers, commercial vessels and trucking, and human carriers.

  • Within the Department of Homeland Security the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest investigative agency.  There are over 20,000 people who work in 400 offices around the US and throughout the world for ICE.

  • In 2011, more international travelers arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport than at any other airport in the United States.  

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