Every Which Way

There are countless ways to smuggle drugs into the U.S. by land, sea, and air. They come in through tunnels, subterranean corridors connecting sites on both sides of the southwest border, excavated by drug traffickers at the cost of millions.

They come inside the bodies of human "mules," people trained by drug lords to swallow hundreds of "pellets," condoms coated in olive or vegetable oil and packed with cocaine or heroin.

Drugs have been transported across the U.S.- Mexico border in caskets, in the diapers of newborn infants, and in bowling balls, automobile tires, baby buggies, and the linings of wheelchairs. One unfortunate drug courier, limping through a Customs inspection station, was stopped when an Inspector noticed his suspicious gait. It turned out that several pounds of high-grade cocaine had been surgically implanted in the man's thighs.

As desperate or ingenious as these attempts may be, most of the drugs that enter the United States without detection do so via commercial conveyances, as parasitical shipments riding into the U.S. on the back of legitimate trade. Why don't Customs inspectors detect these parasitical shipments? Because, during an average year, the U.S. Customs Service processes 10.8 million trucks; 5.3 million vessel cargo containers; 1.9 million railcars; 786,000 commercial aircraft; 220,000 vessels; 140,000 private aircraft; 123,200,000 vehicles; and 479.8 million passengers.




Given this enormous volume, the agency can't perform actual inspections on all of the commercial shipments that enter the United States. The integrity of most cargo must be ensured through other methods like pre-clearance certification, random checks, and examinations that depend on state-of-the-art technologies. All are used to winnow out actual and potential wrongdoers, but these techniques can't respond fully to the dilemma posed by an exponential growth in imports and a concomitant rise in smuggling attempts. To further close the windows of opportunity for drug smugglers, Customs relies on industry partners.

Unsung Heroes Partner to Help

These are unsung heroes in this tale, standard-bearers for the idea that every citizen is a soldier in the war on drugs. These heroes are the businesspeople, industry leaders, and shippers, both in the U.S. and source countries, who have created and implemented self-policing initiatives that support, and even substitute for, Federal involvement.

In 1995, business leaders, encouraged by Customs' prior efforts (under a program called the Carrier Initiative) and the government's new eagerness to form public-private partnerships, began to reinvent their role in the war on drugs. Industry leaders started designing anti-smuggling programs that drew on Customs' expertise and the agency's advisory capabilities without establishing formal mandates.



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