26 March 2005

Guarding the Homeland...

The Original Department of Homeland Security: fighting terrorism since 1492...

If the federal government wants to fight the "OTM" threat along America's "soft southern underbelly", the Shadow Wolf program should be expanded to cover the entire border...

Hokahey! --ryan

Shadow Wolves

An all-Indian Customs unit—possibly the world's best trackers—uses time-honored techniques to pursue smugglers along a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border

Today's hunt got under way at 6 A.M., two hours after Bryan Nez's shift began. A full-blooded Navajo, Nez belongs to a 21-member, all-Indian Customs unit, nicknamed the Shadow Wolves, that patrols the immense Tohono O'odham Indian reservation in southern Arizona. Writer Mark Wheeler and photographer Scott S. Warren have joined Nez on a typical day searching for Mexican smugglers bringing drugs over the border. The long day will result in a bust of two smugglers with nearly 500 pounds of marijuana.

What makes the Shadow Wolves unique from other Customs units patrolling the border is its modus operandi. Rather than relying solely on high-tech gadgetry—night-vision goggles or motion sensors buried in the ground—members of this unit "cut for sign." "Sign" is physical evidence—footprints, a dangling thread, a broken twig, a discarded piece of clothing, or tire tracks. "Cutting" is searching for sign or analyzing it once it's found.

Nez relies on skills he learned growing up on the Navajo Nation reservation in northern Arizona, and he cuts sign like other people read paperbacks. Between October 2001 and October 2002, the Shadow Wolves seized 108,000 pounds of illegal drugs, nearly half of all the drugs intercepted by Customs in Arizona.

Even so, one agent speculates that Shadow Wolves capture no more than 10 percent of the drugs coming across the reservation's border with Mexico. "In recent years, we've averaged about 60,000 pounds a year," says Rene Andreu, a former agent. They all agree that they need greater resources. It will take more than a few reinforcements, however, to have any real effect on drug traffic. The Shadow Wolves know this dismal fact all too well. Still, without their dedication and that of other Customs officials, smugglers would be bringing drugs over the border, as one officer put it, "in caravans."


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