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BEST Teams Hope to Stem Smuggling at Three U.S. Ports

06/25/2009 -Three of the United States' busiest seaports have or will be receiving foreign assistance to help U.S. authorities crack down on smuggling under a task force led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reports the Associated Press.

Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST)—which, under the control of ICE, combine federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement personnel to target and disrupt criminal organizations on the border through increased coordination and information-sharing—have been deployed to the ports of Long Beach-Los Angeles, Miami, and New York-Newark.

According to the AP:

The move is part of a larger effort at some of the nation's largest and busiest seaports to enlist officers from foreign countries. U.S. officials have invited officials from Argentina, Colombia and Mexico to join their anti-smuggling crackdowns.

They hope that bringing foreign intelligence stateside will help break down the close-knit networks smugglers use to ferry contraband across borders.

But as the AP notes, close cooperation with foreign officers could lead to leaks and tip-offs to those the BEST teams are trying to catch—especially when sharing sensitive investigative information with officers from countries as notoriously corrupt as Mexico.

"What you've got is a trade off: is the sharing (of intelligence) and likely payoff from the sharing worth the risk that you may be running by sharing information with someone who might do something else with it?" asked Jim Finckenauer, professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University, located in New Jersey.

Tim Durst, chief of contraband smuggling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says that the foreign officers chosen are carefully vetted to ensure their integrity.

BEST teams have become an important tool in U.S. efforts to stop cross-border crime, especially as the drug war in Mexico has intensified and bled across U.S. southern borders. In late March, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlined the Department of Homeland Security'sSouthwest Border Security Initiative to prevent border violence from worsening. In it, she announced that BEST teams staff along the southwest borderwould double from 95 to 190.

♦ Photo of Port of Los Angeles byalfromelkhorn/Flickr