- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

The U.S. Customs Service has assumed an expanded role in guarding the country against terrorist attacks, with air patrols over the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon.
Customs aircraft will also patrol the skies above San Diego today for the Super Bowl game.
The anti-terrorism patrols over Washington by the Customs Service Air and Marine Interdiction Division will begin tomorrow in an effort to enhance airspace security for the Washington Area.
The patrols are part of a program under the National Capital Region Coordination Center (NCRCC), which is designed to coordinate the anti-terrorism efforts of several federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, and facilitate the exchange of crucial information among the various departments.
Customs Service spokesman Kevin Bell said NCRCC participants also include the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Secret Service, Defense Department, U.S. Park Police, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Capitol Police and local law-enforcement agencies.
Formed in the early 1970s, the Customs Service Air and Marine Interdiction Division was assigned the task of protecting the nation's borders and the people from illicit drugs and other contraband destined for the United States. That mission continues.
But since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people, the Customs Service's highest priority has shifted to preventing terrorists and their tools from entering the country.
Since the attacks, Mr. Bell said, the Air and Marine Interdiction Division has expanded its mission to include a much more significant role in homeland security.
The Customs Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., Mr. Bell said, was instrumental in re-establishing and intensifying airspace security over the nation's skies by providing what he described as "seamless radar detection, sorting and monitoring in support of national security."
He said the air division supports homeland security in several ways, including:
Working with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to monitor U.S. borders and assist in tracking and identifying suspect aircraft.
The use of Customs P-3 aircraft to provide surveillance flights in support of NORAD, including presidential airspace security.
The assignment of Customs aircraft and vessels to patrol the skies, land borders and coasts in support of homeland security and to support other federal law-enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Secret Service counterterrorism operation.
Strategic planners in the Air and Interdiction Division, Mr. Bell said, are "active participants in the Interagency Homeland Air Security Steering Group, which is tasked with developing the nation's homeland security strategy and operational concept."
He said the division also played a key role in forming the air-security plan for the National Capital Region.
Customs Service aircraft enforced airspace security during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and played a critical role in the hunt for the two sniper suspects accused of terrorizing Maryland, Virginia and the District late last year flying Blackhawk helicopters day and night to support federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies investigating the sniper attacks.

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