- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

BLAINE, Wash. — Beleaguered criminal investigators here and in Canada realized a decade ago that they lacked the necessary manpower to catch drug smugglers and illegal aliens, but knew they could “get the bad guys if they worked together,” says Roy A. Hoffman, head of the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement office here.

“We didnt have the manpower, and a decision was made early to take advantage of the border to address cross-border crime, and that meant working together and sharing both the credit and the blame,” Mr. Hoffman said. “From a prosecution standpoint, it also proved effective since we all had a vested interest.”

This cross-border enforcement effort eventually became known as the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET), created here in 1996 to combat not only rising drug smuggling along the western regions of Washington state, but also the growing problem of illegal immigration.

It since has been replicated in 14 locations along the 4,121-mile U.S.-Canada border, meaning that the teams now blanket the entire northern border. In addition to drug smugglers and illegal aliens, IBET personnel also are on the hunt for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

Each IBET team is coordinated by a Joint Management Team of senior leaders from among the participating law enforcement agencies, who concentrate on sharing intelligence and information and often conduct joint operations to enhance border security.

“It certainly was ahead of its time and it has worked well,” said Mr. Hoffman, adding that the IBET concept has been expanded from land operations to include marine as well as air interdictions. “We pushed it east to the mountains, west to the water and now into the sky. It cant get any better than that.”

The IBET teams consist of not only ICE officials, but also members of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, a sister agency within the new Department of Homeland Security. Most noticeable among the CBP members is the Border Patrol, responsible for the regions between the 150 ports of entry along the Canadian border.

Other IBET members include the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Secret Service; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Canada Customs; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and several municipal police departments and tribal authorities on both sides of the border.

Since the September 11 attacks, IBET teams have been among those receiving additional manpower and equipment along the U.S.-Canada border, including much-needed sensor systems, night-vision devices, computers, global positioning systems, and automatic personnel and vehicle locators.

Mr. Hoffman said effective surveillance along the border always has been a key factor in the successful tracking of drug smugglers and illegal aliens, and that a key motivator in the creation of IBET was the desire to pool information from police agencies on both sides of the border to focus on specific drug and alien routes.

That technology, he said, now would be targeting terrorists.

The newest IBET team, known as Red River-Manitoba, covers North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada.

“Often times we got information about a potential load of drugs or a group of illegal aliens coming into the country and we would sit on a particular trail, only to find out we were in the wrong place. Or that we were at the right place, but at the wrong time,” he said.

“Sharing information with our Canadian counterparts, allowed both sides to better determine where our efforts had to be centered, and gave all of us a better chance of success,” he said.

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