- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) airplane caught three smuggling suspects in a high-speed chase 900 miles southwest of Costa Rica, outracing a “go-fast” speedboat laden with cocaine with a street value of $35 million, CBP officials said yesterday.

In a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP officials in Washington said, a P-3 aircraft detected and tracked the go-fast vessel over the weekend and coordinated interception by a Coast Guard cutter.

While in pursuit, the officials said, CBP air interdiction agents observed the smugglers dump 18 bales of presumed cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $10.5 million from the vessel before Coast Guard personnel disabled its outboard motors.

“This operation is a classic example of what we do every day, working with our federal partners to detect and interdict drugs before they reach our shores,” said CBP Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, who heads the agency’s air and marine unit.

Mr. Kostelnik, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, said CBP’s P-3 aircraft play a critical role in homeland security, tracking and coordinating interdiction of suspected smuggling activity. He said the priority mission of the CBP air and marine unit “is to protect the American people from terrorists” and prevent terrorist weapons from entering the country.

“P-3s perform this vital mission by extending security beyond our physical borders,” he said.

To accomplish its mission, he said, the agency has 500 pilots and 250 aircraft, the largest federal law-enforcement air force in the world, as well as more than 200 vessels.

Last year, he said, a decision was reached to combine CBP’s aviation and marine resources, giving the agency the ability to more effectively and efficiently accomplish its aviation missions.

Mr. Kostelnik said CBP uses its aviation assets as a critical component of a layered enforcement strategy and to support multiple operational objectives, which the agency Web site says include:

” • Anti-terrorism, including protecting, controlling and enforcing federal law at U.S. land borders, adjacent coastal borders and air space above the borders.

” • CBP’s traditional missions of staunching drug smuggling and interdicting illegal drugs, including interdiction at and near our borders as well as source and transit zone operations.

” • Additional missions in support of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Joint Interagency Task Force-South, and other federal, state and local law enforcement partners.”

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