The federal government is looking for doctors to help monitor suspected smugglers’ bowel movements at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, in a solicitation that sounds like it could be something out of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” program.
In reality it’s all a very sanitary process and even includes a special high-tech toilet to recover the drugs or other contraband from the other waste passing from the suspected smuggler’s system.
But the details, described in a new solicitation for doctors to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection, underscore the efforts smugglers will go to in trying to get their goods into the country, and the lengths the government will go to try to flush them out.
Doctors must be available round-the-clock in case CBP officers suspect they have a “swallower,” which is what internal drug smugglers are known as. The doctors are charged with X-raying or otherwise examining suspects’ body cavities, and if drugs are found, the work order says “the detainee may be held for a monitored bowel movement (MBM) to wait the passage of the contraband material.”
“During the MBM, the detainee will remain in the medical facility under the care and monitoring of the contractor,” CBP said.
Airport Medical Offices at JFK currently holds the contract, which was last renewed in 2009. The company ignored phone and web messages seeking comment. The Department of Homeland Security officer in charge of the contract didn’t respond to a request for more details, but CBP in a statement said the medical program is a key law enforcement tool that maintains “the highest levels of integrity, dignity and respect” for all involved.
“CBP regularly intercepts individuals who ingest wrapped packets of illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, ecstasy, marijuana or hashish to transport them,” the agency said. “CBP officers apply their keen knowledge, expertise and intelligence to detect and intercept suspected body cavity concealers at our nation’s ports of entry.”
CBP identified 176 “body cavity concealment incidents” in 2014, which was down from 187 the previous year.
On Thursday CBP announced it had nabbed a man in Texas who tried to smuggle nearly 3 ounces of heroin hidden in a body cavity into the U.S. A drug-sniffing dog alerted officials to the man, who had arrived in a taxi.
“History has shown that people will go to extreme lengths to smuggle drugs into the country,” said Alberto Perez, CBP Port Director in Del Rio.
But Kennedy Airport is the real nexus for swallowers, according to the New York Daily News, which reported in 2011 that the busy international facility saw more of them than all other U.S. ports of entry combined.
The Daily News even profiled the “drug loo,” as it’s known, and which CBP officers were thankful for, because they no longer had to go fishing through the contents of bedpans to find the packets of drugs.
If the drug packets rupture inside a smuggler, they can be deadly, and the CBP contract proposal requires the medical facility to be prepared for problems.
The contract raises other concerns, including the potential for a female smuggler to be pregnant. The proposal says women who are suspected of having ingested contraband must be given a pregnancy test before they can be X-rayed.
And the contract underscores the potential danger of dealing with desperate smugglers, urging the facility to “reduce access to wires, cables and objects that might be used as a weapon.”
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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