The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, will gladly inform the public of yet another drug or counterfeit smuggling attempt they have thwarted. They’ll expose how many pounds of contraband were seized, its estimated street value, the name of the suspects involved, and the location of the failed criminal activity. They’ll answer almost any question about their cases, with one important exception: what happens to all of this seized material?
In the last week alone, the CBP confiscated close to $20 million worth of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamines along both borders. Millions of dollars worth of weapons, currency, and counterfeit perfumes and purses were seized during the last week as well. Where did all of these goods disappear?
In one case, on January 28, 2009, there were two attempts to smuggle a combination of $2.6 million worth of ecstasy tablets at the Blaine, Wash., border near Canada. Using electronic sensors and video surveillance, CBP agents were able to track down two separate vehicles carrying a total of 220,000 tablets. After the discovery, the Drug Enforcement Agency was immediately called, and their agents took custody of the vehicles, suspects, and contraband.
According to a DEA Public Affairs Officer, when agents confiscate illegal drugs, the drugs are field tested to determine the substance, weighed, and then sealed in proper evidence packaging. They are then transferred to a laboratory for further testing.
“The DEA maintains custody of the drugs in a secured location until the investigation has been concluded. If needed for criminal proceedings, the DEA will then produce the drugs at the request of a U.S. Attorney's Office,” the spokesperson said. Once the case has been adjudicated, the drugs are destroyed. The DEA maintains non-disclosure agreements with contractors in the destruction of drugs, and for contractor and citizen safety purposes, they do not reveal this information to the public.
With certain cases, Customs and Border Patrol agents will seize and store the contraband themselves. A CBP spokesperson refused to disclose any further information as to who handles the material and where it goes, saying only that it was handled internally, and that “it gets destroyed.”
Officials of the CBP may feel that the American public does not need or want to know where confiscated contraband ends up or whose hands it ends up in. However, it seems that in other countries, not only is the storage and destruction of goods such as drugs made public, it has also been made into a celebration in one country.
In June of 2008, citizens of Thailand marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking by incinerating 15 tons of drugs in a Bangkok province. The Bangkok Post informed the public that the drugs, which had been used as evidence in many different court cases, had been stored at a Federal Drug Administration warehouse in a nearby province. The police secured the destruction, and after the burning of the narcotics, 1,000 youngsters in a nearby city pledged to steer clear of drugs in a swearing-in ceremony.
In September 2008, the United Nations informed the public that UN and Haitian Police escorted 2,287 kilograms of drugs to the town center of Ganthier, Haiti, where the drugs were burned in an outdoor area.
Illegal drugs were also burned in public in Baguio City, Philippines in 2006. From an island in the Caribbean to Rwanda, countries all over the world make it known to their citizens the procedures for storing and destroying confiscated goods, so why are Americans treated differently?
There is no doubt that the nearly 52,000 employees of CBP have an extremely difficult job, and they have succeeded quite impressively in their almost 6 year history. With vast technology, canine units, agriculture specialists, and partnership with other agencies, CBP protects 7,000 miles of land borders the US shares with Mexico and Canada, as well as 95,000 miles of shoreline. It is just a wonder why they withhold information that US citizens have a right to know about.
Homeland Security protects us from terrorists, drug traffickers, and illegal aliens. Are they saying that securing the location of confiscated drugs and counterfeit goods would be that much more difficult if the public was informed of the process? This isn’t a make-or-break transparency issue, but a little more information could go a long way to building further trust in our law enforcement.
If we as citizens have access to information like President Obama’s daily schedule, why are we not allowed to know what the CBP does with seized contraband at our borders? It’s not like we’re gonna follow their agents around with cameras and record their every move. Oh, wait a minute. . .