Crime rings use Guam and CNMI as transit points for illegal activities
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Federal authorities have teamed up with their local counterparts to launch a crackdown on gun smuggling, drug trafficking and other criminal activities perpetrated by transnational syndicates in the borders of Guam and the CNMI.
“The CNMI and Guam are geographically isolated in the Pacific Ocean and nearly all available goods arrive by sea and air,” according to a press release from Homeland Security Investigations.
“Based on the Mariana Islands’ proximity to Asia, both the CNMI and Guam are used by transnational criminal organizations as transit points for illegal activities,” HSI said, announcing new border initiatives in partnership with the CNMI and Guam to beef up border security.
HSI Assistant Director Jerry Templet said the initiatives are aimed at blocking criminal organizations' access to the territorial borders, which are strategic stopping points in their bid to avoid capture.
“The strong partnerships with local partners will enable through this task force to investigate scofflaws and prosecute those who seek to harm our communities," he said.
John F. Tobon, HSI Honolulu special agent in charge, said the HSI special agents assigned to the Border Enforcement Security Task Force teams in the CNMI and Guam are now better positioned to bring their training, expertise and unique law enforcement authorities with them in this partnership.
“We anticipate increased efficiencies and more effectiveness of our investigative capabilities in deterring transnational crime,” Tobon said.
HSI said transnational criminal organizations engage in several criminal activities, including murder, narcotics and weapons trafficking and human smuggling.
Federal authorities said the agency uses its unique immigration and customs legal authorities to combat transnational crimes and protect the U.S. from all illegal activity with a border nexus.
HSI said the task force will address the vulnerabilities and threats posed by international crime syndicates and advance border security at transportation and port facilities by enhancing investigations and assisting to dismantle organizations that exploit global commerce and infrastructure, primarily via the imported and exported commodities and cargo processed through our seaports and airports.
"The strong network of law enforcement partners’ unique law enforcement authorities, increased intelligence sharing, and focused collaboration to further develop multi-jurisdictional cases," HSI said.
BEST will be staffed by personnel from HSI, U.S. Coast Guard, U. S. Customs and Border Protection, and Task Force Officers from Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency, Guam Police Department, Guam Airport Police, CNMI Customs and Quarantine and CNMI Department of Public Safety.
In 2012, the Jaime Zapata BEST Act or Public Law 112-205 was signed into law. The law was named in memory of Jaime Zapata, an ICE HSI Special Agent assigned to the task force and was murdered Feb. 15, 2011, while on duty in Mexico.
This law amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to formally establish the BEST program within DHS and authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to direct the assignment of federal personnel to BEST, as well as take other actions to aid federal, state, local, tribal, and international law enforcement agencies participating in BEST, including providing financial assistance, as appropriate, for operational, administrative and technical costs associated with their participation in BEST.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move.
HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries.