Today’s Drug War Front Line: JFK Airport

By Bryan Le 09/18/17

Border protection agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport are working hard to keep illicit drugs from pouring into the country.

An airplane docked at John F Kennedy JFK International Airport
At JFK, smugglers are grounded.

Border Protection Agents spend long hours analyzing every piece of mail that comes in through one of the country’s biggest airports—scanning packages and mail to stop the flow of drugs from entering the country.

Hundreds of thousands of packages move through one of the busiest airports in the world, and it’s up to the customs agents at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to stem the river of drugs feeding America’s addiction crisis.

Through the use of an array of detection technology from throughout the ages—from drug-sniffing dogs to X-rays and hand-held laser detectors—the agents check every piece of international postage that comes through their massive operation. This is no easy task, as JFK airport is where about 60% of our nation’s parcels, packages and mail come in.

The agents have to examine over 1 million packages each day to make sure that illicit narcotics are not being smuggled in and worsening the addiction crisis each day.

"The No. 1 drug killing Americans is fentanyl, coming through mail in lots of small packages," said Richard Baum, acting White House drug czar. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that over 33,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdoses in 2015.

As U.S. officials have started acting to relieve the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, Border Protection Agents have found that smugglers have become more creative in trying to bypass the watchful eye of the law.

"We just found a package that contains GBL, which is a date rape drug," said Frank Russo, JFK's CBP port director, indicating a bottle of Turtle Wax. "As you can see, the package includes sponges to make us think it's turtle wax car wash equipment." 

The crew also finds fentanyl, one of the most troublesome and deadly drugs in the opioid epidemic, which often arrives in packages from Hong Kong.

These smugglers have to fight to get their product through, especially with all the high-tech gear and sophisticated techniques that authorities now use in drug detection. 

But the job of the Border Protection Agents is made all the more difficult due to the lack of tracking information for packages that come in from outside the country. Legislation requiring this data be tracked and turned over is in the works. 

More than 100,000 pounds of narcotics are seized each year at JFK's international mail facility. The suspected illegal drugs are brought to a detention room at the airport, where they are tested and sent to a lab.

While legislation demanding more data has been introduced, Baum and the CBP continue to work with their peers overseas to find those trying to cheat the system. "I just think we can't stand still," said Baum. "The sorting problem is so huge that we need better quality data earlier." 

But he wants smugglers to know that a lack of good data isn’t holding back his security efforts. "The message is," Russo said, "We are working to find you and bring you to justice."

Recently, some smugglers were busted with meth hidden inside novelty phallic candles.
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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter