CBP leverages tech, data sharing to fight illegal opioids

New detection technology, as well as increasing shipping data sharing with China helps in the border fight against fentanyl, according to the Customs and Border Protection leader.

Shutterstock ID: 745206598 by Scotyard
 

Immigration and customs agency officials told lawmakers that funding for new drug detection technology in U.S. ports could help stem a rising tide of illicit opioid smuggling.

Although the House Appropriations hearing focused on immigration enforcement priorities, Customs and Border Protection's commissioner also provided a snapshot of the agency's tech-heavy battle against a tide of deadly opioids entering at the nation's ports.

Recent legislation gave $9 million for the Department of Homeland Security to develop two kinds of technology that can detect potent, but small, shipments of the deadly opioid fentanyl.

The president signed the bipartisan Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act in January. The White House called it out in an April 12 blog post.

"It's a robust effort" to fight the drug, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) during the April 12 House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee hearing.

The additional money for more sensitive analysis and non-intrusive detection technology would be a big help for agents at ports of entry, where most of the drug enters the U.S.

The new detection tech, according to McAleenan, will provide more accurate and immediate identification of the drug found in containers, while the non-intrusive detection gear would allow more focus on smaller vehicles where shipments of the drug are increasingly common.

Additionally, CBP is ramping up a partnership with China's customs organizations to share more shipping data, he said. China has been a big source of the illicit drug that is being shipped through postal services. Data sharing on shipment tracking, according to McAleenan, has resulted in a 65 percent increase in the last year in the number of intercepted packages of fentanyl.

Additionally, a top official with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations said his organization wants to modify its existing Human Exploitation Rescue Operative  Child-Rescue Corps to allow participants a broader role.  The HERO Child-Rescue Corps program currently trains is wounded, injured and ill Special Operations Forces in computer forensics and law enforcement skills to help federal agents fight against online child sexual exploitation.

ICE HSI Executive Associate Director Derek Benner said he wants to expand the corps to "cyber investigators" or cyber analysts with an official career path that could help fight black market online sales of fentanyl.

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