They are omnipresent. They are at the nation's northern land borders, southern land borders and posted at strategic seaports. Yet their success hinges on their ability to keep their identities hidden and their actions undetected. They are the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) agents who work surreptitiously to identify, disrupt and dismantle dangerous transnational criminals who threaten the United States, Mexico and the world.
In 2005, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Laredo, Texas, laid the ground work for the BEST initiative under Operation Black Jack. This investigation "was molded into an international investigative task force to respond to evolving violence affecting the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo communities. As a direct result of the task force's efforts, along with collaboration with the government of Mexico, the seizures of caches of grenades, assault weapons, bulk cash and related arrests, helped ensure violence did not spill over the border and assisted the government of Mexico to address the escalating violence perpetrated by the cartels," said ICE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations, Al Peña.
A year after Operation Black Jack, the department formalized the program to combat the border violence caused by drug cartels known for their flexibility, wealth, organization, intelligence and ruthlessness. Besides ICE, the BEST teams incorporate personnel from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other key federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies. These multi-agency task forces collaborate and share information to fulfill the overarching goal: to interrupt the flow of cash, weapons and ammunition that fuel the illicit trade of the drug cartels.
Working on covert operations dubbed in catch phrases such as Gateway Hotel, Shadow Catcher, Frontera 53 and Redemption Song, BEST teams are tenacious and relentless in their pursuit of criminals involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, gang activity, arms trafficking and human smuggling.
On the front lines, BEST agents are up close and personal witnesses to the predatory tactics of organized crime. They have often freed victims of human smuggling and trafficking who fear for their lives and those of their families.
ICE recently expanded the BEST program and welcomed neighboring nations who lend support and participation in the mutual effort to protect the peace of our countries' communities. ICE now has 17 BEST teams, with three teams at the U.S.-Canadian border and a team in Mexico. Argentinean customs officers stationed at the Miami seaport BEST and Colombian National Police officers at the Miami and New York-New Jersey seaport BESTs are strengthening investigative partnerships in those locations.
BEST will continue to focus on all aspects of the enforcement process, from interdiction to prosecution and removal. The BEST unified effort will eventually topple the leadership and crumble the supporting infrastructure of the criminal organizations responsible for perpetrating violence and illegal activity along our borders and in the nation's interior.
Learn more about the BEST initiative on ICE's YouTube page.
Read about other BEST successes from the 2009 BEST Conference Awards.