Super Bowl 57: How HSI is leading the way in security
The Phoenix area might have terrible traffic issues on Super Bowl Sunday, but it will be one of the safest places in America that day.
That’s not a foregone conclusion, but the result of an enormous amount of hard work and sacrifice. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies will be on duty around the clock with first responders, the U.S. military and several intelligence agencies to keep people safe so they can enjoy the game on Sunday, Feb. 12.
HSI Arizona meets the challenge of another Super Bowl
No matter how large the challenge or how substantial the threat, Homeland Security Investigations has once again proven that its capabilities and authorities enable it to keep people safe during major sporting events such as the Super Bowl.
By the time Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles kicked off on Sunday, Feb. 12, HSI already had its in-stadium security operations in place.
These included more than 600 personnel providing extensive air security resources; venue, cyber and infrastructure security assessments; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives detection technologies; intelligence analysis and threat assessments; intellectual property enforcement; and real-time situational awareness reporting for other law enforcement agencies.
The overall security posture in and around the event was bolstered by HSI’s elite special response teams (SRTs). Highly trained in the use of specialized firearms and defensive tactics, SRT Arizona supported local mission requests from law enforcement partners and was ready to respond to threats and incidents at a moment’s notice.
“SRT Arizona special agents have trained hard for months to address critical incident threats, conduct helicopter rope suspension techniques operations and enhance their sniper overwatch capabilities within a public venue event such as the Super Bowl,” said Guillermo Metzler, the tactical commander for HSI’s special response team in Arizona.
In addition, SRT Arizona provided two quick reaction force teams, commonly called QRFs, within the stadium. The QRFs were responsible for responding to possible critical incidents during the game, such as active shooter threats or hostage situations. The team also deployed snipers within the stadium to provide active overwatch and collect key intelligence during the game.
SRT personnel also worked closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air & Marine Operations, practicing helicopter rope suspension techniques in preparation for their role as a QRF.
Super Bowl 57: The unique challenges of holding the game in Arizona
Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 12, but crowds have been in and around State Farm Stadium since long before kickoff.
To keep these crowds safe, Homeland Security Investigations is partnering with other law enforcement agencies to increase security around the stadium and in other areas of Glendale and Phoenix ahead of the big game.
HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown, who’s leading the charge as the federal coordinating officer for the game, says holding the game in Arizona poses some unique challenges.
Another factor contributing to security challenges is Arizona’s interstate highway network, which crisscrosses the state and makes it easy to transport goods and people from the border to the state’s interior.
The number of events around the area that may be targets are complicating security efforts, as well.
“Although security for the big game is focused on the stadium, we have events happening throughout the metro Phoenix area,” Brown said. “The game's not actually in the city of Phoenix. The game's out in Glendale, Arizona.”
Brown says that one of the additional events is the 2023 Waste Management Phoenix Open Golf Tournament, which is happening on the same weekend. The tournament has caused a unique challenge for his team.
“We've got the world's largest golf tournament happening the same weekend as the Super Bowl, in the same metro area,” Brown said. “So there's a lot of people looking for golf carts to shuttle around in and run equipment from one place to the next.”
After one of the departments reached out to him because there were no golf carts available to purchase or rent in the Phoenix metro area, Brown eventually located some that the Department of Defense had at a local military installation.
“It's a gap we were able to close, but again, not a gap that I expected to have to fill,” Brown said.
After chasing down golf carts and helping deputize dogs from the National Explosives Detection Canine Program, what does the rest of Brown’s week look like?
“I will be running all over the Valley meeting with partners, checking in with command centers,” he says. He will also give his security briefing and overview to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, taking him on a tour of the stadium so he can brief him on the game day security plan.
Brown says he will be in a command center a couple miles from the stadium when the game begins.
Operation Team Player, an ongoing initiative run by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, announced at a news conference on Feb. 8, 2023, that it seized around 180,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $22.7 million in the year leading up to Super Bowl 57 in Glendale, Arizona.
The year-round operation hinges on cooperation between the IPR Center, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and local law enforcement officials.
The operation is one of the federal government’s biggest anti-counterfeiting initiatives. HSI special agents work with CBP officers and local law enforcement officials to seize fake goods — and the proceeds scammers make by selling them — to protect the American public.
While Operation Team Player does protect private industry business interests, two far more important factors are at play: American safety and American jobs.
Many counterfeit goods are made with substandard materials; in fact, they often contain toxic chemicals and may cause serious health risks. Fakes aren’t typically made to meet U.S. safety standards, and sometimes, they’re even fabricated overseas and smuggled into the United States.
These goods flood the market before major sporting events and take profits from legitimate sellers. Many consumers never realize that the items they’re interested in — or that they buy — are fakes. They’re simply drawn to lower prices, or, in some cases, convenience. Legitimate stores lose money to competitors selling cheap knockoffs, which means hardworking business owners and their staff members lose every time. Manufacturers lose their income streams, too, which puts Americans out of work.
“In partnership with the IPR Center, HSI, CBP, the Phoenix Police Department, the Glendale Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Operation Team Player has been a tremendous success in the NFL’s collaborative efforts to protect fans year-round from counterfeiting activity,” said NFL Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs Dolores DiBella during the news conference in Glendale. “We are grateful for this coordinated consumer protection initiative that has been so impactful year after year across the globe.”
The IPR Center helps protect Americans from potentially dangerous counterfeit goods, which flood the market before and during major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Scammers sell fake jerseys and other apparel; memorabilia such as rings, cups, blankets, flags and toys; and even fake tickets to sporting events. Many counterfeits are so good that it’s difficult to distinguish between them officially licensed products — and as a result, many people don’t even know they’ve been scammed.
Though counterfeiters often set up booths, tables and stores around venues to hawk their fake goods, they put a lot of effort into e-commerce, too.
“The NFL supports enforcement efforts across the country and around the globe in both the brick and mortar and ecommerce space … over the last year alone, the NFL has enforced against hundreds of thousands of counterfeit ecommerce listings, ads, sites and sellers,” said Bonnie Jarret, intellectual property counsel for the NFL. “As counterfeiters change their tactics, the NFL will remain committed to a broad range of consumer protection measures.”
“Our message to NFL fans today is simple: Watch out for criminals who are looking to scam consumers and illegally profit off the popularity of the NFL, your favorite team and the Super Bowl. Don’t put yourself at risk,” said Jarrett. “Buy authentic NFL merchandise from established retailers and online shops that you know and trust.”
Operation Team Player’s work is far from done, though. The special agents, other law enforcement officials and support personnel who run the operation will continue working throughout the Super Bowl and beyond.
In the meantime, Mancuso recognizes how important it is to partner with other agencies that have capabilities and authorities different from the IPR Center’s.
“On behalf of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, or IPR Center as we know it, I'd like to begin by thanking Homeland Security Investigations’ Arizona field office; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Phoenix and Glendale police departments, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, who have worked tirelessly alongside the IPR Center and the NFL to make this Super Bowl weekend a safe and enjoyable experience for all the fans who’ve come to Arizona,” Mancuso said.
The National Intellectual Property Rights Center prevents the sale and importation of dangerous counterfeit products. During Super Bowl 57, the IPR Center’s Operation Team Player is hard at work dismantling counterfeiters’ networks and taking potentially dangerous products off the streets.
How Operation Team Player Cleans Up Counterfeits
In a coordinated effort between the IPR Center, law enforcement agencies, and legitimate manufacturers and sellers, Operation Team Player takes down the counterfeiters and scammers trying to sell consumers fake products. The IPR Center and Operation Team Player combine cutting-edge investigative capabilities with law enforcement agencies’ authorities to get counterfeiters and their goods off the streets.
Operation Team Player is a year-round mission to catch people who try to pass off counterfeit sports merchandise, apparel, collectibles, memorabilia and even tickets. Special agents intercept jerseys, hats, blankets, T-shirts, championship rings and a wide range of other gear in a large-scale, global effort.
Why Counterfeits Harm Americans
Fake products can harm everyday Americans just like you. Often, they:
- Aren’t made to U.S. safety standards.
- Contain toxic chemicals.
- Are built with faulty and dangerous parts.
- Put Americans out of work.
Though a small number of people go out of their way to buy counterfeit goods because they’re cheaper or easier to access, most people who buy fakes don’t even know they’re doing it. They accidentally feed into the system, despite their good intentions.
But there’s good news: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the IPR Center and its partners in Operation Team Player are hard at work dismantling scammers’ networks and taking them down, one by one, to prevent them from swindling you out of your hard-earned money.
Super Bowl 57: HSI’s law enforcement partnerships are key to federal coordinator role
ICE's HSI has been a constant presence at the Super Bowl for many years, having built and maintained a successful partnership with the National Football League.
HSI personnel in the Phoenix area are coordinating federal efforts by working with a range of federal, state and local law enforcement partners to combat many of the criminal threats the league and Phoenix may face leading up to the big game on Feb. 12, 2023. These partner agencies include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, the Glendale Police Department, the Phoenix Police Department and others. Together, these agencies fill critical roles to secure the event.
“There [are] events happening all over the valley … from the NFL Experience downtown in the convention center to the NFL Honors happening at Symphony Hall, to the opening night concert at the Footprint Center,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown, who’s serving as the federal coordinator for the effort. “It's a massive security undertaking that requires federal support.”
Brown explained that at very large events, as competent and capable as the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety are, they require additional resources.
“One of the complicating factors for this year's Super Bowl is [that] we have the world's largest golf tournament happening on the same weekend, which is also drawing a lot of the public safety resources,” Brown said. “So, my role as the federal coordinator is to ensure that when they need federal resources — and that's a very wide range of things — that they have them so that they can execute the plans they've put in place fully and completely.”
Also key to securing the area is credentialling.
HSI receives and reviews all U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel requests working at the event. In coordination with state and local law enforcement as well as the National Football League, HSI provides credentials with access to the proper security zones. This process ensures that the appropriate reviews are conducted to ensure that authorized personnel with a specific need are granted appropriate access.
Officials shut down roads around the Convention Center in downtown Phoenix, where the NFL Super Bowl Experience takes place, in the run-up to the game.
“They have the Footprint Center, or the basketball stadium, that they have for some of their events, and every one of them has to be screened,” says HSI Arizona Assistant Special Agent in Charge and Assistant Federal Coordinator Tim Lenzen. “Every one of those areas is a specific security zone, so just because you have access into the convention center doesn't mean you get to go into the stadium, or into the Footprint Center or into the NFL hotels. So, there's a lot of different security zones that are implemented. Not only is it pre-week, but then they have a separate process for game day.”
Securing the public from illegal merchandise
Led by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, Operation Team Player is an ongoing effort targeting the illegal importation and trafficking of counterfeit sports merchandise. Criminals exploit fan enthusiasm during major sporting events like the Super Bowl by peddling counterfeit jerseys, hats and other sports merchandise to unsuspecting consumers. Partnering with the National Football League, federal agents crack down on those illegal activities.
Mancuso said the IPR Center acts as the conduit between private industry partners and the operational teams on the ground.
“We're here to support our HSI Arizona partners, as well as our U.S. Customs and Border Protection partners,” Mancuso said.
The IPR Center’s main mission is to protect the health and safety of American citizens.
“First and foremost, the IPR Center is for the health and safety of the American people, as well as the security of the American people,” Mancuso said. “What we're trying to do is we're trying to keep counterfeits out of the supply chain. We're also trying to educate the public on how to spot a counterfeit so their hard-earned dollars aren't going to substandard, inferior products.”
The IPR Center along with multi-agency enforcement teams have been busy protecting fans by identifying flea markets, shopping malls, swap meets, pop-up tens, road side stands, businesses and individuals selling merchandise to identify and seize counterfeit items. Individuals found selling or trafficking counterfeit merchandise will be referred for criminal prosecution as well as potential civil penalties.
Special security for high-risk events
This annual final game of the National Football League is a special event and, as a result, is routinely designated a national security special event (NSSE) that is given a special event assessment rating, or SEAR.
The Super Bowl is considered a SEAR 1 event, a designation given to high-risk events such as the president’s State of the Union address, presidential inaugural ceremonies, papal visits and other similar gatherings that may be targeted. SEAR 1 events call for supplemental security; it’s no longer just the host city’s responsibility.
While the city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona will remain key players by bringing experience and knowledge of local threats, assets, traffic patterns and personalities to the table, federal partnerships are helping round out Super Bowl 57’s security.
Numerous federal agencies join state and local police departments in protecting the Super Bowl, including: ICE's HSI; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Secret Service; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the Department of Defense.
Since last year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles, these agencies’ leaders have worked together to produce plans and drills and assess overall readiness to ensure safety and security leading up to the game. Each entity has provided access to federal intelligence and law enforcement databases, as well as hundreds of trained K-9 teams (most from the military); detection teams for nuclear, chemical and biological hazards; and response and mitigation teams for potential weapons of mass destruction.
HSI plays a key role by working with other law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Brown says HSI utilizes its unique authorities by leading the way in investigating intellectual property along with local, state and federal partners, for example.
Each year, as football fans touchdown in the host city to watch the game, HSI is working the streets weeks ahead by monitoring for counterfeit apparel that they can take off the tables and shelves of vendors as well as shutdown some of the stores selling these items.
The dangers of buying counterfeit products aren’t always obvious. There are economic impacts, legal implications and health and safety risks that are important to know.
The focus is also on cutting off the suppliers of these illicit goods by dismantling transnational criminal organizations. Each time you buy a counterfeit item, a legitimate company loses revenue and damage is done to their brand reputation. This translates to lost profits and the loss of U.S. jobs over time.
“HSI is fortunate to be the lead investigative agency here in Phoenix, conducting intellectual property investigations,” HSI Arizona Deputy Special Agent in Charge Eric McLoughlin said.
“But that doesn't mean we do it all. We have terrific partnerships with the Phoenix Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, as well as our partners in the National Football League.”
Other security challenges
In addition to intellectual property rights and counterfeit merchandise, HSI oversees security in the area. Streets around the convention center and State Farm Stadium are shut down for security reasons.
Each area in the city is designated as a specific security zone, and officials grant credentials for zones based on operational needs. Lenzen said the process of credentialing is complex and time-consuming. He says he has processed nearly 700 credentialing requests so far.
“Not only did we have to try and coordinate with the agencies to put them in the specific areas, but then you had to research as to why those folks needed to have access,” Lenzen said. “My initial review of all those applications gets completed and then I send it over to the NFL. The NFL then reviews it. If there are no questions, and then it goes to the DPS, or Department of Public Safety, which handles the security inside the stadium.
Another key safety issue present at the Super Bowl: drugs.
In January, agents in southern Arizona seized more than 100 pounds of what they suspect is a precursor chemical often used to manufacture the dangerous drug fentanyl, a chilling sign that producers may be moving to manufacture the deadly synthetic opioid on American soil.
“You know, we're dealing with unprecedented flows of fentanyl coming into the country,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown.” Arizona is the leading area where fentanyl is entering the country. And that's a mission that can't stop; and that's a mission that we must make sure we're not impeding, while we're also covering down the requirements to provide a safe Super Bowl.”