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TOP STORY: El Paso Intelligence Center turns raw data into actionable intelligence

El Paso Intelligence Center turns raw data into actionable intelligence
El Paso Intelligence Center turns raw data into actionable intelligence
El Paso Intelligence Center turns raw data into actionable intelligence

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agent contacted the El Paso Intelligence Center to place a nationwide alert on a vehicle of interest. The next day, the special agent received notice on his BlackBerry that a camera at a southwest border port of entry had captured an image of the vehicle's license plate. Border authorities stopped the vehicle, which was en route to Mexico, because of the nationwide alert. They discovered and seized an array of weapons in the vehicle's trunk.

The El Paso Intelligence Center is an information focal point, collecting and analyzing interdiction reports and multi-source intelligence to identify and track trafficking activities and organizations, identify and fill intelligence gaps, and provide tactical intelligence to law enforcement officers in the field.

The multi-agency center is hosted by the Drug Enforcement Agency and has grown to include more than 26 federal, state, local, tribal and foreign enforcement agencies. Foreign partners include Mexico and Colombia.

Located within a stone's throw of the Mexican border – in El Paso, Texas – its mission is not limited to only border activity. In fact, its scope is vast, covering activity within the United States, on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border, across the Caribbean and from other points of origin within the Western Hemisphere.

"The center's mission evolved after Sept. 11 when then center's multi-agency environment was called upon to support terrorism investigations," said Louie Garcia, the center's deputy director and the first ICE employee to hold this position in the center's 38-year history. "The mission evolved from its experience in supporting interdiction efforts and investigating drug trafficking, alien, weapon and bulk currency smuggling by adding anti-terrorism to its efforts."

Garcia calls it an "all-threat center."

Its expansive network of systems and databases make it the go-to hub for investigators and officers alike.

At the core of the center's activities is the Watch Operations Section, where officers work around the clock, seven days a week to support officers and special agents who are actively engaged in enforcement activities and in need of immediate tactical information. Utilizing more than 70 federal, state and local databases, the staff has a wealth of critical information at its fingertips to assist at a moment's notice.

A Tuscaloosa County deputy sheriff recently relied on the center when he had a hunch that something wasn't right about a Texas-registered tractor trailer. He made a call to the center's Watch Operations Section, requesting a full search on two subjects, the trucking company and the trailer's license plate. Within minutes, the center's search revealed there was an active investigation by HSI on one of the subjects. Additionally during the search of the trailer, the deputy found $130,000 in U.S. currency tucked away in a false wall.

Having this type of background information at hand enables officers to make better decisions and enhance their safety measures.

Additionally, the center's Research and Analysis Section also offers valuable information. It provides statistical and trend information to case-specific research and analysis, both proactively and on a by-request basis.

"The center's mission, and the work conducted at the center, is vital to our national security," said Garcia.