Shadow Wolves provide unique approach to law enforcement
Located in a remote area of Arizona that shares a 76-mile stretch of land with the Mexico border, the Tohono O'odham Nation became a thoroughfare for smugglers.
"It's the reality of living on the border," said Rodney Irby, assistant special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Sells, Ariz. "There was a definitive drug smuggling threat on the second largest Indian reservation in the United States."
That's why the residents of the Tohono O'odham Nation embarked on a unique partnership with ICE's legacy agency, the U.S. Customs Service, in 1974. The two organizations formed the Shadow Wolves, ICE's tactical patrol unit.
"To date, we are the first and only federal law enforcement agency authorized a permanent residence on the Tohono O'odham Nation which is comparable in size to the state of Connecticut," said Irby.
When the partnership was established, the U.S. Customs Service agreed to hire Native American officers to serve as part of the Shadow Wolves. ICE upholds this commitment today.
"The Shadow Wolves enable us to develop intelligence from a somewhat closed society that wouldn't be available to non-community members," said Irby. "[They are] also expert trackers. They use their Native American tracking skills that were instilled in them when they were young for hunting and tracking livestock and apply those skills to locating smugglers in the remote desert terrain."
Shadow Wolves officers patrol smuggling corridors based on information from the community. They start a mission when someone finds signs – animal indicators, footprints or evidence of backpackers. Sometimes they work on foot, and other times, by vehicle. It is not uncommon for a Shadow Wolves officer to work continuously for 24 hours to catch someone.
The unit was heavily involved in the success of Operation Pipeline Express, a 17-month multi-agency investigation responsible for dismantling a massive narcotics trafficking organization suspected of smuggling more than $33 million worth of drugs each month through Arizona's western desert. Since October, the Shadow Wolves have seized 20,719 pounds of marijuana and 20 vehicles and made 8 arrests.
From the FBI
Inside the Denver JTTF
Part 1: Vigilance Against Terrorism
It was September 2009—a few days before the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—when the Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) received word that a Colorado resident and al Qaeda recruit was about to carry out a major terrorist attack. The jihadist needed to be located with the utmost urgency.
“We got the call on Labor Day,” recalled Special Agent John Scata, who supervises one of Denver's two international terrorism squads, “and we immediately began working around the clock.”
Using the JTTF's multi-agency approach to conducting investigations and gathering and sharing intelligence, task force members located Najibullah Zazi and helped track him to New York City, where he intended to become a suicide bomber in the subway system around the time of the 9/11 anniversary. “If we hadn't found him in Denver as quickly as we did,” Scata said, “he might have gone into the wind and things could have turned out differently.”
Zazi and two of his high school classmates had previously traveled to Pakistan to receive al Qaeda training, including how to make bombs. His self-described plot to “weaken America” by killing innocent subway riders has been characterized as one of the most serious terrorist threats to the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks.
“Zazi is part of the spread of homegrown violent extremism in America,” said James Yacone, special agent in charge of our Denver office. “He was trained internationally but he became radicalized in the U.S. through the Internet. He was planning and facilitating his attack in Colorado, but his target was New York City.”
The plot was foiled thanks to an all-out effort by law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world. Much of that effort was focused through Denver's JTTF, which is comprised of more than 20 local, state, and federal agencies. There are actually three separate squads that form the task force—two that deal with international terrorism and one that concentrates on domestic terrorism.
Begun in 1994, Denver has one of the Bureau's oldest JTTFs (our New York office established the first in 1980). “Our task force is very active,” said Yacone. “The Zazi case was well publicized, but our squads handle many other counterterrorism investigations—international and domestic. Protecting the country from terror attacks is the FBI's number one priority.”
The JTTF's team concept works well, Yacone explained. “All the local and state police officers and detectives on the task force have the same clearances that our agents do. They sit side by side, work together, and have the same access to all our resources.” More than 100 FBI-led JTTFs located around the country are organized the same way.
John Nagengast, a detective with Colorado's Aurora Police Department, is a JTTF task force officer who worked on the Zazi case. “I am basically a local cop who deals with local crime,” he said. “Working the Zazi case opened up my world to the threat of terrorism.”
Nagengast explained that “a lot of entities were involved in the investigation, including the military and the intelligence community—and the Denver JTTF was central to the operation. We were ground zero for the Zazi investigation.” He added, “I got to see very quickly how the Bureau, locals, and state law enforcement came together with agencies around the world to prevent this attack. It was amazing to be a part of it.”
Next: The Colorado fusion center—a key JTTF partner.