Skip to comments.Shadow Wolves Stalk Border Smugglers
Posted on 11/13/2002 9:00:41 AM PST by zingzang
LOS ANGELES Innovations in law enforcement help many arms of justice but when it comes to tracking drug smugglers on the U.S.-Mexico border, native intuition may be the smartest weapon yet.
The Shadow Wolves is an elite U.S. Customs unit based in the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation in Arizona. It is composed solely of Native Americans of Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Pima tribes who are known for their uncanny ability to track aliens and the drugs they may carry.
"Instead of tracking an animal, we track human beings," agent Bryan Nez said.
Twenty-three Shadow Wolves patrol an area the size of Connecticut. It may resemble the middle of nowhere, but the 5,000-square-mile stretch of the Mexican border is the frontline of homeland security for America.
Trained as marksmen and trackers, the Shadow Wolves intercepted one-third of all the marijuana stopped by customs in Arizona in 2001.
"This is what we do every day. Day in, day out, we track," said agent Mike Kittson.
And this sensitive area has become overwhelmed by drug smuggling, said Richard Saunders, chief of the Tohono Police Department. "Just in the last year alone we have seized more than 65,000 pounds of marijuana destined for the backyard of the United States," he told Fox News.
But, even with all the assistance they bring, Tohono hasnt received anything yet in federal government aide to help the reservations borders, Saunders said.
"The American Patriot Act and the number of letters -- pages that are included in that -- there is absolutely no mention of dollars to Indian country in general, reservations, nations or law enforcement," he said.
In 1972 the Shadow Wolves originated to help stop the smuggling of contraband on reservations, according to the Native American Press/Ojibwe News, and they used their skills to stop marijuana from crossing the reservation on its way to other destinations.
Now, they are teaching their tracking skills to foreign governments to help them hunt down weapons of mass destruction, NAP/ON reported.
"Shadow Wolves use the skills they often learned as children: tracking game on the reservation or finding free-ranging livestock that may have wandered away. These early skills translate to much finer skills later in professional tracking," NAP/ON reported.
"A group of Shadow Wolves recently traveled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to train national police, border guards and customs officers on how to detect and track potential weapons of mass destruction smugglers who cross their borders."
And the tricks they teach are utilized daily at the Mexican border.
No matter how barren or desolate the desert may appear, the Shadow Wolves say there is a story told in the sand. They have become so effective at stopping narcotics smugglers that smugglers will unfurl a blanket before crossing a road so they leave no tracks. However, everyone leaves a trace of something behind.
Tiny burlap fibers sticking to tree branches suggest smugglers' packhorses still carry their bundles of marijuana.
Smugglers have started strapping pieces of carpet to their shoes, hoping to throw off the Shadow Wolves.
But the faint impressions leave a trail leading to drug sales across the country. In just one day the Shadow Wolves seized 800 pounds of pot.
"It is not about the stuff we miss," said Kittson. "Its about the stuff we get."
And its not just the locals who are in need of protection from illegal border smugglers, Edward Emanuel, chairman of the Tohono Oodham Nation, told Fox News.
"They're in danger, not only our people, but also the people in the United States because we don't know who's coming through," he said. "It's not just the nationals the Mexican nationals, but people from other countries are coming through here."
Fox News' Amy C. Sims contributed to this report.
Can we clone these guys and their units and put them all over the border!?
Half a world away up north by the Navajo res. ;) I saw this spot on Fox and it made my day. WTG Shadow Wolves!
Just this morning, the local news (Phoenix News 3) chopper had live footage of what must have been these guys in action. They identified them as Oodham Swat police. DPS and Customs Narcotics were also involved. Also a Blackhawk chopper.
When they got to the Suburban they were after, they signaled that the smugglers had fled. They gave the location as Stanfield, AZ. I will be looking updates.
I thought it was only 300 miles from one to the other?
LOS ANGELES -- They are the only customs unit that uses ancient American Indian tracking skills to hunt down drug smugglers.
NBC4 accompanied the team on a raid where they uncovered drug-runners hiding in a stash house. They carried their 200-pound load of dope in backpacks across the Mexican border right into Arizona's Tohono O'odham reservation.
The area where the reservation lies is a land of fiery skies and Sawaro cactus and it's the ancient secrets passed down through Indian tribes that makes these drug busts possible.
The U.S. Customs Police on the reservation are all Native Americans who call themselves Shadow Wolves. They track smugglers as they trek across a treacherous stretch of desert. How do they do it?
Officer Bob Antone, from the Tohono O'ohdam tribe, relies on tribal tracking skills. He scours the ground for fresh tracks or the faint impression of carpet, which smugglers attach to their shoes to hide footprints.
A broken branch that's already dried out is a sign to him that drug-runners came through a while ago. "They've got their packs on, and they'd be coming through like this, brushing onto here," said Antone. He also finds another sign: fibers from burlap sacks that cling to branches.
All 21 U.S. Customs officers learned these ancient secrets from their elders.
"I had done some tracking with my dad out hunting," said Antone.
But these tribal members no longer hunt animals -- now, the hunt drug-runners.
A village known as Cowlick, about 20 miles or so from the Mexican border, seems quiet and peaceful, but in reality it's home to several known stash houses.
The Shadow Wolves seize an average of 1,000 pounds of dope each week -- and that's not all.
Bryan Nez, a Navaho Indian, says since Sept. 11, the Shadow Wolves also look for terrorists.
"We had a couple of officers find some foot signs. Right up at the load-up area he found the passports of Middle Eastern origin," said Nez.
A fence at the border between Mexico and the reservation acts as a minor obstacle to individuals trying to get across the borders.
"See this one, it looks like the Mexican army," said Nez as he pointed out another foot sign.
Officer Jason Garcia told NBC4 that there is some suspicion that the Mexican army is actually working with the drug smugglers.
When asked if he is wary when he spots the Mexican military along the border, Garcia said he was worried they might "shoot at us, or who knows what they are going to do."
Another secret the Shadow Wolves shared with NBC4 when examining foot signs was what the presence of animal tracks over foot impressions means.
"These footprints are from earlier. (They are) older, because desert creatures have had time to run over them," explained one officer.
When officers happen onto a trail that looks fresh and it looks promising, they then resort to some high-tech equipment like night-vision goggles.
The Shadow Wolves carry their heritage and find their prey -- load by load. Responsible for a third of the customs service seizures in all of Arizona, they continue to be the only unit of their kind
Good point. Maybe the government can learn a lesson from this. Let's hope so.