Published June 05, 2009
Three U.S. Customs race aboard a speedboat through Biscayne Bay near Miami.
"We just wanted to see if it would be of any interest to you," the radio crackles.
"Yeah, let's dress up!" an agent responds as he pulls his bulletproof vest over his head. "10-4. Good copy. We're heading that way."
And with that, this U.S. Customs and Border Protection marine interdiction team is off to intercept a suspicious boat heading from Bimini to Miami, a notorious drug and human smuggling route.
Aboard a Customs plane, it's Bill Wolfe's job to find the smugglers.
"We're more interested in the small boats, the go-fast types," he says.
It's a job made much easier by this state-of-the art plane, and in particular, a black bubble under its belly.
It has revolutionized how Homeland Security monitors everything coming in and out of U.S. waters. It has cameras, infrared and powerful radar, which combined can instantly track thousands of boats scattered across 200 miles of ocean.
"We've picked up literally weed lines and birds on Styrofoam containers," says Wolfe. "So if there's anything out there, this radar will 99.9 percent of the time pick it up."
That technology, Wolfe says, leads to an increase in interceptions, like a recent one where U.S. officers fired shotgun blasts to kill the engines of a boat smuggling humans.
On the surface, your vision's limited, your radar range is limited and suspect smuggling boats can be camouflaged by the lighting and wave size. But with this technology up above, it is the equivalent of adding hundreds of interdiction boats.
It turns out the boat from Bimini was clean, ending that chase for the marine team. But with these new planes providing the eyes, there are now more interdictions than ever.