June 29, 2006

US, Canada crack brazen drug-smuggling network

By Allan Dowd

BELLINGHAM, Washington (Reuters) - U.S. and Canadian
authorities have cracked a smuggling network that used aircraft
and delivery spots in remote western parks to ship tons of
drugs over the border, officials said on Thursday.

Pilots taking advantage of the sparsely populated border
between eastern Washington state and British Columbia made
brazen daylight deliveries in the wilderness, carrying potent
"BC Bud" marijuana to the United States and cocaine into
Canada, police said.

Officials said one of the suspects was recorded bragging
that the Canadian-based smuggling system was more efficient
than FedEx because it could deliver its loads anywhere in
Washington state.

"They thought they were beyond the reach of the law," Julie
Myers, an assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, told a Bellingham news conference that featured
surveillance recordings of drug deliveries.

Officials did not estimate the total value of the drugs
moved by the smugglers, but the video showed a helicopter
delivering 800-pound (360-kg) loads of British Columbia-raised
marijuana that can sell in the United States for more than
$3,000 a pound.

The two-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Frozen
Timber," has resulted in the arrests of more than 40 people in
the United States and six in Canada -- with some of the U.S.
arrests dating back to early last year.

The announcement came as some American politicians have
expressed concern about security on the U.S.-Canada border in
the wake of the recent arrests of 17 terrorism suspects in

Officials in Bellingham took pains to stress the
cooperation between police in both countries.

"My experience tells me that when our counties enjoy strong
partnerships, like the one demonstrated here today, we are
effective in combating organized crime," said Bud Mercer, chief
superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The border in the Pacific Northwest has long been used for
smuggling, largely with marijuana and illegal immigrants
transported into the United States and cocaine and guns shipped
into Canada.

Officials said the transportation network targeted by this
investigation was the most sophisticated they had seen, using
aircraft -- primarily helicopters and small planes, some
equipped to land on lakes and rivers.

James McDevitt, the U.S. attorney for eastern Washington
and a pilot, said the rugged wilderness terrain made
enforcement difficult.

"It's about as remote as you'll ever find. Who wants to pay
for a radar shed on every peak and every mountain?" McDevitt