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U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Wendy Bashnan (left) gets a close look as ATA-trained Paraná State Military Police officers pull contraband electronics from hidden compartments inside a Paraguayan passenger taxi on the Friendship Bridge, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, August 13, 2019. Police arrested the taxi driver on smuggling charges. (U.S. Department of State photo)

It is rare for American diplomats visiting overseas posts to see the results of State Department-provided antiterrorism police training in real time. But on August 13, 2019, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Wendy Bashnan and U.S. Consul General Sao Paulo Adam Shub experienced such an opportunity in Brazil.

The diplomats were visiting Brazilian law enforcement officials at the Brazilian border of the international bridge that connects Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, with Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. While there, officers with the Paraná State Military Police/Border Police Battalion spotted a suspicious driver entering Brazil in a taxi service van with Paraguayan license plates.

The officers at the bridge, who had received training in border security operations from the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program, instructed the driver to pull his van over for further scrutiny. The officers noticed the vehicle had been modified to enable the transport of contraband. The border security officers then directed the driver and passengers to step out of the van, and then they searched the vehicle. In just minutes, the officers began to pull dozens of small bubble-wrapped packages of contraband digital devices from hidden compartments inside the van, under the chassis, and inside the engine compartment. The driver was arrested and his passengers had to find other transportation. Police seized both the contraband electronics and the vehicle.

An officer monitoring the operation explained that transnational criminal organizations can turn a healthy profit in Brazil on the sale of smuggled electronic products at below-market prices. The officer estimated the seized electronic merchandize would have generated several thousand dollars of profit at black market prices.

Officers said they could identify and disrupt only a small percentage of the illicit goods crossing the bridge each day, but the unit’s ATA training, including instruction in behavioral observation, has helped them better identify suspicious individuals – who often turn out to be smugglers among the approximately 30,000 vehicles crossing the bridge each day. In fact, so many smugglers are intercepted at the bridge on a regular basis that Brazilian authorities have set up a table with a large sign reading “Operation Integrated Border” to display and photograph evidence every time they make a seizure of contraband. The unit uses ATA’s “train the trainer” approach to replicate the border security courses with fellow officers in other locations.

U.S. law enforcement agencies have long-standing concerns over the possible convergence of terrorism and transnational crime in the Tri-Border region, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina share a land border. For example, in late 2018, Brazilian police arrested Ahmad Barakat, a major Hizballah financier, in Foz do Iguacu, and he is awaiting extradition to Paraguay.

Established by Congress in 1983, the ATA program is the premier counterterrorism training and equipment provider for specialized police units in friendly foreign nations. Funded by the Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and implemented on the ground by the Diplomatic Security Service, the ATA program has evolved into a key pillar of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy, partnering with 154 nations to train and equip law enforcement partners whose actions save lives.

For Over Six Decades, U.S. Marine Security Guards Have Worked Closely With The U.S. Department Of State And Its Bureau Of Diplomatic Security To Protect And Safeguard American Diplomacy.
For Over Six Decades, U.S. Marine Security Guards Have Worked Closely With The U.S. Department Of State And Its Bureau Of Diplomatic Security To Protect And Safeguard American Diplomacy.

 

U.S. Department of State

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