Homeland Security Increasingly Means Putting Agents Outside the Homeland

A surveillance mission earlier this month with Homeland Security agents in drug transit zones near South America highlights the department’s efforts to push out the border. Just after takeoff from a Costa Rican airfield, a crew of agents aboard a Customs and Border Protection surveillance plane began tracking a low-flying aircraft that appeared to be headed south toward Ecuador.

The aircraft, which intelligence reports reviewed by agents indicated had no flight plan, flew just a few hundred feet above the ocean — an apparent attempt to avoid detection by radar.

“When they are flying that low, they’re probably up to no good,” said Timothy Flynn, a senior detection agent, watching the plane on a radar screen.

An hour later, and hiding in the cloud cover to stay out of sight, the American P-3 pulled up behind the plane. An agent with a long-lens digital camera snapped a string of photos of the plane’s tail number and other identifying details. Mr. Flynn radioed the information to authorities in Ecuador who were waiting when the plane landed, arresting seven people and seizing more than 800 pounds of cocaine aboard.

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Suspected members of the “Yahoo Boys,” a Nigerian criminal ring, were arrested by Homeland Security Investigations agents and the South African Police Service in Pretoria in 2014.

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations

Ecuador may embrace the Homeland Security agents, but other allies say the department’s foreign reach is a stretch.

In Germany, some lawmakers have questioned the department’s counterterrorism Immigration Advisory Program, where travelers at foreign airports are investigated and sometimes interviewed by plainclothes Customs and Border Protection officers before they are allowed to board flights to the United States.

Those American officers can recommend that airlines deny boarding…

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