Lee Takaki, a supervisory CBP officer in Minneapolis, examines a counterfeit Minnesota Vikings jersey at an express consignment carrier facility not far from the site of Super Bowl LII, Jan. 29. Photo by Glenn Fawcett

Super Bowl MVP – Most Valuable Protector: CBP a Big Player in Protecting America’s Biggest Game Attendees

By John Davis
Frontline Magazine

During Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles’ and New England Patriots’ offenses put up a record-setting total number of yards and a plethora of points. The Eagles soared to a 41-33 win.

Outside the stadium in Minneapolis, defense ruled the day, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection played a key role in a multi-agency effort that brought together federal, state and local officials.

“The other bird is at your 8 o’clock and close,” said the sensor operator in an AS350 helicopter, better known as the AStar, circling the stadium in downtown Minneapolis just a few days before the big game. “Got it,” the pilot quickly shot back, showing full situational awareness of airspace around the stadium.

About 65 AMO personnel and six aircraft – three UH-60 Black Hawk and three AStar helicopters – worked the Super Bowl this year. They were part of a larger 150-plus force of AMO agents and officers, Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, import specialists and others from CBP locations all around the country.

“We had people from Baltimore to California on the job in and around Minneapolis,” said Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison, the lead field coordinator for CBP operations at the Super Bowl.

The diversity of the mission, whether it was security, law enforcement or intellectual property rights protections – and the chance to interact with other federal, state and local law enforcement – gave his team much to draw upon for their regular duties back at the ports and along America’s borders.

“Every operation brings a new experience to the table,” Harrison said. “We all learn from each other.”

In the air, AMO had two main missions: be the eyes in the sky and help keep the air space around the stadium safe.

“We provided an aerial downlink with cameras mounted on our birds feeding live video back to the joint operations centers back on the ground, as well as providing that extra level of air security,” said Jonathan Johnson, a supervisory air interdiction agent at a small airport just a few minutes flying time from downtown Minneapolis. “The people back on the ground can ask for our AStar operators to provide video of a particular part of the city. We can check out a suspicious vehicle or people and eliminate any questions of what’s happening on the ground.”

The job of keeping the helicopters air-worthy fell to the maintenance teams.

“We need to keep these birds flying,” said Matt Swazey, a contract aircraft mechanic from Detroit. “We’re keeping them safe, because our aircrews have an important mission to support. And we’re here to support them.”

AMO was in the area for about a week and a half before Super Bowl Sunday, patrolling the area.

CBP officers conduct X-ray inspections on commercial vehicles destined to deliver provisions and equipment for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Jan. 30. Photo by Glenn Fawcett

On game day, the Black Hawk crews detected, tracked and coordinated the interdiction of aircraft violating a temporary no-fly zone for miles around the stadium. If any aircraft violated that air space, CBP was ready to intercept. CBP, the Department of Defense, other federal assets and local law enforcement had been planning and coordinating security for more than a year.

“This is a large puzzle with a lot of moving parts,” Johnson said.

In the run-up to the game, CBP screened thousands of vehicles that carried in the food, souvenirs, high-definition television equipment and fans to celebrate this year’s Super Bowl.

It’s a process made quicker and easier with CBP’s non-intrusive inspection equipment. A large X-ray machine for semitrailers is used, while a smaller, more mobile version of the same technology mounted on the back of a truck is used to scan personal vehicles, delivery vans and recreational vehicles.

“We scan vehicles coming in for explosives, weapons and anything that might look out of place,’” said James Askin, a CBP officer from the Port of Newark, New Jersey, operating inspection equipment in the back of a giant X-ray truck under a tent at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, just a few miles from the stadium. “Nothing gets in without our thumbs-up.”

“These machines basically take an X-ray of a vehicle,” said Gerald Durand, a CBP watch commander at the Minneapolis Service Port. “That saves us a great deal of time, allowing us to search each vehicle in just seven to ten minutes,” an important aspect when you consider the hundreds of vehicles that the port of entry checks every day.

The large X-ray machine scans both sides of large items, including semis and cargo containers and usually is used at ports of entry. It’s able to detect anything from big, hidden compartments down to small packages or even something as small as a handgun. It even detects people being smuggled in a trailer or vehicle.

This article originally appeared in Frontline Magazine, a news publication run by CBP. Read the full original report at CBP’s website.

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