How Illegal Items Are Found And Destroyed At JFK Airport


[Narrator] About 43,000
international travelers fly in to New York’s John F.
Kennedy Airport every day. By passenger volume,
it’s the US’s largest international
airport of entry. And in just
Terminal 4 alone, that equates to almost
1,000 bags an hour. And in those suitcases,
there’s a lot of stuff, some of which isn’t
allowed into the country, including 120 pounds
of food per day. So what happens
to all those confiscated items
anyway? If you flew in to
JFK in the ’90s, getting something into
the US was a lot easier. But after 9/11,
a conversation started about how to
protect the country from dangerous foods,
drugs, and people. And US Customs and
Border Protection, as it’s known today,
was formed. You’ll generally see two kinds of CBP
officials at airports: officers, like Steve, and agriculture
specialists, like Ginger. Their job is to find,
seize, and destroy millions of items each year that don’t belong
in the United States. It’s a big job, and sometimes
it requires a sidekick, a sidekick on four legs. Steve Robinson:
This is Canine Spike. Look, Spike. He is an 8-year-old
Belgian Malinois. I’ve been his only
handler from day one. He’s trained in narcotics. During the duration
of our career, probably seized over
400 different seizures. [Narrator] CBP officials
like Steve identify high-risk
individuals trying to enter into the US, as well as drugs
and firearms. And because these
are such high stakes, dogs like Spike are
trained in a special way, in what’s called
“passive response,” meaning if they
sniff out drugs, they don’t scratch,
they don’t bark, and they don’t
make a scene. They sit. And if they’re right,
the dog gets rewarded. Robinson: His reward is
actually this toy right here. So he likes to play, so. Ain’t that right? You like to play!
You like to play! Yes you do! Yes you do! Let me see it! Let me see it! Here at the port,
we’ve caught up to 16 keys of ecstasy recently. [Narrator] Narcotics
are then seized and sent to be incinerated. The incinerator’s
location is kept a secret, as a matter of
national security. Now, pretty much
everyone knows that narcotics aren’t
allowed through US borders, but actually, drugs aren’t
the most commonly seized item at JFK. Food is. When a regular traveler
arrives in the US, they’re required to declare any food items
they’re bringing in, or face up to a $1,000
fine for the first offense. These items aren’t taken
because agents want to eat your yummy Spanish
ham or Caribbean mangos. It’s because
agents are responsible for protecting
American agriculture from any foreign
pests or diseases that could affect
our livestock or crops. And that’s where
agricultural specialists like Ginger come in. Ginger Perrone: Everything
gets destroyed to protect against
that pest risk. We are protecting the country’s
agricultural interests. We’re protecting
against bioterrorism, where someone
could intentionally try to bring in items to wreak havoc
in this country. [Narrator] Foreign bugs
hitchhiking in luggage have wreaked havoc
in the US before. Florida’s orange and
grapefruit growers lost $2.9 billion
from 2007 to 2014 thanks to the
Asian citrus psyllid. And since being introduced
into the US in the ’90s, the Asian
longhorned beetle has ravaged
hardwood trees. Eradication efforts
between 1997 and 2010 cost more than
$373 million. James Armstrong:
In our country, we go into
the grocery store and the food
is always there. We don’t have to
look at it for holes or check if it’s got
some disease on it. It always looks great, so
we get kind of spoiled, and we don’t
really understand the importance
of protecting that. [Narrator] So it’s
crucial that even a single stowaway orange is
found and confiscated. But with 34 million annual
international passengers to and from JFK, going
through each of those bags can seem pretty
impossible. For humans, that is. Luckily, they’ve got
a little help from the Beagle Brigade. This four-legged
officer is Biscuit, and like Spike, Biscuit is
trained in passive response. But Biscuit’s trained to sniff
out food rather than drugs. Sal DiSpigna:
They actually learn. They start out with
five target odors, and then over the
years he’ll expand, and they retire
with sometimes, like, 150 odors that they know. [Narrator] And Biscuit’s
pretty good at sniffing. These beagles have an estimated 90%
accuracy rate. Armstrong: Watching your
dog sit on three grapes in a Samsonite
hardside suitcase is just incredible. Scientists say their nose is 1,000
times stronger than ours. And they prove it
every single day. [Narrator] Once Biscuit
sniffs out an item, the passenger in question
and their bags go to Ginger, who will X-ray and
search the luggage. Perrone: OK, these are
both your bags, correct? OK, did you pack
everything yourselves? You packed your
bags yourself? OK. [Narrator] Ginger
unzips the bag and searches
each one by hand. And if she finds something
that’s not allowed, it’s seized and held
in temporary bins. Perrone: This is very
common from that region. Once you open it all up,
you have grape leaves. These are
horse-meat sausages. This is another very
good example of what we get
very frequently, especially in
the springtime: This is a plant that
they’re planning on bringing here to grow. So anything for
propagation has additional
entry requirements. So this is two families’
worth from one flight. [Narrator] JFK disposes
of the contraband food in one of two ways: the grinder, or
the incinerator. Ginger will bag up
the seized items and label them based on
their final destination. Perrone: So we’re gonna
go walk this bin, nice and full from those
two passengers, down to our
contraband room. [Narrator] This is the room where illicit food
meets its end. Perrone: This is our
grinding machine. This is what we’ll generally
use for fruits, vegetables, that kind of commodities. It is called the
“Muffin Monster.” [Narrator] But
before Ginger can send a piece of fruit
down the Muffin Monster, she cuts it open, squishes
it, and inspects it. She’s looking for
evidence of diseases, insertion points for insects,
and exit points for larvae. If she finds a little
bug, like this one, she neutralizes
the pest risk and sends it to the US
Department of Agriculture for further investigation. Now it’s back to
the Muffin Monster: 120 pounds of food
are grinded up each day from arriving
international passengers. Avocados, mangos,
and citrus are among the most
common fruits that end up in the grinder. Perrone: We do get messy. It’s important to
dispose of it properly. I love to eat, as much
as everybody else. I am a big fan of food. But I know the importance
of making sure that what we seized, because
of established risks, is disposed of properly to prevent it from
causing problems. [Narrator] So the next
time you’ve got an orange tucked into your luggage, declare it, and
let experts like Ginger decide if it’s admissible. And leave the serrano
ham in Spain, because Biscuit will find it.

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