How Customs At JFK Searches 1 Million Mail Packages A Day

How Customs At JFK Searches 1 Million Mail Packages A Day

About 1 million packages arrive at John F. Kennedy
International Airport every day. And just like travelers
have to go through customs, so do international packages. The US Customs and Border
Protection, or CBP, is tasked with screening all of them. They’re looking for anything that isn’t legally allowed in the US; certain foods, animals,
drugs, and counterfeit goods. JFK is one of nine international
mail facilities in the US. It’s essentially the
country’s biggest mail room, dealing with roughly 60% of all international packages
entering the country. First, the packages are taken off arriving passenger or cargo planes and transported to the US Postal Service’s mail room on site. They’re sorted and then taken
to the CBP mail facility next door for inspection. CBP uses a three-tiered strategy to efficiently search
each of these packages; intelligence gathering,
nonintrusive inspection, and hand inspection. We followed two units searching for drugs and counterfeit items. Before a package ever lands in the US, CBP gathers intelligence on the sender, the container, and the aircraft. They’ll check with
law-enforcement partners like Homeland Security,
the DEA, and the FBI to see if there’s anything of interest. This is how CBP narrows
down a million packages to ones that will get flagged
for further inspection. Once a suspicious package is pulled, it goes to the CBP inspection area. This is where human CBP
officers get a little help. Here, a four-legged officer, like Alex, will search hundreds of
packages in 20-minute runs. These dogs are trained to sniff
out seven different drugs. Michael Lake: The drugs
that they are trained for are hash, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy,
as well as fentanyl. Narrator: If Alex finds something, he’ll notify his handler
by sitting or lying down. If he’s right, he gets his chew toy. Lake: This is the game that they work for. All right, it’s good play. Here’s a good boy, good boy. Narrator: And if Alex or
one of his furry friends comes in contact with a drug, officers have the antidote Narcan on hand. Nearby, CBP officers are using another nonintrusive search tool: X-rays. Nathanial Needham: When
I first started this, I would literally open up everything ’cause I couldn’t tell what the image was. But eventually, after you
do thousands of parcels, opening them up and
comparing them to image, now you start getting
good. You can identify, oh, that’s this, oh, that’s this. We can let that go because of this. Narrator: If they see
something on an X-ray monitor that looks suspicious, officers
will isolate the package. Needham: Can we pull that one, actually? Narrator: Isolated packages go
through an intrusive search. Officers will cut them open to hand-search for drugs
or counterfeit goods. Needham: I always got taught, basically, expect a package to be something
that’s going to your mom, so that if it is good, it’s
coming back to your mom the same way that it’s supposed to be. This is common. It’s,
like, from back home. It’s pills, certain kind of vitamins, and they get them from
their little pharmacy. I’m pretty sure that this right
here is actually a steroid. Needham: No. The worst part is you don’t
know what’s in these capsules. Narrator: If the officer finds drugs, the package is sent to Murielle. Murielle Lodvil: That’s
4,000-plus pills here. Narrator: But if he
finds a counterfeit good, it’s sent to Steve. We’ll start with Murielle. Lodvil: The strangest areas
that we find drugs concealed are radio speakers or even car bumpers. For some reason, they love to
place cocaine in car bumpers. It’s crazy, where we even
find drugs in Play-Dohs. Also books, children books. In between the lining of the
pages, you’ll find drugs there. Narrator: Murielle tests the drugs with a spectrometer called a Gemini. Using lasers, the machine
can pierce through packaging and tell what drug is inside. Lodvil: Right now, I’m gonna
test this particular package. It’s telling me that it’s ketamine. It’s used for horse tranquilizer
and also painkillers. Narrator: Murielle will label the drugs based on where they fall among
the DEA’s drug schedules, Schedule V being a drug
with the lowest potential for abuse or dependence, like Robitussin, and Schedule I being a drug
with the highest potential for abuse, like ecstasy. Lodvil: We have the GBL
coming from the Netherlands, and someone in New York is receiving it. Steroid, a Schedule III,
coming from Hong Kong. Then we have the carisoprodol
coming from India. And then we have the tramadol
coming from Singapore. Narrator: Any scheduled
drugs will be seized. Lodvil: There is no day
that we come to work that we don’t find anything. Every day is a sense of
importance because of the fact that we taking out those
particular drugs from the street. Narrator: The narcotics
unit had over 7,600 seizures in 2018, including 246 pounds of cocaine and over 360 pounds of ecstasy. Now, back to Steve. He’s the one that gets
all the counterfeit goods. That’s anything that
infringes on a company’s intellectual property rights, or IPR. Think fake Air Jordans, Gucci
purses, or Rolex watches. Companies like Louis Vuitton and Gucci train Steve on the telltale signs for spotting a fake. While most of the tips are kept top secret to protect the brand, there are a few things that
Steve could share with us. Steve Nethersole: The
first, when it comes in, is the country of origin. These high-end manufacturers
here, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, they’re coming from France, Italy, Spain. The watch is coming from Switzerland. When it’s coming from China, bing, that’s your No. 1 red flag. Then you look at the dilapidated boxes, so that’s two red flags there. A third thing is commingling. The high-end manufacturers
never commingle their products, like, in other words, a Gucci inside a Fendi or a Louis Vuitton. These people will stuff watches,
a wallet, inside a handbag. And so, they’ll never
commingle their products. They are so precise. Some of the things I could say, like, some of the manufacturers, they don’t put any of this
in it, the filler, inside it. They would never do that. We’ll look at the smell. Sometimes it smells like petroleum. It’s not real leather. We look at the stitching. We look at the symmetry of the logos by the manufacturer, the zippers. This one here is a Coach bag
with a Michael Kors zipper. This coat has “Burbelly” on the
buttons instead of Burberry, so these are the comical
things that we find when you look at it up close, and you could pick it right out. Narrator: Counterfeit
goods make up an estimated trillion-dollar industry
that’s even been linked to terrorist groups around the world. In 2018, CBP had over 1,800 IPR seizures. And if all those counterfeit
goods had gone on to sell at their suggested retail price, they’d total an estimated $54 million. So, where do all these
seized goods end up anyway? Well, most of the narcotics and counterfeit goods will be sent to a top-secret incinerator
to be destroyed. Some of the drugs will
go under further testing, while some of the counterfeit
goods may be donated if the offended company allows it. But, in some cases, if
the illegal goods are part of a greater investigation,
CBP officers will actually put that package back in the mail. Then, they’ll track it all the way to the person it was sent to. This is known as a “controlled shipment.” Lodvil: I’m the one who
opened that package, and now I’m involved in
this controlled delivery. Now I get to finish the story. All right, now we go out. We knocked on your door, you open. Hello, we noticed that
you’ve ordered, you know, this particular package. It’s MDMA. What’s the story behind it? So then, we listen. Narrator: But whether they’re
up against fake Guccis or dangerous amounts of fentanyl, CBP stands guard at the
country’s busiest mail facility. Lake: This is where it comes. You don’t see it all the
time coming across the border in trucks and big bundles,
like the TV will have you see. This is where it’s all coming from, and it hits the street
and it destroys lives. So, in our way, if we can stop it here, it’s one less tragic story, probably, that we’re gonna have to hear about.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Wait wait wait, Marijuana is classified as the highest for addiction and abuse?! Haha, pretty sure cocaine and heroin are much much worse. Definitely not a scientific method they've gone with here.

  2. How tf is Xanax a schedule 4 there are house moms that are addicted to it and weed and ecstasy are schedule 1 why is cocaine and fentanyl below them what idiot would make this

  3. Wait! I’m confused about the confiscation of fake designer🤔 how is it there are hundreds of videos on YouTube where people ordered fake designers and received them ! Not that I have any interest I’m just confused after watching this!!

  4. I thought it was illegal to open other peoples mail plus what if they opened it and it didn’t have anything bad inside?

  5. Confiscating yellow skittles is a bit much, If I wanna taste the rainbow you can't stop me. It's funny how you can buy a coffee on every street corner but I you have weed your in trouble. If you let me grow it I won't have to get in the post.

  6. Whenever you get a controlled shipment say that you never ordered anything. Anyone could order some weed and have it delivered to your house. I could go to the post office right now and send a package with 10kg of coke to a random person in order to get them in trouble

  7. how is cocain ranked lower than marijuana, " man i had a hole in my wall i just threw some coke in it and 3 days later its fixed"

  8. Is it just me or at 3:52 there stating that mass over the counter drugs are less dangerous than so called illegal….
    What, How, why…?

  9. A lot of my mail wounded up lost at JFK… But the LA one has done a pretty good job with my mail. So like wtf JFK’s customs

  10. Why won't you build Machine learning recognition for the X-ray part? Guy literally told the core principle of ML "At first was difficult to spot the right packages, but after opening up thousands and checking the content compared to the original X-ray photo you start to spot the packages without opening…"

  11. One time my mom sent some all purpose flour for making pizza in a box all secured and it came opened and they didnt even close it back up wth damn police all we wanted was to make pizza what a waate of flour

  12. The fact that XTC and Marijuana is classed higher than cocaine or fentanyl says enough about the current state of drug enforcement in the USA…

  13. Lol you need to remove the Tylenol from your list of schedule 3. Not only can buy you Tylenol over counter it's a brand name. It's codeine(an opiate) which can be with APAP that is a controlled substance. I'm not sure about the schedule 5 cough syrup again I'd guess they got it wrong since it looks like stuff you can by OTC and I would guess cough syrup with an opiate.
    The schedule are kinda interesting in the way that it makes sense in theory but not practically. It's has to do with if the drug has an accepted medical use and I think the danger. So cocaine and some other drugs are schedule 2 while THC or marijuana is scheduled 1.

  14. Shit like weed being of a higher “abuse” potential than coke really shows the stranglehold the pharmaceutical companies have on our government

  15. The drug schedules everything is in the wrong place really. Government needs to reclassify and reschedule the drugs they have.

  16. They keep fake Watches and stuff? Yikes I ordered a fake Louis Vuitton belt Clone for $80 yesterday. Let's hope I get it.

  17. I personally don’t consume marijuana but she said “schedule 1 highest in likelihood for drug abuse like ecstasy” ignored marijuana lml

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