'Clothium' latest fad for drug smugglers

June 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Federal agents at O'Hare have found the latest fad for drug smugglers.

Everyday inside the huge package mail facility at O'Hare Airport there is a high-stakes game being played as smugglers try to get opium products past federal agents. It isn't a game of cat and mouse; it is one of dogs and drugs.

One-point-two million packages come through the U.S. Customs international mail facility at O'Hare each year.

When a 26 pound box load of colorful dresses was sent through the x-ray machine, nothing appeared to be unusual. There were no hidden bricks of cocaine, or compartments full of illicit pills. But one of the five drug sniffing dogs used by Customs agents alerted inspectors that something wasn't right with the box that contained 65 so-called "traditional dresses," according to the invoice.

The dog, a Belgian Malinois, continued to hit on the dresses, even though no drugs were apparent.

Lately, inspectors have found opium concealed within the heel of a woman's sandal, or in the handle of a kitchen tool, or smugglers will try to fool the dogs by packing coffee or onions in the packaging.

But, with a sense of smell 10,000 times as sensitive as humans, the dogs' noses know. Authorities found these dresses were saturated with opium, invisible to the eye, but not to the dogs' nose.

Federal agents have traced this "clothium pipeline" from Laos, where the shipment originated, to Chicago O'Hare, and then to Minneapolis, where the package of dresses was destined.

Narcotics dogs made more than 400 seizures of illegal drugs at O'Hare last year.

In addition to the Belgian breed that found the latest smuggled shipment, there are German shepherds, Labradors and beagles. They are not just drug dogs. They have been trained to detect large amounts of cash as well as potentially dangerous food items.

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