Diplomatic Security Executes Large Interagency Operation in Florida

March 25, 2015


Passport and visa fraud are federal felonies that often enable other crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) special agents all over the world lead criminal investigations into passport and visa fraud by collaborating with other federal law enforcement agencies.

In Florida, DS’ Miami Field Office (MFO) executed a large-scale, interagency enforcement operation focused on resolving passport and visa fraud cases throughout the middle and southern district of Florida that stretches from Jacksonville to Homestead. Called Operation Southern Wave, this event aggregated the expertise and resources of close to 150 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, investigative and analytical support staff, and assistant U.S. attorneys.

Over a ten-day period in February 2015, this team focused on a cache of tough DS passport fraud cases including previously indicted DS fugitive cases – some of them involving high-risk subjects.

Date: 02/10/2015 Description: Two Diplomatic Security Special Agents (far left and far right) conduct a briefing with Miami-Dade Police, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, and Florida Highway Patrol before executing an arrest warrant in the Southern District of Florida on February 10, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image
Two Diplomatic Security Special Agents (far left and far right) conduct a briefing with Miami-Dade Police, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, and Florida Highway Patrol before executing an arrest warrant in the Southern District of Florida on February 10, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)
 

Special Agent in Charge of MFO Bashnan, said, “This operation is part of a larger ongoing effort at all levels of government to strengttempt to falsify identities and misuse U.S. passports and visas.

“An operation of this scope requires months of planning and strategic coordination with our law enforcement partners to de-conflict investigations at the local and federal levels and mitigate risks to our investigative personnel. Passport and visa fraud as well as identity theft are a growing concern in Florida and throughout the United States with major national security implications.”

Vital participants of this operation from DS were members of the Visa and Passport Analysis Unit, Security Technology, and Computer Investigations and Forensics Program. Federal partners included the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Enforcement Removal Operations, DHS Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Attorney General’s International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In addition, local law enforcement agencies such as Miami-Dade Police, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Broward Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Highway Patrol assigned officers to this statewide operation, providing local resources and knowledge to the DS-led effort.

Agents and officers working in the field were connected to MFO’s central tactical operations center, which functioned as a mini fusion center. DS technicians set up additional work stations and de-conflicted communications systems so agencies could communicate with each other, which greatly enhanced this operation.

Personnel from most of the federal, state, and local agencies had a seat at the table in the tactical operations center. The interagency staff was able to answer 395 requests for investigative intelligence almost immediately.

Date: 02/07/2015 Description: Standing watch in the tactical operations center are staff members from DS' MFO, Visa and Passport Analysis Unit, and Countermeasures; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and Florida Highway Patrol, February 7, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)  - State Dept Image
Standing watch in the tactical operations center are staff members from DS' MFO, Visa and Passport Analysis Unit, and Countermeasures; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and Florida Highway Patrol, February 7, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)

In the end, DS agents and their local partners conducted 134 interviews, served two search warrants, and arrested 26 subjects. In one particular instance, an interagency team was able to issue simultaneous arrests and warrants at multiple locations to apprehend a group of transient offenders and gather crucial evidence. The raid resulted in multiple arrests in different states.

Bashnan stated, “By collaborating with our partners, we were successful in maximizing our resources and sending a clear message that federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities will bring to justice any individuals who attempt to defraud the U.S. government.”