Big Sky Border Patrol, a Team Effort

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg. Photos by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

The Libby Dam was built in 1972 on the Kootenay River in the northwest corner of Montana. The dam formed a massive lake which dissects the invisible line between the United States and Canada. On the border, a small contingent of United States Border Patrol agents strives to keep our country secure.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection boat sits tied to the pier ready to assist in the event of illicit activity on the waters bordering the United States and Canada on Lake Koocanusa in Montana, July 10, 2016. Various on land and at sea assets are utilized to help protect the border. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection boat sits tied to the pier ready to assist in the event of illicit activity on the waters bordering the United States and Canada on Lake Koocanusa in Montana, July 10, 2016. Various on land and at sea assets are utilized to help protect the border. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

Border Patrol agents, whose job it is to prevent illegal entry of people and contraband into the country, encounter boaters on Lake Koocanusa while patrolling the international line. During the course of interviewing boaters, agents sometimes detect serious safety deficiencies that might place the occupants of the vessel in danger. To remedy this danger and to keep the public safe, agents reach out to their fellow Department of Homeland Security partners, the U.S. Coast Guard.

When people think of the Coast Guard and border patrol, it’s more often than not the drug and migrant interdiction near the Mexico border and off the shores of Florida that come to mind, and not the efforts our neighbors to the north or those as far inland as Montana. However; Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound law enforcement personnel based out of Seattle have responded to the Montana agents’ requests for the past five years, effectively helping keep boaters safe on the lake.

Members of Sector Puget Sound deployed for five days in July, to team up with Border Patrol agents, where they ensured the border remained secure used each individual agency’s authority to maximize the enforcement of U.S. law.

Between July 8 and 11, 2016, Coast Guard and Border Patrol personnel interdicted 29 vessels and spoke with 98 individuals about safe boating practices, but education is not always enough and enforcement is necessary. Twenty safety violations were issued using their combined authority, three violations dangerous enough to require a termination of the voyage.

The Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents utilize canine units to search for drugs being smuggled into the country from Canada via Lake Koocanusa on the Montana/ Canada border, July 8, 2016. Coast Guard agents regularly work with CBP agents to ensure the safety of boaters and safeguard from illegal drugs and immigration from coming into the United States. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

The Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents utilize canine units to search for drugs being smuggled into the country from Canada via Lake Koocanusa on the Montana/ Canada border, July 8, 2016. Coast Guard agents regularly work with CBP agents to ensure the safety of boaters and safeguard from illegal drugs and immigration from coming into the United States. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

“Termination is the last resort,” said Petty Officer Nathan Kruse, a maritime enforcement specialist with Sector Puget Sound. “We only pursue this option when an extremely unsafe situation is discovered that cannot be corrected on the spot.”

The Border Patrol is not new to interagency cooperation. Lake Koocanusa agents routinely coordinate with their local and international law enforcement partners, which include the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.

“Our mission is to secure the border and restrict access to the United States from entities that wish to cause harm to our country,” said Agent Christopher Myra, acting patrol agent in charge of the USBP Eureka, Montana, field office. “The inclusion of the U.S. Coast Guard bolsters our ability to protect foreigners, who have entered legally, and the citizens of the United States.”

On the last day of the operation a suspicious vessel was detected crossing the border on the lake and the team jumped into action. The Border Patrol small boat was manned with two agents and a drug detecting canine, two Coast Guard law enforcement officers alongside them. Multiple off-road vehicles were in place shore-side to monitor the illegal crossing, including another Coast Guard officer who watched through the binoculars. In the end, the boat operator and passengers were all arrested for illegal entry into the United States.

“The professionalism and efficiency through which all parties cooperated is really amazing to witness,” said Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy, senior marine investigator at Sector Puget Sound. “Each law enforcement officer knew their role and played it out to completion.”

The Coast Guard plans to return to the Lake Koocanusa region on a routine basis for the foreseeable future.

A Coast Guardsman surveys the waters alongside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent while conducting border patrol and law enforcement operations on Lake Koocanusa in Montana, July 9, 2016. This cooperative mission helps build better partnerships and training between the two agencies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

A Coast Guardsman surveys the waters alongside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent while conducting border patrol and law enforcement operations on Lake Koocanusa in Montana, July 9, 2016. This cooperative mission helps build better partnerships and training between the two agencies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hennessy.

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