Attaché Patrick Ott at the Binnenhof, the government center in The Hague. Photo by Glenn Fawcett
It’s midnight and Patrick Ott’s phone is ringing.
It could be a call to change a country’s law enforcement culture. Or to discuss phony merchandise dumped into the U.S. economy. Or from U.S. law enforcement pursuing a fugitive. Regardless, as a CBP attaché stationed in the Netherlands, Ott knows he has to take this call.
A likely scenario.
“There’s one thing about being an attaché,” remarked Patrick Ott, CBP’s attaché in The Hague, a Border Patrol agent who began his career in 1995. “There’s no clock. You always can take a call.”
To borrow a British adage, the sun never sets on CBP’s 21 attachés stationed throughout the world. They’re a valued group, mostly frontline professionals with international experience. Their stakeholders are federal agencies and law enforcement and security officials from the host country as well as other nations working in that country. Experience is vital, but their effectiveness really depends on how well they can connect with people.
While issues vary by region, their skill to build relationships and the drive and creativity to do whatever it takes to get things done as the commissioner’s representative is a common trait.
Attachés are really law enforcement diplomats assigned to the U.S. embassy, and like other diplomats, they report to the U.S. ambassador. Ott works with his counterparts within the alphabet soup of federal agencies — DHS, TSA, Secret Service, FBI, DEA, HSI and DOJ. “We work hand-in-glove,” said Ott, who covers the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Ott provides the Department of Justice with CBP’s access to valuable flight information and nefarious actors to assist the agency with its investigations. William Stern, the department’s legal attaché in the Netherlands, credits Ott and CBP with convincing the Dutch and other European countries make better use of Justice’s terrorist watch list.
Ott meets regularly with Dutch law enforcement and border protection and customs officials to show them how supporting U.S. interests is also in their best interest. That trust helps the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, crack down on drugs entering the U.S. by involving the Dutch National Police to target outgoing mail parcels, a significant achievement in a nation where privacy is sacred.
“The Dutch were slow to change, but without his meetings and the cooperation of CBP, we wouldn’t see this change of attitude,” explained Michael Maxwell, country attaché for the DEA. “The Netherlands is the No. 1 supplier of ecstasy. Seizures at the U.S. ports of entry have increased about 600 percent.”
Ott is working diligently with Dutch authorities to establish a preclearance facility at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, stem the flow of illicit drugs and promote information sharing. He’s also advancing a software project to automatically provide information on passengers arriving in Europe from other nations. “The Dutch are new to sharing information on this scale,” he said.
Ott helped obtain a European Union grant to fund the project. He stood before members of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security and their software developers and with a finger stabbing the air for emphasis, drove home the program’s value.
He stressed the software will improve efficiency while preserving privacy. Ott later briefed H.P. Schreinemachers on the project, the ministry’s national coordinator, equivalent to CBP’s assistant commissioner.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Hoekstra, who works closely with Ott, said he looks to CBP’s attaché to build bridges between agencies to keep him informed. “When you have so many departments, we have silos, but we need to know what the others are doing.”
One sure way Ott builds bridges is through the well-known barbeques he hosts at his residence. “My counterparts have nicknamed the practice Barbeque Diplomacy,” he said. “I have found that providing a casual setting, good food and good conversation goes a long way in strengthening relationships.”
Across the channel
Like Ott, Attaché Jennifer Schroeder-Fawcett engages at the same high levels in London, serving one of America’s “longest and closest allies,” referring to her host country. Schroeder-Fawcett brings 25 years of border management and security experience to the job, including immigration advisory positions in Paris and Amsterdam and a previous London posting. Beginning her career as a CBP officer, she served as watch commander at Orlando International Airport and worked in the terrorist visa revocation unit in CBP’s National Targeting Center.
Schroeder-Fawcett works tirelessly to build and maintain a supportive network in what’s considered one of the busiest posts, with 24 CBP employees, covering the U.K., Ireland and Iceland. Advocating for CBP in the United Kingdom is how she sums up her role. “You must see the big picture and be alert to upcoming issues,” to be successful, she explained. “Attachés need to support the programs and operators doing the real work at home. We need to be their eyes and ears and look for opportunities to advance the good work they’re doing.”
She recently managed an event for Global Entry, CBP’s program that offers quick clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers arriving in the United States. The event registered nearly 3,000 new travelers, putting the U.K. over the top with the highest membership of all European countries. Schroeder-Fawcett coordinated the resources, kept others on track and worked through the requirements to make it happen.
Robert Paschall, Homeland Security’s regional attaché for Europe, called the Global Entry effort a huge success.
Paschall added that expanding the preclearance facilities at Manchester and Edinburgh airports are among Schroeder-Fawcett’s top priorities. “The hard work will really begin after the agreement is signed,” Paschall said, such as finding space, navigating the bureaucracy and forging agreements with the airport and related officials. She will also work with the airport authority, the architects and CBP facility managers to ensure the facilities meet the agency’s standards.
“There’s a thousand steps. My job is to assist where needed, not to be a speed bump,” he said.
The project — three years in the making — will require more staff, and that’s where Schroeder-Fawcett puts her diplomatic skills to work, reaching out to other parts of the agency to bring in personnel on temporary duty assignments. “Jenn has strong operational and diplomatic background, skills hard to combine,” Paschall said.
While CBP’s Office of the Commissioner monitors the required language for the preclearance agreement, Schroeder-Fawcett will continue meeting with the project’s stakeholders to keep the process moving. “I try to be the expediter,” she said.
Responding to exceptionally high demand, she’s also involved in establishing a preclearance facility at Iceland’s Keflavik airport.
Passenger volume surged after Iceland’s government offered air travelers a free second leg if they stop there, said Jim Lambropoulos, the Transportation Security Administration’s attaché to the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland who’s working the project with Schroeder-Fawcett. That project required some extra effort because the elections in both Iceland and the U.S. brought in new officials unfamiliar with preclearance. That meant some backtracking, so she worked with the CBP preclearance field office, TSA and the consulate in Iceland to get everyone back up to speed. “The airport authority is keen to begin discussions,” she said.
Sharing a word or two
In a picturesque conference room in Canada House, an historic building overlooking London’s Trafalgar Square, Schroeder-Fawcett confers weekly with Mary Teresa Glynn, a Canada Border Services Agency international network manager. They discussed migration trends and determining the best way to investigate 17 related seizures of phony pharmaceuticals. They also covered issues before the B5 working group (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. share information as the B5), along with discussions about how the approaching British exit from the European Union or Brexit could change border security.
“This is how we work together,” Schroeder-Fawcett explained. “We see an opportunity to share information or best practices and try to make the most of it.”
Schroeder-Fawcett also regularly meets with Alison Milburn, the head of international targeting and engagement at Border Force, the U.K.’s border authority. They discuss everything from security threats to strategies to disrupt human trafficking and look for ways to make the most of limited resources.
Milburn works for the Border Force’s director general, the U.K. counterpart to CBP’s commissioner.
“I’ll work through Alison to provide information to the director general and open as many doors to CBP as she needs,” Schroeder said.
At the U.S. Embassy, Schroeder-Fawcett, Paschall and Lampropoulos later briefed Lew Lukens, the deputy chief of mission, on the British government’s new counter-terrorism and security strategy.
Around the globe
In Colombia, the government is committed to promoting peace and economic development since fighting with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ceased in 2016, and Attaché Amy Cloud looks at where CBP can assist.
“What are Colombia’s priorities? How can we help with systemic changes, above and beyond basic training?” asked Cloud, who worked on infrastructure projects at the northern and southern U.S. borders after joining CBP in 2007 and later was an international relations specialist in CBP’s Office of International Affairs.
Cloud, who covers Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, is working with the Colombian government to encourage customs officials to place more emphasis on drug interdiction and sharing information with the Colombian police. Customs officials have traditionally focused more on collecting fees and checking documents.
“We can offer some best practices,” Cloud said.
Cloud is working with the government to improve its passenger analysis center and installing software to better detect high-risk airline passengers. “There was a lot of pressure to get the agreements signed before the change of administration in August,” she said of the installation that occurred in June.
Promoting Global Entry and supporting trade are other issues involving Cloud, as well as working with the American Chambers of Commerce in country. “I’m excited to share CBP’s innovations with companies that do business in Colombia and the U.S.”
In bordering Panama, increasing the country’s ability to interdict illicit migrants, terrorists and contraband before they reach the U.S. is a priority, according to Acting Regional Attaché Michael Vargas. Vargas started with CBP as a Border Patrol agent and later worked in the Border Patrol’s Special Operations Group, where he spent the majority of his time training Central American foreign law enforcement agencies.
He still spends much of his time as a trainer. “We develop and implement programs that professionalize and enhance host nation security in Panama,” Vargas said. “We also add another level of security by screening U.S.-bound passengers and cargo.”
Vargas, who has oversight of all Central American countries, is also assisting the Panamanians with sea and air cargo targeting and risk analysis. “Due to its location, Panama is a strategic point for U.S. security efforts and cooperation,” he added.
The Golden Triangle
On the other side of the globe, Bangkok based Attaché Robert Thommen is working with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide law enforcement training throughout Southeast Asia. He recently coordinated border interdiction training in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos with the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau and helped organize the first CBP-DEA joint narcotics interdiction training for police in Burma and Thailand. Thommen covers Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia and Laos.
“Most customs officials in the region are primarily interested in collecting duties, interdiction is new to most customs officials,” Thommen said. “At airports, seaports and land border ports CBP provides training on detecting fraudulent documents and how to effectively search containers and vehicles. Many of the officers in the region have never received this kind of training. Their training is primarily focused on collecting revenue.”
Thommen previously worked in OFO as the assistant director of enforcement for the Consumer Products and Mass Merchandising Center of Excellence and Expertise, a digital processing service for shippers. Before that, he was the attaché in Tokyo for six years.
Narcotics and forced labor are huge issues.
His territory includes the Golden Triangle, a wedge of land where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers and a hotbed of drug trafficking. “Enforcement capabilities are limited in this region,” he said. “It’s been described as the wild, Wild West,” where CBP works closely with the State Department to improve border enforcement.
Thommen serves as CBP’s liaison for the interagency Joint Trafficking in Persons work group that combats forced labor, particularly in fishing.
Lured by lucrative job offers, many Burmese and Cambodians become trapped as slaves on Thai trawlers, spending their days netting “trash fish,” valueless species destined to be ground up for shrimp feed. Thailand is the world’s largest shrimp exporter and the largest foreign shrimp supplier to the U.S. Thommen works with the Thai Ministry of Fisheries and Thai producers associations to weed out the slave boats from the industry.
Since 2015, Thommen said the government of Thailand has taken steps to prevent forced labor in the seafood industry. In May, he coordinated a multi-agency meeting with Thai government officials, seafood industry and seafood worker groups to tackle the problem.
Thommen said the meeting is an example of how the U.S. works with its foreign partners to understand and identify risks in the supply chain, improve enforcement and support the import industry.
The CBP Office of Trade, CBP Office of Field Operations, Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made up the U.S. delegation.
In March, the Office of Trade created a Forced Labor Division to enforce labor statutes. The division has a robust caseload, showing that CBP is committed to the administration’s priority to safeguard American businesses from unfair competition and human abuses in the global supply chain.
Fakes and frauds
China’s production of fentanyl and synthetic opioids that find their way into the U.S. and Mexico through the postal system, along with intellectual property rights, consumes much of Therese Randazzo’s time. She’s CBP’s attaché for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Unlike many of her law enforcement counterparts, Randazzo has a trade background. She was previously the director of the International Property Rights Policy and Programs Division in CBP’s Office of Trade.
Hong Kong’s international airport is the world’s busiest air cargo hub, and Randazzo works with Hong Kong customs to interdict contraband. In addition to drugs, they seize substantial counterfeit merchandise. “China is the world’s largest exporter of pirated goods,” she said. “In Shenzhen, there are shopping malls where the entire products are fake.”
Manufacturing phony products is big business in China. “It provides employment for people and is highly profitable, so there’s a lot of incentive to do it.”
In her region, deception is a common tactic in shipping products with high duties. A company looking to avoid these costs will typically declare a country of origin where manufactured goods can be shipped for less. Such exports undercut American businesses with cheap goods.
Homeland Security Investigators and Randazzo recently set out to visit a solar panel company claiming its factory was in Hong Kong. “When we arrived at the address, it was an office,” she said. “It was a front for a manufacturing facility.”
Randazzo also helped CBP forge an agreement with Taiwan’s immigration agency to provide reciprocity between Global Entry and e-gate, Taiwan’s trusted traveler program. This agreement gives Taiwan nationals access to CBP’s Global Entry program, and Americans access to e-gate.
In disrupting the flow of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, Randazzo works closely with the Homeland Security Investigations attaché and Hong Kong customs officials at Hong Kong’s airport. “Considering these drugs are shipped in small quantities in postal parcels from China through Hong Kong to the United States, detecting the contraband can be tough, but we are sharing information and conducting joint enforcement actions, so we’re making progress,” she said. “In tackling opioid transshipment, we have a capable partner in Hong Kong Customs.”
Tours that teach
Attaché Doyle E. Amidon, Jr., works from the U.S. embassy in Cairo connecting with Egyptian customs and border security officials by bringing representatives from the Egyptian ministries of transportation, interior, finance and defense to the U.S. The trips offer examples of law enforcement best practices along with how agencies are structured, work together and share intelligence. Amidon recently worked with the DEA to lead a senior delegation from Egypt’s Anti-Narcotics General Administration to CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C., and DEA training and field locations. He also introduced them to New York City police officers. It was the first CBP partnership with that Egyptian administration and the first joint CBP-DEA coordinated visit. “It significantly improved CBP’s relationship with the DEA in Egypt,” Amidon pointed out.
A senior Egyptian official told Amidon the tours are the best way to establish a network. “When you take people on the road you develop friendships and trust,” Amidon explained. “In this part of the world, everything revolves around trust.”
Funded through the State Department and organized by CBP’s International Visitors Program in cooperation with the DEA, the trips also build inter-government relationships. The goal, Amidon explained, is to have Egyptian border security officials share information with their U.S. counterparts and with the nations that border Egypt to increase border security in the region and back at home.
“Attachés are the glue that keeps it all together,” Amidon said. “They’re the eyes and ears on the ground, the tip of the spear to best direct CBP resources and support CBP domestic objectives abroad.”
Front Row: Sabrina Teichman, Allison Hanley, Josephine Baiamonte, Assistant Commissioner Ian Saunders, Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez, EAC Linda Jacksta, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Erik Moncayo; Second Row: Shirley Chen-Barry, Christina Bell, Abdias Ortiz, Robert Thommen, Bryan Picado, Amy Cloud, Michael Borg, Therese Randazzo, Andrew Breithaupt, Michael Vargas, Douglass Eckhardt, Dionicio Delgado; Third Row: Kristie McKinney, Tasha Reid-Hippolyte, Brendan O’Hearn, Jason Leffler, Leonard Johnston, Erick Osteen, Jennifer Schroeder-Fawcett, John Conners, Patrick Ott, Edward Bayron; Fourth Row: Donald Anderson, Mark Bazill, Cipriano Encinia, Ivan Rodriguez, Peter Sanchez, Jeffrey Kratzer, Bryant McCray, Todd Bryant. Photo by Glenn Fawcett
Becoming an Attaché
Some jobs require many hats, but CBP’s attachés require the most.
They’re diplomats, detectives, negotiators, international representatives, expeditors, liaisons, managers, leaders, point persons and more. It takes tact, savvy and diplomacy to build the government-to-government and private entity bonds that virtually extend America’s borders. Attachés are vital to vibrant trade, national security and economic vitality and they assist in developing foreign policy and advocate for U.S. interests.
There’s no typical day. An attaché could work during the morning with the U.S. ambassador and the law enforcement community on a terror issue, help identify a shell company to prevent a trade debacle in the afternoon, and lead a seminar for the airlines that evening.
The attaché program began in 2006 and draws mostly from frontline staff with international experience and a broad understanding of business and trade, explained Monica Temoney, CBP’s Office of International Affairs mission support executive director who manages the support for the program. Attaché tours last up to five years. Selectees receive as much as 90 days of pre-deployment training covering State Department structure and embassy protocols along with U.S. interests, political issues and local customs. Security training covers living and interacting safely, she said.
Need also drives training. “There’s specialized training to work on areas where attachés are not as strong,” Temoney said. “A person may have a strong Border Patrol background, but needs added skills in forced labor or intellectual property rights. Someone might have a strong trade background, but not in targeting.”
It all comes down to an ability to see the broad picture by understanding CBP’s entire structure and functions and observant enough to spot opportunities to advance the agency’s mission, said Ian Saunders, Office of International Affairs assistant commissioner. “The challenge is to not only help people understand what we do, but why,” he said. “They need to be excellent communicators.”
Attachés also need to be resourceful. Since offices are very small with few staff, independent decision-making and multi-tasking are common, he said. But that kind of responsibility isn’t new for those who enter the ranks. “They’re senior people who have existing networks,” Saunders explained. “They were managers. They know risk assessment and mitigation and they bring a lot to the table.”
Attaché positions are advertised on the USAjobs website a few times per year. The Office of International Affairs also invites nominations for temporary duty assignments. For more information contact INA employee services branch at INAEMPLOYEESERVICES@cbp.dhs.gov