The 6 Most Insanely Reckless Smuggling Tactics
Wherever you have borders, you find very motivated people trying to sneak shit across them. Of course, said borders are typically guarded by equally motivated people with guns whose only job is to stop them. Winning that battle requires planning, creativity and guile. Or at least a smuggler who really, really doesn't give a shit.
The border fence between the United States and Mexico proves to be a bit of a challenge for some smugglers. Tunneling underneath it is a possibility, albeit entirely too difficult for the average drug mule. They could dynamite a hole in it, or drive a car straight through it (or dynamite a car while it's driving through it), but that's pretty much guaranteed to get the attention of every Border Patrol agent currently on shift. Really, the whole enterprise was much easier back when the border was just a painted line and the honor system.
Well, marijuana smugglers along the Arizona-Mexico border decided to go for the kind of solution that a 5-year-old would have thought up: They built a catapult to launch 4-pound bales of pot straight over the top of the fence like Morgan Freeman and Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
They could probably do a better English accent than Costner, too.
Well, we're assuming they were smugglers. It's either that or they're invaders who badly misunderstand the fundamentals of siege warfare.
If you think we're making all this up (and we will not hold that against you), check out this surveillance video shot by the U.S. National Guard, who were evidently too stricken with delighted whimsy to put down their cameras and enforce the law:
Sure enough, the video shows a few guys in an SUV towing the above catapult up to the border fence and firing a few bales of weed over:
"Let's light one of them on fire, it'll be goddamn hysterical!"
And if you're like us, all you can imagine is a bunch of stoners camping on the other side, watching as 4-pound bundles of weed start raining down from the sky as if in answer to some bong-fueled prayer. Then you're picturing them telling the story at every party they attend for the next 30 years, and everyone refusing to believe them.
Bringing in new shipments without getting busted by the Coast Guard is a problem the drug cartels have been dealing with for some time, as documented by every single action movie of the 1980s. One of the newer tricks of the international drug trade now involves the use of something called a narco torpedo, which sadly is not quite the cocaine-packed sea missile of detonating happiness it sounds like.
"Please tell me you guys didn't find this up someone's ass."
It's actually a watertight container loaded with product that is towed behind a smuggler's boat directly into port and into the hands/noses/veins of eager consumers. At the first sign of the Coast Guard, the smugglers can simply cut the torpedo's towline and let it sink harmlessly to the ocean floor to be eaten by whales, simultaneously absolving them of any illegal activity and drastically changing the third act of Pinocchio. Assuming their employers don't freeze them in carbonite for dumping the shipment, the smugglers are free to try again and again.
One day whales will pay for being complicit in these crimes.
Another variation of the method involves welding the torpedo to the bottom of a vessel, occasionally without the knowledge of the crew, thereby creating unwitting drug mules with no exploitable connection to the organization should they be caught by the authorities. Once the ship arrives in port, cartel divers remove the torpedo from the hull and recover the product, and the crew is none the wiser. Although if all of the VHS research we did in the '80s is to be believed, an accidental discovery probably results in chainsaws, shotgun blasts and F. Murray Abraham dangling from a helicopter.
Crystal Meth Sculptures
Despite what the "cookin' up fun" montages on Breaking Bad would have us believe, making crystal meth is pretty goddamned hard. The raw materials are extremely hard to come by, and failure often results in more than just an unsellable batch -- meth labs regularly explode like flaming pinatas full of hand grenades and high school dropouts. Sometimes it makes more sense to just buy the stuff and smuggle it in.
Unfortunately for would-be smugglers, meth is one of the more difficult things to conceal, as it is high on the customs watch list. That's why an Iranian meth smuggler bound for Thailand decided to take a lesson from Cheech and Chong's instructional document Nice Dreams and disguise his drugs as something else, in this case as two plaque-sized relief sculptures. One was a framed portrait silhouette, and the other was a 22-pound brick of crystal meth with a flower carved into it.
Actual photo. You can smoke this.
Despite tap dancing on the verge of being clever, this particular technique failed almost immediately, because it is important to remember that there is such a thing as drug-sniffing dogs and chemical screening X-ray machines, and that customs does not consist of one bored guy glancing at your luggage as you walk past.
"Yep, looks like a laptop battery to me."
The man was taken into custody when trying to enter Thailand, although the arresting customs agents did admit that they admired the smuggler's originality. They showed their dubious admiration by placing the man in a Thai prison, a phrase which here presumably means "they beat him with reeds and dropped him in a lightless pit."
Of course, not all smugglers are dealing in narcotics ...
Dipping Ancient Artifacts in Plastic to Look Like Cheap Souvenirs
At first glance, Jonathan Tokeley-Parry would seem like the last person one would ever suspect of masterminding one of the largest smuggling operations in human history. With a degree in philosophy and a background in art restoration, he seemed more likely to be stoned in a coffee shop than engaged in international crime. Perhaps that is why he was able to smuggle nearly 3,000 priceless ancient artifacts out of Egypt before he was caught.
"Got your nose ... available at auction."
Tokeley-Parry moved to Egypt after dropping out of a graduate program to put his art restoration skills to more immediately profitable use as part of an elaborate antiquities-smuggling operation. Stolen Egyptian artifacts would make their way to him through one channel or another, and Tokeley-Parry would dip the ancient artifacts in liquid plastic and paint them in garish, tacky colors before applying a conspicuous "Made in Egypt" sticker.
Some girls just don't know how to wear makeup.
Boom -- instant bullshit souvenir, obviously cheap and horrible and not worth a second glance.
To move the items out of the country, Tokeley-Parry would simply buy a plane ticket and fly them out as luggage. Customs agents would often be holding the insanely valuable contraband items for him, waiting for him to come pick them up. Unlike the dumbass in the last entry, this smuggler didn't have to worry about machines at the airport calling him out. It's not like they're carbon-dating everything that passes through.
"I don't see how this can fail."
At this point, his associates in the U.K. would then remove the plastic shells and sell the artifacts at auction as part of the fictitious Thomas Alcock Collection, netting millions of dollars from various wealthy collectors who had no idea the items were stolen. Tokeley-Parry smuggled thousands of artifacts in this manner, including stone busts, tomb fragments, statues, even a goddamned sarcophagus, because apparently zanily painted yet suspiciously heavy plastic novelty coffins are common enough to make it through customs without arousing much attention.
Facing a 15-year prison term, Tokeley-Parry returned to his native England to face a much more civilized three-year sentence for smuggling, presumably disguising himself as a snow globe to make it through the Egyptian airport undetected.
In what should come as a surprise to no one ever, the government in Russia places a high tax on imported alcohol, possibly because this is literally one of the only ways for Russia to make money. Naturally, it took the Russian mafia about five seconds to realize that there was a profit to be made here, so they reached out to several distilleries in America to embark on a mutually lucrative alcohol-smuggling operation.
"I don't know, guys ... are we sure this whole Russians and vodka thing isn't just a fad?"
Instead of the typical method by which alcohol is smuggled across the Atlantic (in the stomachs of business class passengers and screamed out into airport toilets), the Russian mafia bought millions of gallons of grain alcohol in the United States (including 5 million gallons just from McCormick Distilleries, the makers of 360 Vodka and Tequila Rose) and dyed it all blue.
You can already guess why -- turn alcohol blue and suddenly you've got windshield wiper fluid, or mouthwash. The plan was so simple that it had to work -- the alcohol easily made it through customs without provoking any interest, which admittedly is strange, considering you can't even get a tube of toothpaste, labeled as toothpaste, onto an airplane. Millions of gallons of mysterious blue fluid, however, is totally fine.
"Rule of thumb is: If it's blue, right on through. If it's red, cavity searches until they bleed."
Once the blue grain alcohol was in Russia, the dye was removed from it and vodka "flavoring" was added, although this step was likely unnecessary, because we doubt anyone has ever consumed vodka for the taste, and hard drinkers typically don't give one gurgling buttershit what color their liquor is.
This particular alcohol-trafficking scheme went on for about two-and-a-half years to the tune of $40 million before it was finally discovered, forcing the Russian mob to change to an as-yet-unknown method. Likely they are now piggybacking the contraband spirits onto items that cross in and out of Russia with regular disinterest (for example, hiding cases of Aristocrat in the nose cones of nuclear missiles).
Zip-Lining iPads into China
Hong Kong is in a situation ripe for smuggling: It's just across a river from mainland China, yet has a considerably lower tax rate (a holdover from when the British owned it), and it's one of the cheapest places in the world to buy Apple products. The Chinese also have to pay a separate 20 percent tax on all imported electronics, such as computers. So any time goods are cheap on one side of the border and can be sold for much more on the other side, well, you don't have to ask smugglers twice.
But how to get them across ... well, we already featured somebody just chucking contraband over a fence with a catapult. What can top that?
Aside from this.
A dedicated group of smugglers with an equal obligation to streamlined effectiveness and vaudevillian hilarity rigged up a series of zip lines and pulleys to carry iPads and iPhones into mainland China. The operation consisted of one person on the 21st floor of a skyscraper firing a crossbow bolt trailing a tenth of a mile of fishing line across the Sha Tau Kok River to a house in China's Shenzhen province. Once the line was attached, a nylon bag filled with goods was hoisted over the border like Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. This is an actual thing that actually happened.
It was just stupid enough to ... actually, it was just stupid.
In China, the death penalty is occasionally handed out to traffickers, so the zip line smugglers were potentially risking their very lives for their criminal enterprise. However, when they were eventually caught by a keen-eyed sleuth noticing 300 yards of fishing line angling down across the river from a 200-foot building, the police confiscated just 50 iPads and 50 iPhones, all told worth about $50,000. This suggests that the smugglers, rather than trying to make a quick fortune and retire to a private island, were really just trying to see if their idea would work. Or maybe they were doing it on a bet.
Benjamin enjoys surviving the urban jungle here.
For more ballsy criminals, check out 7 Real World Heists That Put 'Ocean's 11' to Shame and 5 Real Bank Heists Ripped Right Out of the Movies.