Exclusive behind-the-scenes look at JFK Airport Customs and Border Protection

JAMAICA, Queens (WABC) -- On a busy day, 58,000 passengers come through the international arrivals terminal at JFK Airport and step up to the front line of defense against threats to this country.

Agents protecting this entry point, which alone sees millions of passengers each year, are the officers of U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection.

"This year, we are going to clear 16 million, so the quantity of passenger has changed," Chief of Enforcement Craig Sanko said. "We are always looking for the needle in a haystack, so the haystack has gotten that much bigger."

Sanko gave Eyewitness News an exclusive look at the critical inner workings of the CBP.

In recent months, his officers have made significant narcotics seizures and arrests.

"We've seen a spike of in the past few months in body carries, where it has been unusual to get as many as we have in such a short period of time," he said.

One man attempted to smuggle 12 pounds of cocaine worth $200,000 strapped to his body, while 11 pounds of cocaine were found on another man.

A month earlier, another man attempted to smuggle five pounds of cocaine taped to his legs, drawing the suspicion of Officer Christopher Elias.

"Once I did the baggage exam, I still noticed the gentleman was still very nervous," Elias said. "And then we elevated the exam."

Another critical element of CBP's work is against the threat of terrorism.

"We like to know who's on board a plane before that plane ever arrives here in the U.S.," Sanko said.

On arrival, more information is collected at automated passport control, then it's face to face with the highly-trained officers who determine if a person can enter.

"That way, we can concentrate solely on the answers the passenger gives us," Sanko said. "How does that passenger look? How do they interact, their environment?"

Once in baggage claim, passengers come under the critical watch of officers called "rovers," highly trained in detection.

"We're looking for that minimal portion of international traveler who violate CBP rules and regulations," Sanko said.

They are always looking for that needle in the haystack to keep the nation safe. null
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