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Shadow Wolves

Shadow Wolves

These highly trained officers specialize in delaying, disrupting, and/or arresting of human and drug smugglers who conduct their illegal operations through the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert.

The Shadow Wolves are a Native American tactical patrol unit assigned to HSI in Sells, Arizona located on the Tohono O’odham Nation that runs along the Mexico–United States border.

The name "Shadow Wolves" refers to the way the unit hunts, like a wolf pack. The Shadow Wolves specialize in the interdiction of human and drug smugglers who conduct their illegal operations through the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert. All of the Shadows Wolves must have at least one fourth Native American ancestry. The Tohono O’odham Nation covers 2.8 million acres, including a 76-mile stretch of land shared with Mexico.

These highly trained officers use modern technology and a traditional Native American tracking technique called "cutting for sign", which means they locate and interpret any kind of physical evidence left by smugglers and decode their meaning.

Examples of physical evidence include:

  • footprints
  • tire tracks
  • thread
  • clothing

The Shadow Wolves are the Department of Homeland Security’s only Native American tracking unit specifically utilized for targeted interdiction operations. Between 2010 and 2020, interdiction and investigative efforts the Shadow Wolves have led or participated in have resulted in 437 drug and immigration arrests along with the seizure of over 117,264 pounds of drugs, 45 weapons, 251 vehicles and $847,928 in U.S. currency.

  • What does Interdiction Mean?!

    Icon showing a illustrated sleuth with the word terminology.

    Interdiction is "an action to divert, disrupt, delay, or destroy the enemy's surface military potential before it can be used effectively against friendly forces."

History of the Shadow Wolves

The unit was established by Congressional mandate in 1974 in response to rampant smuggling occurring through the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Shadow Wolves were originally pat of the U.S. Customs Service. They became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, when the U.S. Customs Service was folded into the Department of Homeland Security.

The Shadow Wolves are a key component of the Native American Targeted Investigations of Violent Enterprises (NATIVE) Task Force, a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative formed in August 2013, to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations operating within or through the Tohono O'odham Nation. NATIVE’s partners include HSI, the Tohono O’odham Police Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Drug Enforcement Division, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Land Management.

On December 22, 2021, during the 117th Congress, Rep. John Katko (R-NY-24) introduced H.R. 5681, which proposed to broaden the Shadow Wolves' authorities while preserving the important legacy of the unit. The bill became Public Law 117-113 on April 19, 2022. The law provides flexibility to reclassify the Shadow Wolves, current and future, from GS-1801 Tactical Officers to GS-1811 Special Agents.

Partnerships and Education

Due to their unique expertise, the Shadow Wolves are often requested to train border guards and customs agents in other jurisdictions, including Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Poland, and Uzbekistan. The unit was also used in the effort to hunt terrorists along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan by training regional border guards in Native American ancestral tracking methods.

Multiple law enforcement agencies including the Shadow Wolves participated in Operation Rocky Top 2, as part of the HIDTA NATIVE Task Force, dismantling a component of the Sinaloa Cartel that exploited the U.S.-Mexico border within the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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