They are hunting for “swallowers,” drug couriers who rent out their bodies as cargo containers, each carrying upwards of a kilo, or 2.2 pounds, of packaged narcotics. It’s an old trick, body packing, but on the rise, and getting more sophisticated.

Increased airport security has caused some drug cartels to shift a majority of their small shipments out of carry-on baggage and into the less easily searched internal compartments of the “mule.”

Trojan and his partner walk toward Rockaway Boulevard, where they begin conducting the kind of ad hoc street interviews–“Excuse me, sir, may we talk with you for a minute?”–that occasionally lead to the arrest of heroin smugglers arriving from Central or South America, on their way to make connections in the neighborhoods that surround the airport.

Search and seizure laws say that suspects don’t have to let agents look in their bags. “But,” says Trojan, “believe it or not, they usually do. I think they’re afraid they’ll look guilty if they don’t.”

In the drug-refining centers of Central and South America, the cartels target the nondescript–middle-class workers, women, even children–and groom them for the task of swallowing as many as 100 packages the thickness and shape of fat breakfast sausages. Some swallowers are naturals, while others build up to the task with a succession of gradually larger objects such as grapes and baby carrots. “It has more to do with psychology than the size of the person,” says Trojan, who has arrested small-framed women carrying far more cargo than that found inside men twice their size.

Once packed, the courier must slip unsuspected through airport customs and try to rendezvous with his or her connection before the cargo starts passing of its own accord. Nature determines the timetable here. Occasionally agents end up making their arrests as suspects leave bathrooms. Sometimes they locate already-passed packets in pockets, suitcases or shopping bags.

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