Operation Smoking Dragon: Dismantling an International Smuggling Ring

Federal Bureau of Investigation, July 5, 2011

The judge who recently sentenced Yi Qing Chen noted that the smuggler “never saw a criminal scheme he didn’t want a part of.” The Southern California man was convicted last October of distributing methamphetamine, trafficking approximately 800,000 cases of counterfeit cigarettes, and conspiracy to import Chinese-made shoulder-fired missiles into the U.S.

Chen is now serving a 25-year prison sentence, and his case marks the end of a long-running investigation called Operation Smoking Dragon.

Smoking Dragon and a related case in New Jersey called Operation Royal Charm led to the indictment of 87 individuals from China, Taiwan, Canada, and the U.S. The investigations uncovered–and dismantled–an international smuggling ring that could have threatened the country’s national security.

Charges against the subjects included smuggling real and phony drugs and other contraband into the U.S. along with counterfeit $100 bills–believed to have been produced in North Korea–that were so nearly perfect and so much more sophisticated than typical counterfeit currency they were dubbed “Supernotes.”

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The eight-year investigation began when FBI undercover agents, posing as underworld criminals, helped make sure that shipping containers full of counterfeit cigarettes made it past U.S. Customs officers undetected.Over time, as undercover agents won the smugglers’ trust, they were asked to facilitate other illegal shipments such as narcotics and millions of dollars in Supernotes. Later, the smugglers offered a variety of Chinese military-grade weapons, including the QW-2 surface-to-air missiles.

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“There is only one purpose for shoulder-fired missiles like the QW-2, and that is to bring down aircraft,” said Special Agent Omar Trevino, who worked the case from the beginning. “Smoking Dragon dismantled an international smuggling ring, and it illustrated that organized crime groups will stop at nothing to make a profit.”

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  • Anonymous

    Our government has made clear, it doesn’t matter how many Americans are hurt or die, so long as diversity isn’t harmed.

    In light of that, the only reasonable course of action is to flood the country with Chinese nationals. Think of how diverse they are.

  • Vote BNP!

    I really DO NOT believe that China’s average IQ is higher than that of the West. The IQ’s of China were taken exclusively in Shanghai and Beijing: hardly representative of this vast nation. It’s probably AT MOST in the early 90’s, if a NATIONAL sample were taken. China still remains a mafia-controlled, 3rd-world banana republic, much like Southern Italy or Mexico.

  • Anonymous

    watch out! once the bamboo fence starts coming down more and more just like the Iron Curtain went down in Europe. These invincible structures helped to keep criminal activities down.

  • Anonymous

    A question begs to be asked: who ordered that missile?

  • Harumphty Dumpty

    Who were they thinking of selling the shoulder to air missiles to?

  • White Devil

    Ok, let me get this straight. They were smuggling methamphetamine, cigarettes, shoulder-fired missiles, and counterfeit $100 bills. Who was in this market, AlQieda? Oh, wait, no booze or porn, so no good muslims.

    The meth must have been the real problem. Cigarettes and $100 dollar notes aren’t really worth anything these days. Chinese missiles are too late to be used as fireworks, so that must have been pure paranoia from the meth. My guess is that these boys weren’t really making much money. Probably looking for new markets.

    They just don’t make criminals like they did in my day… except in Washington.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    Yi Qing Chen ‘never saw a criminal scheme he didn’t want a part of.’ The Southern California man was convicted…of conspiracy to import Chinese-made shoulder-fired missiles into the U.S… including the QW-2 surface-to-air missiles.

    I read this article with great interest because for the past several years, non-statist financial pundits have recommended dumping Boeing out of one’s portfolio. Why? Read on….:

    June, 2011:

    Boeing (BA) is a top defense company but I haven’t recommended it for years because of its vulnerability to small, shoulder-launched guided missiles. Boeing’s chief business is airliners, which have no protection.

    Odds of you personally being the first in America to be shot down are almost zero, but once such attacks become routine, millions will stop flying, and the airline industry and Boeing will be demolished.

    Worldwide since the 1970s, at least 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by man-portable missiles, resulting in 28 known crashes and more than 800 deaths. More than a million of these missiles have been manufactured.

    What’s new about this is the war in Libya. The rebels backed by the US and Nato have stormed the depots where Qadaffi’s man-portable missiles were stored….The depots are reported empty, and the rebels claim they don’t know where the missiles are.

    The risk in Boeing and other airliner producers, and airlines themselves, appears to have increased greatly. If you are in any of them, you might want to think about getting out.

    And now Chinese smugglers are conspiring to import shoulder-to-air missiles directly into the US. Good thing this one was caught…but, how many more are out there?

    The article goes on to state that a number of US politician have already made the transition, given up flying on large commercial airliners and switched to smaller aircraft that are more difficult to hit with a shoulder-launched missile. Also, the author recommends investing in companies that manufacture small, swift, less vulnerable aircraft that airline passenger will seek out after one or two large commercial aircraft are brought down by shoulder launched missiles.

    Further blowback from the USG’s completely misguided foreign (and domestic) policies that make living in the US more dangerous every day.

    Bon

  • Weatherman

    So what…..no one saw the article about the Chinese millitia group being set up as an “immigration scam” in California. Everyone forgot about the 800 million dollar PRC meth catch in Mexico. Is Amren going to be leading the first cry of the new red scare/yellow peril. Kudos to Bon of the land of Babble for pointing out what one of those things could do.

    Further reading.

    Air Rhodesia Flight 825

  • Michael C. Scott

    If this is the “entrepeneurial spirt” that is supposed to make this century the “Chinese century”, we have nothing whatsoever to worry about. Business controlled by criminal gangs is a large part of what has made post-communist Russia such a ghastly economic flop.

    As for shoulder-launched SAMs being smuggled into the US, Bon, in 2003 Hemant Lakhani, an Indian with British citizenship was arrested for conspiring to smuggle SA-16 missiles into the US. His target? Air Force One. Lakhani is permanently out of the arms-smuggling business, as his Bureau of Prisons release date is in 2044, by which time he will be 99 years old.

    Closer to home, the Mexican navy uses the SA-18 (an improved SA-16), and since that country is notoriously corrupt, some are certain to end up in the wrong hands. Worse still, Venezuela also uses the SA-18, and that Hugo Chavez buffoon running the nation likes nothing more than stirring up trouble. Look for Columbian guerillas/terrorists to acquire these soon. Smuggling them across the border into the US would be easy; the drug smuggling networks already exist, and a drug-sniffing dog is not going to alert on missiles. The SA-16, SA-18 and QW-2 use an indium antimonide seeker like that of the US Stinger missile, though with less efficient liquid nitrogen cooling instead of our liquid argon; performance would thus be nearly as good as that of Stinger.