Homeland Secrets

Homeland Security Investigations, a division of ICE, describes human trafficking as a “top investigative priority.” But its handling of recent sex-trafficking investigations in Arizona and beyond has raised questions about the agency’s undercover techniques.

Chapter 1
‘Investigative techniques’

The women were living and working in filth and near darkness, surviving on only the tips they received from performing sexual favors. Then HSI agents came to their rescue, or so it seemed.

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Chapter 2
‘See something, say something’

Local police praised the citizen complaints that drew their attention to an alleged sex-trafficking ring, but the actions of their federal partners torpedoed the case.

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Chapter 3
‘Operation Asian Touch’

Defense attorney Mike Wozniak couldn’t believe what he was hearing – recordings of undercover federal agents engaging in sex acts with women they suspected were trafficking victims.

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Chapter 4
‘Otherwise illegal activity’

Local police said they were told by HSI that the agents’ undercover sexual activity was within agency guidelines. Agency documents seem to support that.

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Chapter 5
‘Exploiting the exploited’

The retired senior HSI official says agents exploited the very women they were sworn to protect, and officials in Washington effectively turned a blind eye.

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More Homeland Secrets: ‘Operation Asian Touch’

The case fell apart, the attorney said, because agents were committing crimes as they went undercover to investigate alleged sex trafficking in massage parlors along Arizona’s western border.

Operation Asian Touch

It all started with a call from a concerned citizen, and the sex-trafficking investigation that unspooled over the next three years surprised everyone.

‘It went through an approval process’

The federal agency’s own documents detailed more than a dozen times when agents engaged in sex acts with women they thought might be trafficking victims.

Credits

Reporters Mackenzie Shuman, Molly Duerig, Grace Oldham, Rachel Gold, Meagan Sainz-Pasley, Mythili Gubbi, Alejandra Gamez, Beno Thomas and James Paidoussis

Editors Maud Beelman, Lauren Mucciolo

Graphics Troy Tauscher, Alex Lancial

Design/Development Adnan Alam, Lori Todd


Special thanks to Gregg Leslie, executive director, and student attorneys from the First Amendment Clinic at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.