Security Vulnerabilities at Unmanned and Unmonitored US Border Locations
by Jim Kouri, CPP
The possibility that terrorists and criminals might exploit border vulnerabilities and enter the United States poses a serious security risk, especially if they were to bring radioactive material or other contraband with them.
Although Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has taken steps to secure the 170 ports of entry on the northern and southern US borders, Congress is concerned that unmanned and unmonitored areas between these ports of entry may be vulnerable. In unmanned locations, CBP relies on surveillance cameras, unmanned aerial drones, and other technology to monitor for illegal border activity.
In unmonitored locations, CBP does not have this equipment in place and must rely on alert citizens or other information sources to meet its obligation to protect the border.
A recently released Government Accountability Office report addressed what investigators found during a limited security assessment of seven border areas that were unmanned, unmonitored, or both -- four at the US-Canada border and three at the US-Mexico border.
In three of the four locations on the US-Canada border, investigators carried a duffel bag across the border to simulate the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband. Safety considerations prevented GAO investigators from attempting to cross north into the United States from a starting point in Mexico.
On the US-Canada border, investigators found state roads close to the border that CBP did not appear to man or monitor. In some of these locations, the proximity of the road to the border allowed investigators to cross without being challenged by law enforcement, successfully simulating the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband into the United States from Canada.
In one location on the northern border, the U.S. Border Patrol was alerted to GAO activities through the tip of an alert citizen.
However, the responding Border Patrol agents were not able to locate GAO undercover investigators. Also on the northern border, GAO investigators located several ports of entry that had posted daytime hours and were unmanned overnight.
Meanwhile, on the southern border, investigators observed a large law enforcement and Army National Guard presence on a state road, including unmanned aerial vehicles. Also, GAO identified federally managed lands that were adjacent to the US-Mexico border.
These areas did not appear to be monitored or did not have an observable law enforcement presence, which contrasted sharply with observations on the state road. Although CBP is ultimately responsible for protecting federal lands adjacent to the border, CBP officials told GAO that certain legal, environmental, and cultural considerations limit options for enforcement -- for example, environmental restrictions and tribal sovereignty rights.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.