A second report in two weeks gives failing grades to inspections at U.S. land border crossings, increasing fears that terrorists can still enter the United States undetected five years after 9/11.
This week the Government Accountability Office released the findings of its investigation of the security at U.S. land ports of entry. From Feburary through June, GAO agents attempted to cross into the U.S. at nine checkpoints along the northern and southern borders. The agents carried only counterfeit driver’s licenses and other bogus documents. At all nine crossings, the agents were allowed to pass U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. And at two of those ports of entry, they were not asked to provide any form of identification.
The report concluded that in the event border inspectors request identification, they "are unable to effectively identify counterfeit driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and other documents." Furthermore, the report found, "This vulnerability potentially allows terrorists or others involved in criminal activity to pass freely into the United States from Canada or Mexico with little or no chance of detection."
Before releasing their report, the GAO briefed customs officials on their findings at which time, "The CBP agreed its officers are not able to identify all forms of counterfeit identification presented at land border crossings." The officials also expressed their support for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which by 2008 would "require all travelers, including U.S. citizens, within the Western Hemisphere to have a passport or other secure identification deemed sufficient … to enter or reenter the United States."
But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says that is not enough. He says the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency needs to update their document verification equipment before 2008. "If document verification technology works for the private sector, state governments, and foreign countries, there’s no excuse for not using it to protect America’s borders as well."
The GAO reports comes one week after an internal audit by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s Office. That report found that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency lacks the resources to fulfill their traditional law enforcement repsonsibilities along with their increased efforts to intercept potential terrorists at airports and other ports of entry.