- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

U.S. immigration officials at the nation's ports of entry did not challenge General Accounting Office investigators who used phony driver's licenses, fictitious names and bogus credit cards to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico and Jamaica.

Robert J. Cramer, who heads the GAO's Office of Special Investigations, told the Senate Finance Committee yesterday that Immigration and Naturalization Service agents and Customs Service inspectors did not question the authenticity of the documents, and GAO investigators "encountered no difficulty entering the country using them."

The investigation was conducted in response to a request from Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and committee chairman, and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the panel, to test security at the nation's ports of entry.

The GAO used the bogus documents to enter the United States via Miami International Airport and at border crossings at San Ysidro, Calif., Peace Arch State Park in Blaine, Wash., and Port Angeles, Wash.

"The border was tested by sea, by air, by car and on foot," Mr. Grassley said. "In every instance, our border was penetrated sometimes the investigators didn't even need their fake IDs. These results should trouble us all."

The committee, during a hearing titled "U.S. Borders: Safe or Sieve?", also heard from:

•Interior Department Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, who said Interior officials had made no serious attempt to address concerns outlined in a year-old IG report saying staffing shortages posed a serious threat to the safety of National Park Service law-enforcement officers.

"I regret to inform you that progress in implementing many of our recommendations is moving at glacial speed," Mr. Devaney said. "Simply stated, despite the critical role law enforcement plays in our nation's homeland-security efforts, Interior's bureaus are not placing any sense of urgency on law enforcement reforms."

•Daniel Wirth, a National Park Service officer and president of the Tucson, Ariz., chapter of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, who said public lands on the nation's borders are in a state of crisis, Park Service officers are in danger, natural resources are being destroyed and international drug smugglers have exploited "our porous border."

Mr. Wirth showed the committee infrared video of drug smugglers and illegal aliens crossing into the United States through Arizona including groups of aliens ranging up to 200 people. "This is happening every night," he said.

Mr. Baucus noted that Americans depend on border-security personnel to ensure their safety and protect their freedoms, and that the testimony highlighted "shortcomings of our border security."

Mr. Cramer said the GAO created fictitious driver's licenses and birth certificates using "ordinary" computer-software programs available to the public, and obtained and carried phony credit cards using the names on the bogus documents.

One of the breached ports of entry at Port Angeles, Wash., where ferry boats dock from Victoria, British Columbia, is the route taken by al Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national and Canadian resident convicted of attempting an attack on Los Angeles International Airport to coincide with the December 1999 millennium celebrations. Ressam was arrested by U.S. Customs agents as he tried to enter Washington state from Canada in a car loaded with explosives, chemicals and timing devices.

Mr. Grassley said the federal government needs to "dramatically improve border security" to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. He said federal agencies need stricter policies regarding documents they accept for identification and that border inspectors need better training.

"What these investigators found is shocking," he said. "Bouncers at college bars could spot the kind of fake IDs that were used by investigators. The officials in charge of border security need to be at least that good at their jobs."

Federal law enforcement agencies are responsible for 368 land, sea and air ports of entry covering more than 8,000 miles of land and coastal borders. On March 1, INS and customs will be folded into a new Department of Homeland Security.

"The issue of border security is a huge responsibility and could not be more important, given the terrorist threat facing the United States," Mr. Grassley said. "Today's hearing revealed that the door to our country is wide open and without the security checks needed to protect American citizens even after September 11."

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