- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The nation’s border czar, who leaves office this month, says protecting America against terrorists and other threats is possible, but only if Congress and the White House show they are serious about dealing with the issue of border security “and dealing with it effectively.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, during an interview last week at CBP headquarters in Washington, said national security interests depend on the willingness of Congress and the White House to effectively support a security initiative that calls for new detection technology and manpower.

“There is a national consensus that we ought to do a better job of controlling our borders,” said Mr. Bonner, who is returning to private law practice in Los Angeles after more than four years at the CBP and its predecessor agency, the U.S. Customs Service.

“I believe there is a strong sentiment and growing support in both Congress and the White House for an effective border security program, and our national security depends on it,” he said. “But both are going to have to show they are … moving forward on the issue to demonstrate their seriousness.”

Mr. Bonner acknowledged that the CBP, particularly the Border Patrol with 11,000 agents nationwide, does not have enough manpower and lacks sufficient detection technology, but said the agency has vigorously sought a new national strategy to secure the “right combination” of personnel, technology and infrastructure.

Mr. Bonner said achieving a sound border strategy to protect against terrorists and others will require highly trained and well-equipped Border Patrol agents, integrated detection technology, and air and marine support.

“We must leverage the best technology available to detect and cue us to illegal entries,” he said. “But I recognize, and we must never forget, that it is the … CBP’s well-trained and highly motivated Border Patrol agents who, in the final analysis, get the job done.”

Mr. Bonner declined to say how many additional agents it would take to secure the border, although he has hinted in the past that a force of 19,000, with a crucial corresponding increase in technology, could do the job.

“Without the necessary detection technology, it will take a lot more agents to establish control on the border,” he said.

President Bush has signed legislation authorizing an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents for fiscal 2006. The agents are expected to be on the job by the end of September.

But Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation this week authorizing 8,000 new Border Patrol agents and requiring the Department of Homeland Security to develop a joint strategic plan to provide the Border Patrol with military support.

“The terrorist attacks of September 11 made it clear that our nation must be more aggressive in preventing terrorists from entering the United States,” Mr. King said.

Created in March 2003, U.S. Customs and Border Protection includes 42,000 employees from U.S. Customs, the Border Patrol, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Its 2006 budget is $6.7 billion.

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