- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

The chance that terrorists and criminals could exploit border vulnerabilities and enter the United States with radioactive materials or other dangerous cargo poses a serious security risk, the Government Accountability Office said yesterday.

In a report, the GAO said it successfully simulated the cross-border movement of radioactive materials and other contraband from Canada, noting that in one instance U.S. Border Patrol agents alerted to GAO activities by a resident could not locate the GAO investigators.

“Our visits to the northern border show that [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] faces significant challenges in effectively monitoring the border and preventing undetected entry into the United States,” it said.

The GAO said a “determined cross-border violator would likely be able to bring radioactive materials or other contraband undetected into the United States by crossing the U.S.-Canada border at any of the locations we investigated.”

It said CBP agents did not appear to man or monitor state roads close to the U.S.-Canadian border, allowing investigators to cross into the United States unchallenged.

On the U.S.-Mexican border, the GAO said while investigators saw a large law-enforcement and Army National Guard presence on a state road, including unmanned aerial vehicles, they identified adjacent federally managed land that did not appear to be monitored and had no observable law-enforcement presence.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, citing the GAO report yesterday, called for action to secure the northern border. “It is of great concern that anyone would ever be able to stroll over our border with simulated radioactive material, but for this to happen six years after 9/11 is terribly alarming,” he said.

Of the 13,488 Border Patrol agents, 965 are assigned to the northern border.

Although CBP has taken steps to secure the 170 ports of entry on the northern and southern U.S. borders, the GAO said Congress is concerned that unmanned and unmonitored areas between the ports might be vulnerable.

“In unmanned locations, CBP relies on surveillance cameras, unmanned aerial drones and other technology to monitor for illegal border activity,” the GAO said. “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.”

The report said GAO investigators tested security at seven border areas that were unmanned, unmonitored or both — four at the U.S.-Canadian border and three at the U.S.-Mexico border. In three of the four locations on the U.S.-Canadian border, it said, investigators carried a duffel bag across the border to simulate the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband.

It said GAO investigators also:

• Tried to trigger a law-enforcement response by taking photographs of a port of entry that had closed for the night. Border Patrol responded 20 minutes after investigators were caught on camera but the responding agents did not attempt to verify the identity of investigators or search their vehicle.

• Found no visible law-enforcement response and no observable electronic monitoring on federally managed land on the U.S.-Mexican border, but did find evidence of frequent border crossings into the United States.

• Found no law-enforcement presence when one of them stepped over a 4-foot-high border fence, entered Mexico and returned to the United States.

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