- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Significant security problems exist at immigration inspection stations at the country's major international airports, making them vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries and the smuggling of aliens and contraband into the United States, a report said yesterday.
The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, following a lengthy investigation, concluded in a heavily redacted report that there are "significant and ongoing deficiencies" at U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service airport inspection facilities nationwide, where more than 40 million alien visitors were processed last year.
The report said investigators discovered that airport alarms, cameras and other security systems were either faulty, had been disconnected, were not being monitored or had never been installed.
"We concluded that the underlying causes for these deficiencies were rooted in perceptions held by INS officials regarding airport facilities," said Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. "They considered that airport security is not a primary responsibility of the INS.
"Thus, INS staff were unaware that exits were unsecured and that locks, alarms and cameras were inoperable," he said, "Also, INS officials believed the airline lobby was so powerful that INS would be unable to exert its authority to impose sanctions when airlines or airport authorities did not furnish adequate facilities."
Mr. Fine said investigators concluded that INS officials did not think poor facilities were related to serious consequences.
INS processed 43.1 million alien visitors at 159 U.S. airports in 2001, checking arriving international passengers and baggage. While the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for overall airport security, INS has oversight of foreign visitors and is responsible for ensuring that persons entering the United States are eligible to do so under immigration law.
Those responsibilities heightened after the September 11 attacks on America.
But, according to the IG's report, INS security systems and equipment at the 12 international airports targeted by investigators were found to be defective. Investigators also discovered that INS security and communications systems had not been tested or the testing was inadequate.
The investigation was ordered by Mr. Fine as a follow-up to a similar audit in 1999 that also documented extensive deficiencies. None of the 12 airports targeted was identified.
The IG's report also said the airports did not have emergency exits with both a local alarm and an alarm generated at a central location, had no intercoms between access-control points and the command center, and had no way for primary inspectors to contact the command center.
The 38-page report also said that holding-room doors could not be unlocked easily by INS staff during an emergency, and there was evidence of escapes and injuries that occurred because these deficiencies had not been corrected.
According to the report, secondary inspection areas did not have adequate camera coverage, interview rooms did not have a system to videotape interviews, and not all gates leading in and out of the in-transit lounge had camera coverage.
Secondary inspection areas are considered important in the search for illegal aliens, suspected criminals and potential terrorists. The areas are where foreign passengers are referred for additional interviews, a further examination of their documents, processing of additional documents, or placement into holding rooms.
The report also noted that INS took insufficient action to implement recommendations from the 1999 audit. It said the agency had not communicated needed improvements to airlines and airport authorities and had not developed a program to review existing facilities.
It said INS did not apply sanctions against airlines for failing to provide suitable facilities, failed to develop performance measures related to the improvement of airport inspection area facilities, and had not advised its own airport staff of the results of the prior audit.
The report said all 12 airports reviewed in the follow-up audit had "repeat deficiencies."
"By not addressing the risks associated with poor facilities and exercising its authority to impose sanctions where necessary, the INS continued to undermine its ability to influence airlines and airport authorities to meet standards," Mr. Fine said.
Investigators urged INS to set a deadline for security reviews at all airports, start periodic tests of security systems and begin working with airlines and airports to make sure action is taken to deal with the problems.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide