Probe finds major security gaps along U.S.-Canada border
On three different occasions, Government Accountability Office investigators probed apparently unmonitored and unmanned sections of the northern border, finding that they could sneak from Canada into the United States undetected even while carrying a red duffel bag to simulate the smuggling of radioactive materials or other contraband.
GAO concluded that Customs and Border Protection, part of the Homeland Security Department, faces major challenges along the porous northern border. The agency released its findings Thursday to the Senate Finance Committee, which requested the investigation.
"Our visits to the northern border show that CBP faces significant challenges in effectively monitoring the border and preventing undetected entry into the United States," GAO officials told the committee in written testimony obtained in advance by CongressDaily.
"Our work shows that 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," GAO stated.
A CBP spokesman downplayed the findings and raised the possibility the agency detected GAO's intrusion but determined it was not a threat. "Even if the GAO didn't see somebody there, it doesn't mean there is no observation," he said.
He added that the Border Patrol usually responds more aggressively to intrusions in urban areas.
CBP also provided GAO a list of incidents along the northern border in which intrusions were detected and agents responded to make arrests.
By comparison, GAO observed a large presence of law enforcement personnel and Army National Guard troops in one state, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, along the Mexican border.
The report does not specify the state, but it is likely Arizona, where the Homeland Security Department is initiating the first phase of the so-called SBInet program.
The program is intended to build a virtual fence along the border using technology and infrastructure, but has been delayed due to technical glitches.
GAO investigators said they did not try to sneak into the United States from Mexico due to safety concerns about entering Mexico. But investigators found that federal lands along the southern border appeared to be unmonitored and vulnerable to penetration.
"Our observations on the southern border showed a significant disparity between the large law enforcement presence on state lands in one state and what seemed to be a lack of law enforcement presence on federally managed lands," GAO said.
According to CBP, there were 972 Border Patrol agents on the northern border and 11,986 agents on the southern border as of May.
The CBP spokesman said Homeland Security works collaboratively with other agencies to secure federal lands. He added that the agency is ramping up the amount of personnel and the use of technology and fencing along the southern border.
"The reason for all of that is to get control of the borders," he said. "We feel like we're moving in the right direction but we also know there's still a lot of work to do."
GAO concluded "that more human capital and technological capabilities are needed to effectively protect the northern border."