Combating Terrorism:

Additional Steps Needed to Enhance Foreign Partners' Capacity to Prevent Terrorist Travel

GAO-11-637: Published: Jun 30, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2011.

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Eliminating the threat of terrorist attacks continues to be a primary U.S. national security focus. According to the 9/11 Commission, constraining the mobility of terrorists is one of the most effective weapons in fighting terrorism. This report (1) describes key gaps the U.S. government has identified in foreign countries' capacity to prevent terrorist travel overseas, (2) evaluates how U.S. capacity-building efforts address those gaps, and (3) assesses the extent to which the U.S. government is measuring progress in its efforts to close those gaps. To identify the key gaps, GAO reviewed governmentwide assessments of vulnerabilities in the international travel system. GAO reviewed the strategies and documentation of U.S. agencies funding and/or implementing foreign capacity-building efforts to prevent terrorist travel overseas, including those of the Departments of State (State)--which coordinates U.S. efforts overseas--Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). GAO also interviewed officials from the National Security Staff, of the National Security Council (NSC), which oversees counterterrorism policy. GAO met with these agencies and conducted field work in Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

The U.S. government has identified four key gaps in foreign countries' capacity to prevent terrorist travel overseas. U.S. government foreign capacity-building programs and activities address these gaps to varying degrees. For instance, as one of the U.S. efforts to enhance foreign partners' sharing of information about known and suspected terrorists, State's Terrorist Interdiction Program provides participating countries with hardware and software to develop, maintain, and use terrorist screening information. In fiscal year 2010, nearly 150 ports of entry overseas were using this program. With regard to addressing the use of fraudulent travel documents, GAO found the potential for overlap and duplication since seven components of three federal agencies are involved in providing training on fraudulent travel document recognition to foreign government officials, with no mechanism to coordinate such training. In two countries GAO visited, there was a lack of collaboration among agencies funding and implementing training on this topic. For example, in Pakistan, State and DHS were both planning to hold fraudulent travel document training for the same Pakistani agency during the same month without knowing of the other's plans. Regarding helping countries improve the security of their passport issuance, State and USAID have multiple efforts, including State's Bureau of Consular Affairs bringing delegations from foreign passport offices to the United States for briefings at passport-related agencies. Finally, the U.S. government has many efforts aimed at combating corruption overseas, such as encouraging countries to pass anticorruption laws. While these efforts are not aimed specifically at countries' passport and immigration agencies, they are intended to improve the effectiveness of all government functions. The U.S. government lacks performance measures to assess governmentwide progress in closing the key gaps in foreign partners' capacity to prevent terrorist travel overseas. None of the governmentwide or individual agency strategic documents GAO reviewed contained such measures. While components of State and DOJ have some performance measures related to information sharing, these measures do not provide decision makers with comprehensive information on governmentwide progress in enhancing foreign partners' capacity. GAO recommends that (1) State develop a mechanism to improve coordination of various agencies' efforts to provide fraudulent travel document training to foreign partners, and (2) NSC develop a mechanism to measure, track, and report on overall progress toward the goal of enhancing foreign partners' capacity to prevent terrorist travel overseas. State concurred with the first recommendation. NSC did not comment on the draft report.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to institute a coordinated approach for delivering fraudulent travel document recognition training overseas to ensure that U.S. agencies prevent overlap and duplication; and given State's role in working with all appropriate elements of the U.S. government to ensure integrated and effective international counterterrorism efforts, State should develop a mechanism for agencies involved in funding and implementing fraudulent travel document recognition training at overseas posts to coordinate the delivery of such training to foreign partners.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to State officials in July 2013, State plans to propose that the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center's Interagency Working Group on Alien Smuggling and Trafficking serve as the venue for coordinating training for foreign officials on identifying fraudulent travel documents. The Working Group meets quarterly and State officials plan to make their proposal at the next quarterly meeting in August.

    Recommendation: To allow the U.S. government to determine the extent to which it is building foreign partners' ability to prevent terrorist travel abroad and to make adjustments to improve its programs accordingly, the National Security Council, in collaboration with relevant agencies, should develop a mechanism to measure, track, and report on U.S. progress across the government toward its goal of enhancing foreign partners' capacity to prevent terrorist travel.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

    Status: Open

    Comments: The National Security Staff reviewed a draft of our report but did not respond.

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