Terrorism and Drug Trafficking:

Responsibilities for Developing Explosives and Narcotics Detection Technologies

NSIAD-97-95: Published: Apr 15, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the U.S. government is organized to develop technologies for detecting explosives and narcotics, focusing on: (1) the roles, responsibilities, and authority of agencies that establish policy, provide funds or oversee funding requests, and develop explosives and narcotics detection technologies; (2) mechanisms used to coordinate the joint development of technologies; and (3) efforts to strengthen detection technology development.

GAO noted that: (1) numerous federal organizations are involved in developing technologies for detecting explosives and narcotics; (2) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the key agency responsible for developing explosives detection technologies for civil aviation security; (3) in response to the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the President established the White House Commission on Aviation Security and Safety to recommend ways of improving security against terrorism; (4) the Commission's recommendations included assigning a new role to the U.S. Customs Service in screening outbound, international cargo for explosives; (5) in September 1996, Congress gave the Secretary of Treasury authority to develop governmentwide standards for canine teams; (6) regarding narcotics detection, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is responsible for coordinating federal counterdrug technology efforts and assessing and recommending detection technologies; (7) Customs, with technology development support and funding from the Department of Defense, ultimately decides which technologies will be developed and deployed at U.S. ports of entry; (8) Customs has not deployed some technologies because it did not believe that they were affordable, safe, or operationally suitable for its needs; (9) in addition, Customs and ONDCP have differing views regarding the types of detection technologies needed along the Southwest border; (10) joint technology development is important because the types of technologies used to detect explosives and narcotics are similar; (11) the developers of narcotics detection technologies have not always participated in committees that oversee the development of explosives detection technologies; (12) in the future, Customs plans to participate in these committees; (13) at the direction of Congress, an interagency working group on counterterrorism plans to spend $19 million to develop a system for detecting explosives that Customs may possibly use in a seaport environment to detect drugs; (14) despite efforts to strengthen development of explosives and narcotics technologies, GAO found that the cognizant agencies have not yet agreed to formal understandings on how to establish standards for explosives detection systems, profiling and targeting systems, and deploying canine teams at airports; (15) in addition, they have not agreed on how to resolve issues related to a joint-use strategy and liability; and (16) furthermore, key decisionmakers are not receiving periodic comprehensive reports on the aggregated efforts of the various government entities to develop and field explosives and narcotics detection technologies.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A House amendment was added to the Department of Defense Authorization Act, requiring the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to annually report on the development and deployment of narcotics detection technologies. Staff members for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight and the House Committee on National Security worked to prepare the amendment. The staff member for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight informed GAO that the amendment is based on the recommendation found in this report. Although the report and recommendation deal with explosives and narcotics detection technologies, the staff member said the amendment was tailored to deal only with narcotic detection technologies. The actual language of the amendment would be further refined during conference.

    Matter: Because no single agency in the executive branch has aggregated into a single report information on what is being done on the development of explosives and narcotics detection technology, Congress may wish to direct the Secretaries of Transportation and the Treasury and the Director, ONDCP, to jointly provide to appropriate congressional oversight committees an annual report on all of the government's efforts to develop and field explosives and narcotics detection technology.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA and Customs established a Research and Development MOU with regard to participation in efforts in support of capabilities for response to terrorist activities, smuggling of contraband, and other areas of mutual interest. In addition, FAA and ATF, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, completed a MOU to conduct a joint pilot project to gather data on alternative method of training K-9 Explosives Detection Teams. The project is expected to be completed by early 1999.

    Recommendation: In line with the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security's call for more clearly defining and coordinating the roles of law enforcement agencies in supporting the FAA, the Secretaries of Transportation and the Treasury should establish a memorandum of understanding on how FAA, Customs, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and other agencies are to work together in establishing standards, including the use of explosives detection systems, development of a joint-use strategy, resolution of liability concerns, development of profiling and targeting systems to identify potentially threatening passengers and cargo, and deployment of canine teams at airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA and Customs established a Research and Development MOU with regard to participation in efforts in support of capabilities for response to terrorist activities, smuggling of contraband, and other areas of mutual interest. Regarding the other issues, FAA and Customs did not believe that an MOU was necessary. Instead, FAA and Customs are developing a Joint-Use Equipment Policy on sharing screening equipment with air carriers, airports, and other cargo authorities. Also, FAA and Customs worked on developing an automated targeting system for the targeting of high risk air cargo shipments that may pose a safety or security threat to the aircraft. In addition, FAA and ATF, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, completed a MOU to conduct a joint pilot project to gather data on alternative method of training K-9 Explosives Detection Teams. The project is expected to be completed by early 1999.

    Recommendation: In line with the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security's call for more clearly defining and coordinating the roles of law enforcement agencies in supporting the FAA, the Secretaries of Transportation and the Treasury should establish a memorandum of understanding on how FAA, Customs, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and other agencies are to work together in establishing standards, including the use of explosives detection systems, development of a joint-use strategy, resolution of liability concerns, development of profiling and targeting systems to identify potentially threatening passengers and cargo, and deployment of canine teams at airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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