Terrorism and Drug Trafficking:

Threats and Roles of Explosives and Narcotics Detection Technology

NSIAD/RCED-96-76BR: Published: Mar 27, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 3, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the threats of terrorist attacks to civil aviation and of narcotics trafficking in the United States; (2) strategies developed to meet these threats; and (3) planned detection technology deployments to combat terrorism and interrupt the shipment of narcotics.

GAO found that: (1) the intelligence community believes that the threat of terrorism within the United States has increased; (2) although no specific aviation threat is known, experts believe that aviation is likely to remain an attractive target for terrorists; (3) according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, terrorist attacks could come from groups that are difficult to infiltrate and control; (4) information was uncovered in January 1995 about plans by such a group for multiple attacks on specific U. S. flights in Asia; (5) narcotics trafficking is a continuing concern; (6) while cocaine has been the primary threat since 1985, heroin is becoming more of a threat; (7) the intelligence community believes traffickers are presently most active on the southwest border of the United States and use vehicles such as cars, trucks, and tractor-trailers carrying containers to smuggle narcotics; (8) to counter these threats, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Customs Service have developed strategies that rely on: (a) intelligence information; (b) various procedures, such as profiling and targeting high-risk shipments for examination; and (c) technologies; (9) FAA relies on a strategy of tailored response to mandate security procedures commensurate with the level of threat at specific places and times; (10) the terrorist threat overseas is higher, and FAA mandated more stringent security measures for international flights, including use of conventional X-ray screening for checked baggage; (11) Customs' strategy includes disseminating intelligence on drug trafficking, targeting high-threat conveyances and cargoes, and using detection technologies; the current emphasis is on the southwest border and particularly on trucks and private vehicles; (12) concealed explosives and narcotics are difficult to detect using technologies currently deployed in the United States; (13) tests of conventional X-ray screening conducted by FAA in May 1994 showed that there is a low probability of detecting a moderately sophisticated explosive device; (14) since then, FAA has certified an advanced automated explosive detection system, but has not required deployment of that system; (15) FAA's preliminary estimates are that the cost of purchasing and installing the system at the 75 busiest domestic airports could range from $400 million to $2.2 billion; (16) Customs has one truck X-ray system at the southwest border for detecting narcotics and plans to acquire others at a total cost of about $38 million; (17) Customs' plans for seaports and the use of mobile systems have not been clearly defined; and (18) other countries are already deploying advanced technologies intended for explosives or narcotics detection.

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