Border Security:

Security Vulnerabilities at Unmanned and Unmonitored U.S. Border Locations

GAO-07-884T: Published: Sep 27, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2007.


  • GAO: Simulating the Transport of Radioactive Material and Other Contraband Across U.S. BordersVIDEO: Simulating the Transport of Radioactive Material and Other Contraband Across U.S. Borders
    Video simulating the transport of radioactive material and other contraband across northern and southern U.S. borders at unmanned or unmonitored locations.

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Gregory D. Kutz
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The possibility that terrorists and criminals might exploit border vulnerabilities and enter the United States poses a serious security risk, especially if they were to bring radioactive material or other contraband with them. Although Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has taken steps to secure the 170 ports of entry on the northern and southern U.S. borders, Congress is concerned that unmanned and unmonitored areas between these ports of entry may be vulnerable. In unmanned locations, CBP relies on surveillance cameras, unmanned aerial drones, and other technology to monitor for illegal border activity. In unmonitored locations, CBP does not have this equipment in place and must rely on alert citizens or other information sources to meet its obligation to protect the border. Today's testimony will address what GAO investigators found during a limited security assessment of seven border areas that were unmanned, unmonitored, or both--four at the U.S.-Canada border and three at the U.S.-Mexico border. In three of the four locations on the U.S.-Canada border, investigators carried a duffel bag across the border to simulate the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband. Safety considerations prevented GAO investigators from attempting to cross north into the United States from a starting point in Mexico.

On the U.S.-Canada border, GAO found state roads close to the border that CBP did not appear to man or monitor. In some of these locations, the proximity of the road to the border allowed investigators to cross without being challenged by law enforcement, successfully simulating the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband into the United States from Canada. In one location on the northern border, the U.S. Border Patrol was alerted to GAO activities through the tip of an alert citizen. However, the responding U.S. Border Patrol agents were not able to locate GAO investigators. Also on the northern border, GAO investigators located several ports of entry that had posted daytime hours and were unmanned overnight. On the southern border, investigators observed a large law enforcement and Army National Guard presence on a state road, including unmanned aerial vehicles. Also, GAO identified federally managed lands that were adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. These areas did not appear to be monitored or did not have an observable law enforcement presence, which contrasted sharply with GAO observations on the state road. Although CBP is ultimately responsible for protecting federal lands adjacent to the border, CBP officials told GAO that certain legal, environmental, and cultural considerations limit options for enforcement--for example, environmental restrictions and tribal sovereignty rights.

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