Customs Service:

Information on Southwest Border Drug Enforcement Operations

GGD-97-173R: Published: Sep 30, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the drug enforcement operations of the Customs Service along the Southwest border of the United States, focusing on Customs': (1) methodology for allocating resources for drug enforcement activities; (2) internal controls and inspection requirements for cargo entry processes; and (3) internal controls and safeguards that are in place for records in the Treasury Enforcement Communications System.

GAO noted that: (1) the Commissioner and other Customs officials emphasized Customs' drug enforcement programs to Customs employees in a variety of ways and on many occasions; (2) Customs trains its inspectors initially at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, Georgia; (3) this 11-week course includes classes on drug interdiction responsibilities; (4) other training in drug interdiction methods is provided at the Customs facility at Laredo, Texas, to focus on interdiction problems and methods on the Southwest border; (5) Customs made a total of 23 seizures of cocaine, totalling more than 20,000 pounds, at 6 of the 24 commercial cargo ports of entry during fiscal years 1994 through 1996; (6) there were no cocaine seizures at the other 18 commercial cargo ports entry; (7) Customs' intelligence operations were recently restructured; (8) about 25 percent of the narcotics seizures made by Customs from commercial cargo crossing the Southwest border was attributed to prior information in fiscal year 1996; (9) according to Customs officials, prior information includes not only intelligence leads but also information obtained from other sources, such as informants; (10) prior to the mid-1980s, Customs' communications systems were vulnerable to interception by drug smugglers because they operated in a "clear" mode, but current systems can be encrypted and, according to Customs officials, are not believed to be vulnerable to interception when operating in the encrypted mode; (11) Customs officials have recognized the problem of spotters and have implemented several initiatives at key ports of entry intended to reduce the problem; (12) two truck X-ray systems are in operation (one recently installed); and (13) the use of the first truck X-ray system resulted in more than 120 seizures of narcotics (almost 24,000 pounds) from September 1994 through July 1997.

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