Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
After the release of a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he has told U.S. Customs and Border Protection it has to do more to protect the northern border of the United States. “I’m maybe a little put out, a little angry,” Baucus said in an interview Thursday. “I made it clear to the Border Patrol, especially Customs and Border Protection, they have to do a better job. This is just not acceptable.” The Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs, requested GAO conduct studies to determine how secure the borders were. From 2003 to 2007, the office conducted covert tests and assessments. “GAO investigators identified numerous border security vulnerabilities, both at ports of entry and at unmanned and unmonitored land border locations between the ports of entry,” the May 2008 report says. Baucus said his concern is that the focus is on the 1,900 miles of U. S-Mexican border, which could lead to lower priorities on the more-than 5,000-mile northern border. “I don’t want the northern border to be a backdoor for criminal activity,” he said. Baucus said there have been steps taken to improve security the GAO report notes that initiatives put in place this year and more to come are not covered in the report but he will continue to keep an eye on the situation. For example, he said, CBP is working to improve training to spot false identification, is working to improve the use of technology and has a plan in place to double the number of agents on the northern border by 2010. “That’s progress. I’m pleased there is progress but I’m going to be keeping their feet to the fire,” he said. “I’m hoping the results are satisfactory, but, if not, we’re going to have to lower the boom again.” The report details how undercover GAO agents tried to enter through manned stations usingFalse identification. In nearly every case a 93 percent success rate government inspectors accepted oral assertions and counterfeit identification as proof of U.S. citizenship and allowed the GAO investigators entry, the report said. The most recent investigation by GAO involved security assessments of unmanned and unmonitored areas between ports of entry. Investigators simulated the cross-border movement of radioactive materials or other contraband into the United States from Canada, the report said. Baucus said the success of those attempted entries “were alarming “They would get out of a car, cross the border and hand a pouch, a simulated bomb, to someone else and just walk back again ,” he said. “It’s like walking along a park, it’s like strolling a wheat field in Havre. It’s just not right.” The report said that in meetings with CBP officials in 2007, GAO said the officials told GAO that resource restrictions prevent U. S. Border Patrol agents from investigating all instances of suspicious activity. One of the responses the Department of Homeland Security made to the GAO meetings was that it has taken a number of actions to increase the security of the northern border, including the increase in agents Baucus referred to. Baucus said Thursday he hopes the measures will improve the security. “I don’t really care how they detect illegal activity across the border as long as they detect it and stop illegal activity,” he said.