Securing America's Borders While Safeguarding Commerce

Report Homeland Security

Securing America's Borders While Safeguarding Commerce

September 12, 2003 19 min read
Robert Bonner
Policy Analyst

I was last here at The Heritage Foundation over a year ago. We had not quite reached the one-year anniversary of that most infamous day in our country's history, September 11, 2001. Now, hard as it is to believe, the two-year anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. I say "hard to believe," because for me, as I'm sure is the case with all of you as well, that day remains as vivid in my memory today as it was two years ago.

But if I needed any reminder, an aerial photograph of Ground Zero in New York hangs on the wall in my conference room at Customs and Border Protection Headquarters. The photograph was taken from a U.S. Customs helicopter a few days after 9/11. The smoldering rubble still moves me, because I know that it entombed thousands of innocent people. This photograph is a daily reminder to me and my senior managers that our work to protect America against further terrorist attacks is urgent and essential to the security of our homeland.

We still grieve deeply for the 3,000 innocent people whose lives were cut short on that day, and for their families. And the horror and the anger that we all felt as a result of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 have not changed in the two years that have passed.

But I am here today to tell you about some of the things that have changed. I am here today to talk about steps our government and our country have taken--and more specifically, steps U.S. Customs, now U.S. Customs and Border Protection, have taken--to make our nation safer by better securing our borders.

As you know, we have not taken these steps just because of 9/11--the largest, most deadly terrorist attack in the history of the world. We have taken them because the terrorist threat continues, because the threat from international terrorism is real.

Reminders of that terrorist threat come all too often. One of the more recent was the attack in Jakarta just five weeks ago. It was carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a group closely associated with al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda and its cohorts have been dealt some severe blows, but they are determined to strike us again, even harder than 9/11. When the President said that the people who attacked us--the people who brought down those towers--would hear from us, he meant it. They have heard from us, but we're not finished.

We will likely face this threat for years to come, and our nation must act accordingly to attack that threat and defend against it. And we are.

The Department of Homeland Security
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security is one very important step President Bush and our nation have taken to address this new threat of international terrorism. With our federal government's prevention, preparedness, and response capabilities now under one roof, in one department of government, and with that department under the outstanding leadership of Secretary Ridge, our nation will be--and already is--safer and better able to deal with the terrorist threat.

CBP's Priority Mission
The creation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP--this new agency within the Department of Homeland Security--is another extraordinarily important step in addressing the terrorist threat. In fact, the CBP merger is a big part of the Department of Homeland Security reorganization to better protect our nation's borders. CBP is the largest actual merger of people and functions going on in the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, about one-fourth of the personnel of DHS are in CBP. That's not surprising considering how important the security of our borders is to the security of our homeland.

To create CBP, on March 1--six months ago--we took almost all of U.S. Customs and merged with it all of the immigration inspectors from the former INS, the agriculture border inspectors from the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the entire Border Patrol. This means that for the first time in our country's history, all agencies of the United States government with significant border responsibilities have been unified into one agency of our government, one agency to manage and secure our nation's borders.

The priority mission of this new agency is homeland security. And for the border agency, that means detecting and preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States. And, let me assure you, we are doing everything we reasonably and responsibly can to carry out that extraordinarily important priority mission.

Traditional Missions
We must also continue to carry out the traditional missions of the predecessor agencies that make up Customs and Border Protection. Missions like:

  • seizing illegal drugs and other contraband at the U.S. border;
  • apprehending people who attempt to enter the United States illegally;
  • protecting our agricultural interests from harmful pests and diseases;
  • collecting duties (we collected about $23 billion last year alone);
  • and enforcing our trade and immigration laws at our borders, just to name a few.

Twin Goals: Lessons from 9/11 (and 9/12, 13, and 14)
As U.S. Customs and Border Protection works to carry out its priority anti-terrorism mission and its traditional missions, we have devised ways to do so without choking off the flow of legitimate trade and travel, so important to our nation's economy and our openness as a nation.

I learned the need to do this most graphically on September 12, 13, and 14, 2001. On 9/11, Customs went to its highest level of security alert short of shutting down our borders. On September 12 and 13, wait times at our land borders skyrocketed from 10 to 20 minutes, to 12 hours at many of our major land border entry points. The border with Canada virtually shut down.

And the consequences for our "just in time" economy were quickly apparent. Some U.S. auto plants began to shut down by September 14.

To preserve the U.S. and Canadian economies--indeed, the North American economy--we needed to reinvent the border. We needed a more secure border because of the terrorist threat. But we also knew that, as we added security, we needed to ensure the continued movement of legitimate cargo and people through our borders.

We must protect American lives, but we must also protect American livelihoods--our economy. That's why we have twin goals: (1) increasing security and (2) facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

We've also learned that by using advance information, risk management, and technology, and by partnering with other nations and with the private sector, these goals don't have to be mutually exclusive. Since 9/11, we've developed ways to make our borders more secure that also ensure the more efficient flow of legitimate trade and travel.

Let me tell you about some things we've done in the past two years to carry out those twin goals--things we've done to "reinvent the border"--as well as what I see as the next steps for the road ahead.

Staffing and Technology Increases on the Northern Border
Let me start with our northern border. Before 9/11, we had about 1,000 customs inspectors and about 500 immigration inspectors on our shared 4,000-mile border with Canada. Most of the lower volume border crossings were not open 24 hours a day. There was no security when they were closed, other than an orange cone in the road. Think about it: An orange cone was all that stood in the way of someone driving a vehicle from Canada into the United States on a paved highway. That vehicle could have terrorists or terrorist weapons or it could be a weapon--a car bomb.

That was just plain unacceptable. So, although it's a little known fact, right after 9/11, I directed that all border crossings be staffed with two armed Customs inspectors 24/7. Because I didn't want inspectors doing this forever--the 24/7 staffing was a temporary measure--I mandated "hardening" and electronic monitoring of our low volume northern ports of entry to prevent unauthorized crossings. This meant installing gates, signs, lights, and remote camera surveillance systems, which we've done.

We've also added resources at the ports of entry on the northern border: I've received significant staffing increases, supported by the Administration. So today, we have over 2,600 CBP inspectors along the northern border, up from about 1,600 on 9/11. And the Administration's 2004 budget will double that number.

We also added sophisticated detection technology, such as large scale x-ray type machines that can scan an entire tractor trailer truck in a couple of minutes. There are now 24 such machines deployed at all the significant commercial crossings between Canada and the United States. There were exactly zero on 9/11.

We know that securing the areas between the ports of entry is just as important as adding security at the "ports of entry"--official crossing points. A chain, after all, to use that oft-used cliché, is only as strong as its weakest link.

Terrorists, just like others who seek to enter the U.S. illegally, may attempt to enter through official crossings with phony documents, or they may attempt to evade detection by crossing in areas between ports of entry.

That's where CBP's Border Patrol comes in. They are responsible for patrolling those areas and, using sophisticated sensor technology, detecting those who attempt to illegally enter the U.S. between the ports of entry. Since March 1 of this year, the Border Patrol is a part of Customs and Border Protection, and we have revised and refocused the Border Patrol's strategy--which had been principally focused on preventing the flow of illegal aliens and drugs crossing between ports of entry on our border with Mexico--to include an aggressive strategy for protecting against terrorist penetration, particularly at our northern border.

On 9/11, there were only 368 Border Patrol agents to cover the entire northern border. There were only about 550 when I took over the Border Patrol just six months ago, and I directed the Border Patrol to promptly increase that number to 1,000, and we are getting there.

This staffing increase is just a down payment to better secure our northern border against terrorist penetration. But it is not just staffing. We are adding sensors and other technology that assist in detecting illegal crossings. We are also making greater strategic use of the Border Patrol's interior checkpoints.

In addition to increases in staffing and technology on our northern border, two major bi-national programs--the NEXUS program and the Free and Secure Trade, or "FAST" program--have also been important to our post-9/11 efforts to improve security without stifling the flow of legitimate people and cargo, to create a smarter border.

NEXUS is a program that enables us to facilitate through our borders trusted and vetted travelers who pose no risk for terrorism or smuggling, and who are otherwise legally entitled to enter. This is very important because it enables us to focus our resources and efforts where they are needed most: on the high-risk individuals--people, quite frankly, who we know nothing about.

The people in the NEXUS program are Americans and Canadians who apply, who provide background information and biometrics, who are run against crime and terrorist indices of both countries, and who are personally interviewed by us.

If accepted into NEXUS--and only those judged to pose no risk are accepted--they are issued a proximity card, or SMART card. When they approach a border port of entry in their car, they wave their card and their information and photo shows up at the entry booth. They get waved right through.

Since I spoke at Heritage last summer, NEXUS has expanded to seven crossings on the northern border, including ports of entry at Blaine, Washington; Buffalo; Detroit; and Port Huron. And about 50,000 people have enrolled in the program so far.

The FAST program does for cargo what NEXUS does for people. Importers, trucking companies, and truck drivers enroll in the program, and, if they meet stringent security criteria, they are entitled to expedited clearance at the border.

FAST is operational in 28 lanes at six major commercial crossings along the northern border. By the end of this month, we hope to begin implementing a pilot FAST program with Mexico on our southwestern border.

All of these changes--increases in staffing and technology, implementation of the NEXUS and FAST programs--provide a significant increase in security, without unnecessarily stifling the flow of legitimate people and cargo. They take a lot of the hay out of the haystack.

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism
One thing that was immediately apparent to me as we confronted post-9/11 security issues was that support of the private sector was essential. It simply would not have been possible to have a comprehensive border security strategy for our nation, and for global trade, if the private sector did not get involved. That's because they own the supply chain. I also realized that we had something to give to the private sector: expedited processing at the borders--air, land, and sea.

From those realizations, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism was born. I proposed it to the trade community in November 2001. As many of you know, C-TPAT is a partnership between CBP and the trade community to implement security standards and best practices that better protect the entire supply chain against exploitation by terrorists--from foreign loading docks to our ports of entry. In exchange, companies that meet our security standards get the fast lane at and through our borders.

C-TPAT was launched in January 2002. When I spoke here at the Heritage Foundation last July, I was proud that 274 companies were participating in C-TPAT. What do you think the number of participants is today? 500? 1,000? 2,000?

Let me tell you something: It's over 4,000! What does that tell me? It tells me, first of all, that many businesses recognize their role in--in fact, their responsibility to take part in--security efforts. Even more important, it tells me that because of C-TPAT, trade is a lot safer from terrorist exploitation. And C-TPAT is still the largest and most successful government-private sector partnership to emerge after 9/11.

Container Security Initiative
Another thing that we realized in the wake of 9/11 was that we had to begin pushing our zone of security outward. We wanted our borders to be our last line of defense against the terrorist threat, not our first line of defense. This is the "extended border" concept or what Secretary Ridge has aptly called a "Smart Border."

C-TPAT is an extended border initiative. Another extended border, smart border initiative, is CSI, the Container Security Initiative. National security experts, like Steve Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations, considered the vulnerability of cargo containers to terrorist exploitation to be chilling, especially the prospect that one of the 7 million containers shipped to the U.S. annually could conceal a weapon of mass destruction.

Given this vulnerable system, we needed to develop and implement a program that would enable us to better secure containerized shipping--the most important means of global commerce--against the terrorist threat. That program, which I proposed in January 2002, is CSI.

Under CSI, CBP has entered into bi-lateral partnerships with other governments to identify high-risk cargo containers and to pre-screen them before they are loaded on vessels destined for the United States. It involves stationing small teams of U.S. Customs, now CBP, personnel at the foreign CSI ports to identify and target high-risk containers that might pose a terrorist security risk.

When I proposed CSI, the initial goal was to implement CSI at the top 20 ports in terms of the volume of cargo containers shipped to the United States. That's because those top 20 ports alone account for two-thirds, nearly 70 percent, of all containers shipped to U.S. seaports, and most cargo shipments from high-risk countries are transshipped through these ports.

When I was here last summer, I was able to tell you that governments representing four of the top 20 ports had agreed to participate in the program. But at that time, CSI had not been implemented at any of them, other than Canadian ports.

Today, governments representing 19 of those top 20 have signed up to implement CSI. And we've actually already implemented CSI at 16 foreign seaports. These ports include nine in Europe (Antwerp, Rotterdam, Le Havre, Felixstowe, Genoa, La Spezia, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, and Gothenburg, Sweden); four in Asia (Singapore; Hong Kong; Yokohama, Japan; and Pusan, Korea); and the three Canadian ports of Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax.

Those of you who know anything about the complexities of developing and implementing programs with other nations, and the length of time it usually takes, will recognize the magnitude of this feat.

With nearly all of the top 20 are on board, we have begun Phase 2 of CSI, where we are expanding beyond the top 20 to additional foreign ports.

24-Hour Rule
A key to CSI's success, and the success of other Smart Border initiatives, is advance information. For example, in order to identify high-risk containers before they leave foreign ports, we need the manifest information before the cargo is put on board those ships.

So last fall, I issued a rule, the so-called "24-hour rule" that required transmission of complete manifest information for sea cargo to U.S. Customs 24 hours in advance of lading. Through that rule, CBP is getting information that allows us to identify containers we need to take a closer look at--ones that raise security concerns.

Trade Act Proposed Regulations
And U.S. Customs and Border Protection has worked closely with the trade community to develop regulations that will require advance electronic information for the other modes of transportation: commercial trucks, rail, and air cargo.

Our proposed regulations were published in late July. When final, these regulations, like the 24-hour rule, will permit better risk management for the terrorist threat, before cargo shipments reach the U.S. border ports of entry.

Advance Passenger Information
Advance information is also critical to our efforts to identify individuals who may pose a security threat. Before September 11, 2001, air carriers transmitted some advance information on international airline passengers to U.S. Customs on a purely voluntary basis. We sought legislation that would make the transmission of that information mandatory. In late 2001, Congress enacted that legislation.

U.S. Customs, now CBP, implemented that legislation, and moved aggressively to achieve compliance from all air carriers as soon as possible. In less than a year, we achieved a 99 percent compliance rate. CBP, through our combined customs and immigration authorities, uses that information to evaluate and determine which arriving passengers pose a potential terrorist risk.

National Targeting Center
One of the greatest challenges - if not the single greatest challenge - we face in the war on terrorism is determining who and what to look at. CBP has broad power to question and search every person, vehicle, or shipment entering the U.S. How do we sort out who and what to look at, question, and inspect?

In October 2001, U.S. Customs established for the first time a National Targeting Center to help us meet the challenge of identifying potential terrorist threats to our country. Remember, our priority mission is detecting and preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering our country. Our National Targeting Center in Virginia is an essential tool for carrying out our priority mission.

The Center gathers the advance information I talked about, and uses our Automated Targeting System for passengers and cargo to identify what is high risk--to identify potential terrorists and terrorist targets for follow up at U.S. ports of entry and CSI ports.

The National Targeting Center has given us the ability to locate and eliminate terrorist threats before they become a reality--and it didn't exist on 9/11.

Comprehensive Strategy to Address Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism
One of the greatest terrorist threats is the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism--actual nuclear devices and so-called radiological dirty bombs. This threat, particularly the threat of nuclear devices, is largely an external one--meaning someone would have to bring the device across our borders and into this country.

This past year, CBP developed a Comprehensive Strategy for addressing that threat. Our plan focuses on several components, one of which is maintaining a secure border at our ports of entry that is capable of detecting potential nuclear and radiological devices.

Let me tell you what radiation detection technology CBP currently has deployed. We have over 8,000 personal radiation detectors, or PRDs, deployed to our inspectional workforce; we have over 300 radiation isotope identifiers deployed; and we have over 60 radiation portal monitors deployed. This is a vast improvement over what we had on 9/11.

Chem/Explosive Detection Dogs
Another terrorist threat is the threat of explosives and chemicals that could be used as terrorist weapons coming across our borders. I think all of you probably know that CBP uses canines to detect illegal drugs and even cash, but what you may not know is that since 9/11, we have been training dogs to detect explosives and chemical weapons of mass destruction. These talented dogs are an important resource in our anti-terrorist efforts. And on 9/11, this resource didn't even exist; we had no chemical/explosive detection dogs at our ports of entry.

CBP: One Face at the Border
We have done a great deal, but one of the most important steps we've taken is the creation of the Department of Homeland Security--and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Before March 1, 2003, our border agencies were fragmented into four different agencies in three different departments of government. This fragmentation was not just terribly inefficient; it made America more vulnerable to the threat of international terrorism.

Now, we are one agency, within one department. And, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, we are creating, as Secretary Ridge has called it, "One Face at the Border," by establishing one agency for our nation's borders.

In just six months, CBP has made significant strides toward achieving unification--creating one agency. But that's a topic for another day. You will have to invite me back another time to tell you how we accomplished one of the largest and most complex actual mergers, the creation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Road Ahead
Although I have only covered some of our efforts since 9/11, I hope I have given you a sense of where we are today, as compared with where we were two years ago. And I think you can see that we have made great strides.

But, believe me, I know our work is far from finished. I know there is much more to do. And rest assured, I and all the men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are pushing full steam ahead.

We are also working hard to become the truly unified agency that we know we can and should and will be, so that we can be the more effective, more efficient agency that the American people expect and deserve.

Let me wrap up my remarks today by calling to mind words uttered by Abraham Lincoln many years ago that seem particularly fitting. Lincoln said: "The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

At CBP, we are thinking anew and acting anew. The efforts I've talked about today are not just business as usual; they are not just a litany of government efforts that may or may not make a difference. They have and are making a difference. They are efforts and results of this Administration and the vision and leadership of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.

America is safer. Our borders are more secure against terrorists and their weapons of terror than they were two years ago. Of that I am sure.

Robert C. Bonner is Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection at the Department of Homeland Security.


Robert Bonner

Policy Analyst