HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us
United States of America

Insecurity at our Border Crossings

By Guest Contributor, Jay Fraser | August 9, 2006

Agents of the Customs and Border Patrol recently permitted entry to the United States undercover investigators presenting falsified identity documents. In what may become a widening debate on the steps the U.S. government has taken to prevent a new act of terrorism, the Government Accountability Office published the testimony of Gregory D. Kutz, Managing Director Forensic Audits and Special Investigations before the Senate Committee on Finance link text. Kutz' testimony highlighted serious breaches at both the Northern and Southern borders.

In his statement, Kutz discussed how the GAO had run exercises in 2003 and 2004 in which they had successfully entered the U.S. through Canada and Mexico using counterfeit identification at land border crossings. In 2006 follow-up investigation he said:

We created a fictitious driver's license and birth certificate with the same name that we used in the tests conducted for the work we did in 2003. We also created another fictitious license and birth certificate. To create all these documents, we used commercial software that is available to the public. As agreed with your offices, we chose to test a nonrepresentative selection of nine land crossings at both the northern and southern borders, including one in California, one in Texas, two in Arizona, one in Michigan, two in New York, one in Idaho, and one in Washington. We conducted our work from February 2006 through June 2006 in accordance with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency Quality Standards for Investigations.

Agents successfully entered the United States using fictitious driver's licenses and other bogus documentation through nine land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders. CBP officers never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents presented at any of the nine crossings. On three occasions--in California, Texas, and Arizona--agents crossed the border on foot. At two of these locations--Texas and Arizona--CBP allowed the agents entry into the United States without asking for or inspecting any identification documents.

In his concluding comments, Kutz said, "This vulnerability potentially allows terrorists or others involved in criminal activity to pass freely into the United States from Canada or Mexico with little or no chance of being detected. It will be critical that the new initiative requiring travelers within the Western Hemisphere to present passports or other accepted documents to enter the United States address the vulnerabilities shown by our work."

On its own, this situation is distressing. It is clear that despite all of the attention paid to border security, and despite previous GAO investigations, that border agents simply are not paying attention to the identity documents being presented to them. When looked at in the light of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring that travelers coming into the United States to show a passport or other form of secure identification, its even more distressing. [The originally stipulated date of implementation was January 1, 2008, but a recent Senate bill extended the deadline to June 1, 2009.]

Additionally, as detailed in a recent article in Fleet Owner, "Federal ID Cards Blank", it is clear that another "secure ID card" initiative, this one the Transport Worker Identity Card or TWIC, is behind schedule, and wrought with cost overruns.

The tamper-proof biometric card program, mandated by The Maritime Transportation and Security of Act of 2002, is several years behind schedule because of high personnel turnover at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), lack of presidential interest and bureaucratic sluggishness. Although initially anticipated in 2004, proposed rules are not likely to be published until later this year, with implementation in 2007 at the earliest.

Finally, what needs to be considered is the Real ID Act of 2005 that many people see as the beginning of the creation of a National Identification Card. One of the problems is that the Act envisioned a uniform drivers license as serving the purpose. Despite the cost we all pay to get one, drivers' licenses are a cost center for the states.

Many of the states see compliance with the requirements of the Act to be costly, and some are resisting the mandate. As discussed in the article:

Two states have considered resolutions calling for the law to be repealed, the New York City Council passed a resolution opposing it and New Hampshire is considering opting out entirely.
"It's absolutely absurd," said Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, chairman of the National Governors Association, which takes a stand on issues only when it has a broad consensus. "The time frame is unrealistic; the lack of funding is inexcusable."

Another concern, Mr. Huckabee, a Republican, said, is "whether this is a role that you really want to turn over to an entry-level, front-line, desk person at the D.M.V."

"If we're at a point that we need a national ID card, then let's do that," Mr. Huckabee said. "But let's not act like we're addressing this at a federal level and then blame the states if they mess it up. There's not a governor in America that wants that responsibility."

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) sets the standards for the states' drivers' licenses.

In the aftermath of September 11th many people believe that there is a need for secure identification documents. Whether that comes in the form of a drivers' license, or the TWIC, or the federal government's Uniform ID Card program is less important than whether those people tasked with interrogating the card when presented will recognize a real one or a counterfeit one. The extensions for implementation of the ID card programs suggest that bureaucracy is affecting our security. Beyond that, the question arises as to whether the technologies deployed in these cards will in fact provide the promised "bullet-proof" security.