CBP Searches May Fail to Uncover WMD in Cargo

Inspectors at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may fail to detect weapons of mass destruction in US-bound cargo because they rely upon outdated guidance for examining high-risk shipments, the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned Monday.

CBP inspectors follow ratings developed by the Automated Targeting System (ATS) to identify high-risk shipments entering the United States and to flag them for inspection, noted the IG report, Cargo Targeting and Examinations, but they use guidance, titled the US Customs Narcotics Interdiction Guide, issued in 1999 to conduct physical inspections of cargo.

But prior to 9/11, customs inspectors largely searched for illegal goods and narcotics. After 9/11, inspectors shifted their focus to uncovering biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear agents that could be utilized in acts of terrorism.

But CBP officers still rely on the 1999 guidance, which could hurt the quality of their inspections, the IG report found.

"For example, owing to the lack of updated guidance, we observed that CBP officers used their own judgment to estimate and record the amount of cargo that needed to be examined and did not follow the guide’s minimum requirements for thepercentage of cargo that needed to be examined when conducting physical examinations," the report stated. "Further, as noted in our recently issued draft report, CBP’s Ability to Detect Biological and Chemical Threats in Maritime Cargo Containers, CBP does not have updated guidance to address biological and chemical threats.

"Updated guidance to properly examine and document the results of examinations is critical because CBP uses prior examination results to update and refine ATS’ cargo targeting rules," the report added.

CBP told the IG office that the agency intends to update the guidance for conducting the examinations. The CBP Office of Field Operations intends to issue the Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team National Directive–which would describe procedures for inspections for chemical, biological, nuclear, and radioactive threats–by April 30, 2010.

The IG report cautioned, "CBP officers will continue to rely on their own judgment and may not be thoroughly or appropriately examining potentially dangerous cargo before it is released into public commerce."

The IG office also recommended that CBP improve its documentation for its inspections. ATS did not contain appropriate records to support decisions to waive or inspect high-risk cargo in 57 out of 391 high-risk cases examined by the IG office.

The lack of documentation left analysts with no way of confirming that CBP officers had made the correct decisions or followed consistent procedures to examining shipments entering the United States.

CBP should further review ATS recordkeeping to ensure that CBP officers do not enter inaccurate or inconsistent information on their examinations, the IG report said.

CBP agreed with the recommendations. It reported its Office of Field Operations would issue a standardized waiver form and document retention requirements by Feb. 26, 2010.

Moreover, CBP announced it would update the Cargo Examination Reporting and Tracking System guidance for ports to detail requirements for examination findings by July 30, 2010.

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