(CBP photo)

GAO Says Northern Border Security Suffering Because of Southwest Focus

Focus has very much been on the southwest border of late, understandably so, but what of the 4,000-mile-long northern border with Canada?

In 2017, DHS completed its Northern Border Threat Analysis Report. According to that report, the large volume of legitimate travel across the northern border and the long stretches of difficult terrain between ports of entry provide potential opportunities for individuals who may pose a national security risk to enter the United States undetected.

Potential terror threats are primarily from unidentified homegrown violent extremists in Canada who believe they can enter the United States legally at ports of entry without suspicion. Each U.S. Border Patrol (Border Patrol) sector along the northern border also completes annual intelligence reports assessing the terrorism threat in its area of responsibility and identifies examples of individuals associated with terrorist organizations, including domestic terrorist organizations, which include anti-government, white supremacist, and militia groups.

In its annual national fiscal year 2018 intelligence report, Border Patrol assessed that the threat of terrorism is low along the northern border, but may include the opportunity for foreign violent extremists to exploit established alien smuggling routes and networks for the purposes of evading detection en route to the United States.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review, publicly released June 26, found staffing and resource challenges limit the required enforcement activities along the U.S.-Canada border. For example, there are an insufficient number of agents for patrol missions. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is struggling to address these challenges because of competing priorities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. Border Patrol (Border Patrol) and Air and Marine Operations (AMO) are the components within CBP responsible for securing U.S. borders between ports of entry in the land, air, and maritime environments. Border Patrol identified an insufficient number of agents that limited patrol missions along the northern border. AMO identified an insufficient number of agents along the northern border, which limited the number and frequency of air and maritime missions. Border Patrol and AMO also identified a variety of resource challenges along the northern border, such as limited radar and surveillance technology coverage and inadequate facilities to process and temporarily hold apprehended individuals.

While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CBP identified actions to address staffing and resource challenges, GAO is concerned that these challenges will be not be addressed, primarily because CBP’s priority is to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition to staffing challenges, Border Patrol officials told the GAO review about issues with technology and infrastructure, including legacy remote video surveillance systems. For example, officials identified system outages due to delays in maintenance and replacement of parts, and poor quality video surveillance camera images.

The GAO review also found that CBP does not have specific performance measures to assess how effectively it is securing the northern border between ports of entry. While CBP has performance measures that assess selected border security operations or programs, some of which include data from the northern border, it does not have specific measures to assess its effectiveness at securing the northern border between ports of entry. For example, Border Patrol has performance measures that assess security in remote areas on the northern border, but the measures do not include data from maritime border areas.

GAO is making two recommendations, that Border Patrol and AMO each develop and implement performance measures to assess their effectiveness at securing the northern border between ports of entry.

DHS concurred with both recommendations in the report and described actions Border Patrol and AMO plan to take in response. Border Patrol plans to develop and apply a measure of operational control to its northern border sectors; however, GAO says that to meet the intent of its recommendation, Border Patrol will also need to use its measure of operational control to assess its effectiveness at securing the northern border between ports of entry. AMO plans to develop a performance measure to assess its effectiveness at securing the northern border between ports of entry and seek DHS approval through completion of a Performance Measure Definition Form.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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