Border Security

GAO to CBP: Put testing data to better use for border security

Image copyright to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol: nuclear detection hardware.

The Government Accountability Office says Customs and Border Protection could do a better job analyzing information gathered on security tests at ports of entry.

Customs and Border Protection needs to do a better job analyzing and circulating data gleaned by its undercover unit that secretly probes U.S. border facilities looking for the potential to smuggle nuclear material into the country, a new Government Accountability Office study says.

GAO found CBP's Operational Field Testing Division -- using a $1 million budget that covered a number of covert border testing activities -- had conducted 144 nuclear material testing operations at 86 locations between fiscal 2006 and 2013, selecting locations from among 655 U.S. air, land and sea port facilities, checkpoints and certain international locations.

The results showed differences in the rate of success for intercepting smuggled nuclear and radiological materials across facility types. But GAO said that OFTD was not correlating the results to help bolster defenses across all locations. The report also noted that the agency had not conducted a risk assessment to prioritize locations, material and technologies tested in the covert operations.

A risk assessment of the operations, said the report, would go a long way toward maximizing resources and strengthening detection capabilities at the most vulnerable ports and checkpoints.

CBP slyly tests U.S. inland and maritime ports and checkpoints, as well as some overseas facilities for vulnerabilities in their radiological detection systems. Covert operations can include teams of agents who try to smuggle nuclear and radiological materials by detection sensors at those facilities. Ports across the U.S. have radiological sensors at exits that screen cargo trucks before they leave the facility. CBP agents manning the facilities also have hand held radiation sensors inside the facilities to test cargo.

GAO recommended that the testing division establish time frames for reporting covert operations results and develop a mechanism to track whether ports of entry and checkpoints implemented corrective actions. Both actions, it said, could help inform management decision making on the need for further investments in equipment or personnel training to protect U.S. borders.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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