Penny Starr, CNS News, October 19, 2012
In its final report on Customs and Border Protection’s strategy to address illicit cross-border tunnels issued Sept. 26, 2012, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security said there has been an 80 percent increase in the “tunnel activity” since 2008.
“Since 1990, law enforcement officials have discovered more than 140 tunnels that have breached the U.S. border, with an 80 percent increase in tunnel activity occurring since 2008,” the report stated in its executive summary.
“Illicit cross-border tunnels along the southwest border of the United States represent a significant and growing threat to border security,” the summary stated. “Criminals primarily use the tunnels to transport illegal narcotics into the United States.
The report was done “to determine whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has developed an operational strategy to detect and remediate cross-border tunnels, and has acquired tunnel detection technology,” which is “part of its overall border security and law enforcement missions.”
The summary pointed out, however, “the program has not matured to a point where it demonstrates how it will consider the needs of Homeland Security Investigations” with the development and acquisition of tunnel-detecting technology.
In a Sept. 22 story aired on National Public Radio, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the technology on the border was better than ever before.
“It is safe to say that there has been more money, manpower, infrastructure, technology, invested in the border-protection mission in the last three years than ever before,” Napolitano said.
The OIG report revealed that law enforcement has recovered approximately 169,000 pounds of narcotics valued at more than $200 million from drug traffickers using tunnels.
“Criminals also attempt to use cross-border tunnels to smuggle contraband, currency and weapons,” the report stated.
The report defined tunnels in three categories — rudimentary, interconnected and sophisticated. Some 42 percent of detected tunnels are sophisticated, which are described as “elaborately constructed and may use shoring, ventilation, electricity, and rail systems. Such tunnels have stretched more than 2,000 feet. Often the tunnel entrances and exits are located within existing structures, such as in residences or warehouses.”
The report stated that DHS’s mission is to “disrupt and dismantle” operations of smuggling and trafficking across the U.S. border, but concludes that “CBP does not have technology to allow it to detect tunnels routinely and accurately.”
As to recommendations made by the OIG, the report stated:
“We are making two recommendations to CBP to improve consideration of the needs of both CBP and Homeland Security Investigations. We are also making two recommendations to the department to improve coordination and oversight of CBP and Homeland Security Investigations counter-tunnel efforts,” it said.
“The Department and CBP agreed with three of our recommendations and did not provide sufficient detail for concurrence or non-concurrence with one recommendation,” the report stated.