Customs Service: Information on Southwest Border Drug Enforcement Operations

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-09-30.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States
General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548

General Government Division


September 30, 1997

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senate

Subject:   Customs Service: Information on Southwest Border Drug
           Enforcement Onern

Dear Senator Feinstein

You asked us to undertake a review of the drug enforcement operations of the
U.S. Customs Service along the Southwest border of the United States. As we
recently agreed with your office, our preliminary work on the issues you raised
indicated that we should concentrate on Customs’ (1) methodology for
allocating resources for drug enforcement activities, (2) internal controls and
inspection requirements for cargo entry processes, and (3) internal controls and
safeguards that are in place for records in the Treasury Enforcement
Communications System. Our work on these three issues is continuing and will
be reported to you separately.

Also as agreed with your office, we prepared this letter to document the
information we obtained on the other issues you raised. In summary, the issues
and the information we obtained are:

       Customs’ emnhasis on its drug enforcement mission: The Commissioner
       and other Customs officials emphasized Customs’ drug enforcement
       programs to Customs employees in a variety of ways and on many
                                   . .
       Customs I wrocesses for trammg inswectors: Customs trains its inspectors
       initially at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco,
       Georgia This &week course includes classes on drug interdiction
       responsibilities. Other training in drug interdiction methods is provided
       at the Customs facility at Laredo, Texas, to focus on interdiction   -
       problems and methods on the Southwest border.

                                            GAO/GGD-97-173B    Border Drug Interdiction

                      42kqTKy/               573cc        a,

                Data on Customs’ cocaine seizures at commercial norts of entrv along the
                Southwest border: Customs made a total of 23 seizures of cocaine, totaling more
                than 20,000 pounds, at 6 of the 24 commercial cargo ports of entry during fiscal
                years 1994 through 1996. There were no cocaine seizures at the other 18
                commercial cargo ports of entry.
                                                                                     .. .c   ‘Y
e i   *         The development and use of drug information: Customs’ intelligence operations
                were recently restructured. About 25 percent of the narcotics seizures made by
                Customs from commercial cargo crossing the Southwest border was attributed to
                prior information in tical year 1996. According to Customs officials, prior
                information includes not only intelligence leads but also information obtained from
                other sources, such as informants.

                 The wlnerabilitx of insnectors’ radio communications svstems: Prior to the mid-
                 198Os,Customs’ communications systems were vulnerable to interception by drug
                 smugglers because they operated in a “clear” mode, but current systems can be
                 encrypted and, according to Customs officials, are not believed to be vulnerable to
                 interception when operatig in the encrypted mode.

                 Actions addr ssing the wroblem of “swatters” (i.e.. individuals ho observe watterns
                 of Customs &pections and wass them along to smuaersk C\toms officials have
                 recognized the problem of spotters and have implemented several initiatives at key
                 ports of entry intended to reduce the problem.

                 The werformance of the truck X-rav svstem.J Two truck X-ray systems are
                 currently in operation (one recently installed). The use of the first truck X-ray
                 system resulted in more than 120 seizures of narcotics (almost 24,000 pounds)
                 from September 1994 through July 1997.

          Enclosure I contains the information that we developed on each of these issues in
          response to your request. As agreed with your office, we do not plan any further work on
          these issues at this time.

          In developing the information in enclosure I, we (1) interviewed key officials and
          reviewed budget, personnel, and program documents at Customs’ headquarters and at
          three Customs Management Centers located along the Southwest border and (2) visited
          three ports of entry-otay Mesa, California; Laredo; and Nogales, Arizona-where we
          observed drug interdiction operations; interviewed port officials and inspectors; and
          obtained, reviewed, and analyzed data on workload and performance. We did not
          independently verify these data We also interviewed three Special Agents-in-Charge from
           Customs’ Office of Investigations and visited the Federal Law Enforcement Training
           Center in Georgia for information on Customs’ training activities.

           ‘The truck X-ray system provides X-ray images of full-size tractor trailers, tanker trucks,
           other types of commercial vehicles, and automobiles.
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We requested comments on a draft of this letter from the Secretary of the Treasury or his
designees. On September 12, 1997, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for
Tariffs and Trade and other Department of the Treasury and Customs officials provided
us with their oral comments on the draft. These officials generally agreed with the
contents of the draft letter and provided technical comments and clarifications. We have
incorporated the comments in this letter where appropriate.

We hope this information is helpful to you. We will make a copy of this letter available
to other interested parties on request. Major contributors to this letter are listed in
enclosure II. If you or your staff have any questions about the information in this letter,
please contact me on (202) 512-8777 or Darryl Dutton, Assistant Director, on
(213) 83@1000.

Sincerely yours,

Norman J. Rabkin
Director, Administration
 of Justice Issues

Enclosures - 2

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Created in 1789, the U.S. Customs Service is one of the federal government’s oldest
agencies. Although its original mission was to collect revenue, Customs’ mission has
expanded to include ensuring that all goods and persons entering and exiting the United
States do so in accordance with all U.S. laws and regulations. Moreover, a major goal of
Customs is to prevent the smuggling of drugs into the country by creating an effective
drug interdiction, intelligence, and investigation capability that disrupts and dismantles
smuggling organizations.

As of January 1997, Customs performed its mission with a workforce of about 19,500
personnel at the following locations: Customs headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 20
Customs Management Centers, 20 Special Agent-in-Charge offices, and 301 ports of entry
around the country. Of the 301 ports, 24 are located along the Southwest border and-
through 39 crossing points-handle both passengers and commercial cargo entering the
United States. Customs collects revenues in excess of $23 billion annually while
processing the estimated 14 million import entries and 450 million people entering the
countzy each year.

In September 1996, we issued a report on Customs’ drug interdiction efforts.’ As 1 of the
more than 50 federal agencies involved in the national drug control effort, Customs is
responsible for stopping the flow of illegal drugs through the nation’s ports of entry. In
addition to routine inspections to search passengers, cargo, and conveyances3 for illegal
drugs moving through U.S. ports, Customs’ drug interdiction program includes
investigations and other activities unique to specific ports.

Our September 1996 report identied and described the key elements, resources, costs,
and performance measures of Customs’ national drug interdiction program as well as
those of its investigative offices and selected ports in the Miami, Florida, and San Diego,
California, areas. The report also described drug interdiction activities at the Miami and
San Diego area ports, including information on the ports, estimates of the resources
Customs had invested in drug interdiction and investigative activities at the ports, and
traditional measures of these activities’ success.

Our report also discussed the challenges Customs was facing in its drug interdiction
mission. We pointed out that Customs’ major challenge was to effectively carry out its
drug interdiction and trade enforcement missions while at the same time facilitating the
flow of persons and cargo across the borders. Customs has to perform these missions

2Customs Service: Drug Interdiction Efforts (GAO/GGD-96189BR, Sept. 26, 1996).
 3Conveyancesinclude cars, buses, trucks, aircraft, and vessels.
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despite continuous and extensive threats from drug smugglers along the Southwest

Finally, we noted in the September 1996 report that Customs, just as other law
enforcement agencies engaged in the fight against drug smuggling, has attempted to
develop performance measures. Traditional output measures, such as the number of drug
seizures, do not allow officials to gauge the overall effectiveness of drug interdiction
activities. Even the new, nontraditional measures being developed (e.g., estimating the
number of drug smugglers entering the ports) may not allow Customs to assess,over
time, whether increased efforts are producing better outcomes, our report concluded.

The ports of entry that we visited during this work-Laredo, Texas; Otay Mesa, California;
and Nogales, Arizona-+ere three of the busiest on the Southwest border in terms of the
numbers of vehicles and commodities entering the United States each day. The ports also
processed a diverse mixture of imports, including produce, television sets, and liquor.

      Laredo consists of two separate cargo facilities: the downtown Laredo facility and
      a newer facility approximately 22 miles west, the Columbia Bridge facility;
      combined, they form the busiest commercial cargo port on the Southwest border.
      For the purposes of this review, we focused only on the operations of the Laredo
      facility, the busiest of the two facilities. During fiscal year 1996, the Laredo facility
      handled about 732,000 vehicles (465,625 laden and 266,826 empty), which was an
      average of 2,007 vehicles per day.q The Laredo facility processed a variety of .
      commodities during the year, including produce, apparel, auto parts, steel,
      chemical products, and liquor, as well as large amounts of hazardous .materials
      (e.g., chemicals and flammable liquids). The 2 Laredo cargo facilities had a total of
      113 dock spaces (13 at the Laredo facility and 100 at the Columbia Bridge facility)
      available for Customs to examine trucks and cargo and, as of July 1997, had a
      combined staff of 82 Customs inspectors, canine enforcement officers, and
      supervisors (49 at the Laredo facility and 33 at the Columbia Bridge facility). The
      Laredo facility is located 154 miles south of San Antonio, Texas.

      Otay Mesa has been the third busiest commercial cargo port on the Southwest
      border. In i?scal year 1996, Otay Mesa handled over 516,000vehicles (258,711
      laden and 257,543 empty), which was an average of 1,422 vehicles per day. Otay
      Mesa-processed a mixture of cargo, including produce, television sets, and
      electronic components. Over 100 dock spaces were available for Customs
      inspections and, as of July 1997, Otay Mesa had 110 inspectors, canine enforcement
      officers, and supervisors. The port is located about 15 miles south of San Diego.

      Nogales, the fifth busiest commercial cargo port on the Southwest border, handled
      about 208,000 vehicles (154,259 laden and 53,503 empty) during fiscal year 1996,

4The average number of vehicles per year reflects the traf&z average over an l-year
period, which includes both weekdays, when the volume of ~&EC is much higher, and
weekends, when traffic volume is much lower.
5                                                       GAO/GGD-97-173R   Border   Drug Interdiction
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      which was an average of 572 vehicles per day. Nogales had 92 dock spaces
      dedicated to Customs inspections and, as of April 1997, had a staff of 27
      inspectors, canine enforcement officers, and supervisors. Nogales processed a
      variety of industrial commodities during the year, such as auto parts and medical
      products; however, in winter, the majority of its cargo was produce. The port is
      located 67 miles south of Tucson, Arizona


The Commissioner and other Customs officials provided direction to their personnel
regarding Customs’ drug enforcement mission in a variety of ways. First, in his fiscal
year 1997 Customs Annual Plan message to Customs employees, the Commissioner
identified drug enforcement as an area of the agency’s primary emphasis and detailed a
strategy to combat drug smuggling. The strategy called for, among other things, (1) an
increase in resources for “Operation Hard Line”;5 (2) the development and use of
intelligence; and (3) the development and implem~entation of drug interdiction
technologies, such as truck X-ray systems.

Second, Customs’ draft strategic plan-required by the Government Performance and
Results Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-62)-for &al years 1997 to 2002 identifies the continuing
threat of narcotics smuggling as one of its unique challenges as it prepares to enter the
next century. The strategic plan recognizes that the smuggling of narcotics into the +
United States has no simple or immediate solutions and presents a goal and a number of
objectives designed to conunue Customs’ multipronged enforcement effort to increase the
risk of being caught smuggling into the country.

Third, the Commissioner and other Customs officials issued during 1995 and 1996 at least
four memorandums to the ports of entry that identied and emphasized drug enforcement
as a priority. For example, in a June 1996 memorandum to Southwest border port
directors, the Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations directed that, as part of a
continuing emphasis on drug enforcement, Customs inspectors were to increase and
intensify the examination of vehicles.

Fourth, the Commissioner visited Southwest border ports of entry during 16 trips from
June 1993 to October 1996. According to Customs officials and trip summaries, during his
visits the Commissioner (1) inspected drug enforcement operations; (2) met with special
agents and inspectors, conveying to them the importance of Customs’ drug enforcement
mission; and (3) presented awards to Customs personnel for successful drug seizures.

Fifth, the Commissioner and other Customs officials testified before Congress at least 12
times between March 1996 and May 1997, emphasizing Customs’ drug enforcement
priority and detailing specific actions being taken to implement the priority.

‘Operation Hard Line is Customs’ effort to address border violence and drug smuggling
through intensified inspections, improved facilities, and technology.

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Finally, in at least 23 administrative messages that were sent to Customs personnel
between February 1996 and November 1996, the Commissioner, among other things,
emphasized Customs’ drug enforcement priority, identified significant drug seizures, and
recognized those responsible for these seizures.


Basic training for Customs inspectors consists of an 11-week course that is given at the
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia According to
FLETC training officials, inspectors are to be sent to FLETC as soon as possible after
being hired, although some may have had on-the-job training (OJT) before they attend the
basic training’course. The Customs Program Manager at FLETC stated that, although
some classes in the basic training focus specifically on drug interdiction, the majority of
the classes are intended to provide inspectors with the basic knowledge and practice
necessary to enforce all of Customs’ responsibilities. General basic training classes
include iirearms, physical training, and Customs law. Once FLETC training is completed,
Customs assigns the inspectors to various ports of entry where they are expected to
augment the basics learned with structured OJT, according to FLETC officials.

In addition, inspectors assigned to cargo ports of entry along the Southwest border are to
receive specific training in drug interdiction methods. This training, which, beginning in
fiscal year 1997, is a 6-day course called “Southern Border Interdiction Training” (SBW, is
given at Customs’ Columbia Bridge cargo facility in Laredo. According to the head of
Customs’ Offtce of Field C)perations, the SBIT program provides individualized instruction
on the proper techniques in targeting high-risk cargo and conveyances and performing
quality drug interdiction examinations. Officials in Customs’ Anti-smuggling Division told
us that SBIT is taught by field subject matter experts and is basic enough to be beneficial
to inspectors new to the cargo environment, but also advanced enough to benefit the
more experienced inspectors. The course blends classroom training with practical field
exercises, and the curriculum includes the following:

      cargo concealment and examination techniques;

      technology training, such as the use of the pallet X ray, X-ray van, and fiber-optic
      scopes, to examine gas tanks and other enclosed spaces; and

      hands-on experience with actual cargo being imported at the Columbia Bridge
      cargo facility.

Between January 1994 and May 1997, 952 Customs inspectors and Canine Enforcement
Officers attended SBIT, according to the FLETC Program Manager. Customs’ goal is to
hold at least 10 SBIT programs each fiscal year and train approximately 240 inspectors
per year. According to Customs officials, this will ensure that approximately 10 percent
of Customs inspectors and canine enforcement officers along the Southwest border are
trained each year. Also according to these officials, since 952 inspectors and canine

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enforcement officers have been trained and 40 training classes have been held since fiscal
year 1994, these goals have already been exceeded.


As shown in table Ll, Customs made a total of 4 cocaine seizures in fiscal year 1994, 6
cocaine seizures in fiscal year 1995, and 13 cocaine seizures in fiscal year 1996 at 6
commercial cargo ports of entry along the Southwest border. There were no cocaine
seizures at the other 18 commercial cargo ports along the Southwest border during fiscal
years 1994 through 1996. During the same period, Customs also made 70 marijuana
seizures totaling 46,561 pounds at 12 of the 24 commercial cargo ports, as well as an
unspecified number of seizures of other controIled substances, such as methamphetamine.
According to Customs officials, because of inconsistent identification criteria in their drug
seizure databases, they were unable to determine the exact number, location, and weight
of the other controlled substance seizures.

Table 1.1: Number and Weight of Cocaine Seizures at Southwest Border Commercial
Cawo Porte of Entrv. Fiscal Years 1994 througih 1996

                            Number and weight of cocaine seizures on the Southwest
                            border, by I%scal year
  Commercial cargo
  port of entry             1994                  1996                    1996

  Laredo, Texas             0                     0                       1 (2,301   pounds)
  Calefico,   California    4 (1,765   pounds)    1(18   pounds)          0

  Brownsville,   Texas      0                     3 (380 pounds)          4 (5,479 pounds)

  Nogales, Arizona          0                     1 (2,596 pounds)        5 (3,526 pounds)

  Hidalgo, Texas            0                     0                       2 (1,766 pounds)

  Rio Grande city,
  Texas                     0                     1 (169 pounds)           1(2,040 pounds)

 / Total seizures           4                     6                        13

     Total weight          I 1,765 pounds        I 3,163 pounds          I 16,114 pounds

Source: GAO analysis of Customs data

Commenting on the lack of cocaine seizures at the Otay Mesa port of entry during this
period, a Customs official at the port and Customs’ Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of its
San Diego office told us that significant quantities of cocaine were probably not being

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smuggled through the port. This view was generally supported by officials of the
Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program6 in San Diego.
HIDTA officials told us that the fact that there were few sizeable cocaine seizures may
mean that enforcement efforts at the ports of entry were deterring cocaine smugglers and
diverting them to routes between the ports where the risk of interdiction may be lower.
According to these officials, drug smugglers do not want to risk losing large cocaine
loads, which are often transported in commercial cargo, because they real& that’
prosecution guidelines require stiffer penalties for larger volume seizures. In addition,
HIDTA officials suspect that drug smugglers frequently use the “shotgun” approach to
smuggling cocaine. This approach means that the smugglers are moving small quantities
through the passenger ports and later consolidating these loads at “stash houses” across
the border for distribution.


According to the Director of Customs’ Intelligence and Communications Division,
Customs has restructured its intelligence operations. The restructuring was begun in 1995
and was intended to systematize the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence.
Under the new structure, a National Analysis Operations Center at Customs headquarters
is to be responsible for (1) setting intelligence priorities; (2) establishing programs to
implement those priorities; (3) coordinating with various field intelligence units; and (4)
overseeing the overall narcotics intelligence gathering, analysis, and dissemination       .

In the field, five Area Intelligence Units (AlU)-in Miami; New York, New York; Houston,
Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Los Angeles, California-are to develop intelligence on
matters such as narcotics smuggling and money laundering. AIUs are to also support
intelligence units at ports of entry. ATLJsare to gather data from internal Customs
sources and local law enforcement agencies, analyze these data, and transmit their
analyses to the field units. In addition, eight Intelligence Collection and Analysis Teams
at the port-of-entry level along the Southwest border are to develop and provide
intelligence information to both the investigative and inspectional operations at the ports.
Finally, the Technical Intelligence Branch has been reorganized and its mission expanded
to include supporting special border operations and the Of6ce of Internal Affairs.

According to the Director of Customs’ Intelligence and Communications Division,
Customs obtains intelligence on drug smuggling from a variety of internal and external
sources. Internal sources include case and seizure reports and other Customs-collected
information. External sources include informants; the Drug Enforcement Administration;
and air, sea, and rail company security offices. Customs’ reports on narcotics seizures at

%IDTA is a designation given by the Office of National Drug Control Policy to areas of
the country that are heavily impacted by drug trafficking. Funds are provided to HIDTA
areas to supplement and improve the collective efforts of local, state, and federal law
enforcement to interdict, investigate, and prosecute drug traffickers.
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commercial cargo ports for fiscal year 1996 show that Customs used “prior information”
to make a number of such seizures. According to Customs officials, prior information
includes not only intelligence leads but also information obtained from other sources,
such as informants. Accordingly, in fiscal year 1996,42 percent of all narcotics seixures-
48 percent of all cocaine and 29 percent of all marijuana seizures-made by Customs from
commercial cargo was attributed to prior information. For the Southwest border, 23
percent of all commercial cargo narcotics seizures in fiscal year 1996, including 38
percent of the cocaine seizures, was attributed to prior information. These seizures
included an 1,158pound cocaine seizure in Nogales. The cocaine was found in a
shipment of transformers after the port’s Document Analysis Unit (DALI) determined that
the shipment had the same destination as an earlier one that had also resulted in a
cocaine seizure.?


According to the Director of Customs’ National Law Enforcement Communications Center
(mCC), Customs’ radio communications systems are not believed to be vulnerable to
interception by drug smugglers or others with scanner capabilities. Since the mid-198Os,
Customs has employed a radio network that uses a National Security Agency-endorsed
privacy mode. According to the Director, the NLECC is unaware of any interception of a
Customs radio communication when the Digital Encryption System (DES) voice privacy
feature is utilized. DES employs “white noise” (static) bursts to encrypt transrnissions-

Before the implementation of the privacy mode, Customs’ radio communications operated
in the “clear” transmission mode. According to Customs internal investigations in the
mid-198Os, the interception of “open” radio communications by smugglers caused the
death or injury of Customs personnel in two separate incidents. In one incident, a
Customs enforcement officer on stakeout on the Southwest border was shot and killed by
drug smugglers. An internal investigation determined that his radio communications were
intercepted and contributed significantly to his death. In a second incident, two Customs
agents on surveillance in Puerto Rico were tied upon and seriously injured. An internal
investigation concluded that their radio communications also had been intercepted.


The spotter problem involves narcotics smuggling organizations’ use of individuals, who
are known as spotters, to observe Customs enforcement activities at the ports of entry.
The smuggling organizations’ ability to observe Customs activities may allow them to take
advantage of what they consider to be “windows of opportunity” (e.g., times when the

 7DAUs at Customs’ commercial cargo facilities are responsible for targeting cargo for
 intensive examinations to detect narcotic smuggling and other violations of law. Among
 other things, the DAU examines and analyzes shipping documents and reviews
 intelligence information.
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truck X-ray system is not operating or when enforcement actions, such as “block blitzes,“8
have been temporarily suspended) to smuggle narcotics through the ports.

In 1996, the Commissioner toured many of the Southwest border ports of entry and
directly experienced the magnitude of the spotter problem. As a result, on March 21,
1996, he directed that a comprehensive study be conducted to address the spotter
situation. Each of the ports of entry and Investigations offices along the Southwest
border were to establish teams to identify the spotter problem, report to Customs
headquarters on the severity of the problem, and propose solutions to the problem.

We obtained “spotter initiatives” from the three ports that we visited: Otay Mesa, Laredo,
and Nogales. n\e initiatives contained local spotter threat assessments, suggested
solutions, and requests for funds to enhance facilities and to purchase equipment as
described below.

Otav MesasI SDotter Initlativ~

Internal and external spotters had been problems at Otay Mesa, according to the March
29, 1996, spotter initiative. For internal spotters, Customs personnel often noticed an
increase in activity by non-Customs personnel, such as drivers and brokers, when an
enforcement action, such as a block blitz, was initiated. The non-Customs personnel
overtly positioned themselves to observe Customs’ efforts and used radios and cellular
phones to communicate the activities to individuals outside of the port. The external .
spotters took advantage of a chain-link fence surrounding the compound to observe inside
activities by using binoculars, radios, cellular telephones, and cameras. Customs
personnel attempted to contact and ascertain the purposes of the internal and external
surveillances but were not able to effectively stop the activities.

Otay Mesa’s spotter initiative included several proposals to deter spotters, including
enhancing the chain-link fence by adding green inserts to obstruct viewing into the
compound, completely enclosing the inspection area with the green inserts, and enclosing
the truck X ray in its own corrugated metal fence and canopy to more effectively shield
enforcement activity from internal spotter observation.

As of March 1997, &eral equipment items and other enhancements, including the green
inserts to the chain-link fence, had been requested from Customs procurement at an
approximate cost of $78,000. The spotter initiative did not include information on
measures of effectiveness for the proposed solutions.
Laredo’s &otter Imtiatr ‘V?

The port of Laredo’s April 12, 1996, initiative stated that the port was having a problem
with spotters, who were mobile and in possession of high-tech communication devices.

*Inspectors select a group of vehicles for additional inspection, using canines and other
inspection tools.
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          The initiative was intended to impede, obstruct, and disrupt spotters in the port who were
          adversely affecting enforcement activities. The initiative presented several alternatives as
          short-term solutions to the spotter problem, including identifying suspected spotters by
          checking for criminal backgrounds through queries of the Treasury Enforcement and
          Communications System and by videotaping and photographing spotters.
                                                                                               ’ ,
. ;   *   The initiative also identified various measures to assess whether Laredo’s’soluions to the
          spotter problem increased the number of narcotic seizures and arrests of narcotic
          smugglers at the port. The initiative was ongoing at the time of our visit in January 1997;
          no results were available. Equipment requests were included in the initiative; however,
          they were mainly for Operation Hard Line and were not specifically identified as being for
          the spotter problem.

          Nodes’ Snotter Initiative

          Port of Nogales officials submitted a spotter initiative on July 1, 1996. The initiative
          stated that the physical layout of the port had invited surveillance by smugglers, which
          subsequently allowed them to predict and immediately counter Customs’ enforcement
          adjustments. The initiative proposed a number of options, including the installation of a
          remote camera surveillance system to observe inspectional areas, spotters, and vehicles.
          It also proposed visual barriers (privacy walls) to deter spotter surveillance and new
          doors on an inspectioual area to shield the enforcement area from public view.

          Nogales was also looking at another alternative to counter spotters, according to a
          Customs official. The National Guard was to provide an intelligence analyst/counter
          surveillance specialist, who would use the remote camera instzllations to photograph and
          catalogue suspects. Ultimately, this activiw would allow Customs to identify spotters and
          use their presence at or near the port as an indicator of loads of narcotics approaching
          the port, according to the official.

          The Nogales initiative also stated that Customs would attempt to identify the gross
          number of potential spotters and spotter locations at all Arizona ports of entry. This
          identification process would provide a baseline of potential spotters to measure the
          impact of the alternative strategies for identifying and reducing the numbers and
          effectiveness of spotters. At the time of our visit in December 1996, the port did not
          provide information on measures of effectiveness for these proposals, and not all of the
          requested equipment had been received.

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In March 1997, Customs had two truck X-ray systems in operation, one at the Otay Mesa
Commercial Facility and one (newly installed) at the Calexico Commercial Facility.g The
Otay Mesa truck X-ray system, which was developed by the Department of Defense and
installed in September 1994, is both operational and being used as a prototype to test
system upgrades. The truck X-ray system provides X-ray images of full-size tractor
trailers, tanker trucks, automobiles, and other types of commercial conveyances.

 The truck X-ray system was designed to detect contraband hidden in commercial
 conveyances.” Original speci&ations required the truck X ray to process between four
 to six vehicles per hour, including tractor-trailer trucks weighing up to 80,000 pounds.
‘The truck X ray also had to meet government safe@ standards for X-ray emissions,
 produce X-ray images of a specified resolution, and be safe for food cargo. The truck
 X ray was not intended to replace manual inspection methods; it was designed to quickly
 and nonintrusively examine empty trucks and truck trailers.

Most trucks are randomly referred to the truck X ray during the cargo entry screening
process; however, some trucks may have already been idenfied by inspectors as vehicles
suspected of transporljng contraband or illegal drugs. These trucks are referred to the
X ray to determinel’ whether contraband or drugs are being smuggled. Nearby passenger
ports of entry, such as San Ysidro, California, also refer suspect vehicles to the truck
X ray for verification.

According to Customs’ data, from its inception in September 1994 through July 1997, the
Otay Mesa truck X-ray system detected a total of 23,728 pounds of drugs, including (see
table 1.2): 137 pounds of cocaine, 37 pounds of heroin, 23,498 pounds of marijuana, and
56 pounds of methamphetamine.‘2

gCustoms has plans to install six more truck X-ray systems by the end of 1999. Customs
and the Department of Defense are reviewing and testing other nonintrusive truck
imaging systems which, according to Customs officials, may better fit the needs of the
cargo environment at other ports of entry. We did not review the performance of the
newly installed Calexico truck X-ray system.
“‘The Otay Mesa truck X-ray system has detected contraband in vehicle doors and roofs,
false walls, gas tan& tires, and engine compartments.
“‘Vehicles are referred to the X-ray system to: (1) determine in a rapid and nonintrusive
way whether drugs or contraband are concealed in the vehicle, (2) confirm a canine alert
or an inspector’s suspicion that there may be drugs in the vehicle, or (3) ensure that all
drugs concealed in a vehicle have been detected (i.e., identify all concealment areas).
‘2The cocaine and heroin were detected in passenger vehicles that were referred from the
port of San Ysidro; no cocaine or heroin was detected during this period in trucks passing
through the port of Otay Mesa
13                                                    GAO/GGD-97-173R   Border   Drug Interdiction
ENCLOSURE I                                                                       ENCLOSURE I
Table 1.2: Truck X-rav Svstem Seizures From Sentember 1994 Through Julv 1997

Source: GAO analysis of Customs data

According to the Otay Mesa X-ray Coordinator, approximately 50 percent of the drugs
detected in trucks, and 90 percent detected in passenger vehicles, had already been
identified in suspect vehicles before the referral to the truck X-ray system.

Customs records over an l-year period, from June 1996 to May 1997, show that the X-ray
system had examined a total of 23,980 vehicles, of which 64 percent were empty trucks,
35 percent were laden trucks, and 1 percent were cars or other vehicles that were    .
referred from passenger ports of entry.‘3

The Otay Mesa truck X-ray system is scheduled to operate during the port’s regular
business hours, which are 6 am. to 8 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 9 am. to 5 p.m.
on Saturdays and Sundays (although on Sundays, the X-ray system is used only for
examining imported produce). Customs’ data for April 1997 show that the X ray
processed an average of 6.4 vehicles per hour, and that system “downtime” was
approximately 11 percent of total available time.” Customs officials defied downtime as
time in which vehicles were not being X-rayed or were being processed for X-raying.
System downtime includes the following:

       daily start-up and shut-down periods (30 minutes each);

       essential cleaning and preventative maintenance;

       mechanical breakdowns, equipment retrofit, and personnel training; and

?‘he truck X-ray system inspects more empty vehicles than laden vehicles because Otziy
Mesa restricts the hours laden vehicles can enter the port. Data shown are for the period
immediately followmg the most recent major system upgrade in February 1996.
 “Data for April 1997 represent the latest period during our review in which the X-ray
 system was fully operational (i.e., no system upgrades were in progress).
 14                                                    GAO/GGD-97-173R   Border    Drug Interdiction
ENCLOSURE I                                                                          ENCLOSURE I
          the saving of X-ray images (i.e., drug detection) on tape.

Otay Mesa does not track system downtime by the above categories, only collectively.
However, according to Customs officials, downtime caused by mechanical breakdowns
decreased significantly after February 1996, When the truck conveyor unit, which pulls the
vehicle through the X-ray system at a constant rate of speed, was replaced. Before the
retrofit, Customs had identitied breakdowns to the conveyor unit as the X-ray system’s
most common mechanical problem. According to the Otay Mesa X-ray Coordinator, the
new conveyor unit (1) reduced downtime from an estimated 20 percent of total operating
time to an average of 15 percent and (2) increased the average number of vehicles
processed from 4.7 vehicles per hour to 6.2 vehicles per hour, which was a net increase in
the processing rate of 32 percent. In January 1996, before the retrofit, the X-ray system
processed 1,760vehicles; Customs’ data for June 1997, the most recent data available,
show the system processed 2,120 vehicles during that month.

As of February 1997, expenditures for the truck X-ray system at Otay Mesa totaled
approximately $3.3 million.‘5 The original cost of the X-ray system-$2.8 million-was paid
by the Department of Defense. Customs paid $515,738 for system upgrades, including the
new conveyor unit, and approximately $30,000 for personnel-related costs, such as
training and travel, on the Ctay Mesa X-ray system. Customs also estimated that it will
cost an average of $3.3 million for each of the additional truck X-ray systems scheduled
for deployment.‘” The Department of Defense provided $6 million in fiscal year 1997
toward the purchase of two additional systems. Customs is to pay the balance for these
systems as well as the full cost of any additional systems.

According to Customs officials, the truck X-ray system has met original system
specifications and is now performing as expected. According to these officials, since the
replacement of the original conveyor unit, the X-ray system routinely exceeds the required
six vehicle per hour processing rate and is able to consistently and safely process large

‘?&is total includes the cost of the trailer used to house X-ray monitors and taping
equipment, the cost of site preparation (e.g., digging an X-ray pit), and the upgrade of the
system’s conveyor unit, as well as the X-ray machine itself.
‘?his estimate may vary from port to port depending on geographic considerations. For
example, because the Calexico port is located in a flood plain, its X-ray system had to be
built on pilings to ensure structural integrity.
15                                                        GAO/GGD-97-173R   Border   Drag Interdiction
ENCLOSURE II                                                                  ENCLOSURE II



Darryl W. Dutton, Assistant Director
Barry J. Seltser, Assistant Director, Design, Methodology, and Technical
Seto J. Bagdoyan, Senior Evaluator
Wendy C. Graves, Evaluator


Ann H. Finley, Senior Attorney


Kathleen H. Ebert, Project Manager
Barbara A. GufQ, Evaluator
M. Shannon Kessler, Evaluator


 16                                                    GAOfGGD-97-173R   Border   Drug Interdiction
                                                 .   .c   1 J

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