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US Congressional Investigators Report Problems with Border Security

Congressional investigators have found U.S. borders, especially in the north, are vulnerable to terrorist entry. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports from Washington.

Speaking before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, Director of Special Investigations at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Greg Kutz, said the protection of U.S. borders is woefully inadequate.

He testified during the third in a series of hearings on the GAO's investigations of border security.

Kutz said the investigators found entering the United States illegally is easy, especially through the northern border with Canada. "Our work clearly shows substantial vulnerabilities on the northern border to terrorists or criminals entering the United States," he said.

To illustrate, Kutz said GAO investigators trying to enter the country from the north found several ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border unmanned and unmonitored. He said at one site, they succeeded in simulated smuggling of radioactive and other contraband materials into the United States.

Deputy Chief of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Ronald Colburn agreed with GAO findings that the border is not as secure as it should be, but said improvements have been made. "As of September 23, 2007, the total of overall illegal activity throughout the United States along our borders is down 20 percent," he said.

But Kutz said progress is not occurring everywhere. Although it still has vulnerable areas, he said the southern border appears to be benefiting much more from security efforts.

About 12,000 border patrol agents are currently deployed along the southern border, compared to about 1,000 in the north. Of those one-thousand, Colburn said only 250 are on duty at any given time.

Democratic Senator Ken Salazar expressed concern over the lax protection of the northern border. "How can you tell me that we're securing our most vulnerable areas when we have a five-thousand mile border where the GAO just demonstrated what it is that you can do in terms of coming across with a dirty bomb or any other kind of terrorist weapon that would do harm to the people here in the United States?," he said.

Colburn said less than one percent of illegal activity occurs on the Canadian border, and the rest on the southwest border.

But the Canadian border is where Executive Director of the Partnership for Global Security Ken Luongo said nuclear materials are most likely to enter. "There's been evidence to suggest that the northern border is a significant threat as a terrorist point of entry. Some have claimed that it's more dangerous than the southern border," he said.

In an August 2002 report, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said with the possible exception of the United States*, more terrorist groups are active in Canada than anywhere else in the world. The group said terrorists have come to Canada posing as refugees.

* - Corrected 2 Oct 07. This report initially left out the reference to the United States in this section.