JUNE 06, 2012
Drivers with terrorism and drug-smuggling ties were cleared by the United States for “expedited border crossing” under a free-trade agreement created to facilitate commercial traffic between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
As inconceivable as this may seem, it’s documented in a federal audit released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General. It says that the DHS agency, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), created after 9/11 to protect the country from terrorists, narcotics and illegal aliens for years compromised border security by failing to exclude high risk drivers from the program known as Free and Secure Trade (FAST).
Under FAST, participants who meet certain eligibility criteria are considered low risk and receive expedited border processing between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. The goal is to ensure security and safety of inter border commerce while enhancing the economic prosperity of each country. Ideally, this enables CBP to focus security efforts and inspections on commerce that is “high or unknown risk” while ensuring the flow of legitimate, “low-risk commerce.”
In 2011 more than 80,100 drivers participated in the FAST program, according the DHS IG report. Nearly 70,000 were enrolled in FAST along the U.S.-Canada border and over 11,500 along the U.S.-Mexico border. Under the program, each one is supposed to meet a thorough security clearance that assures there’s no risk in letting the individual travel freely in and out of the country with cargo.
Instead, “high risk drivers” were actively enrolled in the program, exposing CBP to increased “risk of compromised border security,” the IG said. Investigators found that, at least half a dozen cleared drivers for years had connections to terrorism and drug smuggling operations. It gets scarier; it took federal officials five years to realize it! At least two dozen others had criminal, immigration or agricultural violations.
More than a decade after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, Americans may wonder how this could happen. The nutshell version, as per the IG, is that CBP didn’t bother to check the various law enforcement databases to assure the drivers were low risk. Additionally, our not-so-friendly neighbor to the south doesn’t bother vetting FAST candidates so the U.S. has no way to determine if there’s a criminal history.
This is quite risky, considering Mexico is the origin of most of the human and drug smuggling into the U.S. and home to a drug war that has claimed about 50,000 lives since 2006, the IG points out. The IG goes on to state the obvious; benefits granted to FAST participants “make the program attractive to drug smugglers.”
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