The Rest of the Story; Securing U.S. Borders Post 9/11

Article excerpt


With the issuance of the September 11 commission report, the American public now has a clearer picture of what went wrong before September 11. This information is critical to our national security. But what's not in the report - and what Americans should also know - are the steps the administration has taken to correct the deficiencies that existed before September 11 and to make our nation far more secure today than it was three years ago.

As commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, my focus is on border security, and with regard to that issue, the September 11 commission report offered two valid criticisms: First, that "protecting borders was not a national security issue before 9/11," and second, that there was a lack of focus by the U.S. border agencies - INS and U.S. Customs - on the emerging terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda.

Before September 11, there was no single agency dedicated to securing our borders. National defense was primarily a military obligation. Since September 11, however, the administration has correctly declared border protection - the need to secure our air, land and sea borders against terrorist penetration - a national-security priority. The president's decision to establish the Department of Homeland Security was a direct result of this priority.

Likewise, before September 11, there was no single government agency charged with the responsibility of securing all aspects of our nation's borders. On March 1, 2003, however, that changed when the border functions of four separate agencies - Customs, Immigration, Border Patrol and Agriculture (housed in three different departments of government) - were brought together in a single agency: the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, charged with the priority mission of detecting and preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States. CBP creates what Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge calls "One face at the border," one agency to manage, secure and control our borders, all ports of entry and points in between. The concept of one single, unified agency responsible for the protection of our borders represented a sea change in the historically fragmented efforts of border agencies and has made CBP a full partner in our national counterterrorism effort. …