Special agents breeze through borders with fake ID

Published on Thu, Feb 6, 2003 by Meg Olson

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Special agents breeze through borders with fake ID

By Meg Olson

The United States Senate committee on finance wanted to check up on how increasing funds directed at border security were being translated into increased scrutiny at ports of entry. They asked General Accounting Office (GAO) special investigators to check, using counterfeit documents to cross the border or skipping inspection altogether. "They expected tight security. They expected to be stopped. They were surprised by the lack of enforcement. So am I," said Senator Max Baucus, Montana.

At a January 30 committee on finance hearing Robert Cramer, managing director of GAO special investigations, told committee members that they had counterfeited drivers licenses and birth certificates using off-the-shelf desktop publishing software and sent agents with the fake IDs to try and enter the country. At land, air and sea ports border officials �never questioned the authenticity of the documents and our agents had no difficulty entering the country using them,� Cramer said.

One of the places the agents crossed is identified as the Peace Arch port of entry by Cramer�s testimony to the committee. He said a U.S. Customs inspector asked the agents for identification and was given the counterfeit identification documents. The inspector didn�t catch the fakes and let the pair proceed.

While crossing at the Peace Arch, Cramer said the agents found there was the potential for a security problem in the park, which straddles the border and is open to visitors from both sides. �One agent was able to walk across this park into the United States from Canada without being stopped or questioned by any U.S. government official,� Cramer said.

John Bates, deputy chief patrol agent for the Blaine sector of the Border Patrol said that, while he was not sure it was the same instance Cramer referred to, border patrol agents had monitored two men in the park with remote surveillance cameras who turned out to be GAO investigators. When a border patrol agent contacted them �they presented law enforcement identification and it was determined they were no threat,� Bates said. �They were in the park which anyone can do. U.S. citizens can walk around that park all they want, to the Canadian side and back, and come out the U.S. side.�

Bates said perhaps a misunderstanding of the nature of the international park led to heightened concern but he was confident the border patrol was adequately monitoring the area. �We arrest people on a regular basis who walk through the park,� he said. �I feel as confident today as I did yesterday.� However he acknowledged there was a review of park security underway and Blaine sector would use the opportunity to review their monitoring. �We�re setting up to work with Blaine police to see what we can do to better secure the park,� he said.

National INS spokesperson Danielle Sheahan said that, for her agency, it wasn't a matter of documents when it came to returning citizens, which GAO agents were and represented themselves as. "The rule, and we don�t make the rules, is a U.S. citizen does not require any documents,"she said. "They can make an oral declaration and we can admit them based on that. If it's obvious a person is a citizen they aren't going to be looking too carefully at documents." Sheahan said inspectors could reliably determine in an interview if someone was or was not making a false statement of citizenship. "I feel inspectors are very well trained in finding out if someone is a citizen."

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