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Written testimony of CBP Office of Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent-Havre Sector, Christopher Richards for a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce field hearing titled “Protecting Our Northern Border: Enhancing Collaboration and Building Local Partnerships”

Release Date: 
July 12, 2013

Havre, Montana

Chairman Tester, Representative Daines, and distinguished Members of the Committees, it is a privilege and an honor to appear before you today to discuss the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), particularly the tremendous dedication of our men and women in the field, both at and between our ports of entry (POE) here on the US’ northern border. Integral to these efforts is cooperation with our Canadian partners, state, local and tribal agencies, and other components of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Congress for its continued support of the mission and employees of CBP. We greatly appreciate your efforts and assistance, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on these issues in the future.

As America’s frontline border agency, CBP is responsible for securing America’s borders against threats, while facilitating legitimate travel and trade. To do this, CBP has deployed a multi-layered, risk-based approach to enhance the security of our borders while facilitating the lawful flow of people and goods entering the United States. This layered approach to security reduces our reliance on any single point or program that could be compromised and includes close coordination with DHS partner agencies, with other U.S. interagency partners, and with our Canadian counterparts. Close coordination with our partners ensures our zone of security extends outward and that our physical border is not the first or last line of defense, but one of many.

DHS efforts to enhance Northern border security are guided by the goals, means, and methods outlined in the June 2012 Northern Border Strategy (NBS). The NBS is the first Department-wide strategy to guide DHS policy and operations at the U.S. Northern border. It is consistent with the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR), the National Northern Border Counternarcotic Strategy of 2012, the U.S. National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security, and the goals of the Beyond the Border (BTB) declaration. In this time of fiscal constraint, the NBS will result in a more efficient and effective DHS presence at the Northern border by ensuring the Department’s resources are fully leveraged and efforts are not duplicated. The NBS emphasizes the use of information-sharing, personnel, technology, infrastructure, and partnerships, if appropriate, as key strategic elements necessary to achieve the three Northern border goals:

  • Deter and prevent terrorism and other illegal activity;
  • Safeguard and facilitate the secure flow of lawful trade and travel; and
  • Ensure community safety and resilience before, during, and after terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Northern Border Environment and Challenges

The United States and Canada are connected by more than 120 land POEs, 750 daily flights by commercial aircraft, and numerous commercial and recreational vessels that cross the maritime border. Every day, approximately 300,000 people cross the U.S.-Canadian border for business, tourism, school, and visiting family and friends. Since the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) in June 2009, WHTI compliance along the Northern border is at approximately 99 percent, allowing CBP to facilitate travel and focus on individuals who may pose a threat to national security. CBP makes approximately 6,000 arrests and interdicts approximately 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs at and between the POEs along the Northern border each year.

There are a number of ways in which the Northern border is operationally distinct from other environments. The international boundary with Canada extends over 5,500 miles across both land and water (including the border of Alaska), and it is often described as the longest common non-militarized border between any two countries. It delineates two friendly nations with a long history of social, cultural, and economic ties that have contributed to a high volume of cross-border trade and travel, amounting to more than a billion dollars a day. The border is a diverse region consisting of major metropolitan centers, integrated bi-national communities, numerous transit hubs, and vast regions with little or no population. The extensive commercial and transportation infrastructure along the border also provides avenues vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers and smugglers, including vehicular transportation, commercial trucking, and commercial and non-commercial air, rail, and maritime modes of transportation.

The Havre Sector area of responsibility is comprised of rolling hills and cultivated farmland, Conservation Reserve Program lands, and plains with deep coulees in the central and eastern corridors and by rugged mountainous regions in the west. Communication and sensor signals remain difficult to transmit in many of these very remote areas which hinder the Border Patrol’s ability to safely patrol and respond to traffic. Harsh winter conditions severely impacts patrol capabilities for the majority of the winter and spring seasons.

In the winter, sub-zero temperatures and significant snowfall provide a natural barrier along some portions of the border. While pedestrian and vehicle traffic are reduced during the winter, unlawful entries between the POEs utilizing snowmobiles are not unusual. When frozen, some rivers, lakes, and streams become easier for smugglers and others to utilize for crossing the border on foot, or by snowmobiles or other modes of transport, while other areas become treacherous with ice floes and are less traversable. The spring thaw can cause impassibly deep mud on some logging roads, thereby closing them to commercial truck traffic, and there tends to be an increase in unlawful cross-border activities via all-terrain vehicles.

CBP Resources on the Northern border

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, DHS has dedicated historic levels of personnel, infrastructure, and technology to the Northern border. Border Patrol agent staffing on the Northern border has increased by over 650 percent – from approximately 340 agents in 2001, to approximately 2,200 agents today. At the POEs along the Northern border, CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) has deployed more than 3,600 CBP officers and 180 agriculture specialists. CBP’s Office of Air and Marine (OAM) has 157 Air and 111 Marine Interdiction agents deployed along the Northern border. In addition to the 120 Northern border land ports of entry, CBP operates 17 ferry land crossings, eight Border Patrol Sectors, eight Air and Marine Branches, one Air Unit, nine Coastal Marine Units and 23 Riverine Marine Units to protect against the illegal flow of people and goods at and between the POEs.

As part of a multi-layered approach to secure America’s borders, CBP has also greatly improved our technological capabilities on the Northern border. Between the ports of entry, DHS has deployed fixed and rotary-wing aircraft equipped with sensor arrays; thermal camera systems; mobile surveillance systems (MSS); remote video surveillance systems (RVSS); unmanned aircraft systems (UAS); and an accompanying Operational Integration Center (OIC).

The OIC, located at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Michigan, is a demonstration project, involving the application of personnel and technology to enhance border security and situational awareness for CBP and its mission partners in the Detroit region. The OIC allows for a collaborative work area and communications capabilities for all components of CBP, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), other DHS organizations, federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). The OIC brings together information feeds, including radar and camera feeds, blue force tracking, database query from databases not previously available to CBP, remote sensor inputs, RVSS and MSS feeds, and video from various POEs and tunnels. Additional information feeds such as local traffic cameras will be added in the near future. This level of personnel and technology integration demonstrates collaboration and technology deployments along the Northern border.

CBP has stationed 54 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft on the Northern border, including two Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operating out of the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. With the cooperation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), CBP expanded its operational airspace along the Northern border in January of 2012, allowing CBP UAS operations from the Lake-of-the-Woods region in Minnesota to the vicinity of Spokane, Washington, a distance of approximately 950 miles. UAS flight operations significantly improve situational awareness in areas that are difficult to reach by other operational elements, a critical capability in difficult terrain along the Northern border.

DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate is developing new and /or improving existing surveillance technologies that will overcome Northern border terrain and environmental challenges in order to improve target detection and classification. S&T is also collaborating with the RCMP on the Canada/U.S. Sensor Sharing Pilot (CUSSP), which is intended to demonstrate capability and operational utility of a common surveillance picture between CBP and RCMP Agents, using a combination of U.S. and Canadian sensor information.

At many Northern border ports of entry, DHS continues to deploy Radio Frequency Identification technology, next-generation license plate readers, and radiation portal monitors to ports of entry based on existing infrastructure and need. Additionally, DHS and Canadian agencies are collaborating to develop, advance, operationally test, and use technologies to enhance cross border operations. We have also seen significant investments in infrastructure. Since February 2009, the U.S. Government has invested over $400 million to rebuild and improve more than 30 ports of entry on the Northern border.

Northern Border Partnerships

At CBP, we recognize the importance of partnerships, intelligence, and information sharing to the success of our mission, and as such, we are engaged in several national initiatives to increase security and enhance economic prosperity on the Northern border.

Increasing Security
On a monthly basis, CBP, through the Office of Intelligence and Investigative Liaison (OIIL) produces the State of the Northern Border briefing and hosts a multi-agency, international discussion. The State of the Northern Border provides a cross-component, multi-agency venue for identifying, monitoring and addressing emerging trends and threats along the Northern border. The briefing is produced in direct collaboration with our Canadian and UK partners at the CBSA, the RCMP, and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) as well as other Federal, State, and local partners. The State of the Northern Border has provided a broader avenue for information sharing and greater intelligence insight to activity with a nexus to the Northern border.

Our officers and agents provide support to the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBET), comprised of U.S. and Canadian federal, state/provincial and local law enforcement personnel, and encompassing 15 regions along the Northern border. The IBET concept was formalized in December 2001 with five core agencies: CBP, USCG, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). IBETs operate as intelligence-driven enforcement teams designed to increase information and intelligence-sharing capabilities among the appropriate U.S. and Canadian authorities. By incorporating integrated mobile response capability (e.g., air, land, and marine), the IBETs provide participating law enforcement agencies with a force multiplier that maximizes border enforcement efforts.

Northern border security efforts are enhanced through special joint operations and task forces, including Operations Channel Watch, Outlook, and Frozen Timber. These operations are conducted under the auspices of multi-agency enforcement teams, composed of representatives from Canadian and U.S. federal law enforcement agencies who work together with state, local, and provincial enforcement agencies to target transnational criminal activity, including investigations involving national security and organized crime.

In May of this year, CBP participated in a local Integrated Response plan (NUWAIX 2013) exercise, designed to bring government partners, such as the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, DHS, and state and local law enforcement, together under an emergency response development situation. The exercise allowed partner agencies to conduct joint operations in a simulated environment where each partner can learn about the capability and resources available in a whole of government approach to emergency response planning. These exercises create unity of effort and help partners grow relationships that further develop integration and coordination between agencies working to protect America.

Also in May, Havre Sector participated in Project North Star meetings to further relationships with tribal and international partners through focused group meetings. This effort brought together tribal and international law enforcement partners from both sides of the border between the United States and Canada, to collaboratively counter criminal activity that threatens both our nations. The event helps partners understand their respective concerns and builds on our common threats so we can overcome those threats to better secure our people.

On Federal lands, CBP continues to engage in collaborative efforts with the Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fulfill its enforcement responsibilities. In March 2006, the Secretaries of DHS, DOI, and USDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which describes cooperative national security and counterterrorism efforts on federal lands along U.S. borders. This MOU provides specific guidance on cooperation related to border security as well as compliance with related environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In addition to the MOU, we have created several innovative solutions to strengthen interagency communication on federal lands. In 2005, the Border Patrol established the Public Lands Liaison Agent (PLLA) Program. Under this program, each sector designates an agent dedicated to interacting with organizations and agencies involved in land management issues. The PLLA’s job is to build and maintain solid working relationships with our land management agency counterparts so that we can capitalize on opportunities to collaborate and work through any issues that may arise. Borderland Management Task Forces increase communication and provide a unique opportunity to leverage resources and quickly identify and resolve any potential problems.

In 2010, CBP, in conjunction with CBSA and RCMP, completed a Joint Border Threat and Risk Assessment, which provides U.S. and Canadian policymakers, resource planners, and other law-enforcement officials with a strategic overview of significant threats along the border between the United States and Canada. The threat assessment encompasses a range of national security issues, including cross-border criminal organizations, drug trafficking and illegal immigration, the illicit movement of prohibited or controlled goods, agricultural hazards, and the spread of infectious diseases. The assessment also further highlights the commitment of the two countries to identify and mitigate potential threats along our shared border, where there is a potential of terrorism and transnational organized crime.

CBP also plays a lead role in the implementation of the 2012 National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which builds upon the understanding of shared responsibility articulated in Beyond the Border and emphasizes the importance of federal partnerships with state, local, and tribal agencies to address the threat of drug trafficking across the Northern border. In particular, the Strategy includes the adoption of a whole-of-community approach as a core principle supported by two specific action items: 1) adopt a whole-of-community approach to community resilience, including demand reduction efforts and 2) further integrate community members in border management in and around remote ports of entry. CBP supports these efforts, in part, through the work of its Border Community Liaison program, which forges lasting and positive relationships with the residents of the communities where CBP serves.

Enhancing Economic Prosperity
In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported imports from Canada as $322 billion. The U.S. Department of State further reports the combined two-way trade and investment between the United States and Canada as $715 billion, or nearly $2 billion daily. The United States and Canada are each other’s largest export market, with roughly 16 percent of all U.S. exports destined to Canada. CBP is committed to a coordinated approach to facilitate the secure flow of trade and travel, reduce transaction costs, and promote economic growth on the Northern border.

Through a collaborative process, the CBP and CBSA are working to implement initiatives focused on increasing information sharing, harmonizing policies and programs, and ensuring the coordination and cooperation of infrastructure planning and improvements. As part of this effort, on January 19, 2011, we established the Small Ports Working Group to develop a long-term strategy to more effectively and efficiently manage small POEs along the Northern border. Based on mutual assessments of each POE, applying agreed-upon criteria, CBP and CBSA will coordinate port operations and identify joint solutions, where possible.

On February 4, 2011, the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States issued “Beyond the Border (BTB): A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competiveness. CBP is the primary lead on 15 of the BTB initiatives and has significant interests and participation in seven other initiatives. Notable achievements to date include:

  • Harmonization of low value shipment thresholds to ease the burden on commercial trade
  • Completion of Phase I of the Entry/Exit pilot
  • Completion of a Border Infrastructure Investment Plan
  • Launching of a radio interoperability pilot and a cargo pre-inspection pilot in Blaine, WA

We continue to develop and implement several additional initiatives consistent with the Beyond the Border declaration that recognize that more than 90 percent of all non-trusted cargo and more than 98 percent of trusted cargo is cleared at the point of primary inspection.

One of those initiatives is the Secure Transit Corridor (STC) technology demonstration being conducted at the Ambassador Bridge by DHS S&T in collaboration with CBP, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), and industry partners. The objective of the project is to increase security while facilitating the flow of commerce. Industry partners attach devices at the shipment origin which monitor and report the security status of the shipment through its arrival at the destination. CBP uses the data to inform their characterization of the shipment as “high” or “low” risk so resources are focused on high risk shipments while low risk shipments can be expedited; this facilitates the efficient flow of commerce from trusted agents.

CBP will continue to keep Congress closely apprised as we continue to explore creative approaches to expedite legitimate trade and travel with our U.S. interagency partners and our counterparts in Canada.

Conclusion

Chairman Tester, Representative Daines, and distinguished Members of the Committees, thank you for this opportunity to testify about the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and our efforts in securing the Northern border against threats, while facilitating legitimate travel and trade. I look forward to answering your questions at this time.

Review Date: 
July 12, 2013
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