National Forest Border
Areas Vulnerable to Terrorist Entry
forests along the borders with Canada and Mexico are unguarded
wildernesses where terrorists can infiltrate at will, according
to a new report from the inspector general of the Agriculture
Despite its tough talk about homeland security,"
the federal government has only a small number of Forest Service
officers patrolling the 1,000 miles of border that run through
national forest land, even though more than a year and a half
has passed since Sept. 11.
"Border security is an essential element of national
security, especially in light of the terrorist attacks,"
said the report released last month.
The Forest Service has only 620 officers to monitor 196.1
million acres of national forest land. As a result, national
forests are "potentially vulnerable to infiltration by
terrorists, smugglers, and other criminal agents," the
For security reasons, the report did not reveal the specific
number of officers assigned to monitor 910 miles of forest
land bordering Canada, or the 60 miles of forest bordering
Mexico, but it noted that only a "relatively small number"
of officers patrol the areas.
The U.S. Border Patrol, which has general responsibility for
border security, can offer only limited assistance in national
forests because of internal policies and geographic restrictions
on Border Patrol agents' activity on public land.
The Forest Service itself operates under some restrictions,
too. In general, agents cannot arrest people entering the
U.S. illegally unless they are breaking another law specifically
enforced by the agency.
The report detailing America's vulnerable forested border
areas is the latest in a series of surveys and investigations
by federal agencies that found significant gaps in border
security. Although in the post-9-11 era, Congress has passed
legislation granting vast new powers to federal police agencies
such as the FBI to investigate private citizens, Congress
has so far refused to use the military to guard the U.S. border.
Instead, Congress has authorized only modest hiring increases
for the woefully understaffed Border
In February, Middle American News reported
on a study commissioned by the old Immigration and Naturalization
Service that found as many as 5.45 million aliens illegally
enter the country at border checkpoints by simply fooling
INS inspectors with fake or doctored travel documents such
as passports and visas. That number did not include the estimated
6 million illegal aliens who sneak into the U.S. undetected
along the thousands of miles of unmanned border areas.
The study said overworked U.S. personnel at border entry points
are able to spend only a minute or two glancing at a passport,
visa, or a border-crossing card as they grant admission to
a foreigner. Random back-up checks designed to test inspector's
efficiency show a very low rate of success in spotting illegals.
Computer background checks of foreigners admitted at border
checkpoints found "several million" foreigners whose
backgrounds should have triggered a denial of entry. Current
screening procedures fail to detect travelers with criminal
or potential terrorist backgrounds because border inspectors
do not have immediate access to computerized databases.
More than 500 million foreign travelers enter the U.S. each
year. The study found that 47 of every 5,614 travelers are
erroneously allowed to enter, and that border personnel are
able to stop only 9 to 16 percent of those ineligible for
The U.S. relies on just 9,000 Border Patrol agents to protect
a nation's estimated 4,000 miles of borders. A recent study
by the University of Texas found that nearly twice that many,
16,000 agents, are needed to adequately patrol the southwest
border alone. The Association of Chief Patrol Agents says
the U.S. needs 20,000 border agents.
Currently, about 7,500 agents patrol the 2,000 mile border
with Mexico, but only a few hundred patrol the much longer
border with Canada.
The report from the inspector general of the Agriculture Department
also faulted the Forest Service for laxity in securing weaponry
and explosives in storage buildings on federal land. The same
study authors expressed concern about storage of air tanker
planes used to fight wildfires. Without increased oversight
and security measures, terrorists could steal the planes and
spray harmful bio-chemical agents, they warned. The report
said the service should begin immediately coordinating security
efforts in national forest border areas with the Department
of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies such as the
FBI and the Customs Service.
A spokesman for the Forest Service told CNN.com that the agency
will need additional financial resources to increase its security
functions as recommended in the report.