DHS Granted 3 Years of Expedited Border Crossing to Person With 'Close Family Ties' to Watchlisted Terrorist

By Edwin Mora | June 4, 2012 | 8:17 PM EDT

Mexican police and forensic experts examine the scene after a US border patrol agent shot and killed a man at the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, late Tuesday June 21, 2011. Two men, presumably Mexican, assaulted two Border Patrol agents after crossing the border illegally about one mile west of San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry, a Border Patrol spokesman said. Tijuana police identified the victim as Jose Alfredo Yanez, 40. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cossio)

(CNSNews.com) - U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, granted expedited border processing for three years to a person who had "close family ties" to an individual on the government's terrorist watch list, according to a report by the inspector general of DHS.

CBP also granted expedited border processing to five individuals with links to drug smuggling, according to the inspector general.

The drivers were deemed ineligible when it came time to renew their enrollment five years after being admitted into CBP’s Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, according to the May audit conducted by the inspector general.

The IG report covered both the Mexican and Canadian borders. It concluded: "CBP Cannot Ensure The Low Risk of Mexican Citizens and Residents in the FAST Program."

The findings were derived from a sample of 30 denied renewal applications in FY 2010 (Oct. 1, 2009 thru Sept. 30, 2010) that were examined by the IG and involved 16 drivers denied for criminal violations and eight for customs, agricultural, and immigration violations. These were in addition to the six who were deemed ineligible for their links to drug smuggling and terrorism.

“CBP did not remove these drivers until their 5-year renewal application was processed,” said the IG. “These drivers remained in the FAST program for up to 5 years before they were deemed ineligible by CBP.”

As specific examples, the IG mentioned “Five drivers denied at renewal had close links to drug smugglers or were suspected drug smugglers, including a driver listed in TECS as a broker of drug shipments between the United States and Canada. Information rendering these drivers ineligible was available in TECS for 6 to 55 months prior to these drivers’ renewal point; however, they were not removed from the program until this derogatory information was reviewed during their 5-year renewal process.”

TECS is a "law enforcement and antiterrorism database" managed by CBP itself.

“Another driver had close family ties to an individual on the United States Government consolidated terrorist watch list, making the driver ineligible for the FAST program,” said the IG. “The driver remained in the FAST program for more than 3 years after this information was available in TECS.”

CBP uses a number of law enforcement databases to vet the drivers and make sure they are low risk and eligible for the program including TECS (not an acronym), the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).

FAST was started after September 11, 2001 as a result of a border agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico in an effort to ensure the security and safety of cross-border commerce.

Participants in the program include importers, highway carriers, commercial drivers, and southern border manufacturers who are required to meet a certain eligibility threshold.

“FAST participants who meet the program’s eligibility requirements are considered low risk and receive expedited clearance through designated FAST lanes at land ports of entry, fewer selections for inspections at the border, and front-of-the-line privilege when selected for secondary inspections,” stated the IG, later adding that “FAST program enables CBP to redirect security efforts and inspections to commerce that is high or unknown risk.”

FAST’s benefits “make the program attractive to drug smugglers,” noted the IG.

The extent to which the program’s effects on border security risk outweigh its benefits is unknown because CBP has failed to put in place a process to assess such risks.

There are two standing eligibility processes for drivers known as Continuing Vetting and Renewal.

“Continuous Vetting involves a search of U.S. law enforcement databases every 24 hours to ensure the low-risk status of enrolled drivers,” stated the audit. “Renewal combines searches of law enforcement databases with in person interviews, document reviews, and fingerprint identification every 5 years.”

However, the IG also pointed out that the eligibility process in place to ensure that only eligible drivers are able to participate in the program has failed in particular with regards to Mexico, 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 late 2006.

“CBP is hampered in its ability to ensure that Mexican citizens and residents in the program are low risk. Mexico does not share the Southern border FAST program with the United States to vet and continuously monitor drivers’ eligibility,” explained the IG. “Also, the FAST program’s Continuous Vetting process does not assess all violations and criminal information that may render drivers ineligible to participate in the FAST program.”

“The information excluded from this process is reviewed every five years. As a result, high risk drivers may be actively enrolled in the FAST program, exposing CBP to increased risk of compromised border security,” it added.

There were a total of 80,177 drivers participating in the FAST program as of June 2011, revealed the audit. Of those, 68,528 were enrolled in FAST along the U.S.-Canada border and 11,649 in FAST along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Reasons for denial range from “violations of customs, immigration, or agricultural laws or regulations” to “convictions, pending charges, or warrants for criminal acts” to “active investigations by any Federal, State, or local law enforcement agency.”

FAST came at a cost of about $1.4 million in FY 2010.

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