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Exclusive: Watch the Borders: Fake Visas, Real Tunnels Cause Official Concern

(ABC News) The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian Border Services Agency have each recently issued security notices alerting law enforcement officials to border-crossing issues, including illicit tunnels and fake visas.

On the U.S. side, DHS has issued an assessment of the “threat to the homeland” posed by illicit tunnels — almost exclusively across the Mexican border.

Among the report’s key findings, “Tunnels under U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico serve primarily as conduits for transporting illicit drugs into the United States. In addition, reliable reporting indicates that some tunnels also are used for alien smuggling, including special interest aliens.”

Canadian officials meanwhile have issued a warning that “several…counterfeit visas…have been intercepted at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.”

According to the warning, which was shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of the routine border-crossing cooperative security, “The counterfeits were detected in the possession of nationals of Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and most recently, nationals of India. The counterfeits, purportedly issued in Kiev and Chandigarh, bear serial numbers starting with ‘A043283.'”

Both warnings are the kinds of routine communications that law enforcement agencies share on points of concern.

But both issues are also critical ones in terms of the U.S. Secure Border Initiative — a plan to reduce illegal migration — and in terms of the secure identification requirements that the U.S. has pressed for as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, the Department of Homeland Security says.

There have been frictions on both the northern and southern borders as a result of these initiatives, the U.S. government acknowledges, but DHS says the agency has worked to overcome them.

“There have been concerns expressed to us by local officials, state and provincial officials as well as federal officials on the impact on the flow of trade and traffic (across land borders),” Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said. “Imagine what would happen if a terrorist were to cross; what would happen to trade and traffic then. It is likely the border would be shut down…that would have a severe economic impact.”

In particular, the issues on the northern border, DHS says, “are ones that cannot be kicked down the road.”

Currently, there are about 8,000 different travel documents that Customs and Border Patrol agents have to evaluate to determine whether a person can enter the United States. DHS is seeking to reduce this number to a handful and is exploring the possibility of more secure driver’s licenses and travel passes.

When the Canadian Border Services Agency issued a detailed warning illustrating the points of difference between a real and a counterfeit visa, the Department of Homeland Security circulated the Canadian warning with a cover memo noting, “The Canada Border Services Agency has provided the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the attached Canada Alert Document 2007-13, regarding a counterfeit visa. This document provides detailed information and includes pictures of a genuine and counterfeit visa. DHS has determined that the information contained in this alert may improve the ability to detect and capture counterfeit visas.”

In its own report, “Special Assessment: Underground Tunnels: A Border Security Threat,” DHS noted that 65 tunnels have been discovered since 1990 — all but one originating in Mexico — and the pace of tunneling or the discovery of tunneling appears to be accelerating. Corrupt Mexican officials, the report notes, are to blame in at least some tunneling instances.

According to the report, “Law enforcement officials discovered only 11 tunnels from 1990 to 2000, but have uncovered 54 in the past six years — 17 in 2006 alone. So far this year, another 10 have been discovered…Corrupt Mexican officials have facilitated some illicit tunnel operations such as digging operations and security protection.”

The tunnels DHS has analyzed range from a crude 25-foot crawl space to a 2400-foot tunnel in Otay Mesa, Calif.

“One tunnel discovered in September 2003…was nearly 1,000 feet long with lighting, ventilation, and carts on rails to transport narcotics. A Mexican federal police commander and a former federal police officer — along with four drug traffickers connected to the Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman Loera drug cartel — were arrested in connection with the tunnel,” the assessment read.

DHS says, and other federal agencies concur, that under the administration of President Felipe Calderone, the Mexican federal government has made great strides in its efforts to cooperate with the United States.

“President Calderone…has shown real political courage,” Knocke said. “We’ve enjoyed a very strong working relationship.”

Knocke says that while there is no current, credible information showing the tunnels are a “nexus for terror,” tunneling is of increasing concern to law enforcement officials as drug and people smugglers find it increasingly difficult to bypass checkpoints and fences above ground. The point of the report, which he described as “a routine information sharing product,” is “to provide a general assessment from an intelligence perspective.”

On the visa front, in recent months Canada has seen an increase in visa security issues, according to the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

“There are so many people in B.C. [British Columbia] scamming Canada’s foreign student-visa program — from bogus students to shady schools — that authorities can only investigate about five percent of the cases, according to an internal government report obtained by CanWest News Service,” the paper reported on July 31. “‘It is impossible to actively pursue all the cases… with the current resourcing levels assigned to the project,’ warned an August 2006 report prepared by the Canada Border Services Agency.”

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August 10, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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