Terrorism and Drug TraffickingThreats and Roles of Explosives and Narcotics Detection Technology Gao ID: NSIAD/RCED-96-76BR March 27, 1996
Even though conventional X-ray screening falls short in its ability to reveal concealed narcotics and explosives, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Customs Service have lagged in introducing advanced technologies to detect drugs and explosives smuggled aboard commercial aircraft. The intelligence community believes that the threat of terrorism within the United States has grown and that commercial aircraft are likely to remain targets. According to the FBI, terrorist attacks could come from groups that are hard to infiltrate and control. In January 1995, a plot to attack U.S. flights in Asia was discovered. Narcotics trafficking is a continuing problem. Although cocaine has been the main threat since 1985, heroin is a growing concern. Trafficking is most active today along the southwest border of the United States. To counter these threats, FAA recently certified an advanced automated explosive detection system, but has not required its deployment. The cost of buying and installing the equipment at the 75 busiest domestic airports could be as high as $2.2 billion, according to preliminary FAA estimates. Customs has one truck X-ray system at the southwest border to detect narcotics and plans to spend $38 million to acquire others. Its plans for seaports and the use of mobile systems have not been clearly defined. Other countries, including the United Kingdom and France, are already using advanced technologies to detect explosives and narcotics.
GAO found that: (1) the intelligence community believes that the threat of terrorism within the United States has increased; (2) although no specific aviation threat is known, experts believe that aviation is likely to remain an attractive target for terrorists; (3) according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, terrorist attacks could come from groups that are difficult to infiltrate and control; (4) information was uncovered in January 1995 about plans by such a group for multiple attacks on specific U. S. flights in Asia; (5) narcotics trafficking is a continuing concern; (6) while cocaine has been the primary threat since 1985, heroin is becoming more of a threat; (7) the intelligence community believes traffickers are presently most active on the southwest border of the United States and use vehicles such as cars, trucks, and tractor-trailers carrying containers to smuggle narcotics; (8) to counter these threats, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Customs Service have developed strategies that rely on: (a) intelligence information; (b) various procedures, such as profiling and targeting high-risk shipments for examination; and (c) technologies; (9) FAA relies on a strategy of tailored response to mandate security procedures commensurate with the level of threat at specific places and times; (10) the terrorist threat overseas is higher, and FAA mandated more stringent security measures for international flights, including use of conventional X-ray screening for checked baggage; (11) Customs' strategy includes disseminating intelligence on drug trafficking, targeting high-threat conveyances and cargoes, and using detection technologies; the current emphasis is on the southwest border and particularly on trucks and private vehicles; (12) concealed explosives and narcotics are difficult to detect using technologies currently deployed in the United States; (13) tests of conventional X-ray screening conducted by FAA in May 1994 showed that there is a low probability of detecting a moderately sophisticated explosive device; (14) since then, FAA has certified an advanced automated explosive detection system, but has not required deployment of that system; (15) FAA's preliminary estimates are that the cost of purchasing and installing the system at the 75 busiest domestic airports could range from $400 million to $2.2 billion; (16) Customs has one truck X-ray system at the southwest border for detecting narcotics and plans to acquire others at a total cost of about $38 million; (17) Customs' plans for seaports and the use of mobile systems have not been clearly defined; and (18) other countries are already deploying advanced technologies intended for explosives or narcotics detection.