Customs and Border Protection (CBP) continues to scan limited numbers of passenger and commercial vehicles entering through ports of entry along the southwestern U.S. for illegal substances and other contraband, but beginning later this year these numbers will rise dramatically, an agency official said on Wednesday.
In fiscal year 2021 the vast majority of illegal drugs intercepted at ports of entry using non-intrusive inspection (NII) technology was done by “scanning less than 2 percent of primary passenger vehicles and 15 percent of fixed occupant commercial vehicles crossing the southwest border,” Pete Flores, executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, said in his written testimony to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security. “Beginning in FY 2023, CBP expects to increase NII scans of these vehicles as much as 40 percent and greater than 70 percent, respectively.”
The reason for the coming boom in NII inspections of both passenger and commercial vehicles is historic funding levels committed to purchasing advanced scanning technologies the last four years. In 2021, CBP awarded two sets of contracts to multiple contractors to begin an expansion of NII deployments.
Last fall, CBP awarded a potential $390 million multi-award contract for low-energy, drive-through portals to Astrophysics, Leidos [LDOS], and OSI Systems’ [OSIS] security business to enable the scanning of passenger vehicles while occupants enter the U.S. from Mexico. Earlier in 2021, CBP awarded a potential $480 million multi-award contract to Leidos, OSI Systems and Britain’s Smiths Detection for the Multi-Energy Portal program, which allows the scanning of a cab at a low energy level and automatically switch to a higher energy when scanning the cargo portion of the vehicle as it is driven through the checkpoint.
The low-energy and multi-energy portal systems are large-scale NII systems and currently are deployed for secondary inspection operations when a vehicle is flagged for more scrutiny. The drive-through systems will be located in pre-primary inspection lanes and will transmit an image to an officer remotely located in a command center, Flores said.
The drive-through systems “will help streamline the vehicle inspection process and increase scanning rates, thereby increasing the probability of interdiction,” he said.
Congress has mandated that 100 percent of cargo and vehicles entering the U.S. be scanned for drugs and other prohibited items.
The subcommittee hosted the hearing to examine the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis in the U.S. Most hard drugs like fentanyl are thought to enter the U.S. from Mexico through ports of entry where all vehicles and pedestrians are processed upon arrival.
Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the panel, at the outset of the hearing presented a pie chart she said is based on CBP data showing that 91.3 percent of hard drugs seized at the border were found at ports of entry and 8.7 percent between ports of entry.