Border Security:

Investigators Successfully Transported Radioactive Sources Across Our Nation's Borders at Selected Locations

GAO-06-545R: Published: Mar 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 2006.

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This report responds to a Congressional request that we investigate potential security weaknesses related to the installation of radiation detection equipment at U.S. ports of entry. We focused our efforts on testing whether the radiation portal monitors installed at the U.S. ports of entry would detect radioactive material transported in vehicles attempting to enter the United States. We also agreed to provide our observations regarding the procedures that Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors followed when the radiation portal monitors detected such material. We have reported on the security of our nation's northern border in terms of detection of illegal transport of radioactive material into the United States in our previous work.

For the purposes of this undercover investigation, we purchased a small amount of radioactive sources and one container used to store and transport the material from a commercial source over the telephone. One of our investigators, posing as an employee of a fictitious company located in Washington, D.C., stated that the purpose of his purchase was to use the radioactive sources to calibrate personal radiation detection pagers. The purchase was not challenged because suppliers are not required to determine whether buyers have legitimate uses for the radioactive sources, nor are suppliers required to ask the buyer to produce an NRC document when making purchases in small quantities.The radiation portal monitors properly signaled the presence of radioactive material when our two teams of investigators conducted simultaneous border crossings. Our investigators' vehicles were inspected in accordance with most of the CBP policy at both the northern and southern borders. However, our investigators were able to enter the United States with enough radioactive sources to make two dirty bombs using counterfeit documents. Specifically, they were able to successfully represent themselves as employees of a fictitious company and present a counterfeit bill of lading and a counterfeit NRC document during the secondary inspections at both locations. The CBP inspectors never questioned the authenticity of the investigators' counterfeit bill of lading or the counterfeit NRC document authorizing them to receive, acquire, possess, and transfer radioactive sources.

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