WASHINGTON – Federal authorities seized millions of dollars last year that people were trying to take out of the United States and millions of pounds of illegal drugs smugglers were trying to bring in, the nation's border chief said Wednesday
Robert Bonner, chief of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (search), said his agency seized $51.7 million in currency in the 2003 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
"A lot of this was outbound — that people were trying to take out of the United States," Bonner said, in an interview with The Associated Press. "I would say a significant percentage of the currency seizure was proceeds of illegal activity, mainly drug trafficking."
Bonner said that some of the currency was headed for the Middle East, but he didn't know whether that cash was going to be used to bankroll terrorist activities.
Federal law enforcement officials have said that as terrorist financiers find it harder to use the traditional banking system, they are turning to riskier ways to move money, including smuggling cash and cigarettes; trafficking diamonds, gold and drugs; and siphoning money from charitable donations.
The agency is responsible for ensuring that terrorist weapons, drugs and people aren't smuggled into the United States.
Also in the 2003 fiscal year, the agency seized 2.3 million pounds of drugs — most of it marijuana — that people attempted to smuggle into the United States.
Bonner said the agency doesn't have comparable figures on drug and money seizures for previous years.
The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection was formed on March 1 2003, as part of a massive government shuffling that created the new Homeland Security Department.
The bureau now includes the Border Patrol as well as agriculture, immigration and customs inspectors. Bonner said that the 2003 figures are the first for the newly merged bureau, and that various information collected by individual agencies in the past wouldn't be comparable.
The agency also said that 483 people were detained last year for national security reasons. But a lot of those people ended up coming into the country after further reviews showed that they didn't pose a security threat, a spokesman said.