WASHINGTON – Years without an intelligence strategy to secure U.S. borders resulted in uncoordinated and sometimes incomplete threat information about immigrants, a top counterterrorism official said Wednesday.
Only over the past year has the Bush administration begun to develop plans to analyze border security gaps with information gleaned from all the intelligence agencies, the official told a House committee.
"When I came in, we did not have an intelligence campaign plan against the border," said Charles Allen, who joined the Homeland Security Department last fall as its intelligence chief. "I agree with you that we should have done more earlier, but we are now at this vigorously."
Allen said the department is in the early stages of completing a comprehensive border intelligence strategy, which includes working with the Pentagon on surveillance and reconnaissance programs.
He declined to disclose many details of the plans, citing security concerns. But he said the department has created an office to analyze threats at borders, including drug and immigrant smuggling and money laundering.
Allen also cited the need "to bring all the capabilities of the national intelligence community onto this problem."
Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee said they were outraged that security officials were unaware of some vulnerabilities at the more than 19,000 miles of the U.S. border.
"Frankly, we should have been talking about border intelligence five years ago in the aftermath of 9/11," said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee's top Democrat.
The hearing came as House Republicans push for immigration legislation this year to tighten border security.
Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., a former CIA officer, said federal officials arrest an average of 3,000 illegal immigrants in the U.S. daily — including one person "for terrorism or national security related reasons."
"Many come for opportunities that America provides, and we understand that," Simmons said. "But others have a more sinister intent."
Intelligence-driven border operations "will be the key to targeting and interdicting these threats before their arrival," he said.