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January 15, 2009 

Contraband Found by CBP in Entry Involving C-TPAT Participants

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sent a notice yesterday to all participants in the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program advising that CBP officers recently discovered 2,822 pounds of marijuana in a shipment from Mexico involving participants in the C-TPAT program.

According to CBP, officers at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry became suspicious of a truck carrying wiring harnesses from Mexico as it attempted to make entry into the U.S. and decided to send the shipment for an X-ray inspection to determine if contraband was hidden in the trailer. Before the tractor and trailer could even make it to the X-ray unit for inspection, one of the CBP narcotics detection dogs alerted to the presence of narcotics in the trailer.

The image from the X-ray inspection confirmed the presence of narcotics hidden in the shipment. Upon further examination, 110 packages of marijuana with a street value of over $4.5 million were discovered. The driver was arrested and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation and the narcotics, tractor and trailer were seized by CBP.

In its notice, CBP stated that "trust was betrayed" since the companies transporting and receiving this shipment were trusted participants in the C-TPAT program, which is intended to lead to a reduction in the number of random examinations of low risk shipments.

As a result of this seizure, the companies' C-TPAT privileges have been suspended until CBP can further investigate the events that transpired.

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I can't say that this surprises me. I never really believed that C-TPAT could be effective. Participants aren't incented enough or knowledgeable enough to fight smuggling or terrorism. They're focused on asset control, and as much or more on damage recovery than actual prevention.

But I find one comment in Customs' statement rather peculiar:

"As an incentive to participate in this program, the participants receive many privileges such as a lower amount of random exams. Since CBP examines these shipments less frequently, some people see this as an opportunity to smuggle. However, CBP officers have long known about this misconception and are ready to exploit smugglers’ ignorance. This seizure is a perfect example of how CBP uses a common misconception to thwart smuggling attempts."

Say what? Customs believes that C-TPAT cargo is higher risk? And just how do they "exploit" this "misconception"? By increasing exam rates on C-TPAT shipments?

I also find it odd that Customs would advertising a failure of their own pet program.

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