It appears that Mexican drug cartels are taking advantage of the US’ C-TPAT program to occasionally put marijuana into trucks that have been granted expedited clearance into the US. How serious is this?
If you dig into the articles you will see that there are about 5 million north-bound truckloads crossing the Mexican border annually. In two weeks CPB found four shipments containing marijuana. They say that ten percent of the trucks are inspected, but it’s not clear if that’s ten percent of all trucks or ten percent of the C-TPAT certified trucks. Worst case, that’s 20 trucks carrying marijuana per week, or 1,000 per year. That comes to 200 trucks per million. Your judgements will vary on how serious this is.
C-TPAT was not designed to catch drug smugglers. Of course, the obvious question is whether terrorists could substitute a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) for the marijuana. Theoretically it’s possible of course. However, I don’t think the Mexican drug cartels would do so voluntarily. A cynic would say that their customer base in the US is too valuable to them, and there are probably other reasons as well.
But the articles do raise some questions. Certified trucks are only required to notify the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff 30 minutes ahead of reaching the border. This is in marked contrast to the Container Security Initiative that applies to ocean freight. For ocean freight, CBP must be notified of the contents of all containers 24 hours before a US bound container ship is loaded.
CBP is also finding trucks where secure seals have been broken or circumvented by removing doors at the hinges. That’s disturbing. These are the same seals that are used on ocean freight containers.
My thought is that there will probably be more delays at the border. One sensible approach would be to require trucks coming from further into Mexico than the immediate border area to provide more advance notice. CBP tries to judge security risks at least partly based on the names of the shipper and receiver and more time to react would help them select riskier for further inspection.