WASHINGTON, Jan 31: Government investigators told a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday that undercover agents were easily able to cross the U.S. border from Mexico and Canada using fake identification that was made using basic computer equipment.

Despite efforts to strengthen border security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, investigators found border guards did not recognize that holograms on fake licenses were not genuine and that birth certificates used had no watermarks.

“Our agents entered the United States from Canada, Mexico and Jamaica through ports of entry using fictitious names and these counterfeit identification documents,” Robert Cramer, managing director of the office of special investigations at the General Accounting Office, said in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee.

“Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs Service officials never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents, and our agents encountered no difficulty entering the country using them,” he added.

Committee staff documents said the fake identification was made using common computer equipment. Investigators were also able to use fake documents to enter the the United States though the Miami airport, a committee aide said.

Cramer said U.S. citizens crossing the Canadian and Mexican border can use birth certificates, baptismal documents or drivers licenses to establish citizenship. On some occasions, border agents accept oral statements as proof.

“What these investigators found is shocking,” said Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican. “The agents on the front lines obviously need to be a lot more vigilant. Bouncers at college bars could spot the kind of fake IDs that were used by investigators.”

Officials noted new homeland security laws provide for new equipment that will be able to read documents and verify their authenticity.

As the committee was meeting, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was in Miami announcing plans for the new department and greater efforts at border control.

The department, created in response to the September 2001 attacks, will merge all or part of 22 existing agencies and 170,000 employees.

“Whether your threats come via a suitcase or on a suicide bomber, pathogens in the air or armed passengers on an airplane ... we will use every tool at our disposal to stop you,” Ridge told new employees at the Port of Miami.

Grassley said that as the U.S. government tightened security at ports of entry following the September 2001 attacks, drug smugglers moved to remote border areas controlled by the Interior Department.

Daniel Wirth of the National Park Service, speaking on behalf of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, showed videos of dozens of smugglers hiking through a campground near the Mexican border carrying some 300 pounds of marijuana. He suggested smugglers could carry more dangerous substances.

“They could be backpacking anything,” he told the committee. He added that smugglers often hike through campgrounds.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the panel, said he hoped President George W. Bush follows up on promises to beef up border security.

“It’s one thing to talk the game. It is something else to produce,” Baucus said.—Reuters

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