Border training helps reduce dangerous smuggling
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Stopping the traffic of components, materials and
commodities used to make weapons of mass
destruction could reduce the number of weapons
That's the intent of a joint program between the U.S.
Customs Service and Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory that provides classroom and hands-on
training to foreign border guards, customs patrol and
frontier police. The classes teach attendees how to
spot red flags that should trigger a search, as well
as how to use specialized technology to detect and
identify items used to make nuclear, chemical or
biological weapons of mass destruction.
The program is supported by U.S. Customs, State
Department, Department of Defense, Department of
Energy and other government agencies. It has
provided training to personnel from countries in
Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
Union since 1997.
Students spend half their time in the classroom
learning to detect, identify, interdict and investigate
the illicit movement of items that may be used for
weapons of mass destruction. "Our students work
with materials and commodities that may be used to
make weapons of mass destruction, and they work
with weapon components and missile delivery
systems," said William Cliff, program supervisor.
like anthrax and
how it spreads and
weapons such as
Students learn to
recognize the signature of various radioactive
isotopes, including special nuclear materials like
weapons grade plutonium and uranium, industrial
and medical isotopes.
Field exercises, held at the DOE's Hazardous
Materials Management and Emergency Response
(HAMMER) training center, help students sharpen
their intuition about smugglers and hone
identification and response skills. Students are
confronted with situations similar to those they may
encounter on the job in their home countries.
Two technologies used in the field exercises, the
Ultrasonic Pulse Echo and the Materials
Identification System (MIS), were developed at the
Laboratory. The ultrasound device, a hand-held gun
that transmits ultrasonic pulses and detects return
echoes, can determine the contents of a sealed
container and is sensitive enough to distinguish
between diet and regular Coca-Cola. The device
helps users find objects or compartments in
liquid-filled containers and solid materials, including
shipping drums and metal ingots.
MIS allows inspectors to touch a piece of metal with
a probe and compare it with a database of known
materials. MIS can identify material that may be
used for nuclear weapons applications so border
guards can prevent the shipment from reaching its
destination. Both MIS and the ultrasound system
excel at picking out commingled items, a common
In part, the border training program protects U.S.
interests by reducing the risk a foreign country could
accumulate sufficient components to construct
weapons that might eventually reach the United
States. "Every country that has built some kind of
nuclear device, including the U.S. in World War II,
got some materials from outside," Cliff said. "That's
why the transportation corridor is so important."
As a result of the Sept. 11 incidents, Cliff said he
expects border enforcement training at HAMMER to