Border Enforcement 21st Century
Dec 15, 2008

From 1990, travel restrictions out of the post communist states almost evaporated. Simultaneously entry restrictions were significantly eased in the U.S., Canada and most western European countries.

As appropriate as these changes may have been politically, they were conceived by policy makers with little regard for the advice provided at the time by the intelligence community. The criminal community and organized terrorist groups began to exploit these freedoms almost immediately.

East bloc crime syndicates, whose roots were directly associated with the former Soviet military and political leaderships, laundered their former state assets into newly minted enterprises ranging from classic banking and investment scams to the establishment of new global networks for trafficking in drugs, weapons and people. These businesses rapidly proved successful.

Terrorists similarly embraced the ease of travel regulations and reduced border controls. Obstacles to their movement were reduced significantly and they exploited open immigration and benevolent refugee screening programs. Passport and identity fraud were treated as misdemeanors by most western governments.

These criminal activities flourished as a result of the evisceration of border controls by most countries. In the early 90’s, the political wisdom was that border controls were redundant. Conventional political approach was that the general law enforcement ­community and the associated justice systems were well-enough equipped to deal with such criminal elements.

By the mid-nineties, the few remaining members of the western intelligence community were raising alarm bells. The international criminal community had clearly become the major catalyst in the extraordinary number of cases related to a broadly connected series of crimes associated with trafficking in human beings, drugs and small arms. Passport and identity fraud were skyrocketing. Radical religious groups were using immigration programs to expand their influence in European and American metropolitan communities.

These intelligence warnings went generally unheeded and were in some instances openly derided by senior domestic law enforcement officials in Canada, the US and in western Europe. A recession had forced cutbacks in government spending and many of them reduced the size of their border services.

The continued growth of international traffic both in terms of persons and goods - brought about the “streamlining of screening procedures” that, coupled with the reduction of border officials at borders and embassies, made for a perfect storm, whose winds filled the sails of the global criminal community and their financial coffers and influence. .

Trafficking in women and minors was on the rise, travel document fraud was endemic but there existed no broad network nor protocols for the exchange of information on this increase in crime.

Left: Canadian Border Services detector dog and handler inspect the trailer of a commercial vehicle. Right: Customs and Border Protection officer Ballard inspects the trunk of a car at the San Ysidro border crossing between Mexico and the U.S. in San Ysidro, California, on 31 January 2008.

Fortunately, necessity being the mother of invention, BORDERPOL exists today because it was recognized over a decade ago that there was such a need to facilitate and provide secure travel channels between like-minded states.

In the fall of 1997 a three day meeting was held in Riga, Latvia which examined the effects of the liberalization of the border controls. It was made clear to all that the existing global institutions such as Interpol, the World Customs Organization or International Organization for Migration did not possess the necessary mandates to cooperatively challenge border related crime. Against this backdrop, a group of law enforcement officials from the Americas and Europe determined that the time had come to form a unique body to challenge this type of criminal activity.

In 1998 a genesis study was commissioned by the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Vienna, Austria. It was to produce a proof of concept document for the European Commission (EC) to develop an intelligence based institution that could challenge cross border criminality at a trans national level. The study called “Project Solomon” concluded in 1999 that there was an immediate need to establish a network of like- minded states that would share information through an automated system about the cross-border movement of persons.

This report was reviewed in 2000 by the EC and was immediately shelved due to data protection concerns. However, its overall recommendations were accepted as part of a genesis program that would eventually lead to the creation of European Union border agency in 2004.

With “Project Solomon” effectively dead, the authors were determined to proceed with the establishment of a fraternal body of border enforcement officials to examine ways in which to gather the necessary support from “like minded” states to establish BORDERPOL.

World events overtook the process. The terrorists attacks of 9/11 both helped and, ironically, hindered the progress.

9/11 galvanized public attention and effectively put an end to the ill-conceived post cold war liberalization of border control policies and programs. Resources became available for the replacement of obsolete equipment, the addition of more human resources and a recognition that the intelligence community to monitor the movement of persons and goods had to be re-established.

Adnan el Shukrijumah (US); Lamine and Ibrahim Adam (UK); and escaped rapist/murderer Blane MacDougall (CAN)

Almost immediately the compartmentalized border enforcement community and its legacy agencies, were subsumed into large bureaucratic ­institutions.

The need to rebuild counter terrorism capabilities in like-minded states also brought with it an unprecedented level of secrecy and insularity. This, ironically, made establishing an intelligence based global institution extremely suspect.

Despite this difficult climate, BORDERPOL was officially created in March of 2003. Founding members from Canada, the United States, and a number of European Union states received its charter from the Government of Canada to operate as a non-profit ­organization.

Since its incorporation, BORDERPOL has been actively pursuing its original purpose while working to meet the needs of the international border security and border management community with 21st Century approaches.

Currently, the organization has senior representatives from 11 national border policing agencies directing its activities, and over 170 members make up the expert support group. All BORDERPOL ­programs are managed through a Headquarters Secretariat office in Ottawa. A European Secretariat, sponsored by the Hungarian National Police Service in Budapest, is responsible for EU and Central Asian projects. Similar regional Secretariats are planned for Asia and Latin America.

Over the past five years, BORDERPOL has developed and delivered capacity building programs to improve the capabilities of national border enforcement agencies to track, detect and deter specific forms of trans border criminality. These programs have taken place in countries as diverse as Kyrgistan, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, the United Kingdom and Central Africa.

During 2008, members of the represented border agencies requested that BORDERPOL expand and focus on its the core ­mission of providing more operational support to the border enforcement community. Consequently, in 2009-2010, it will emphasize developing sustained support services for its members.

The first service will be the development and introduction of an automated border management system to track the movement of travelers through a central registry. Its primary purpose will be to verify entry and exit protocols for participating states. It will ­effectively deny the ability of identified and suspected criminal movement from one state to another by air or sea.

Another initiative will see the testing of an International Passport Card (IPC) that will complement existing national passports. Its primary purpose will be to provide the traveler with a secure document in the form of a biometric-based smart card that combines and expands the usefulness of existing national “trusted traveler cards” for use in multiple jurisdictions with specialized services such as travel insurance. The border policing community in participating countries will have access to security features that will facilitate entry, exit and various visitor registry processes.

A third BORDERPOL initiative will be the development of an international ‘bad guy’ lookout database using the remarkable technological developments in face recognition biometrics. Such lookout systems are in rudimentary and largely isolated deployment around the world, including the UK and the UAE. The BORDERPOL system is intended to make use of existing law enforcement photographs of persons who are either fugitives or barred (based on security, criminality or other grounds). By facilitating the sharing of this most relevant data in a preventive rather than traditionally reactive fashion, BORDERPOL will help countries detect and prevent entry to their territory of persons that pose a threat rather than respond after the fact.

These and other projects are primarily designed to make borders more effective in denying criminals and terrorists the ability to move unimpeded from one jurisdiction to another. At the same time, such programs will facilitate and begin a long-awaited ­standardization process that will ease border formalities for ­legitimate travelers. As a border focused organization, BORDERPOL actively promotes this combination of low risk facilitation and intelligence driven investigation because, in today’s world, more security is not necessarily better security.  

Thomas A. (Tom) Tass is the Executive Director of BORDERPOL. Visit the official website at
© FrontLine Security 2008