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Lawmakers push Homeland Security for more funding to detect fentanyl at U.S. border

Fentanyl
dea.gov

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in supporting the research, development and funding of initiatives to combat the flow of fentanyl and other contraband at our borders. 

In 2022, 2,490 drug overdose deaths happened in Virginia, 79 percent of which involved fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and tramadol. Border security technology used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), such as Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technology, can detect narcotics, weapons and human smuggling at land ports of entry (POEs).

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) scanned 7.6 million conveyances, leading to the interdiction of more than 100,000 pounds of narcotics using large-scale NII systems. NII technology also increases savings and efficiency, as examinations using NII systems can be done in just eight minutes, compared to physical examinations which take up to two hours. In fiscal year 2022, NII technology saved $1 billion in annual operational costs and between $5.8 billion and $17.5 billion in costs from delays.

In a letter to DHS Undersecretary for Security Science and Technology (S&T) Dimitri Kusnezov and CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller, Spanberger and 12 colleagues pressed the administration to invest in the research and development of NII technology. The lawmakers outlined how the technology would equip CBP personnel with safer and more effective tools to stop the flow of contraband into the United States. The lawmakers also requested a briefing on the progress made toward deployment of newly optimized passive NII muon tomography technology at and between U.S. ports of entry. Their letter comes after CBP reported alarming amounts of fentanyl seizures — with 9,500 pounds of fentanyl seized in fiscal year 2024 alone.

“To achieve enhanced border security, it is essential to continue innovating beyond the existing technologies of x-ray – including Multi-Energy Portal (MEP) systems – currently deployed at POEs. Unlike passive NII muon tomography technology, x-ray cannot penetrate dense materials such as lead, water, granite, machine parts, and lumber,” the lawmakers wrote. “As you know, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 required scanning 100 percent of U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers by 2012, which has long been delayed, and the Securing America’s Ports Act signed into law in 2021 mandates that a plan be made to scan 100 percent of vehicles, trucks, and freight trains at all U.S. land POEs. However, because of the limitations of the scanning technology currently deployed by CBP, only a small percentage of cargo is actually scanned. Passive NII muon tomography technology could therefore assist CBP in more effectively securing our borders.”

The letter also states the advancements in AI and ML technology allow “for passive muon tomography systems to identify humans inside cargo, we support the continued advancement of such anomaly-detecting algorithms to also work towards the identification of substances such as fentanyl and other dangerous contraband. These advancements, aided by the planned S&T and CBP collaboration, would present a major step forward in border security as they would yield significantly greater transparency into what is attempting to cross our borders, including fentanyl and other illicit substances, and would provide CBP personnel with safer and more effective tools to secure our borders.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.