State Dept. Official: ‘No Excuse for Governments to Not Enforce Effective Border Controls’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | May 26, 2016 | 4:08pm EDT
Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell (Screen Capture)

( The U.S. State Department’s Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Justin Siberell, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in a written statement today that “[t]here is no excuse for governments to not enforce effective border controls.”

“There is no greater priority than keeping America safe from the threat of terrorism,” Siberell told the committee at a hearing on “Protecting America from the Threat of ISIS.”

In his written statement and spoken testimony, Siberell cited the importance of border security in foreign nations to stopping the flow of terrorists.

“When terrorists attempt to cross an international border, they open themselves up to the risk of apprehension,” Siberell said in his written statement. “There is no excuse for governments to not enforce effective border controls; many of our partners are attuned to this challenge and are eager for U.S. advice and engagement to improve their own systems.”

Siberell’s statement said the United States and its allies had reduced ISIL’s territory in the Middle East, but then cited “porous borders” as one factor giving ISIL an ongoing opportunity to “terrorize civilians.”

“The international community has made progress in degrading terrorist safe havens,” Siberell said. “In particular, the U.S.-led collation to counter ISIL has made significant strides in reducing ISIL’s control of territory in Iraq and Syria, as well as the finances and foreign terrorist fighters available to it.”

“At the same time,” Siberell said in his statement, “continued instability in key regions of the world, along with weak or non-existent governance, sectarian conflict, porous borders, and widespread online presence provide terrorist groups like ISIL the opportunity to expand their influence, terrorize civilians, attract and mobilize new recruits, and threaten partner countries.”

The acting counterterrorism coordinator said in his statement that the United States was working to help other governments develop “augmented border security” to stop the flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs).

“We are working with our partners to put in place the fundamental reforms necessary to address this threat, which include increased information sharing, augmented border security, and strengthened legal regimes,” the statement said.

The statement said a decline in foreign terrorist fighters moving into Syria and Iraq was partly the result of increased efforts at border security.

“We attribute the reduction in FTF flows to a range of factors, including military gains by the Counter-ISIL Coalition and proactive steps by governments to strengthen and enforce border security, counter-facilitation and counter-recruitment efforts.”

The statement particularly pointed to Turkey’s increased border security.

“Turkey, a critical geographic chokepoint in the flow of FTFs to and from Syria and Iraq has also increased detentions, arrests, and prosecution of suspected FTFs, and has taken important steps to improve the security of its border.”
The statement noted that the U.S. is working with some governments in Africa to improve their border security.

“For example,” the statement said, “we are training law enforcement from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria on skills for conducting border security operations and preventing and responding to terrorist attacks, especially attacks involving improvised explosive devices.”

The acting coordinator for counterterrorism’s statement said that for the coming fiscal year the administration had requested more money to help other nations secure their borders:

“For FY 2017, we have also requested additional funding for our Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP), which provides highly valuable capability for countries to strengthen border controls through enhanced technology and training. When terrorists attempt to cross an international border, they open themselves up to the risk of apprehension. There is no excuse for governments not to enforce effective border controls; many of our partners are attuned to this challenge and are eager for U.S. advice and engagement to improve their own systems. The TIP program provides critical funding and technical expertise to help countries screen passengers at airports, seaports, and major land ports of entry."

Speaking to the committee, Siberell said: “Effective border security is one of the most essential tools governments possess to deny terrorists the space and freedom to plot and carry out attacks and our efforts in this regard are aimed at ensuring our international partners adopt and implementation effective procedures and technology to enhance our collective security.”

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