U.S. Customs at Falls to get new scanner

Heightened security and anti-terrorism measures are the main focus as the border crossing at International Falls prepares for the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“U.S. Immigration Service is on threat level one security alert and has been since Sept. 11 . . . which is the highest level security alert,” U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Tim Counts said yesterday.
Counts said staff have been actively searching more cars and taking extra precautions since last year’s terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
“In the inspection process, the interview will take longer and be more in-depth [than last year]. Likely people will be asked to pop their hoods or trunks or have someone look under the car,” he noted.
Counts said other security measures also have been put in place, but he could not discuss them in detail for security reasons.
While border security has been stepped up over the past year, Counts doesn’t anticipate longer-than-usual line-ups at the border as the Sept. 11 anniversary nears.
“Not unless more people are trying to get in,” he remarked.
But one change that will appear soon at the International Falls border crossing will be a VACIS machine.
The Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System is set to arrive sometime in the next month or two, U.S. Customs spokesman Mike Milne said yesterday morning.
VACIS is a gamma ray imaging machine which uses radiographic images to detect any illegal materials trying to enter the country.
“It shoots a beam through the walls of train or truck cargo and looks through the cargo,” Milne explained.
The system can scan trucks, containers, cargo, and passenger vehicles for hidden compartments. If something in the vehicle is suspicious, inspectors can unload specific cartons or use K-9 units to check for contraband.
“We have used it for the last few years along the Mexican border,” said Milne, adding it had successfully prevented narcotics and illegal aliens from entering the U.S.
Milne said the new scanner, which costs $1.25 million, could be a great benefit to both border inspectors and commercial businesses crossing the border.
“It is good on the [business] level because we can move things at a faster rate and still enhance security. It happens in a minute,” he noted. “To take off a rail car or truck and unload it and inspect it takes one or two days.”
A similar device also is being considered for the rail bridge at Ranier in the future.
The new scanning devices are just part of the added security measures created since the terrorist attacks.
“The Congress of the United States since Sept. 11 has been very generous. We take the war on terrorism very seriously,” Milne said, adding that detecting and preventing terrorism is now the number-one issue for U.S. Customs agents.
Milne expected staff would be pleased to have access to inspection tools such as the VACIS machine.
“They’re real excited to be getting new tools and tools to help them do their job,” he remarked.
(Fort Frances Times)