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Congress questions Abu Dhabi CBP post

Bersin, Al Muhairi
sign agreement

The leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee want to know the details behind the opening of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) preclearance operation at the Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

In an April 18 letter to DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said the proposed facility “could set a dangerous precedent” of deploying customs resources based on “third-party financing” and not on national security.

CBP announced in April 2011, that the Abu Dhabi General Administration of Customs would be the first customs administration from the middle east to participate in the International Cargo Targeting Fellowship Program of Customs and Border Protection.

At the time, CBP commissioner Alan  Bersin hosted Abu Dhabi General Administration of Customs director General Saeed Al Muhairi met at CBP’s Washington, D.C., headquarters to formalize the agreement, allowing assignment of an Abu Dhabi customs liaison officer to the CBP National Targeting Center-Cargo and a CBP liaison officer to Abu Dhabi General Administration of Customs. The officers, said CBP would facilitate the exchange of information between the two customs agencies to benefit law enforcement and expedite lawful commerce.

Critics of the agreements to open CBP preclearance offices overseas have said the facilities put the U.S. in a shaky position, having to reimburse foreign governments for CBP clearance costs. They also say such agreements could put U.S. airlines at a disadvantage because travelers to the U.S. could opt for a foreign carrier, rather than face longer lines at security clearance facilities in the U.S. because of possible CBP personnel shortages.

In their April, 2013 letter, McCaul and Thompson noted that Napolitano has said her agency is looking to ‘push out’ border security measures from geographic U.S. borders into important points of departure to the U.S. around the globe.

However, McCaul and Thompson maintained that given the shortage of CBP officers and limited resources, preclearance locations should be chosen in a risk-based manner.

The congressmen asked DHS to provide information on why the Abu Dhabi airport was chosen; what additional security benefits it could provide; and if CBP officials took part in negotiations with the Abu Dhabi preclearance operations.