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U.S. Border and Security and TSA

U.S. Border and Security and TSA




The border security concept in the United States of America has a complex relationship with the persistent terrorism threat.  Border security includes the protection of its the ports, land borders and airports. The relationship can be considered as unique in that the federal government has to constantly teak and reevaluate its border security policy and measures to address the perceived threats to the nation through the detonation of mass destruction weapons, smuggling and human terrorism.

The United States shares approximately 7, 000 miles of land that border Mexico and Canada, as well as the coastal waters and rivers around the country. These borders serve as significant economic gateways accounting for trillions of dollars in travel and trade every year.  The borders also act as home to some of the country’s safest and largest communities and cities. Protecting these borders from illegal movement of people, drugs, weapons, and contraband, while promoting lawful exit and entry, is essential to the security of the United States, national sovereignty and economic prosperity.



Following the September 11, 2001 events, the Federal Government placed a higher priority on obvious homeland security aspects that included intelligence reform, but not border security. However, with time, the government together with the American public realized that for an attack with such a magnitude as the September 11 attack to take place, there had to be something seriously wrong with the border security apparatuses that existed at that time.

It is evident that all the terrorists’ hijackers who took part in the September 11 were temporary United States tourists’ visa recipients. This means that they were allowed legally to get into the United States. If nineteen men with the intention of causing harm to United States were able to get past the screening restriction put in place by the government, it raises concerns of how great a threat United States is posed by 3,111km Mexican border, largely unchecked 4, 855 km long border with Canada and the several unsecured ports. The public on the other hand also questions how the cracking down on illegal entries into the country will interfere with the ability of terrorists who legally enter the country.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is one of the U.S Department of Homeland Security agencies that was introduced following the increased cases of terrorist attacks on America’s borders. TSA is concerned with the security of public travel in the United States. The TSA was introduced as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act.

After the September 11 events, several actions have been introduced in an effort to improve border security in America. The coming up with the Department of Homeland Security as well as the enacting of several new procedures and policies, both unclassified and classified, has made the United States borders, airports, and ports safer compared to the way it was in 2001.

However, there is no doubt that the terrorism threats via the United States’ ports, airports and land borders still exist. The threats poise the concern as to whether America is truly safe from other attacks. This paper is going to look at the border security situation in the United States, the existing measure and policies aimed at improving the security situation and the role of the TSA in improving border security.

Border Security

Land Borders

The sheer size of both the Mexican and Canadian borders present the United States government security forces with a major challenge with regards to their ability to have the homeland protected. Congress has admitted that the federal government is facing great difficulties in securing its many points through which goods and people may legally get into the country, and thousands of miles of border lines, land borders and stretches of coasts that are thinly guarded where entry is illegal.

Considering the undocumented migration phenomenon at the Mexico-US border, some political candidates and government officials have come out publicly addressing the terrorists’ threats crossing the Southwest border.  However, as per the border fact check blog, there are no known cases of international terrorists’ organization that has been associated with operations on the Mexico border and there is no terrorist group that has targeted American citizens from or in Mexican territory.  The Department of Homeland Security affirmed in 2011 that it lacked any credible information on any terrorist group that is operational along the Southwest border (Medalia, 2004).


The U.S government faces threats to the security of the nation through its many ports. The Director for Physical Infrastructure issues has claimed that illegal aliens and drugs are routinely smuggled into America, using both small boats and hidden among legitimate cargoes being ferried on large commercial ships. The above mentioned paths are available for terrorist organization exploitation or any person and nation wishing to attack the nation surreptitiously. The director also stated that the sheer cargo containers number that gets into the United States increases this threat. More than 42 million, 6.1 m containers get into America every year.


Approximately 87 million people find their way into the United States each year through airports. The large number makes airports a main entry point for potential terrorists. For example, in 2012, the CIA revealed that it has uncovered a mission to attack a commercial plane with explosive devices. The CIA claimed that the attack was a plan of the Al Qaeda (Scott, 2010).

Current Policies and Security Mechanisms

Land Borders

The Manhattan Institute in 2008 came up with claims that the border security remains on of the most critical issues currently facing America. The Institute went a head to claim that border security has to be monitored by a single organization that will be in a position to embrace CompStat, the NYPD organizational philosophy. Countless agencies guard the United States land borders, including the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the United States Border Patrol, the National Guard and the Department of Homeland Security (Scott , 2010).

The Homeland Security Department has completed fencing more than 700 miles along the borders. The same department has deployed more than 20, 700 border patrol agents. The Border Patrol on its part has approximately 18, 300 agents on both the northern and southern border.  The Homeland Security department makes use of technology along the United States border like surveillance systems mounted with truck mobile, unattended ground sensors, unmanned aerial systems, remote video surveillance systems, the Augmented Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System and rotary-wing aircraft.


Between 2001 and 2006, the United States government increased its funding for the port security for more than 700% (Verini, 2005).  . The increase in funding permitted the Homeland Security Department to come up with a depth defense against foreign threats. The U. S Coast Guard, the U. S Customs and Border Protection, the Port Authority and the Terminal operator share the responsibility of providing security to the parts.

The agencies screened all the cargo getting to the country in 2006. The Border Patrol and U. S Customs use gamma ray machines, X-ray and radiation detection devices in the screening of cargo, operating more than 170 large scale inspection devices and more than 680 radiation portal monitors. To add on the above measures, there were over 600 canine teams that were trained to identify bulk currency, narcotics, explosives, human beings chemical weapons and agricultural pests, working on the entry of the U. S ports.


Security mechanism at any airport has to be efficient, quick and efficient considering the massive number of travelers. The Homeland Security Department has come up with the Automated Targeting System, which is a data mining program. The system operates by collecting relevant information from airlines like credit card numbers, passport data and identity information. The collected information is then run against a list of names of known terrorists, pertinent intelligence data and phone numbers associated with terrorist cells (Harper, 2003).

The other mechanism used to detect terrorists in addition to the ATS system is used in the situation where nothing is detected using the flagging protocols. Federal Air Marshals are the Transportation Security Administration law enforcement branch. They fly either in incognito or uniform and serve as the law enforcement while on board to protect crew members and passengers from terrorists and criminals.


The TSA is mostly operational on Airports where it expects the passengers to show a valid ID at the checkpoints before they get into their flight. Valid identification forms include U. S pass ports or a military ID or a photo identification issues by a foreign government. Passengers without their ID may be allowed to fly in case their identify can be verified using alternative means. Passenger names are also compared against what is referred to as No-fly list. The No-fly list is a list of more than 21, 000 suspected terrorists’ names who are not allowed to board any flight (Flynn, 2004).

The names of passengers are also compared against another selectees list. The names that match this list have to undergo a more thorough screening before they are allowed to board a flight. However, the effectiveness of the use of lists has been criticized considering the associated errors following the manner in which the lists are maintained, some concerns of whether the lists are in accordance to the constitution, for encouraging racial profiling and for its ineffectiveness in stopping terrorists from boarding flights.

The passengers at the airport security checkpoint are screened to make sure that they do not have prohibited items. The prohibited items include sharp objects, many sporting items like hockey sticks and baseball bats, guns or other dangerous weapons, many types of tools, flammable liquids, and other forms of paints and chemicals.


The Department of Homeland Security works to ensure that the United States borders are secure through the deployment of technology, personnel, and infrastructure. The department also works closely with the neighbors in Mexico and Canada, and the many state, local, federal, territorial and tribal partners.

Agriculture specialists, CBP Border Patrol agents, Air and Marine officers and agents guard the front lines. These women and men prevent terrorists as well as their weapons from finding their way into the United States while they continue with their mission of seizing apprehending and contraband criminals as well as others who attempt to get into the United States illegally.

By increasing the Border Patrol staffing, making use of advanced technology that include radar, sensors and aerial assets, fencing and new infrastructure and most recent investments in the ports of entry and stronger information sharing and partnership, The United States is creating a more secure, safer, and efficient border environment.

By expanding the trusted traveler programs using the TSA, the Homeland Security Department is enhancing the ability of the United States to facilitate and expedite known, trusted travelers getting to the United States. This makes it easier and faster for million of business people and visitors to cross the border while at the same time allowing the security officers more time to concentrate on unknown, higher risk travelers.


Flynn, S., (2004). America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism.  New York: HarperCollins.

Harper, L.,   (May 15, 2003).  The Homeland Security Act.  PBS.  Online.  Available: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/terrorism/homeland /securityact.html.  19 December 2010

Medalia, J. (2004).  Port and Maritime Security: Potential for Terrorist Nuclear Attack Using Oil Tankers.   Congressional Research Service, December 7, 2004.  Online.  Available: http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RS21997.pdf.  20 December 2010.

Scott, B.,  (October 19, 2010).  Tunnels, Waterways Exploit Border Security Holes.  CBS News.  Online.  Available: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20020025-503543.html.  20 December 2010

Verini, J.,   (March 20, 2005).  Two If By Sea. The American Prospect.  Online.  Available: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=two_if_by_sea.  19 December 2010.

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