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Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technology

As global trade has expanded, so has the opportunity for narcotics traffickers to transport and conceal their contraband within commercial cargo and conveyances. The commercial workload that Customs faces continues to escalate dramatically. The volume of commercial land border traffic alone has increased by over 140 percent during the last 10 years.

In an attempt to meet the demands of this increased traffic, Customs developed a five-year Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) Technology Plan. The plan was developed to address the narcotics smuggling threat of increasingly sophisticated techniques of deep concealment in commercial cargo and conveyances.

NII systems, in many cases, give Customs inspectors the capability to perform thorough examinations of cargo without having to resort to the costly, time consuming process of unloading cargo for manual searches, or intrusive examinations of conveyances by methods such as drilling and dismantling.

In FY 1999, the five-year Technology Plan received tremendous support from Congress through $134 million in appropriated and emergency supplemental funds. These funds enabled Customs to accelerate the design, development, testing, and deployment of NII equipment.

Because of the high risk of narcotics smuggling on the southern tier of the United States, Customs effort in the deployment of NII technology focused initially on the Southwest Border, Southern Florida, and Puerto Rico. However, Customs has been able to expand the plan to include select seaports on both coasts and a few ports of entry along the Northern Border.

James Engleman, Director, Anti-Smuggling Division, Office of Field Operations, believes NII technology is here to stay: "Customs continues to aggressively pursue a mix of technologies designed to complement one another and present a layered defense to smuggling attempts."

Approximately $80 million is required for Customs to complete the deployment of NII systems outlined in the five-year NII Technology Plan.

To date, 103 NII systems have been funded from FY 1999 appropriated funding. Fifty-eight of the 103 systems have been deployed, including 6 prototypes. The systems deployed include:

  • 23 Vehicle & Cargo Inspection Systems (VACIS);
  • 11 Mobile VACIS Systems;
  • 12 Mobile Truck X-ray Systems;
  • 9 Truck X-ray Systems;
  • 1 Rail VACIS System;
  • 1 Heavy Pallet Examination System; and
  • 1 Sea Container X-ray System.

Full deployment of all funded NII equipment is scheduled for October 2003. In FY 2000, NII technology was involved in 157 narcotics seizures totaling 103,203 pounds or approximately 10 percent of the total weight seized.

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