What Do CBP Laboratories and Scientific Services Do?

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Back in the 1840s, pharmacists and medical doctors were hired and placed on Appraiser’s Terms to analyze sugar and alcohol products in order to determine where they came from and thus enable the agency to levy the right amount of taxes. Sugars and pharmaceuticals were the two commodities analyzed using simple instruments. Now, however, CBP’s laboratories are using modern and cutting-edge instrumentation to give not only scientific analysis but forensic knowledge as well. Aside from doing laboratory analysis to properly appraise a product, the employees and equipment in these laboratories also have the capability to check if a particular item is safe or meets the standards for safety and in the wake of piracy done on a global scale, if it is counterfeit.The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has eight laboratories, one Interdiction Technology Branch and one 24 x 7 Teleforensics Center. These make up its Office of Information and Technology, Laboratories and Scientific Services employing more than 200 scientists, chemists, biologists, textile analysts, physicists, forensic scientists, engineers and procurement specialists.

CBP employees working in the Laboratories and Scientific Services use their expertise to analyze weapons of mass destruction. Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers bring personal radiation detectors to screen for nuclear devices or materials that can be utilized for their making. Ports of entry also have radiation portals to ensure that all shipment coming in do not contain such harmful materials. This is in support of the anti-terrorism mandate that is now the forefront of the CBP’s mission. The tools now in the lab work to detect and identify nuclear, chemical, explosive, and biological weapons that could create damage on a large scale if not immediately identified.

CBP Laboratories and Scientific Services also has a Forensic Services Program that gives support to forensic and crime scene investigations. One of the more sophisticated tools they have is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) which is a computer network that can compare fingerprints to millions of prints in law enforcement databases. Potential matches and the percentage of likelihood that it is an exact match is provided by the computer. But in order for a positive match to be used in legal proceedings, it is necessary that a fingerprint expert compare the actual inked card to the print.   

Proof of the expertise of all CBP laboratories is the ISO 17025 (quality management) accreditation they have received. With their mobile lab fleet, their expertise is made available anywhere in the country within 1 to 2 days to check if a particular shipment contains radioactive material, whether the medicines coming in are safe, or the gadgets meet safety and environmental standards.