National security expert raises concerns about how foreigners must report their arrival by boat

CLEVELAND - The process that U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses to know that foreigners have arrived in the Cleveland area via Lake Eric is raising security concerns.

“If you get on the phone, and you say I came across by myself, but really you come across with six people, that phone has no way of detecting how many you came with,” said Tim Dimoff, a former law enforcement officer turned national security expert.

The process involves video phones, which are managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Foreigners are supposed to use the video phones to talk to CBP officers when they arrive.

“The officer would ask some questions about the details of their trip and ask to see some documentation such as a passport,” said Tim Pflug, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisor.

There are three video phones in the Cleveland area. They’re located at the E. 55th St. Marina, the Lagoons Marina in Mentor and the Chagrin Yacht Club in Eastlake.

Pflug said there are no plans to install more video phones at other marinas in the area.

“If we just have three video phones along Lake Erie right now, and we never expand on it, it’s going to be real simple,” said Dimoff. “Here are the three spots you don’t want to enter the country if you’re smuggling drugs, equipment or human beings or you’re a terrorist.”

Dimoff said the phones are better than nothing. But he said it’s easy to skirt the system, especially on Lake Erie, which Dimoff said is a weak security entry point.

“It’s a big body of water, there’s a lot of ways to come in, and there’s a lot of places to land your boat along Lake Erie," he added. “That makes it very difficult to enforce who’s coming across.”

“We border with Canada, and that inherently has security concerns for our nation,” said Pflug.

Pflug said CBP officers do make unannounced visits to various marinas in the area to inspect boats and question people.

If foreigners arrive at marinas without a video phone, they’re required to call U.S. Customs and Border Protection to report that they’ve arrived.

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