Building security in the Republic of Georgia
WITH help from the United States, the Republic of Georgia is developing measures to secure its borders against incoming illegal drugs, shipments of radioactive materials and other contraband.
Much of the assistance comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Europe District, the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (USBCBP), and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs (INL).
The Corps of Engineers manages roughly $7 million in projects for the USBCBP per year, said USBCBP spokesman Jon Trumble.
The Corps is erecting a series of border crossings and ports for use by USBCBP personnel and the Georgian coast guard, and renovating a nine-story building that will be used as a forensics laboratory and a police academy. It will be funded by INL, in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION
“Our mandate is to secure the borders of Georgia against all threats, in particular the threat of weapons of mass destruction,” Trumble said.
Andrew Stamer works in the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Europe District. The USBCBP has worked with its Georgian counterparts since 1997. The Corps’ Europe District first assisted the bureau in 2002, when it renovated a Soviet-era aircraft hangar that houses aircraft used to patrol Georgia’s borders.
“We know that this part of the world is vulnerable to the illicit transport of radioactive materials,” said Trumble, citing the importance of radiation detectors the Corps installed at border stations and ports.
“In Georgia, where people don’t enjoy economic security, potential threats are particularly strong,” said Trumble. Since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, efforts to strengthen the economy have been an uphill battle. The focus of the customs department in Georgia is revenue collection, to help support the government.
Just a few years ago government corruption ran rampant, Trumble said. Top officials were purportedly skimming money from the nation’s assets.
Since the national uprising, called the “Revolution of Roses” in November 2003, corruption has declined considerably, he said. Georgia’s customs and border-protection personnel laid the groundwork to change revenue-collection practices. And the Corps has constructed the buildings that allow them to collect revenues safely.
In the last year, customs revenues have gone up, Trumble said. One reason is that the people who control the borders are more willing to enforce existing laws to collect tariffs and duties.
Completion of the Red Bridge customs crossing station, the entry point into Georgia from Azerbaijan, has also helped. The Corps built the station as a revenue-collection point and monitoring station for incoming and outgoing goods, said Trumble.
Individual lanes for people and cars allow passport-control officers to more closely inspect individuals’ documents. And the facility provides customs personnel loading docks and a place from which to examine vehicles from overhead.
The Corps also has had a direct impact on the quality of life for border guards and customs personnel, Trumble said.
In early 2003 the Corps completed new housing, a dining facility, vehicle-maintenance building, munitions-storage facility, and other projects for the border-guard garrison at Red Bridge.
The Corps also has completed a comfortable work station for customs personnel at Red Bridge, complete with heat, electricity and running water–a great improvement from the austere trailers workers previously used.
Improved facilities and procedures have not only resulted in more timely delivery of goods, but also have enticed more businesses to import and export goods through Georgia, Trumble said.
BUREAU OF INL
Georgia’s corrupt government wasn’t limited to those in power at the top. It also trickled down to those who should protect, not extort–the police.
Police had been stopping cars at intersections, with little or no reason, and drivers were expected to pay them off with a few lari, the Georgian currency.
These occurrences stopped in the summer of 2004 when the entire police force was fired in an effort to root out corruption. Now police driving down the streets of Tbilisi are in clearly marked blue and silver cars, not waiting for bribes, but doing their jobs as public servants, Trumble said. “Georgia’s a strategic partner for the United States. It’s a coalition member in Iraq and an important ally in international criminal matters,” said Meg Riggs, the in-country representative for the INL.
Falling under the State Department and the Justice Department, INL is one of the newest partners for the Corps’ Europe District, which is working with INL to renovate two buildings for a police academy and a nine-story forensics laboratory in Tbilisi.
INL is currently working with the police academy to develop basic and advanced training curriculum, Riggs said.
INL’s goal is to develop a law-enforcement capability with it’s partner countries, which include Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Columbia, Peru and Bolivia, among others, he said. The Corps will provide INL with a facility to train federal law-enforcement, traffic police and specialized task forces.
“Right now the building is in disrepair, and there’s no place for people to stay when they come to the region to train,” said Riggs. The Corps will help to renovate the school classrooms and, eventually, the barracks buildings, which can hold 600 people.
The nine-story forensics laboratory that’s being renovated by the Europe District will also be used by various groups.
Meant to support all of Georgia’s law-enforcement agencies, it will allow customs, for example, to test oil quality, to make sure the appropriate tax is levied for a particular-grade oil.
Currently there is no way to determine the grade of oil or the correct tax, which forces customs personnel to rely on the word of the person shipping the goods.
INL also aims to help stop the transit of drugs through Georgia.
“We’re not seeing hard drugs, like heroin, in mass quantities,” said Riggs. Authorities suggest it’s going straight through the country. And law-enforcement agencies currently have limited resources to test and identify drugs. A forensics lab may help prove what drugs are moving through the country, and how.
First, forensics technicians will need training.
Giving this training will facilitate Georgia’s cooperation with U.S. agencies, such as the FBI and DEA, because Georgian agents will be better able to support such investigations. Though INL can’t get involved in such operations, they can provide the training, facilities and technology that will allow the Georgians to conduct these operations themselves.
The Corps’ experience in Georgia has forged a good relationship with this emerging democracy. A joint humanitarian mission between the Navy and the Corps yielded two new orphanages for special-needs children, said Charles Truesdell, quality-assurance representative, Europe District.
But the Europe District is also working on projects for U.S. forces across Europe. Adding to the security of emerging nations adds to U.S. security, Truesdell said. As part of the Army, the Corps is dedicated to bringing what is needed to where it is needed, and providing the necessary tools and expertise for the job.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the Corps of Engineers continues to make a difference alongside other U.S. agencies, while Georgia’s democracy continues to blossom, said Truesdell.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Soldiers Magazine
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group