Skip to main content

Robert Bonner

Robert BonnerMr. Bonner was appointed as the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service in September 2001. From March 2003 until December 2005, Mr. Bonner served as the first Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for managing and securing the United States’ borders, while facilitating global trade and travel.

As the Commissioner of CBP, Mr. Bonner led the largest merger of personnel and resources associated with the creation in 2003 of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. CBP was created by merging personnel from U.S. Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, including the entire Border Patrol, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Quarantine inspectors from the Agriculture and Plant Health Inspection Service. This included the merger of approximately 22,000 Customs personnel, 18,000 Immigration personnel, and 2,000 Agriculture personnel, and the creation of “One Face at the Border” -the integration of customs, immigration and other frontline border authorities into one primary inspection agency at border Ports of Entry and a unified border management agency for the United States.

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bonner led efforts to modernize supply chain security so as to optimally address post-9/11 threats without damaging the U.S. and global economies. Mr. Bonner pioneered the use of advanced electronic information and automated risk assessment as counter-terrorism tools and created the National Targeting Center, Container Security Initiative (CSI) and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)—all of which revolutionized the security and more efficient movement of trade around the world. He oversaw the implementation of the Automated Commercial Environment as well as whole-of-government efforts to achieve a ‘single window into government’ for reporting import and export data.

While Mr. Bonner focused on securing international supply chains from the terrorist and other transnational threats, he simultaneously pursued and implemented a national border control strategy to secure U.S. borders between its official ports of entry. This strategy consisted of a centralized command structure, rapid response capability, and a defense-in-depth, while relying upon highly-trained personnel, strengthened border infrastructure and detection technology.

In addition, Mr. Bonner expanded the development of automated risk-assessment systems (and related policies and concepts of operation) for both people and cargo. Immediately following 9/11 and under Commissioner Bonner’s leadership, CBP sought and obtained the authority to require advanced electronic data on all cargo entering the U.S. as well as passport and reservation data on virtually all people flying to the U.S from aboard. From 2001–2003, CBP put in place the policies and targeting systems needed to use this data to assess all arriving cargo and people for risk, thereby developing the type of border screening system recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

Further, Mr. Bonner was the driving force behind many international efforts to adapt customs policies and operations to the post-9/11 era. In particular, Mr. Bonner led the effort to develop and ratify the World Customs Organization SAFE Framework – the principles guiding customs modernization efforts designed to combat terrorism and other transnational threats. These principles are, to a great extent, based on the policies and initiatives Mr. Bonner implemented at CBP. Under Mr. Bonner’s leadership, the combination of advancements enhanced U.S. security and facilitated legitimate trade and travel. They included: automated risk-assessment and targeting, “One Face at the Border”, and “smart border” programs such as C-TPAT, CSI, NEXUS and NEXUS Air, Global Entry (trusted international traveler programs), the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, U.S. VISIT and the Immigration Advisory Program.

Mr. Bonner’s other U.S. government service included serving as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from 1990 -1993 where he developed and implemented the Kingpin Strategy, a strategy for destroying large-scale, international drug trafficking organizations. He also oversaw the regulation of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. Mr. Bonner also served as a U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California from 1989-1990 and as the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California from 1984-1989. He served on active duty in the U.S. Navy from 1967-71.

Mr. Bonner was a partner in the international law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from 1993 to 2001 and again from 2005 to 2008. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a member of the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Chair of Caltech’s Audit & Compliance Committee. He is chair of the Homeland Security Council for Region One, and a member of Secretary Napolitano’s Southwest Border Task Force, under the national HSAC. He is a former Chair of the California Commission on Judicial Performance where he oversaw the implementation of judicial ethical rules and presided over judicial misconduct proceedings.

In January 2008, Mr. Bonner became senior principal of the Sentinel HS Group, a homeland security consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. He is regularly invited to Brussels to speak to members of the World Customs Organization on all aspects of customs modernization and SAFE implementation. He is also an authority on U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations and has written articles for Foreign Affairs and other journals. He is regularly called upon to speak on international trade, counter-terrorism, customs, immigration policy, drug control, Latin America and other issues.

Mr. Bonner graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from the University of Maryland and holds a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University. He is a member of the California and D.C. Bars.