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Security Lacking at the Canadian-U.S. Border

The U.S. and Canada spans 2.5 times more miles and yet has less than 10% of the Border Patrol force. When you consider the attention paid to security on the Northern border leading up to Y2K, that's pretty amazing. Just in December 1999 alone:

suspected Islamic terrorists were captured at the Canadian border in both Washington and Vermont as they tried to drive into the U.S. with bomb-making materials in their cars

there was the arrest of Ahmed Ressam, a 32-year-old Algerian national suspected of being an agent of exiled Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden, as he tried to enter Port Angeles, Wash., from Vancouver, B.C., with 150 pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonators

and the arrest of a couple linked to the Algerian Islamic League in Vermont.

However, according to a recent GAO report, a terrorist attempting to enter the United States with radioactive material would have an easier time at the Northern border. I've already read counterarguments saying things like "the Canadian border is too long to defend" or "let's build a wall." There has also been a question of why the Border Patrol officers couldn't find the GAO investigators (I don't know why the GAO people should have been identifiable if they were undercover).

In one location on the northern border, the U.S. Border Patrol was alerted to GAO activities through the tip of an alert citizen. However, the responding U.S. Border Patrol agents were not able to locate GAO investigators (that actually cuts both ways). Also on the northern border, GAO investigators located several ports of entry that had posted daytime hours and were unmanned overnight.

It shouldn't surprise anyone if I say that those "blurbs" don't really answer the question, or address the vulnerability. According to the report, Government investigators crossed into the U.S. from Canada three times in 2006, along with a duffle bag containing "mock" radioactive material. Not one law enforcement or Border Patrol officer stopped them. The report also indicated that a number of "state highways" close to the border that were not monitored by the Border Patrol. The same report took a look at border vulnerabilities on the Mexican border. The GAO's limited security assessment also identified potential security vulnerabilities on federally managed lands adjacent to the U.S.–Mexico border. These areas did not appear to be monitored or have a noticeable law enforcement presence during the time our investigators visited the sites.

In truth, neither border is secure. Probably the benefit of the GAO Report is to renew attention to the Canadian-U.S. border, but its going to take a combination of manpower, technology and policy to result in a real improvement in security, especially across such a long and rugged border up North.

Notes

1 Comment

There is a saying in North Dakota.

"40 below keeps the riff-raff out!"