THE MAGAZINE

North By Northwest

By Matthew Harwood

The next time, however, terrorists might get more adventurous and try to avoid detection by exploiting those spaces in between POEs. That’s where the Border Patrol comes in—in theory. As noted, critics question whether they are being given adequate resources to do the job.

Though border patrol forces on the northern border have grown by 600 percent since 2001, the nearly 2,300 agents can’t really keep watch over the vast northern perimeter. And even when other federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies are factored in, it’s still not enough. “With more than 4,000 miles of land and water between the United States and Canada that must be secured, the lack of an adequate law enforcement presence along the northern border exacerbates the magnitude of this concern,” noted the CBP’s report to Congress.

Despite the threat of terrorism from the north, it is unlikely that the CBP will be given the resources to significantly increase the number of border patrol agents because the perception is still that the patrol officers are more useful on the southern border, where they can help interdict much higher volumes of illicit drugs and illegal immigrants. The current debate over federal spending also makes it unlikely more resources will be allocated.

Leveraging Resources

Given its limited northern resources, the CBP knows that those areas can only be secured if the agency leverages technology and works closely with area law enforcement authorities. “We must rely heavily on state, local, and tribal partners,” says former CBP Commissioner W. Ralph Basham, “which means we need to develop communication and intelligence systems that will allow them to have better and faster information.”

The GAO’s Richard Stana, director of Homeland Security and Justice, agrees. “By having good coordination links and some sort of surveillance capability, you can address the threats that come from the north,” he says.

The agency’s strategy includes having remote agents stationed along the border, using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance, and establishing a northern central command post, based in Detroit, to fuse intelligence data, human resources, and technology from multiple agencies.

Remote presence. The northern border consists of eight CBP sectors, each with a headquarters element that governs the sector’s 51 border patrol stations. The problem is that these 51 stations were established in well-populated areas, leaving many smaller, isolated communities along the northern border with poor coverage. To address that vulnerability, the CBP developed the Resident Agent Program, whereby agents would actually live in some of the remote locations that didn’t have stations.

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