North By Northwest

By Matthew Harwood

While some critics charge that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not given the northern border due attention, the agency maintains that it has crafted a strategy for targeting limited assets that does the job without a massive number of boots on the ground.

When it comes to border security in the United States, concerns about illegal immigration and spillover violence from Mexico’s drug war have led the public, the media, and the political establishment to focus attention on the southwest. At the end of fiscal year 2010, southern border patrol agents outnumbered their northern brethren by a ratio of almost eight to one. This approach is not universally embraced. As some experts have noted, the Millennium Bomber entered the United States through Canada, and Canadian cities not far from the border are believed to harbor small pockets of jihadist militants and sympathizers, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In February, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) gave critics of the southern focus more ammunition. The congressional watchdog noted that for 2010, the CBP, which is part of the DHS, had only a fourth of the northern border under “full situational awareness”—the condition required for the agency to be able to say that its ability to detect a breach is high. And if an illegal entry were detected, Border Patrol would only have the ability to adequately respond at 32 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles.

Members of Congress expressed their displeasure. “DHS has to realize that we have two borders that need our attention,” said long-time northern border security advocate Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, after the report’s release. “The northern tier faces security challenges which are every bit as troubling as those facing our southern border, and we cannot let one falter at the expense of the other.”

Joe Lieberman (I-CT), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, agreed with that viewpoint. “The American people are grossly under-protected along our northern border,” he said in reaction to the GAO report.

The primary fear on the northern border is that terrorists could use Canada as a staging ground for an attack and then slip unbeknownst into the United States along a largely unsecured border in between official ports of entry where people are sparse. It’s the mission of the CBP, particularly the U.S. Border Patrol, to stop that from happening.

(To continue reading "North By Northwest," from our December 2011 issue, please click here)

photo - Hikers arrive at the U.S.-Canada border along a trail in Maine. gripped/flickr


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