- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

The Algerian terrorism suspect who was nabbed entering the United States from Canada and relieved of bomb-making paraphernalia has created an explosion of sorts even without his detonators.

Alarmed members of Congress are convinced the nation barely avoided a calamitous terrorist attack. So they're now clamoring urgently for the Border Patrol and customs agents on the U.S.-Canadian border to be reorganized and reinforced.

They also want the Immigration and Naturalization Service to implement quickly a computerized port-of-entry security system to record everyone entering and exiting the United States.

And Canadians are arguing among themselves about Canadian policies that some say have made their country a "Club Med for terrorists."

Other Canadians are protesting Americans' "paranoia" and attempts to stiffen U.S. border security.

As widely recounted, the Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, was halted and arrested when he tried to enter the United States at Port Angeles, Wash., in December. Customs agents found sophisticated bomb-making materials in his car.

U.S. agents in Seattle, New York, Vermont and elsewhere have subsequently been uncovering information about a conspiracy to bomb unknown U.S. facilities. The suspected conspirators are connected to cutthroat Islamic rebels in Algeria.

As it turns out, Canadian officials knew for some time that Mr. Ressam was a member of an Algerian gang in Canada that stole to fund terrorist raids overseas.

They knew he had entered their country on a false French passport, that he was a potential terrorist, that there was a warrant out for his arrest, that he had a Canadian passport under a false name, that Canadian security had stopped tracking him and that he was a roving menace.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, noted in a congressional hearing late last month, "The fortuitous apprehension of Ressam occurred only because he picked a poor crossing route and panicked during his inspection."

Mr. Smith, who chaired the hearing, called on Gary Stubblefield, a longtime Navy commando and now a security consultant, to indicate what Mr. Ressam was up to.

"Ahmed Ressam was apprehended with 100 pounds of high explosives and four timing devices," Mr. Stubblefield explained. "It is important to understand that he was not plotting to explode four 25-pound, high-explosive bombs. This type high explosive is often used as an initiator to detonate a much larger bomb… . In my view, Ressam was planning up to four massive attacks on the scale of the Oklahoma Federal Building or World Trade Towers bombings."

The thought that a potential bomber was caught by chance and that others might sneak into the country has caused legislators to renew demands that the Immigration and Naturalization Service reinforce the 300-strong Border Patrol on the rugged 3,987-mile border with Canada.

Mr. Smith; Sen. Spencer Abraham, Michigan Republican; and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, are among those insisting that needed personnel and resources be sent to the northern border.

The border is actually tended by INS administrators and guards, who are a part of the Justice Department, and by agents of the U.S. Customs Service, an understaffed Treasury Department unit. Certain Department of Agriculture officials also work the border.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert wants that changed.

"I think we need to have one agency that is in charge and do away with all the little individual agencies that aren't cooperating with each other," he said.

Aside from that, a plan to boost the number of customs agents at the 83 entry points on the northern border already exists. The Customs Service won't release specifics of the plan, but reports attributed to congressional aides indicate the agency will get 600 additional agents and increase the staff on the Canadian border from 1,200 to 1,800. Funding for bomb-detection equipment also will be made available.

That news has been widely reported in Canada, where news stories chronicle business leaders' dismay.

The vice president of Canada's Trucking Alliance, a trade group, summarized the basic complaint for the Toronto Globe and Mail, insisting: "If you have more agents, they are going to do something. There will be problems and bottlenecks at the border, and that can't be good for trade."

Beyond that, Congress has authorized and the INS is developing an electronic monitoring system to track those who enter and leave this country. The Canadian government opposes that idea too.

Yet because the system has not been implemented, we have "a situation where terrorists, and also illegal aliens, alien smugglers, and drug smugglers, are increasingly using Canada as a transit country en route to the United States," Mr. Smith said.

A Canadian policy strategist and former high official in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service cites additional factors. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration and claims, David B. Harris said, "Some of [Canada's] laws are, frankly, 'terror-friendly.' "

He and others insist Canada and the United States have "highly professional" border forces, police and intelligence services. What's more, the services must maintain an "unparalleled level of cooperation," Mr. Harris said.

But he said that because Canadian citizens "lack awareness" of the terrorism problem, Canadian politicians do not have the will to deal with permissive immigration and "absurd refugee" laws. Thus "penetration by terrorism becomes unavoidable," he said.

A Canadian security specialist agreed, stating, "Terrorism is almost entirely removed from the public's horizon … [and] spending on national security is often the first to be reduced."

He explained that Canadians put great emphasis "on government secrecy and a respect for privacy." As a result, court, service and welfare records in Canada are hard to obtain, and various law enforcement agencies fail to communicate.

"If someone skips a refugee hearing in Quebec and moves into Ontario, it may take weeks before immigration officers in Ontario learn of it," he said.

"The timely passage of information to, for example, the Immigration and Refugee Board from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police does not occur. Deportation orders do not appear to be instantly posted to the police forces across the country," or to other immigration districts.

That's so even though Canadian officials are well aware their nation harbors security threats.

Well before Mr. Ressam was caught, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service reported, "Most of the world's terrorist groups have established themselves in Canada, seeking safe haven, setting up operational bases, and attempting to gain access to the U.S.A."

John C. Thompson is director of Toronto's prestigious Mackenzie Institute, a nonprofit research center studying terrorism and organized crime. He said members of such groups use theft and intimidation to raise money for their causes, are sometimes unwittingly shielded by honest immigrants and ethnic groups, and easily evade authorities.

What's more, "It frequently happens that significant intelligence is acquired on criminals or potential terrorists, but there is no money for prosecutions," Mr. Thompson said.

"Immigration used to have an orthodox but highly gifted set of investigators known, informally, as the Trackers …, hunting down criminals who had evaded deportment, and potentially dangerous illegal aliens… . The Trackers were entirely disbanded. The Trackers must be missed," Mr. Thompson observed.

That's because last year the Canadian Senate reported that 5,272 deportation orders "could not be executed as the subjects for them could not be located by the federal government."

Canada also has disbanded its effective federal "Ports Police," a special anti-smuggling force designed to function at major ports amid "the nightmare of overlapping jurisdictions and regulations."

The official Canadian position in response to these assertions, criticisms and U.S. worries is that Canada is doing its "fair share."

"Americans can rest assured that Canada is a strong and reliable partner … in the fight against terrorism," Canadian Ambassador Raymond Chretien recently wrote in an article in The Washington Times.

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