- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

U.S. officials are proposing that Canada and Mexico toughen their immigration and border-control policies and help the United States create a three-nation North American "security perimeter."
Ideally, revamping border-crossing processes would facilitate the flow of commerce across the borders while more efficiently screening border crossers with high-tech devices such as identity cards, which contain fingerprints or palm prints, and various sophisticated electronic sensors.
Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada and a former governor or Massachusetts, first proposed tightening the three nations' air and sea entry ports and updating border policy two months ago in Canada. It has gained scant notice in the United States, but has caused sustained and heated debate north of the border.
Canadian provincial officials, business leaders and the general public mainly favor the notion, while federal officials, including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, view it as surrendering Canadian sovereignty.
U.S. defense specialists say America's borders are so difficult to secure that the nation must look at new ways of limiting access to would-be terrorists.
"Although the United States has renewed its focus on homeland defense following the September 11 terrorist attacks, true security will require the United States to implement a continental defense system with Canada and Mexico," states an analysis by Stratfor, a prominent private intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas. "The September 11 attacks on the United States effectively created a North American theater of operations."
The "security perimeter" concept reportedly was the main issue when Mr. Chretien, and Mexican President Vicente Fox met at the Mexican port of Veracruz Nov. 16.
The National Post daily newspaper in Canada quoted Mexican officials as saying the Chretien-Fox discussions in Veracruz were pointed toward establishing a "NAFTA-wide security zone," referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement that links their countries with the United States.
"It's pretty obvious that Americans are going to lock down their own borders," said Stratfor analyst Nathan Brown. "American border policy has to change, and it's better to have Canada inside the fence rather than outside. The traffic between the two countries is intense. For instance, you have auto parts made in Canadian companies going across the border to General Motors in Detroit daily hourly."
The value of trade between the United States and Canada exceeds $1 billion a day.
Mr. Brown said that while an agreement with Mexico is important, striking a deal with Canada matters more. Among other things, a worthwhile pact would have to involve joint Canada-U.S. border patrols and having U.S. and Canadian officers jointly manning frontier points of entry.
Stratfor noted the difficulties of sealing off the 5,500-mile U.S.-Canada border and the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, but in its analysis said a North American theater of operations is a more useful concept than focusing only on the United States.
"The United States has vast, virtually unprotected borders with Canada and a long, ineffectively protected border with Mexico. Access to either Canada or Mexico creates innumerable opportunities to penetrate the United States," the report says.
Mr. Brown says the continental defense idea is not new among security specialists. He notes that the military of the United States and Canada recognized the continental perimeter concept in forming NORAD, the binational North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin met before a weekend gathering in Ottawa of world finance ministers to discuss using technology and other resources to change the way traffic moves across borders.
Mr. O'Neill, who characterized the progress made as excellent, said that some of the ideas under consideration included inspecting and certifying trucks before they depart and using information technology to collect duties and taxes, "without following the age-old concept that all things need to be done at the border."
The Treasury secretary said: "It's not something we should do in years or months, but in weeks."
Defense strategists say the U.S. northern border is particularly sensitive because it provides a comparatively short, direct route to the U.S. political and economic centers such as Chicago, New York and Washington.
For years, U.S. security officials and certain U.S. legislators have warned that Canada is a staging area for terrorist activity against the United States and other nations. Canada has been called a "Club Med for terrorists."
A prominent former member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that nation's equivalent of the CIA testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration and said his nation's "laws are, frankly, terror friendly."
It is known, for instance, that some 50 terrorist groups and roughly 350 terrorists from India, the Middle East, and various Mediterranean countries reside in Canada and raise money for their overseas operations often by stealing and by intimidating the law-abiding compatriots.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who is chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, said it is time that Canada and Mexico actually do something to show their involvement in the fight against terrorists, and backing the perimeter security effort would do that.
"The task of defending our own borders is made easier if those countries do the same to defend theirs," he said. "And when they do that, they're doing exactly what friends should do."

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