- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

Before September 11, government officials said the nation's northern border was poorly guarded and vulnerable to terrorist infiltration. Four terrorist attacks and five months later, it still is.
Despite security analysts' warnings and legislators' complaints, just 345 Border Patrol agents have permanent assignments to watch the 3,987-mile line dividing Canada and the United States.
By comparison, 9,065 agents patrol the 2,000-mile southern boundary with Mexico.
The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, yesterday confirmed the "long term needs of the northern border" persist and concluded in a new report:
"The northern border has received minimal Border Patrol agent enhancements. … Many stations still cannot operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The communication system is still inadequate and not only presents a law enforcement problem but could pose a safety issue for Border Patrol agents."
After September 11, the Immigration and Naturalization Service transferred 110 Border Patrol agents from the Mexican to the Canadian border for 60 days, and government officials promised state National Guard units would be assigned to the area.
The National Guard troops never arrived and, INS officials said, the added Border Patrol contingent was withdrawn in December.
INS officials here said a fresh force of 100 agents from the south later was assigned to the northern border for another 60 days. However, a spokesman for the service's Seattle district said: "I know that last Thursday D.C. [the Washington headquarters] appropriated 111 [Border Patrol] positions and 15 support staff for the northern border. But we haven't been reinforced yet. We're still working overtime a lot overtime. We're waiting to see what happens."
Arrangements for enhanced security on the Canadian border are still in the works, said a spokesman for Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security.
"An agreement is being worked out between the departments of Justice and Treasury to temporarily assign National Guard Troops to various border locations until the Customs Service and Border Patrol can bring new agents on line," Gordon Johndroe said. "The discussions are pretty far along."
Meanwhile, the Bush administration's 2003 budget requests money to increase the Border Patrol by 570 positions to a record 11,000. From that group, 285 agents are slated to reinforce the northern border.
The Border Patrol buildup, however, is at least 10 months away and the extra funding is contingent on congressional approval.
The northern border situation is complex and serious, say published statements of Mr. Ridge and members of Congress. Some 50 terrorist organizations have active cells in Canada and have used that country as a gateway to the United States.
In December 1999, for example, Ahmed Ressam of Algeria was caught at a border check at Port Angeles, Wash., trying to sneak sophisticated blasting devices and explosives into the United States as part of a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.
Two years before the Ressam capture, Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, a Palestinian, was arrested in Brooklyn along with three colleagues. He had bombs that were to be exploded in New York's subway system. Mezer, who later was convicted, stated he had traveled to Canada and set up residency there as a way to penetrate the United States.
Four months ago, Glenn A. Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, told the House subcommittee on immigration and claims that the Mezer case illustrated "the ease of entry into Canada and the difficulty of controlling illegal immigration from Canada into the United States."
The Washington Times reported yesterday that Canadian business leaders and some politicians were fiercely resisting U.S. efforts to secure the border. They fear such action will slow truck-born commerce between the United States and Canada and adversely affect trade. Additionally, U.S. agencies with border-related duties reportedly are balking at Mr. Ridge's efforts to quickly consolidate and bolster anti-terrorist activity on the border.
The INS plans to rely on "force-multiplying" high-tech devices to strengthen northern border security. But Randolph C. Hite, a technology specialist with the General Accounting Office, told Congress in October that the INS, "is unlikely … to effectively and efficiently leverage … technology resources to best meet border security mission needs."


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