Napolitano orders security review for U.S.-Canada border

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 27, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Just days after she was sworn in, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a comprehensive review of security efforts along the border between the U.S. and Canada.

Agencies including Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard and her department's intelligence branch have been asked to assess the vulnerabilities along the 4,000-mile northern border — the longest undefended border in the world — and recommend what can be done to improve security.

While more attention has been focused on the southern border with Mexico, the department has said that the terrorist threat is greater on the U.S.-Canadian border, given its length and limited law enforcement.

"This continuing evaluation will unify our shared efforts and help me assess where improvements need to be made," Napolitano said.

The agencies are to report back orally by Feb. 10, with a final report due on Feb. 17.

Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, has asked for reviews of other Department of Homeland Security programs, including such things as cybersecurity.

In ordering the northern border review, Napolitano said that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, border security has become increasingly important for national security.

The review was to look at the strategy, budget, and timeframe for improving security, and the level of risk that will remain after the improvements are made.

"As we have designed programs to afford greater protection against unlawful entry, members of Congress and homeland security experts have called for increased attention to the Canadian border," Napolitano said in a statement.

Lawmakers from northern states have long complained that U.S.-Canada border issues have been shortchanged with the southern border a higher priority.

In a report late last year, the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, said the Homeland Security Department hadn’t been fully responsive in providing information on the northern border to Congress. The GAO said that there were gaps in the information presented and that budget documents didn't "reflect the resources needed" to achieve control of the northern border.

Every year, more than 70 million travelers and 35 million vehicles cross the border with Canada, which stretches from Washington state to Maine. The border is patrolled by vehicles, helicopters, boats, agents on horseback and, most recently, an unmanned Predator aircraft. Motion sensors and remote video cameras also have been placed along it. Even so, vast stretches often are unprotected.

While there are 16,000 agents on the southern border, there are roughly 1,600 to 1,700 agents along the U.S.-Canada border. The number of agents along the northern border is expected to reach more than 2,200 by the end of 2010.

Agents along the Canadian border have focused on the smuggling of drugs, currency, weapons and people. Customs and Border Patrol make about 4,000 arrests and seize about 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs there annually.

"Maintaining a secure and efficient northern border is critical and I am encouraged the Obama administration is making the northern border a priority during week one on the job," Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said of Napolitano's action. Larsen's district includes the Blaine border crossing, the third busiest crossing along the border.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics coming to Vancouver, British Columbia, meeting security challenges was a top priority, Larsen said.

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