Unguarded Border Easy To Penetrate

Unguarded Border Easy To Penetrate
Posted by FoM on December 25, 1999 at 07:51:25 PT
The Associated Press
Source: Salt Lake Tribune
The 3,987-mile line between the United States and Canada is considered the world's longest undefended border. That means it often allows easy passage for smugglers -- and raises the possibility that terrorists can slip through, too. 
 Authorities say recent arrests in Washington state and Vermont show that terrorists can set their sights on the United States after first finding a haven in Canada. In the first case, an Algerian man is charged with bringing bomb-making materials into the United States. In the second, authorities have detained two people, an Algerian with a false passport and a Canadian woman accused of having ties to Algerian extremist groups.   Other illicit activity is common. The stretch of the border in upstate New York and New England is a hotbed of smuggling in both directions. People, drugs and cash are the primary southbound cargo, while liquor and cigarettes are the northbound contraband of choice.   Border Patrol spokesman Ed Duda said aliens from more than 100 countries have been caught trying to illegally enter the United States. Officials realize that many illegal immigrants still get across -- but they have no idea how many.   "We catch as many as we can," Duda said. "There is no iron curtain up here, and there are no land mines."   There are checkpoints on main roads between the United States and Canada, but there is no fence along the border. In many locations people can cross unchecked on back roads, walk through fields or take boats across rivers or lakes. The Border Patrol has remote sensors in some locations, but its staffing levels make it impossible to cover the length of the border.   Now law enforcement officials in the United States and Canada fear the trust that allows the border to go largely unpatrolled has made the United States vulnerable to terrorist attack.   "You can't blow up anything in the United States if you can't get in here," said Phillip Stern, an international private investigator and security consultant in New York.   American law enforcement agencies are working with their counterparts in Canada and Europe to learn more about the background of Ahmed Ressam, 32, the man arrested in Washington after bomb components were found in the trunk of his car. He is believed to have ties to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile accused of directing the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa last year.   Federal prosecutors in Vermont have linked Canadian Lucia Garofalo to the Algerian Islamic League. The organization was founded by Mourad Dhina, an Algerian prosecutors describe as an arms merchant who sends weapons to terrorist organizations. Dhina, a physicist, denies the connection.   Garofalo, 35, and Bouabide Chamchi, 20, were arrested Sunday night at Beecher Falls, Vt., when they tried to enter the United States by car.   The Washington and Vermont cases have not been linked. Still, in response, the Border Patrol and Customs Service have put extra agents to work along both the Canadian and Mexican borders.   "It's a reality check for everyone, not just speaking as a Border Patrol agent but as a civilian," said Bob Tripi, deputy chief patrol agent in Houlton, Maine.   His agents are busy patrolling Maine's 616 miles of border. Besides working bus terminals, they're using all-terrain vehicles, and sometimes snowmobiles, to patrol remote areas.   While the Border Patrol looks for people trying to sneak across, the Immigration and Naturalization Service deals with people who try to enter the United States through checkpoints.   The INS agent in charge in Vermont, Noel Induni, said most people turned away from checkpoints are convicted criminals. He said roughly 300 people a month are denied entry.   "While it's a relatively large number of people, it's a small percentage of the total because we have several million who cross every year," he said.   Adds Carol Jenifer, INS district director in Detroit: "Given the volume of work we have, we do a pretty good job. We could do much better if we had all the resources we needed."   But the porous nature of the Canadian border is still apparent. It is becoming less expensive for a Mexican citizen to fly to Canada, where immigration laws are less stringent, and sneak across the U.S.-Canadian border than it is to hire a smuggler to go directly across the U.S.-Mexican border, said Keith Olson, president of the Border Patrol officers' union in Bellingham, Wash.   Would-be drug smugglers also know the flaws in the system. Vancouver's Cannabis Cafe, currently closed because of a police raid, offered customers maps of the border, noting the areas where patrols were few and far between. A kayaker from Victoria, British Columbia, was recently captured by a sheriff on Washington's San Juan Island with a big stash of marijuana.   While it's rare to apprehend suspected terrorists along the border, it's happened before.   Almost four years ago, a Lebanese man caught trying to illegally enter the United States at Champlain, N.Y., was linked to the Middle East terrorist group Abu Nidal.   In 1987, three Lebanese-born Canadians were arrested with a bomb in the border town of Richford, Vt. In 1978, Kristina Berster, a suspected member of the former West Germany's Baader-Meinhoff Gang, was captured entering Vermont.   Saturday, December 25, 1999   Copyright 1999, The Salt Lake Tribune 
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