Terrorism Arrests Highlight Northern Border Issues

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Canada's arrest over the weekend of homegrown suspected terrorists brings renewed attention to the United States' northern border. NPRs Martin Kaste looks at the 2,000-mile border and efforts over the past four years to tighten security and immigration checks.


Two of the suspects in this plot were actually arrested last summer for weapons smuggling, crossing the border from the United States back into Canada. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, this weekend's arrests have focused new attention on the country's northern border.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

The old cliché is that the U.S. and Canada share the longest undefended border in the world, and at this checkpoint, between Washington State and British Columbia, things do feel pretty relaxed.

Unidentified Man: How does everybody know each other?

(Soundbite of conversation)

KASTE: Only about seven or eight thousand people are arrested on the Canadian border every year. Compare that to the one million people, plus, apprehended crossing from Mexico. Things are tightening up, here. New surveillance cameras, more patrols, even bomb sniffers. But most of the Canadian border remains an unmonitored hinterland. Still, no one has suggested building a wall. Jack Riley(ph) is an expert on these matters at the Rand Corporation. He says, when it comes to Canada, we don't have to rely on the border, alone, for protection.

Mr. JACK RILEY (Co-Director, RAND's Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy): The border is the last in a line of layered defenses, and the other contributing defenses that you want to be sure are doing their jobs as well as they can, are the intelligence services.

KASTE: And Riley says they are cooperating. There's even indication that the U.S. helped with the current case in Ontario. But that's not something the Canadian government is eager to advertise to the public. Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, says many Canadians have misgivings about the intelligence cooperation with the U.S. He sights the notoriety of cases, such as that of a Canadian citizen who was detained in the U.S. while changing planes, and then sent to Syria, where he says he was tortured.

Professor NELSON WISEMAN (Political Science, University of Toronto): And it came out that the intelligence information the Americans had on the Canadian, came from the Canadian authorities, apparently.

KASTE: Still, Wiseman says Canadians prefer sharing intelligence, to the alternative of even greater border security. Most of Canada's foreign trade flows to the U.S., and an armed camp atmosphere on the 49th parallel would be very bad for business. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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