NATIONAL SECURITY A jittery adjustment from historic openness
While nearly 10,000 agents patrol the Mexican border, only 1,000 guard the Canadian border, which is twice as long.
ON THE U.S.-CANADA BORDER (AP) -- Nearly four years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and after billions in security investment on both sides of this frontier stretching from Atlantic to Pacific, authorities and average folks are still jittery. Here's why:
U At the edge of a raspberry field where Washington state meets British Columbia, a U.S. Border Patrol agent shakes his head at tire tracks that snake between rows of berries and over the international boundary, which here is a ditch so puny a person can leap it.
"They're long gone," says agent Candido Villalobos, who raced to the scene after a surveillance camera spotted the vehicle -- transporting contraband? Something more sinister? Too late to know. "They beat us," Villalobos murmurs.
U At Sandwich, Ontario, across the river from Detroit, the Olde Town Bake Shoppe overlooks the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest trade crossing between the United States and Canada. Thousands of trucks rumble along its lanes daily, loaded with everything from Nova Scotia salmon to U.S. auto parts.
Bakery owner Mary Ann Cuderman worries about what else might be passing, especially given concern infrastructure could be a terrorist target. A citizens group she heads wants closer scrutiny. "How do you feel secure," she asks, "knowing that anybody, at any time, could drive right up on that bridge?"
U Farther east, where Maine and New Brunswick touch, a man carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what seemed like blood sought entry to the United States. After confiscating his weapons and questioning him, border agents let him in.
Canadian-born Gregory Despres was a naturalized U.S. citizen returning home, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials explained. But the day after he was admitted to America in April, authorities in his Canadian hometown found two bodies -- one decapitated, the other stabbed to death. Despres was arrested wandering a road in Massachusetts.
"The whole thing gives me a queasy feeling," says Colin Kenny, chairman of Canada's Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defense.
Two U.S. congressmen, Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, seeking answers about the Despres case and a review of entry procedures. Said Markey: "Giving the green light to this deranged individual to enter our country raises serious questions about these procedures."
Balancing the historic openness of the U.S.-Canada border with today's necessary wariness is a challenge the two nations still have not mastered -- and some fear the continued ambivalence could be harmful.
"Despite what should have been the wake-up call of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been an unsettling lack of progress on both sides of the border to improve efficiency and strengthen security at land border crossings," said a 192-page report issued last month by Kenny's committee.
Last week, Chertoff and his counterparts from Canada and Mexico met to pledge better integration of terrorist watchlists and other measures to counter threats.
Yet tightening rules along the border is rarely easy. This spring the Bush administration proposed, then held up, a plan to require passports of everyone entering the United States from Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Panama and Canada. President Bush said the proposal would "disrupt the honest flow of traffic," though he added: "We've got a lot to do to enforce the border."
Much has already been done. In the Blaine, Wash., border sector, where the raspberry field tire tracks were found, 32 new camera surveillance systems are online and 133 agents on staff, 2 1/2 times the number prior to Sept. 11. Still, Eugene Davis, retired deputy chief of this Border Patrol sector, frets: "We are still wide-open."
At the mile-and-a-half-long Ambassador Bridge, vehicles are not inspected before they embark from either country; as with other border spans, that only happens once they reach the opposite end. Skip McMahon, a spokesman for Detroit International Bridge Co., the private owner, says armed guards patrol the bridge 24 hours every day.