Two key US senators on Tuesday sounded the alarm over the US-Canada border, citing an official report that warns only tiny slivers of the 6,400-kilometer (4,000-mile) frontier are adequately secured.
US Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, an independent, said the study showed the risk of terrorists crossing into the United States was greater across the northern US border than from the south.
"These findings, as I've said, should sound an alarm, an urgent call for action" from US and Canadian authorities to thwart extremists as well as drug smugglers or undocumented immigrants, he told reporters.
Lieberman unveiled a formal report by the US Congress's investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that said the US Border Patrol "reported that 32 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles in fiscal year 2010 had reached an acceptable level of security."
The GAO report also said that only about 1,007 of the roughly 4,000 border miles had reached "full situational awareness" -- where "the probability of detection is high" when it comes to potential transnational crime.
Lieberman said this meant US authorities were aware of all illegal border crossings in 25 percent of the border, and could make an immediate arrest in less than one percent of the border.
And the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) views the likelihood of terrorist crossing to be higher than they are at the southern border given the large expanse of area with limited law enforcement coverage and the presence of Islamist extremists in Canada, according to Lieberman.
The warnings came days before Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was due in Washington Friday for talks with President Barack Obama.
"The Canadians are great allies, great neighbors and great partners in this effort," said Lieberman. "They're very aware of this problem and they want to cooperate with us."
A top Canadian official, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, played down the calls for tighter security, emphasizing that "tens of millions of US jobs" depend on robust bilateral trade across "an open Canada-US border."
While citizens of each country have typically not needed a visa to cross the border, Lieberman said that requiring one was "something that we should be talking about with our Canadian neighbors."
Asked about that prospective change, Kenney replied: "I don't think we should take very seriously sort of one off-the-cuff thought by one senator as representing a policy development in Washington."
US border efforts typically focus on the divide between the United States and Mexico, notably to interdict undocumented immigrants, halt the flow of narcotics, and contain deadly violence from the illegal drug trade.
The top Republican on Lieberman's panel, Senator Susan Collins, said US authorities had "slighted the northern border" where security could benefit from using aircraft and cameras.
"In recent years, the department has largely focused its efforts and attention and its resources on the deployment of new technology on the southwest border," she said.
Collins said Canada's restrictions on raw materials used to produce methamphetamines were not as strong as those in the United States, leading makers of the drug to import the precursor chemicals into the United States where it is made.
Department of Homeland Security figures show that, in 2009, the number of arrests of undocumented immigrants along the northern border were about 1.3 percent of those along the southwest border, while drug seizures along the northern border were about 1.6 percent of those seized in the south.
© AFP 2017