So much of the American border security discussion is dominated by issues in the south, leaving the debate over threats of drug smuggling and terrorist entry from Canada for another day. In Sylvia Longmire’s latest excerpt, America’s “open border” with Canada gets a second look.
The following is an excerpt from Breitbart Texas’ border security expert and contributing editor Sylvia Longmire’s new book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer:
In May 2011, former CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin testified at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security that “in terms of the terrorist threat, it’s commonly accepted that the more significant threat comes from the US-Canada border.” Part of the reason for that, he explained, was the fact that the two countries do not share names on their “no-fly” lists. Because of this, a terrorist on the US list could legally fly into Canada without arousing suspicion, then drive across the land border into the United States through a port of entry. After the hearing, Bersin told reporters that CBP has recorded more cases of people with suspected terrorist backgrounds or links to terror organizations entering the United States from Canada than from Mexico.
In 2012, the DHS-funded National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism collected data from FBI-designated terrorism cases conducted between 1984 and 2004. The study showed that during that time, 264 people with a direct tie to terrorism crossed the border either into or out of the United States in relation to a terrorist act. Out of the ninety-five people for which citizenship could be determined, 48 percent were US citizens and 18 percent were Canadian citizens. Their favorite way to travel was by airplane, with land and seaports used in only a few occasions. Also, only 13 percent of attempted border crossings were thwarted, and only 11 percent of these 264 individuals had criminal records. With these statistics in hand, why are members of Congress and (mostly) right-wing pundits so hung up on the hypothetical prospect of a dirty bomb being smuggled into the United States from Tijuana and not Toronto?
David Biette, Director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, offered up one answer. “The Canada-US border is a relatively open border, and I guess easier to get into, but the United States and Canada share a lot of intelligence,” Biette explained. “You had that group of eighteen in Toronto and you had that guy in Montreal who was going to do some train bombings. They nipped those things in the bud. Even the Millennium Bomber was caught because we were connecting our dots. The Customs people knew what to look for, found it, and stopped it. There are a lot of people who, for political points, will try to say Canada’s full of terrorists, we need to put up fences and stuff like that. We don’t.” Then Biette told me a story that beautifully illustrated how US and Canadian authorities keep an eye on their shared border.
“There was a Canadian journalist who was traveling along the length of the Keystone pipeline, and he stopped–I think he was in Montana–and there was a road with a little fence that just said ‘US Border.’ There was no one around; he just pulled up and looked. He thought, Do I cross? Do I cross? He finally goes, Mmmm, I don’t think so. So then he took some pictures, and there was still nobody around for miles. He got back in his car and headed south away from the border, but then got pulled over by the Border Patrol. The agent said to him, I’m curious about why you stopped there. The journalist couldn’t figure out how the agent knew where he was since there was no one around for miles. It turns out he was seen from above and [the imagery was] relayed at once.
“So while there may be just this bright orange cone protecting us from terrorists in Canada, they’re watching. In some instances, I think drones are probably okay because we cannot have people physically on every hundred feet along the border, nor should we. But it’s a question of risk. And when you get in these little towns in Montana and Saskatchewan, there’s nothing there, and people see what’s different. You can’t just be, to use the stereotype, a dark-haired Muslim going into a café in these little towns because you need something to eat or into a grocery store without being noticed. That’s just the way it is.”
Cross-border drug trafficking is another issue where Mexico completely dominates the border security rhetoric, despite the fact that significant amounts of illegal drugs are entering the United States from Canada. The drugs are a little different, the organized crime groups and gangs are different, but the challenges posed to US law enforcement are the same.
Sandusky, Michigan, is a small rural town in the area of the state called the “Thumb” for the shape of the piece of land that juts out into Lake Huron. It sits about ninety miles north of Detroit and roughly two hundred miles west of Toronto, Canada, as the crow flies. The city airport is tiny, home to one runway, twenty-one single-engine aircraft, and one ultralight aircraft, and inbound and outbound flights average about sixty-three per week. Security used to be non-existent, but now it’s just extremely low, with only a chain-link fence surrounding the runway to keep cars from meeting planes on the tarmac. The airport is not staffed at night, and neither are the several similar airfields that dot the Thumb region.
Matthew Moody and his nephew Jesse Rusenstrom knew this about Sandusky City Airport when they were hired in 2009 to work as couriers for an inbound shipment of 175 pounds of marijuana and four hundred thousand Ecstasy pills from Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Their job was to drive up from Detroit, meet the plane, then hand off the drugs to a local middleman. A pilot flew his Cessna airplane west across the invisible borderline that runs down the middle of Lake Huron and landed in Sandusky around midnight. Within ninety seconds, Moody and Rusenstrom offloaded the dope and the pills onto their truck, then loaded up the plane with sixty pounds of cocaine for the return flight. The unidentified pilot quickly took off and headed for Guelph. There wasn’t any reason for Moody and Rusenstrom to think this job would be different from any others; they had met this plane before at other small airfields in the Thumb at least ten times and hadn’t had any problems. Except this time, a Border Patrol helicopter was waiting for them.
Moody and Rusenstrom pleaded guilty and testified at the 2011 trial of accomplice Robert “Romeo” D’Leone. Jurors were stunned at what they were hearing: these smugglers brazenly used small planes to transport drugs into unmonitored US airports. D’Leone testified he would look at hundreds of small airports in the area to determine if they had fences or cameras around their runways. Pilots can turn on navigation lights from their cockpits (a standard aviation practice) if they’re arriving at an unmanned airport after hours, and can reduce their visibility by turning off their transponders and not filing a flight plan. At the time of the drug bust, Sandusky City Airport fell outside of US national radar coverage.
You can read more about our mostly open and unguarded border with Canada, as well as Washington’s inability to define what a secure border looks like in order to develop a comprehensive border security strategy, in Sylvia Longmire’s book Border Insecurity. You can learn more about the book, watch the official trailer, and read reviews at the official website, http://www.BorderInsecurity.com.