New security provisions at US-Canada Border

Posted by admin on Sep 18th, 2006

Star Wars at the border? U.S. officials to announce new security contract. Sep 18, 2006. Canadian Press: BETH GORHAM

WASHINGTON (CP) – Few seriously expect Americans to build a security wall along the Canada-U.S. border. But the boundary could still look a lot different in three or four years. U.S. officials have been considering a dizzying array of high-technology surveillance toys to patrol the vast area, creating a virtual barrier. And they’ll announce as soon as Thursday which one of five competing military contractors will help them monitor gaps between border crossings. It’s a multibillion-dollar project that could result in a string of towers or skies full of unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, planes, helicopters or

“They didn’t give us instructions that were too specific,” said Robert Villanueva, spokesman for Boeing Co. in Los Angeles. “They wanted us to use our creativity.”

Boeing is advocating a mix of towers with sensors, miniature UAVs, subterranean scanners that can detect tunnels and better communications equipment for field agents.

Other companies, like Northrop Grumman Corp, want to use bigger, military-style hardware in the skies. Ericsson Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co. are also bidding.

And while the focus is on stemming the flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico, officials have made it clear they want to stop drug runners and potential terrorists from Canada in a massive security push.

“The Americans are doing what they said they’re going to do and we have to adjust,” said security expert Barry Cooper at the University of Calgary. “It probably is inevitable. The only thing Canadians will notice is if it takes them longer to get across the border. It’s already a pain in the butt.”

Co-ordination of water patrols between the RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard already works well, said Cooper, but there’s a lot more Canada could be doing. Still, business groups are worried that some of the myriad American security initiatives haven’t worked well and decisions are sometimes made without enough co-ordination with Canada.

Each new initiative, they say, has the potential to impact trade. The Canadian-American Business Council is quietly floating the idea of a powerful binational border organization to oversee all security-related endeavours and new border infrastructure to speed up commercial traffic. In a policy paper, the council suggests it could be modelled on the
International Joint Commission that oversees boundary waters, the Permanent Joint Board on Defense created in 1940, the Commission for Environmental Co-operation or the Commission for Labor Co-operation.

“We need to get beyond all the election-year politics and take on all of this,” said executive director Scotty Greenwood. In the runup to November’s mid-term elections, many U.S. legislators are talking tough on security when it comes to Canada to capitalize on the anti-terror war, still a winning issue for Republicans. They also want to prove to voters they’re not penalizing Hispanics by cracking down on one border over another.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives endorsed for the second time a study on building a security fence along the Canada-U.S. border.

And a task force appointed by a Republican congressman recently recommended sending at least 12,000 National Guard troops, more border patrol agents and more U.S. Customs officers to the Canadian line.

It also said there should be more air surveillance and 1,600 Coast Guard and other naval reserves with 400 patrol boasts to secure coastal and inland waterways.

The biggest immediate concern for Canada is the U.S. plan to require passports or some other high-tech identification from everyone at land crossings by Jan. 1, 2008.

Canada is still waiting to hear what other form of ID might be acceptable.

“We’re aware that we need to get this done and get it done very quickly,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Canadian Press last week.

“I think it will be very soon . . . We are looking for an authentic document, a document that can authenticate identity but one that is relatively cheap and easy to acquire but that can help to keep the border secure.”

Observers are skeptical the United States will be able to devise by the deadline their own ID cards for Americans returning home from Canada, especially since the initiative to provide new cards with microchips to U.S. workers at critical sea, air and land transportation facilities is mired in problems.

The worker-ID program became law almost four years ago but has been plagued by technical glitches, insufficient funding and an indifferent Congress.

In July, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appealed for a delay in the cross-border plan during a visit to the White House, saying it threatens to make the United States more closed to its friends.

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