FEBRUARY 2003

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U.S. And Canadian Officials Discuss Border Security
Associated Press

By Joel Stashenko

Police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials met Tuesday to discuss toughening anti-terrorism defenses along the United States-Canadian border from Buffalo to Lake Champlain.

The discussions attracted about 50 local and federal officials from both sides of the 400-mile-long border. Tribal police from the St. Regis Mohawk Indian reserve, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, also attended.

"The stakes are the same on both sides," said James Kallstrom, former FBI official and director of security for New York state. "We both want commerce to move as efficiently and as effectively as possible. We both want security that's efficient and effective." The event, held at the New York State Police Academy in Albany, gave officials a chance to meet each other face-to-face and swap ideas about security measures that have worked and those that haven't.

"I think what came out of this was that no one agency has the resources to patrol that large a border," said Superintendent James McMahon of the New York State Police. "What came out of it was that the federal agencies couldn't get along without help from the state or provincial police. By coordinating the different resources, whether it is Canadian or U.S., state or federal, you have a much better chance of covering this area and creating the intelligence you need."

Gov. George Pataki encouraged the meeting.

"By working with state, local, federal and Canadian law enforcement officials, we will develop strong and effective border security strategies, prevent future acts of terrorism and keep New Yorkers safer and more secure," Pataki said.

Others at the meeting were representatives of the Ontario and Quebec provincial police; the U.S. Office of Homeland Security; the Canadian counsel general's office; U.S. Customs agents; Glenn Suddaby, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York; the New York City Police Department; the Quebec Homeland Security office and the Vermont State Police.

McMahon said Canadian officials have been stung by criticism of their border security efforts, especially that the Canadian areas bordering the St. Regis reserve are "totally porous."

"Reports have indicated that there are hundreds of people coming across the Akwasasne-St. Regis on a monthly basis," McMahon said. "It just isn't so."

New York has been working with Quebec and Ontario to make upgrades at the busiest border crossings, where hundreds of commercial vehicles pass each day.

At the Peace Bridge in western New York, 721,000 commercial vehicles enter the United States each year from Canada, according to U.S. Customs information. At the Champlain crossing in northeastern New York, 400,000 commercial vehicles enter the United States each year.

"It is critical to get legitimate stuff across the border quickly," said Kallstrom, who still advises the Pataki administration on homeland security.

Of policing the long border, Kallstrom said it is probably not reasonable to expect that officials on either side can guarantee that terrorists will not pass.

"But can we do a much better job than we are doing post-9/11?" Kallstrom said. "No question we can."

The border at New York was the focus of stories earlier this month when the FBI mounted a nationwide search for five men with suspected terrorist ties who had supposedly been smuggled into the United States in December. News reports had the men being brought into the country through the St. Regis reserve.

The FBI later called off the search, however, amid questions about the reliability of the information it based its investigation on.

The border along western and northern New York was a law enforcement headache long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks raised the stakes. Trafficking in illegal immigrants and the smuggling of highly taxed goods such as motor fuel and cigarettes have frequently been a problem across the sprawling border.

McMahon said no second meeting by law enforcement officials was scheduled, but that there was a clear consensus for further discussions.


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