March 6, 2009 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security
On January 15, the United States Northern Command Joint Task Force-North accidentally released to the public a briefing that expressed concerns over terrorists entering the U.S. from Canada. While the report was taken offline and out of public view shortly thereafter, this briefing is one of many reports centered on U.S./Canadian security policies, including a recent request by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for information relating to the mechanisms and programs currently in place at the U.S. northern border.
While the recommendations of the U.S. Northern Command briefing were not made public, the recent focus on the northern border has left many citizens from both countries concerned that the U.S. might decide to increase security measures at the border in a way that would hamper trade and travel. Initiatives to secure the United States from potential terrorists in Canada should extend beyond the border and center on information-sharing and other kinds of anti-terrorism cooperation, instituting processes and programs that respect both nations' sovereignty, and addresses common concerns--without hindering either nation's economic viability.
The U.S. Northern Command briefing cited Canada as a "favorable" environment for potential terrorists entering the U.S. due to the Canadian immigration policies toward aliens from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Egypt. The briefing specifically cited the Great Lakes region of Canada and areas north of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the areas of most concern and indicated that terrorists could be forming networks out of these regions.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) in 2004 to increase security on the northern border. This initiative requires proof of identity and citizenship for people crossing the border into the United States. But unfortunately, WHTI has significantly increased wait times at border crossing, delays which have been particularly damaging to those business that rely on the "just in time" process--that is, delivering products (such as fresh produce) just before they are made available for purchase.
This new briefing might well tempt Congress or DHS to institute similar or more aggressive security measures at the border; but this is not the right path for the following reasons:
Beyond the Physical Border
The U.S. should look to "beyond the border" solutions--solutions that stop terrorists from entering North America altogether--and work together with Canada to arrest individuals engaged in plotting against either country. DHS and Congress should:
It is in the interest of both nations to keep terrorists out of North America. Working together, the U.S. and Canada can tackle security loopholes to ensure the security of Americans and Canadians alike while, at the same time, not disrupting economic ties or jeopardizing their close friendship.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security and Diem Nguyen is a Research Assistant in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Annie C. Rohrhoff contributed to preparing of this WebMemo.