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:
- Trade and travel: Canada is the United States' biggest
trading partner. Every day approximately $1.5 billion in goods and
300,000 people cross the northern border. Adding new security
measures at the border without hurting the two economies would be
- U.S.-Canadian relations: Canada is one of America's best
allies. Canada's support in Afghanistan is one of the many
illustrations of its committed friendship with the United States.
Hardening the border would signal mistrust between these long-time
allies and place a strain on the future of the American-Canadian
- Cost: The Canadian border is large, spanning 5,525
miles. It would cost the U.S. government a tremendous amount of
resources to successfully secure the physical border. Given the
economic (not to mention public diplomacy) consequences associated
with such an effort, the U.S. should not spend precious resources
in this manner.
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:
- Promote anti-terrorism information sharing. Information
sharing is the most effective way of tracking down dangerous people
and protecting the country from attack. Information on a variety of
things, such as criminal databases and customs information, should
be shared between the two countries to enhance their anti-terrorism
capabilities and to arrest those who seek to do harm.
- Expand cross-border law enforcement programs. Working
together on law enforcement initiatives will make each country's
homeland security much more efficient. Law enforcement can often
disrupt terrorist activity before it starts, and improving
cooperation in this area will bear fruit on both sides of the
border. A great example of this kind of program is the Integrated
Border Enforcement Team, a joint program that targets dangerous
people and goods by sharing intelligence and law enforcement
capabilities from various agencies. Similar cooperation efforts
should be used for security missions.
- Coordinate visa policies. For example, U.S. and Canada
should offer visa waiver status for the same list of countries.
Coordinated visa policies will ensure that both countries institute
similar security mechanisms in a way that is in compliance with
America's security standards.
- Encourage private investment in infrastructure.
Inadequate infrastructure at the border further jeopardizes
security. The U.S. should find ways to encourage the private sector
to invest in infrastructure (such as toll bridges) at the northern
border. This will not only speed the processing of goods and
services but will ensure that terrorists are not sneaking through
because of gaps in ailing infrastructure. One way this can be
accomplished is through the SAFETY Act, which provides liability
protection for companies developing homeland security technologies.
This protection is only for companies in the United States and
greatly limits the deployment of these necessary technologies. By
encouraging similar protections in Canada, DHS can help spur
innovation and private investment in infrastructure at the
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.
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