Since Sept. 11, More Agents, Technology Patrol Stretches of
Long-Neglected 4,000-Mile Line.

A shallow ditch is all that separates Boundary Road, which winds
through the fields and farmhouses of this dairy community, from 0
Avenue, a similar rural highway that parallels it just 12 feet away
- -- in Canada. If not for a small stone marker with "United States" on
one side and "Canada" on the other, the border between the two
nations here would be impossible to discern.

Where Boundary Road ends, rows of raspberry plants run right to the
border, offering cover to illegal immigrants and smugglers toting
backpacks filled with marijuana.

Before Sept. 11, 57 Border Patrol agents were responsible for this
120-mile stretch of border in Washington state. In fact, until the
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the Border Patrol had
just 334 agents posted along the 4,000-mile northern border, a
fraction of its 9,500-member workforce.

Since then, the U.S.-Canadian border has received the kind of
attention that authorities have long spent on the boundary with
Mexico, where efforts to halt the flow of drugs and illegal
immigrants demanded it. Although the teeming points of entry present
their own kinds of problems, halting terrorists who might try to
cross these vast open stretches has become the focus of increasing
concern among homeland security authorities.

That puts the Border Patrol in a pivotal role: It is supposed to keep
people from entering the United States at places other than official
checkpoints. It is illegal to cross back and forth anywhere else, no
matter how inviting it seems.

The Justice Department's inspector general's office recently warned
that gaps remain along the northern border and said more agents and
technology are desperately needed. On Capitol Hill, Rep. F. James
Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee, has expressed concern about spotty enforcement. As did
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.): "I am very concerned, and have been for
a very long time. I think the problems up there are large and need to
be dealt with."

Some former Border Patrol officials maintain that the Border Patrol
relies too heavily on cameras and sensors and has too few agents to
fully utilize the technology.

"I've never known a camera that can go down a pole and catch
somebody," said Eugene R. Davis, former deputy chief patrol agent of
the U.S. Border Patrol here. "It's far from being secure. If a person
wants to come in, there are lots of places for them to do it. There
are still lots of holes." He noted that the sensors can sound false
alarms -- triggered by animals, for example -- and have other
limitations. He remembers that "about 50 percent of the time, we had
nobody to respond to the sensors."

In response, hundreds of Border Patrol agents, immigration inspectors
and Customs Service personnel have been shifted north, and more are
on the way. By year's end, the Border Patrol will have more than 600
agents along the northern border, and the Bush administration wants
to add 285 more in fiscal 2003.

About 700 National Guard troops recently began aiding inspectors at
the 124 northern ports of entry and are assisting the Border Patrol
with intelligence analysis and helicopter patrols. From Washington to
Maine, new tools are arriving, including cameras, explosives
detectors, radiation detectors and dogs.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge recently reached an agreement
with Canadian officials to share intelligence and expand joint
enforcement programs along the border. In addition, the Border Patrol
is building closer ties with leaders of Native American tribes that
live on border reservations.

John C. Bates, deputy chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol
here, acknowledged that coverage has not been beefed up as much as he
would like, but said technology helps fill in the gaps. He said that
sensors are hidden in fields, trees and other places, capable of
detecting movement. When tripped, they sound alarms and illuminate
computer terminals at a Border Patrol command center in the nearby
town of Blaine.

In recent weeks, a $5 million camera system capable of scanning 40
miles of border was installed on 32 towering poles, meant to
complement the sensors. Technicians at the command center can swivel
the cameras and zoom in on objects up to four miles away, helping
authorities determine whether activated sensors were set off by
innocent farmers or schoolchildren, or by someone who appears
suspicious and requires immediate attention, Bates said. Surveillance
aircraft also patrol the area regularly, he said.

Agents respond in four-wheel-drive vehicles, some with infrared
cameras mounted on their roofs. Bates said only so many roads and
trails lead away from the border and authorities can cut them off. As
he rode along Boundary Road recently, Bates pointed to places where
agents have caught illegal immigrants and found drugs waiting for
pickup, including backpacks filled with marijuana. "We're able to get
there," he said. "We use the technology and the people and the
information to get the job done."

There is no evidence that any of the 19 terrorists who struck on
Sept. 11 entered the United States from Canada. But Canadian
intelligence officials have estimated that about 50 terrorist groups
operate in Canada, including al Qaeda, Hamas and the Irish Republican
Army, and some allegedly have set up cells in Vancouver, just 32
miles from Blaine.

Nevertheless, security along the northern border has been dwarfed by
the U.S. border presence in the Southwest for decades. In a typical
year, the Border Patrol apprehends 1.2 million people in the
Southwest; 12,000 in the north.

The Justice Department's inspector general's office reported in
February 2000 that the Border Patrol "lacks the resources to monitor
illegal activity along the northern border." The report also warned
that "the porous nature of the border, coupled with limited
enforcement," limits chances of making arrests. In a follow-up report
released this February, the inspector general's office said
conditions are improving, but noted that chiefs of all eight of the
Border Patrol's northern sectors said they still needed more agents,
support staff and equipment.

Since Sept. 11, about 100 agents have been shifted from the
southwestern border and an effort to hire more has begun. Twenty of
the transferred agents work in Blaine, which now has a workforce of
77. Congress has cleared the way to bring in even more cameras,
sensors and computers.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration
Studies, which favors greater restrictions on immigration, said the
Border Patrol's strategy is sound as long as it receives more agents.
"The Border Patrol approach of leveraging their personnel with
technology is probably the way to go on the northern border," he said.

In Washington state, the National Guard now provides a helicopter and
crew to conduct surveillance and shuttle agents to remote areas. But
the bulk of the enforcement is concentrated on a 44-mile stretch east
of Blaine where the new cameras have been located and where most of
the sensors, which are moved from time to time, are placed.

Rick Holleman, a Lynden resident who owns a trucking company, said he
can attest to the sensitivity of the sensors. "I jog along the border
every night, and just my jogging can set off the sensors," he said. A
couple of months ago, a Border Patrol agent -- just transferred from
San Diego -- asked him what he was doing running alongside Boundary
Road. "It does seem like there's more Border Patrol around," Holleman
said, adding that agents recently arrested two New York men near his
home after they were caught crossing the border with marijuana.

Carey James, who retired last year as chief patrol agent for the
Border Patrol in Blaine, said enforcers must worry not only about the
land border but also about nearby Puget Sound, where small boats zip
back and forth from Canada, often carrying drugs.

The challenges in the north go well beyond geography, according to
John Frecker, the Northeast regional vice president of the National
Border Patrol Council, the union that represents border patrol
agents. Even when agents manage to catch people crossing into the
United States illegally, they have limited options, he said. The
criminal record checks they perform don't extend worldwide and
detention facilities are often so crowded that the INS releases many
illegal immigrants pending deportation hearings. Then they disappear.

In Blaine, Border Patrol agents cite the case of Ghazi Ibrahim Abu
Mezer, a Palestinian who was caught three times in 1996 and 1997 in
Washington state, only to be released each time. He was sent back to
Canada twice; the third time he was released pending a deportation
hearing. Mezer didn't show up for the hearing but did turn up six
months later in Brooklyn, New York, where police arrested him in a
plot to bomb subways. He was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to
life in prison.

In the most famous case, Customs inspectors in Port Angeles, Wash.,
arrested Ahmed Ressam in December 1999 with a trunk full of
explosives. Ressam later admitted that he was part of a plot to bomb
Los Angeles International Airport and other targets during millennium

Security has been stepped up at Port Angeles, where inspectors are
opening more car trunks and looking at more trucks. That's also true
at the two ports of entry in Blaine, where the Customs Service
received new equipment to detect nuclear materials and explosives.

Trucks are guided through a large scanning machine that alerts
Customs inspectors to hidden compartments or suspicious cargo. A
hand-held device can be used to find hidden panels in cars and
smaller trucks. The radiation detectors -- worn like pagers -- are so
sensitive that they are set off when someone undergoing radiation
treatments comes near.

Ronald H. Henley, Bates's boss and Blaine's chief patrol agent, said
he believes the extra security measures are working. He's divided the
region into 13 zones, regularly analyzes information coming from the
sensors, cameras, law enforcement and the public, and is putting his
agents in places where he believes they can have the most impact.

"All I can say is I don't have any actual intelligence that hundreds
of people are going where I'm not," Henley said.

Pubdate: Sun, 07 Apr 2002
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company