Panel considers terrorist threat on U.S.-Canada border
January 27, 2000
From Producer Terry Frieden
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fear of terrorist plots against U.S. targets following recent arrests on the Canadian border prompted a Congressional panel Thursday to search for new ways to identify and seize potential terrorists along the historically open U.S.-Canada border.
"The December arrest of Ahmed Ressam as he attempted to enter the U.S. from Canada with hundreds of pounds of sophisticated bomb-making materials was a loud wake-up call," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
Smith's immigration subcommittee heard terrorism experts from both the United States and Canada cite the Canadian public's historic lack of concern about terrorism and the growing realization refugees are taking advantage of Canada's lenient policies.
"Canada is sought out as a haven by terrorists," said David Harris, former Chief of Strategic Planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
"Fifty international terrorist organizations are represented on our soil. Some of our laws are frankly terrorist-friendly," Harris told the lawmakers.
The former Ottawa intelligence official also cited public apathy. "The fact that Canadians themselves have not been traditional targets of political violence has meant a failure of popular vigilance."
A U.S. policy expert currently working in security issues in Canada told the lawmakers publicity on the issue could have an unintended negative impact.
"In the media coverage broadcast around the world by CNN and others, we alerted the world to the openness of the U.S. border with Canada," said Christopher Sands of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To those hostile elements around the world that had not discovered it yet, we advertised our vulnerability."
As the year's first congressional hearing concluded, Smith said he continues to support a mandatory entry-exit system that would require every border passage to be recorded. "We need to have that on both borders, but it needs to be done in a way that will not impede trade or traffic," he said.
Canadian Ambassador Raymond Chretien, nephew of the prime minister, attended the hearing, and afterward made clear his government would continue to oppose the stricter controls of an entry-exit system.
"Let me say that when it comes to fighting terrorism our laws are as strict if not more strict than American laws, the ambassador told reporters.
Chretien said the Ottawa government was open to changing its immigration laws. "In particular I think that the objectives would be to facilitate the detention of potential terrorists," he said.
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