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Report: Security on U.S.-Canada border fails terror test

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Border Patrol official defends agency's priorities to senators
  • Unmanned points make for easy border crossings, report says
  • Three times agents crossed border with fake radioactive material
  • Nearly 1,000 agents on northern border, 12,000 on U.S.-Mexican border
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From Kevin Bohn
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A terrorist wanting to smuggle radioactive material from Canada into the United States probably would find it easy to do, a new report from congressional investigators said.

A clearing through the forest marks the U.S.-Canada border near Beecher Falls, Vermont.

Government investigators were able to cross from Canada into the United States carrying a duffle bag with contents that looked like radioactive material and never encountered a law enforcement official, according to a report released Thursday by investigators from the Government Accountability Office.

"Our work clearly shows substantial vulnerabilities in the northern border to terrorist or criminals entering the United States undetected," the GAO's Greg Kutz testified Thursday at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the topic.

"Although the southern border appears to be substantially more secure, we did identify several vulnerabilities on federally managed lands where there was no CBP [Customs and Border Protection] control."

The investigators made crossings from Canada into the United States three times in fall 2006, the report said. Video Watch GAO video of a man with a gym bag easily crossing into the U.S. from Canada »

In one of those instances, the GAO said, the Customs and Border Protection agency reported an alert citizen notified authorities of the suspicious activity of the undercover investigators and described their vehicle.

However, the report said the Border Patrol was not able to locate the rental vehicle.

The GAO's task was to perform what it called a "limited security assessment to identify vulnerable border areas." The focus was on border ports where the U.S. government does not maintain a manned presence 24 hours a day and has no apparent monitoring equipment in place. The study was meant to simulate how easy it would be to cross the border with radioactive material or similar items.

Senators voiced concern about the report's findings during Thursday's hearing.

"There may not be an awful lot of crossings across the northern border, but the vulnerability is obvious. ... Are you going to reassess it and redeploy personnel based upon the vulnerability of the northern border?" Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, pointedly asked Ronald Colburn, national deputy chief of the Border Patrol.

"We already knew this, senator," Colburn answered. "This is not a surprise report to us."

He defended the priorities set by the Border Patrol, pointing out that a vast majority of the traffic coming into the United States comes across the southern border, not the northern one.

He also testified that federal authorities are making progress toward getting operational control of both borders.

"We are getting there," Colburn said. "We are bringing manpower. We are bringing ... unmanned aerial vehicles. We are bringing aircrafts. We are bringing boats, and we are bringing more manpower and sensing systems."

Investigators also noted several ports of entry have posted daytime hours and are not manned overnight.

In addition, the GAO investigators identified a security vulnerability regarding federally managed land adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"These areas did not appear to be monitored or have a manned [Border Patrol] presence during the time our investigators visited the sites," the report said.

While the U.S.-Mexican border has received much of the national attention lately with the recent debate over illegal immigration, the report pointed out the dramatic disparity in the law enforcement presence at crossings there versus ones between the United States and Canada.

As of May, the U.S. government had 972 Border Patrol agents on the northern border but almost 12,000 on the southern one. The United States and Canada share more than 5,000 miles of border, while the U.S. and Mexico share 1,900 miles.


The border report was the second in two days to show how terrorists might find ways to strike the United States.

CNN reported on Wednesday that the U.S. electrical grid could be vulnerable to a cyber attack that would make generators self-destruct. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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