Thursday, December 11, 2008

The security pinch grows

An article in the National Post today reports that the United States is deploying new surveillance technology along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. This new technology includes the use of unmanned drones that will monitor the vast terrain from above.

It is understandable that America is moving to secure its borders. Given the threats of both terrorist activity and illegal immigration, the current North American framework gives the U.S. government little options. However, this is very damaging to the interests of both Canada and Mexico. It is also damaging to the long-term interests of the United States.

The costs of maintaining a security perimeter around the U.S. will only grow - both in terms of technology and personnel. But more importantly, the disruption of legitimate and productive cross border traffic will hamper economic growth in all three countries. Trade is an integral part of the North American economy. Few will argue this. It seems, though, that few are standing up to seriously address the competing forces at work here. Security and trade will only work efficiently if borders are eliminated.

The implementation of a broader security perimeter around North America is the only way to facilitate the contradicting agendas of increased trade and security. Here it is important that the governments of both Canada and Mexico show leadership and forethought in addressing specific needs of the U.S. Harmonization of security measures and trade issues should be a priority.

There are those that would chose not to make compromises that infringe on national autonomy. But these instincts are a dangerous impulse. The sooner North Americans work together to become a larger and more connected family, the better. The strains of global economy will be felt more acutely if Canada and Mexico do not proactively nip this unfortunate impulse in the bud. North Americans need each other.

Article rank
11 Dec 2008
National Post
National Post
New eyes on border

A U.S. drone delivered to North Dakota will soon begin northern patrols

Sitting on the tarmac at a North Dakota Air Force Base is the future of U.S. northern border security: an unmanned patrol airplane similar to ready-to-fire aircraft used in Afghanistan, identical to drones scouting above the U.S. border with Mexico and the first of its kind ready to fly along the Canadian border, in search of drug runners, illegal immigrants and terrorists heading south.
The Predator B Unmanned Aircraft System, a plane with a thin, cylindrical body, three wheels and no cockpit, was delivered to Grand Forks by U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities last weekend and will be launched on patrol missions above the western Prairie landscape early next year. The US$10million, remote-controlled craft is equipped with video equipment and heat sensors capable of spotting people crossing the border illegally by avoiding ports of entry.
Once heralded as t he world’s longest undefended border, the thin line of security between Canada and the United States is now viewed by many Americans as a sieve, capable of being exploited by terrorists, and a major concern for national defence in the post-9/11 world.
In recent years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security have upgraded security measures making documents such as passports mandatory for visitors from Canada, increasing the number of agents and screening measures at border ports and installing extra cameras and motion detectors along undefended portions of the line.
The idea of a physical security fence running along the Canadian border, similar to one found along the Mexican border, is still an option being endorsed by some state governors.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles were first proposed in the 2005 Secure Border Initiative as part of a “virtual fence” that also includes fixed towers and mobile radars. The aircraft went into action along the U.S.-Mexico border immediately, but this will be the first one will take flight along the United States’s northern border.
According to a statement from border protection’s air and marine assistant commissioner, the aerial patrol with help “identify and intercept potential terrorist or illegal cross-border activity” while supporting Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Border patrol officials say they make about 4,000 arrests and intercept about 18,000 kilograms of illegal drugs each year along the Canadian border.
Juan Munoz-Torres,
a spokesman for border protection’s ai r and marine operations, said the CanadaU.S. border poses significant security concerns because of the distance between checkpoints and a geography which is often hard to reach by land. Aerial patrols will help close those gaps while answering questions about how many people are slipping into the country between checkpoints.
“We don’t know what we don’t know so I can’t tell you what we will find or what we won’t find. As we begin operations, we will see what type of activity is taking place and we will then start working in order to stop that activity,” he said.
Three mo r e Predators are expected to join the pa tro l along Canada’s nearly 9,000kilometre border. For now, Federal Aviation Administration authority will only allow the aerial patrol along a 480-kilometre stretch along North Dakota and Minnesota.
Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who has been working for four years to shore up security along the Canada-U.S. border, said the Predator’s arrival is the beginning of a secure border.
“It is vital to America’s security that we protect our borders, particularly the northern border,” Sen. Conrad said.
“ The Grand Forks Air Branch plays an essential role in helping shut the door on terrorists who want to sneak across remote border points to strike on U.S. soil.”
Colonel John E. Michel, commander of Grand Forks Air Force Base, told the Grand Forks Herald the base will eventually house more than 20 unmanned aerial vehicles, at least six of which will be used for surveillance.
Similar aircraft have patrolled the country’s southwestern border since 2005, leading to the confiscation of more than 8,000 kilograms of marijuana and the arrest of 4,000 illegal immigrants flowing from Mexico.
Similar versions of the unmanned aircraft, equipped with missiles, are being used in reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those to fly along Canada’s border will be unarmed, equipped instead with Raytheon electro-optical sensors and a synthetic aperture radar that can help document natural changes to the area.
The Predator is 20 metres long and weighs more than 4,500 kilograms. It will patrol at an altitude of 15,000 metres. It can fly 418 kilometres per hour and stay aloft for 18 hours before landing to refuel. With its cameras and sensors, it can detect a moving person from 11 kilometres away.
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