Sunday, September 30, 2007

Border Scaremongering

This past Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the United States delivered a report to Congress titled "Security Vulnerabilities at Unmanned and Unmonitored US Border Locations". In its report, the GAO wrote how "in four states along the US-Canada Border, we found state roads that were very close to the border that CPB did not seem to monitor." To further emphasize its point, the GAO investigator took a red duffel bag containing containers marked "radioactive" and supposed bomb parts and walked across the border.

Gregory Kutz, the GAO managing director for special investigations told the Senate Finance Committee that, "Our work clearly shows substantial vulnerabilities in the northern border to terrorists or criminals entering the U.S. undetected."

Predictably, some US Senators went on a diatribe about the security of the Canadian border. Senator Charles Schumer said, "We cannot skimp on resources. We cannot spend more than $200 billion on the war in Iraq and then skimp on resources here. You can't play offense and not play defense."

As a Canadian, I frequently wonder why so many Americans are fixated with security of our shared border. Some Americans seem to view Canada as a safe haven for terrorists, and a virtual shopping mall for buying explosives and weapons. With all of the scaremongering in this report, you would think that someone could go to the local grocery store in Canada and pick up a few pounds of radioactive material to make a dirty bomb, or that when we order a hamburger at our local McDonald's, they ask us, "would you like some C4 with that?"

What people seem to forget is that this type of radioactive or explosive material in Canada is just as regulated and hard to come by as it is in the United States, and weapons are considerably more regulated than in the US. We can't just go buy this stuff very easily. People also seem to forget that Canada does not have any borders except the one with the United States - Canada does not have another border that terrorists can somehow sneak across, and getting into Canada by air is just as difficult as it is getting into the United States: most foreigners need a visa, and visa applications to Canada are screened just as thoroughly as the US screens theirs.

A foreign terrorist would be stupid to try coming through Canada, since they are doubling their chances of getting caught: they can get caught coming into Canada, they can get caught while they are here in Canada, and they can get caught while going from Canada to the United States. The 9/11 terrorists knew this - contrary to what some people believe, they did not go through Canada, they flew directly into the US and stayed in Florida while they were plotting their nefarious acts.

Canada is not a haven for terrorists. Canada is quite the opposite, as we proved last summer. And, given the extremely high cost of securing 4,000 miles of sparsely inhabited border, and that there is not a major problem with people sneaking across it (unlike the US's southern border), is spending all this money to secure the border with Canada a good investment? I think not.

To Charles Schumer's point about spending $200 billion in Iraq and scrimping at home, I would argue that this is exactly the correct thing to do. When considering a project, it is important to look at it in terms of a return on investment. You do not have enough budget to do all the projects you want to do, and so you look at where the money you invest can yield the best benefit for the American people. And, where would this money be best spent: spending tens of billions of dollars securing 4,000 miles of border and solving an imaginary problem, or spending this same money to solve a real problem - like providing healthcare to the millions of Americans who have no insurance, or buying better equipment for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer is obvious.

I am back

After a bit of a hiatus from blogging, I am now back. For those of my old readers who kept coming back now and then, thank you for your patience.

I am looking at Haloscan and notice a lot of old comments that I hadn't answered. To the commenters - I do apologize. I'll answer your comments in the next few days.