Lessons for U.S. Southern Border from Interview with Canadian Mountie

By Janice Kephart on June 14, 2012

Barely anyone in the United States bothers to talk about the northern border with Canada because it is basically tranquil. While I blogged about 330 illegal aliens over a 12 mile stretch of Arizona in one night a few weeks ago, Canada's twice-as-long border with the U.S. gets about 1,700 apprehensions a whole year. So we needn't pay attention to the northern border, right?

Wrong. While it may never be possible to 100 percent secure any border, listening to how criminal movement across our borders can successfully be interdicted is essential to anyone who really wants to understand what "border security" can mean.

The extensive cooperation between the U.S. and Canada should be providing us lessons for the southern border. Not all is transferable, considering the opposite state of affairs in the two countries – Mexico continues to experience out-of-control violence, while Canada pursues with vigor what may seem relatively minor offenses to us – firearms sales by a single supplier, for instance, or contraband tobacco. However, the level of sharing of border intelligence and joint management of investigations and prosecutions of border-related crime, and potentially national security cases related to terrorism, make Canada's Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) worth a closer look. We do not approach our southern border as an integrated whole for intelligence or investigative purposes, nor for apprehensions, and the U.S.-Canada coordination on the northern border is worthy of consideration at policy and operational levels on the southern border, even if only among different U.S. agencies.

Recently, improvements have been made in the cooperation between the U.S. and Canada, and in one of my most articulate and interesting interviews to date on "The Homeland Security Show with Janice Kephart" (something I do on my own and that is not a Center for Immigration Studies project), Superintendent Warren Coons of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), director of 24 IBETs that span the entire U.S.-Canadian border, describes his bird's-eye view of the border and the current and future cooperation between the two nations. (Click here for the audio file of the interview.) One anecdote Supt. Coons provided during the radio interview involved investigation and tracking by American law enforcement of a firearms supplier who was buying guns in the U.S., tracked across the border to point of delivery in Canada by the RCMP, and then tracked further into the Canadian interior by RCMP colleagues to the transfer of those guns to gangs. Contrast this with the shocking ineptitude of the "Fast and Furious" gun-running operation (which I discussed with Fox News reporter William Lajeunesse in Show 1 of "The Homeland Security Show").

One needed improvement regarding the IBETs on the northern border: U.S. and Canadian counterparts do not currently have interoperable communications, which creates problems related to safety and operational coordination, especially in remote, difficult terrain and weather. IBETs are looking to fix that, and fully cross-designate officers to be able to work in teams on either side of the border within the next couple of years. Also helpful is the announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirming that the U.S. government is using unmanned drones to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border from North Dakota 950 miles west to Washington State, providing aerial surveillance support for border agents by investigating sensor activity in remote areas to distinguish between real threats or rescue situation and false alarms. If the intelligence from the drone becomes fully integrated with the IBET intelligence teams described by Supt. Coons in our interview, the drone will be a worthy addition to surveillance in remote areas open to smuggling of persons and contraband, and exploited by terrorists, despite the concerns about drones by the Office of Inspector General, as reported by my colleague David North.