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US Continues to Work on Tightening International Boundaries

In the United States this past week an Algerian terror suspect, Ahmed Ressam -- known as the Millennium Bomber -- was sentenced to 22 years in prison for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in December 1999. Ressam was captured by U.S. Customs Agents as he tried to enter the United States from Canada. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on what's being done to tighten security along the northern border in hopes of preventing organized crime and would-be terrorists from entering the United States.

U.S. Border Protection field supervisor Bob Kohlman begins another patrol along this rural stretch of road separating British Columbia, Canada and the western U.S. State of Washington. This is wide-open territory with a history of being one of the most active cross-border smuggling corridors. The area makes up only a small section along the world's longest undefended international boundary.

Bob Kohlman's main job is to be on the lookout for would-be terrorists trying to smuggle deadly weapons into the country from Canada. But protecting and controlling America's 6,500 kilometer long northern border, in a new age of terrorism, is a daunting task.

He says, "It is a challenging job protecting our borders. We are doing, I think, the best job of that we can with the resources we have everyday. There are a lot of dedicated men and women that are out here with several different roles but all with the same mission and the same goal in mind and that is protecting our country and protecting our homeland."

The September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks, changed things for border patrol agents like Bob whose main mission was guarding against illegal immigration or catching drug smugglers. Now the primary focus is preventing terrorists from getting into the country.

Border patrol agents are being helped by new surveillance technology such as video and infrared cameras tied to motion sensing equipment along this 70-kilometer long stretch of the U.S. Canadian border.

Radio dispatcher Kim Kaya says before September 11th there was one camera watching the border, now there are 32 cameras. "We cover a lot of ground and we can usually be at any given location within a matter of a minute, sometimes less. The coverage is a lot better than it use to be."

Besides new surveillance equipment the U.S. Border Patrol has added more agents at strategic locations. In July, the agents shut down an elaborate 110 meter-long tunnel used to smuggle marijuana from Canada into the United States. The tunnel, complete with lights and ventilation, ran under a highway. It is the first such passageway ever discovered on the nation's northern border.

Bob Kohlman says heightened security has proven to be a deterrence to illegal activities at popular border crossing areas. "This road that we came in on dead ends at the Canadian border and you can see over the years this has been a popular crossing spot. Right now it is over grown and it is obvious that nothing has been through there recently."

Another big change along the northern border is that law enforcement officials in the United States and Canada are sharing more information than ever before.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Doug Kiloh says sharing intelligence is key because there are links between organized drug smuggling and the funding of terrorist activities. "Make no mistake, now on both sides of the border I would suggest that any bit of information that has to do with national security,any bit of information that has to do with a high level of organized criminality that relates to national security is immediately dealt with."

U.S. Border Agent Kohlman says besides sharing intelligence it's vital to stay focused. "Even though something may not be going on right this instant there, in the next instant there may be and a big part of our job is remaining vigilant and prepared for whatever might happen."

While being prepared is key, no one here who patrols this wide-open border will deny that terrorists, illegal immigrants, or drug smugglers can find their way into the United States over the mostly unguarded U.S. Canadian border.