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Is there a terrorist threat in Canada?

THINK TANK

WITH HOST: BEN WATTENBERG

SATURDAY, FEBRURARY 10, 2001

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Think Tank is provided by the T. Rowe Price Associates, an investment management firm providing mutual funds, brokerage services, and retirement plan services. T. Rowe Price, invest with confidence, T. Rowe Price Investment Services Incorporated.

Weíre Pfizer, weíre looking for the cures of the future, spending about $4-1/2 billion a year in search of new medicines for the 21st Century. Pfizer, life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, and the Dodge Jones Foundation.

(Musical break.)

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. America has long been high on the list of terrorist priorities. The last decade has seen a string of attacks against Americans around the world, and on occasion even on American soil. There is increasing concern that Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north, is becoming a popular spot for terrorist activity aimed at America. How great a threat is terrorism to the United States, how serious is the Canadian problem, and what can be done about it?

To find out, Think Tank is joined by: Arnaud de Borchgrave, director of the Global Organized Crime Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; David Harris, president of Insignis Strategic Research in Ottawa, Canada, and former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; and Demetrious Papademetriou, co-director of the International Migration Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The topic before the house, the north slope of terror this week on Think Tank.

(Musical break.)

MR. WATTENBERG: The United States northern border with Canada stretches about 4,000 miles, the longest undefended border in the world. Rainbow Bridge, which spans the Niagra River just north of the falls is one of the borderís most spectacular spots.

MR. FRIELING: At our Northern border we inspect about 135 million people per year, and Niagra Falls New York we inspect about 15 million people per year.

MR. WATTENBERG: It is certainly the worldís most important economic boundary, more than $1 billion of trade travels between the U.S. and Canada every day. That much traffic means that both countries often end up welcoming unwelcome individuals. In December of 1999, an Algerian man, Ahmed Rasam (sp), was arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, while trying to enter America from Canada. Rasam was suspected of seeking to disrupt Seattleís millennium celebration, subsequently canceled due to the threat. Investigators later linked this case to a larger plot with ties to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden. A search or Rasamís car by Customs agents turned up more than 100 pounds of potential bomb making material. The threat is real, in February 1993 a 1,200-pound nitrate car bomb killed 6 Americans and injured over 1,000 at the World Trade Center, the worst foreign led terrorist incident in U.S. history.

MR. THOMPSON: Canada is an attractive place for insurgents and for organized criminals from all over the world.

MR. WATTENBERG: John Thompson, a former military intelligence officer, now directs the Mackenzie Institute, a strategic think tank in Toronto.

MR. THOMPSON: The Ahmed Rasam case is not a question of the Canadian system for security, checks and balances of who enters the country, itís not a case of the Canadian system failing, itís an example of the Canadian system functioning as it normally does. Here was a person who had already a background of involvement in organized crime, he made a claim for refugee status. We accepted that claim, as we do for all refugees, no matter how thin their claims may be, and that started the whole refugee process. When he decided to abandon his claim, because it might be turned down, he went underground and nobody ever looked for him.

MR. WATTENBERG: Canada has one of the most open immigration policies of any nation in the world. Each year the countryís population grows by nearly 1 percent due to immigration alone. The system of processing refugee claims has come under particular scrutiny from Canadian officials.

MR. THOMPSON: Weíre an easy country to get into. We have fairly open borders, our security system does not interface all that well with our immigration system, and a lot of people are waived right through. This is a country that tends to welcome people from all over the world. In one respect we are perhaps the most cosmopolitan society on Earth, and most of us are proud of that. The downside to that is that we donít really ask the pointed questions we should be asking.

MR. WATTENBERG: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS, says it is investigating about 50 terrorist organizations in Canada. In a 1999 report CSIS Director Ward Alcock (sp) is quoted as saying that with perhaps the single exception of the United States there are more international terrorist groups active here than in any other country in the world. And the report concluded that Canadaís immigration system, because it is both open and accessible is vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Civil rights attorney Faisel Kutty believes CSIS claims are exaggerated.

MR. KUTTY: The unfortunate consequence of the alarmist pronouncements and this overreaction to this Canada being a terrorist haven is that the law abiding immigrant communities, not just Muslims and Arabs, but Tamils, Sikhs and various other groups that have been targeted will have their civil and political rights curbed, and you can already sense that thereís going to be an increase in hate crimes, because itís easy to promote hatred against a group if you think that theyíre all terrorists and theyíre all evil people.

MR. WATTENBERG: On the Canadian side of the border at Rainbow Bridge inspectors see huge numbers of refugee claimants entering via the United States.

MR. LUHOWY: We do get a lot of people who are transit in the United States coming to Canada to make their refugee claims. Lately the statistics show weíve been getting about 1,000 refugee claimants a month.

MR. WATTENBERG: But, for the most part traffic passes through the check points on either side without a hitch.

MR. FRIELING: Itís a very small percentage of people we turn back here. We inspect 15 million people at Niagra falls, and we turn back about 30,000 people per year.

MR. WATTENBERG: The key, American officials say, is to spot problems at the border quickly.

MR. LOFFREDO: Weíre always looking for anomalies, anything that appears out of the ordinary, basically. An expression is often used as a sixth sense, we donít really believe in that, but the behavior analysis training is what we use to determine if someoneís nervousness is just normal, or if itís excessive, depending on the situation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Given the heavy flow of traffic across the border authorities place much emphasis on intelligence sharing to warn border agents of potential trouble, and at Rainbow Bridge, at least, that approach seems to be working.

MR. LUHOWY: We have a very good relationship with the American authorities. I, for example, have personal contact almost on a daily basis with members of the United States immigration and naturalization service, where I can ask for background information on people.

MR. WATTENBERG: But, according to Thompson, cooperation among various Canadian authorities broke down in the case of Ahmed Rasam.

MR. THOMPSON: There was a case where immigration, the local police, our national police force, our national intelligence service, and just about everybody else involved didnít share information. No one ever put all the pieces together. And so finally he drives across the border into the United States with a trunk full of plastic explosive, and some very sophisticated timing devices.

MR. WATTENBERG: Itís not clear, however, that better border enforcement alone can solve the problem. To truly reduce the threat of terrorism requires policy coordination at the highest levels.

MR. THOMPSON: Well, if the United States is trying to protect itself from the wide variety of subtle threats, the insurgents and the terrorists that are coming up as we get into the 21st Century, as they try and tighten up their own security they should be aware of one problem. If youíre going to form a fortress North America you have to remember the roof is off of it. Canada is still wide open, and without substantial pressure from the United States weíre very unlikely to reform our own ways ourselves.

MR. WATTENBERG: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on Think Tank.

Letís go around the room, just get sort of a backdrop on this whole situation. How dangerous is the terrorist threat to the United States?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I would have to agree with President Clintonís assessment who says thereís a 100 percent certainty of a weapon of mass destruction terrorism in the United States within the next 10 years.

MR. WATTENBERG: You often agree with President Clinton.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: From time to time.
MR. WATTENBERG: From time to time.

David?

MR. HARRIS: I think Arnaud is right. The United States has been a target of choice for a variety of different terrorist organizations, and Canada might be a weak link in the system.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay.

Demetrious, how serious is this?

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: Iím always highly skeptical of organizations that either have in the core of their mandate an interest in exaggerating threats, or exaggerating estimates. So, I suspect that every time that I see a police estimate, or an intelligence estimate about something terrible that is about to happen, Iím always very careful about the unless, unless we put some more money into this, which is a typical unless.

MR. WATTENBERG: You figured out the little game of this particular community, right, and any political community in the world. The crisis mongers.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: One of the terrorists on trial in Jordan at the present time who was trained at Osama bin Ladenís camps in Afghanistan estimates that about 30,000 people have been trained there in the past five years. Add to that the 45,000 who were trained during the 10-year war against the Soviet Union, partly by the CIA and partly by Saudi Arabia, with Osama bin Ladenís help, thatís an awful lot of people who consider the number one target in the world the United States of America.

MR. WATTENBERG: Now, you know the bin Laden family, is that correct?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I met Osama when he was 14 because I was a close friend of his father Mohammed.

MR. HARRIS: So of Osama bin Ladenís legacy is now infiltrating into Canada. We have before the courts a few cases of people who are looking for deportation who are direct contacts of Osama bin Laden, in Canada, and this is, as we speak, underway, this whole kind of review of all of this. Hardly unexpected, recruitment does go on in Canada, in the states, and elsewhere. Part of the problem, of course, lies in ensuring that we can defend against this kind of threat while preserving our liberal democratic values.

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: There is no doubt in my mind that it is incumbent upon both of our countries, as well as most of the other countries that may already be or become targets of international terrorism to do everything that is reasonably to be expected of them within the framework of civil liberties, and rights, and what-have-you. And one of the interviewees of the subjects from Canada I think hit it right on the head when he noted that intelligence cooperation is, indeed, the very key to this, because ultimately I cannot subscribe to the thesis that somehow you can stop a terrorist at the border, even when you have actually been successful in stopping one terrorist or more at the border. This is happenstance, it just happened. The only way that you do that is if you cooperate and share information both within agencies, across agencies within a single country, but also across countries.

MR. WATTENBERG: But what is the motivation with all good intents for Canada to really get tough on this?

MR. HARRIS: Well, again, itís essentially a problem of politics when you boil it all down. The security and intelligence services work very closely with their brother and sister services in the states and elsewhere, but where is the initiative at the government levels. Successive governments have been able to make tremendous political profit by increasing immigration levels to a tremendous extent. I think our immigration levels are perhaps about double those of any other western industrialized nation.

But the problem, I guess, is that you donít need many people to pull off a stunt in todayís very lethal technological terrorist world in order to have immense losses.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: Assume then you wonít even need people, since I believe that cyber terrorism is going to be a subject of much discussion in the next five years, and that is the ability to crash things like the New York Stock Exchange by remote control from another country.

MR. WATTENBERG: Arnaud, David used an interesting word, which is, if they pull a stunt. When heís talking about a stunt, give me a range of hypothetical.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I mean a weapon of mass destruction stunt, I would say a rusty old freighter flying a Panamanian or Liberian flag sailing into Baltimore harbor with a nuclear device in its hold, that would be one ??

MR. WATTENBERG: Stunt.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: -- stunt. Another, of course, in the field of bioterrorism would be 150,000 people killed in an American city, which is apparently fairly easy to do these days. You can manufacturer a bioterrorist weapon in a lab for $10,000.

MR. WATTENBERG: When he goes through these scenarios, is he being an alarmist?

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: Not necessarily. What I try ??

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, are you being a Pollyanna then? I mean, we have two choices here.

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: No. I was basically talking about border controls, you know, whether you can actually ?? whether you can actually tell because of the level of nervousness, as we heard in the beginning of this show. The level of nervousness, being able to tell whether somebody has something to hide or not, or the 30,000 people that we turn back out of 15 million through the buffalo crossings. I think the least efficient way of doing the necessary things that you need to do so that you can at least try to prevent those things from happening happen at the border.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I think biometrics technology is going to come to the rescue, which means face reading.

MR. HARRIS: Scanning.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: Scanning.

MR. WATTENBERG: Scanning what?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: Picking a face out of a crowd, or a line at the border, a picture, say, given to us by Jordanian intelligence of a suspected terrorist who happens to be going to Canada or the United States.

MR. WATTENBERG: David, we had someone on the setup piece, a Canadian, putting forth the threat to civil liberties. Is that pressure apparent in the Canadian political dynamic, that people are saying, well, you guys are a bunch of bullies, and racists, or whatever? You guys, the security forces I mean.

MR. HARRIS: Thereís certainly a tendency, and itís understandable, that minorities will feel on their guard. You know, itís almost in the nature of things. One of the problems is that itís also a criticism that can be used, really used, very effectively by some of the terrorist groups. And weíve seen this in the case of some Tamil (sp) extremists who, interestingly enough, who usually come to Canada through the United States.

MR. WATTENBERG: This is the Sri Lankan situation.

MR. HARRIS: Thatís right.

MR. WATTENBERG: Now, just to nail something down, is the principal threat, just so we know what weíre talking about, from the Moslem extremists?

MR. HARRIS: No, itís a variety of groups.

MR. WATTENBERG: I know itís a variety of groups, but is it evenly distributed, or is it principally the Moslems?

MR. HARRIS: Itís quite evenly distributed with a certain tendency now in favor of Islamic extremism, and this has been reflected ?? this isnít mere supposition, this has been reflected in federal court of Canada cases, deportation, immigration proceedings, where the federal court judges have accepted ??

MR. WATTENBERG: Who would the other players be, the Tamils from Sri Lanka. Who else?

MR. HARRIS: IRA, you name it, I mean itís every half respectable terrorist organization in the world.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: But in terms of a threat against, as you mentioned earlier, Ben, Satan, the great Satan, used to be the Soviet Union, is now the United States, youíve got tens of thousands of people who have been trained in Afghanistan, and we are the target.

MR. WATTENBERG: We the U.S.?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: Yes. Thereís no question in my mind that the overwhelming threat comes from Islamic extremists. Islamic terrorists, that is the principal threat against the United States today.

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: Well, that makes it, in fact, more difficult perhaps for the intelligence community to react without stigmatizing an entire race or a whole set of immigrant groups, and this is, in a sense, the greatest threat.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: Witness what happened after the Oklahoma bombing.

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: Exactly right. A Lebanese national was detained, and everyoneís first reaction was, they did it. We have very significant peace-loving, et cetera, et cetera, communities in both of our countries that have nothing do with that. Now, does that make it more difficult? Yes, it does.

MR. HARRIS: and it can make it easier in a funny kind of way, because we found that some of the greatest heroes of our counter-terrorist struggle have been among the Islamic Canadians, the Tamil Canadians who left some of their homelands specifically to get away from this kind of thing, now find themselves at the wrong end of intimidation by these self-same extremists.

MR. WATTENBERG: David, let me ask you a question. There is talk now of further economic integration between the United States and Canada. Some of the material I was reading in preparing for this show theyíre talking about, in effect, one country, one economic country, an open border. Is that in the deck? Is that something thatís going to happen in the next 10 and 20 years?

MR. HARRIS: I think things might be moving that way as a trend. But, of course, you just need to have another millennial scare, and suddenly things freeze.

MR. WATTENBERG: Of the sort that you had in Seattle?

MR. HARRIS: Yes. Thatís right, there was a threat apparently presented by Mr. Rizam (sp) and the Nigerian GIA people supposedly moving south of the border to undertake terrorism, yes.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: David, do you see any change coming in the, letís say, Algerian who goes to the Canadian embassy in Paris and wants political asylum in Canada because if he goes home to Algeria heíll be a dead man, which probably is true, too, that he would be a dead man?

MR. HARRIS: Well, if Canada has got some fairly shocking immigration numbers, its refugee performance is, frankly, even worse, and we have to see some initiative on that level.

If you come into Canada without any kind of papers, youíre able to go through an extensive, several years long performance through tribunals, and goodness knows what else. And, typically, in the case of extremists, they go underground, and frequently they go underground to the U.S. This has got to stop, and we need political movement on that to make it stop.

MR. WATTENBERG: Because if it doesnít stop, for those Canadians who would be in favor of enhanced economic integration, itís going to put the damper on that?

MR. HARRIS: We saw that, thatís right, at the time of that millennial scare, when the Congress was holding various committee sessions, we had all of these kinds of things freezing the sort of liberalizing trade trends that many of us would want to see continue.

MR. WATTENBERG: Is it correct to say that from a U.S. perspective the number one problem in trying to prevent access to the United States by terrorists is along our northern border? Is that a true fact?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I donít believe that, Ben. I believe there is just as much of an internal problem in the United States as there is on the northern border. Certainly the northern border seems to be more important in terms of potential acts of terrorism than the southern border. Because, as you know, we stop an awful lot of Mexican every year, and those who get through are welcome with open arms all over the country.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. If I refine that question a little bit, as the number one external threat, it would be Canada; is that correct?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I donít buy that either.

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: I would actually ??

MR. WATTENBERG: Where would it be? How would it be?

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I think itís a combination of those people coming into this country illegally ??

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: I suspect people coming into this country legally. I mean, somehow, because they come through the front gate with a passport, you know, that is legitimate, in order words it can pass all of the tests and all of the tricks that we have, they walk in through the front door. Now, it might not be the leaders of these criminal organizations, terrorist organizations, but rank and file people. I do not believe that we have simply the name and the picture and everything else, biometric information, on everyone who belongs to that.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: Thatís certainly true of global organized crime chieftains, and the heads of syndicates, drug cartels, et cetera. These days itís a family business in Colombia multiplied by a hundred or a thousands. Itís no longer the Medellin Cartel.

MR. WATTENBERG: So, just to try to wrap this up, it is a complex and far-flung situation of which Canada is one significant player, from our point of view?
MR. HARRIS: Exactly.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let me ask, just as an exit question, and letís go this way now, in the course of the next 10 years, 15 years, would you guess that there is going to be a big one in the United States?

MR. PAPADEMETRIOU: No, I donít believe that there will be a big one in the United States.

MR. HARRIS: I think there will be an attempt at a big one, itís an irresistible temptation for various groups.

MR. WATTENBERG: And are we prepared for that?

MR. HARRIS: Thatís so hard to say. There are attempts being made, but I think weíre all a little behind on the technological threat.

MR. de BORCHGRAVE: I would say, yes, but Iíd put my money on a bio-terrorist attempt more than I would on nuclear or chemical.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, on that consoling note, thank you, David Harris, Arnaud de Borchgrave, and Demetrious Papademtriou. Iíll get that right. And thank you, please remember to send us your comments via email. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

ANNOUNCER: We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our show better. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media, 1219 Connecticut Avenue, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20036, or email us at thinktank@pbs.org. To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBS Online at pbs.org. And please let us know where you watch Think Tank.

This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

Funding for Think Tank is provided by the T. Rowe Price Associates, an investment management firm providing mutual funds, brokerage services, and retirement plan services. T. Rowe Price, invest with confidence, T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Incorporated.

Weíre Pfizer, weíre looking for the cures of the future, spending about $4-1/2 billion a year in search of new medicines for the 21st Century. Pfizer, life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, and the Dodge Jones Foundation.

(End of program.)



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