ALBANY, N.Y. —U.S. senators from states along and near the nation's northern border requested Thursday that the Department of Defense provide military radar to crack down on what they said is a growing problem of using low-flying aircraft in drug trafficking.
Drug smuggling across the border with Canada is much more prevalent than indicated by the number of cases in which drugs have been seized, according to a federal report from November.
Less than 1 percent of the 4,000-mile border is considered under the operational control of U.S. border officials, a Government Accountability Office report found this month. Most areas of the northern border are remote and inaccessible by traditional patrol methods, the report said.
Pennsylvania's U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who requested the study, said that's not acceptable.
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"A multi-pronged attack is required to catch drug smugglers or terrorists before they can cross the border over Lake Erie into Pennsylvania or other northern states," Casey said.
Sen. Herb Kohl, from Wisconsin, said northern border smuggling "is a growing problem."
"We hear about the path of illegal drugs from Chicago and the spread of meth from our western borders," Kohl said, "but securing our northern border is too often overlooked."
Customs and Border Protection said it believes it can detect illegal entries and respond to and deal with them on only about 32 miles of the northern border. The Border Patrol was aware of all illegal border crossings on only 25 percent of the border, or 1,000 miles, the GAO report said.
The effort by the Democratic senators comes after the Department of Homeland Security said it added Border Patrol agents, new technology and more. More than 2,200 agents are assigned to the northern border, a 700 percent increase since the 2001 terrorist attacks. The tools include thermal camera systems and mobile surveillance systems.
Recent U.S.-Canada agreements allow law enforcement to share information and cross-training involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Homeland Security spokesman Adam Fetcher said the agency will review the letter and respond directly to the senators.
"We have made critical security improvements along the northern border — deploying additional Border Patrol agents, technology and infrastructure, and, just two weeks ago, we successfully completed the first long-range CBP Predator-B unmanned aircraft patrol under expanded (Federal Aviation Administration) authorization that extends the range of our approved airspace along the northern border by nearly 900 miles," Fetcher said.
"We have the technology to prevent drug smuggling from low-flying aircraft, now we need to use it," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Ohio.
Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, of New York, said the problem "must be fought at its source."