WASHINGTON — Americans face a high risk of terrorist activity along the U.S.-Canadian border, where less than 1 percent of the 4,000-mile stretch is adequately protected, according to a government report released Tuesday.
"To me, this report is absolutely alarming," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which released the report.
At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Lieberman said the northern border, which extends from Washington state to Maine, is providing "easy passage into America by extremists, terrorists and criminals whose purpose clearly is to harm the American people."
The report said the northern border, a quarter of which adjoins federal or tribal lands, poses a higher risk to public safety now than the U.S.-Mexico border. Lieberman said the northern border is nearly twice as long and is lined with large population centers that make it harder to detect criminal activity. In addition, he said, Canada now has more Islamist extremist groups than Mexico does.
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"It is not too much to ask that our government be able to at least detect all illegal entries along the border, so we can get this information into the hands of law enforcement agencies that can then make the arrests," Lieberman said.
He added that the report by the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, should be "an urgent call for action."
However, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., whose district includes about 100 miles of the northern border, said it's wrong to imply that the border "is just being left open for people to walk across with impunity — that's just not the case."
"I think Senator Lieberman needs to get out more," Larsen said. "To imply either that our border with Canada is undefended or unsafe does not at all recognize the cooperation that occurs every day between local, state and federal law enforcement and their partners in Canada."
The report found that only 32 miles of the 4,000-mile border "had reached an acceptable level of security." It said that federal officials had the capability to detect illegal border crossings along only 1,007 miles of the border.