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Max Raterman, director of air operations at the National Air Security Operations Center in Grand Forks, inspects one of two MQ9 Predator B UAS that the agency uses to patrol U.S. borders and to assist local law enforcement agencies in this 2015 photo. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Study of northern border prompts feds to re-evaluate strategy

PEMBINA, N.D.—A federal agency will revamp its strategy to defend the northern border after a bill sponsored by a senator from North Dakota required an analysis of threats and security at the Canadian border.

The Department of Homeland Security will create a strategic plan to address "chronic and emerging issues along the northern border," according to a news release from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's office. The most recent strategy takes goals and tactical measures from plans issued in 2012 and 2014.

The latest move to determine strategy comes eight months after the Northern Border Security Review Act was signed by President Barack Obama. The bill, sponsored by Heitkamp, required the DHS to analyze threats and security issues regarding the 5,500 miles that make up the Canadian border.

The goal is to make concerns about security at the northern border "institutionalized" in Washington so it "doesn't take a senator from the northern border to say pay attention here," Heitkamp, D-N.D., told the Herald.

Strategies in full are classified, but the threat analysis report handed to Congress in August suggest "encounters with individuals associated with transnational crime or terrorism remain infrequent" and that drugs are the most common threat from Canada. It also said sensor technology can be helpful where using border agents is impractical.

"The large volume of legitimate travel across the northern border and the long stretches of difficult terrain between ports of entry provide potential opportunities for individuals who may pose a national security risk to enter the United States undetected," the report said.

The idea to assess the northern border came along with discussions of securing the southwest border, said Heitkamp, who serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the Senate.

"We could get no one to focus on northern border issues," she said. "It was the most frustrating thing, so I, along with (Sen.) Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), introduced a bill saying, 'Look, we are tired of being ignored. We think there are threats on the northern border.' "

The traffic is low compared with the southwest border, but the report suggests potential threats come from "unidentified homegrown violent extremists in Canada who believe they can enter the United States legally at POEs without suspicion."

Heitkamp said the diversity of the northern border's terrain makes it challenging to defend. A resource plan that can be used in appropriations meetings should be ready in six months.

She expects an evaluation of resources along the border.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Grand Forks Sector oversees 861 miles of border — the most any sector in the U.S. protects. The Pembina Port of Entry, which is about 80 miles north of Grand Forks, is the Grand Forks Sector's busiest port.