U.S. Intelligence claims to have foiled an Al Qaeda plot to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb” in an American city.  Abdullah al-Muhajir, a 31-year-old American-born U.S. citizen of Latin American origin, made the mistake of traveling to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from Pakistan after concluding his terrorist training.  Had he taken the trouble to travel through Canada instead, he would likely be at large, unknown and undetected, rather than in military custody aboard a Navy vessel in Charleston, South Carolina.

The longest demilitarized international border in the world, that between the United States and Canada, is also the most porous.  There are only 1,773 Customs agents and 300 Border Patrol officers for 4,000 miles.  Even assuming that one third of the latter are on duty at all times, each agent would have to “protect” 40 miles of the border.  In practice, that means America’s huge northern frontier is wide open, undefended, and unsupervised.  Over one half of the official border crossings—62 of the 113 points of entry—are not operated around the clock; during the summer months, thousands of campers and boatmen cross without any control whatsoever.

That would be just fine if Canada could be trusted to subject her visitors to a level of scrutiny similar to that finally being introduced in the United States following last year’s terrorist attacks.  Unfortunately, this is not the case, and Canada’s total and incomprehensible failure to protect herself from the emergence of an Islamic terrorist network has serious implications for America’s security.

Retired Canadian diplomat James Bissett, the executive director of Canada’s Immigration Service from 1985 to 1990, argues that Canadian refugee legislation and practice is a threat to the security of his country as well as that of the United States.  Canada has accepted 15,000 “refugees” since September 11, most of them bogus asylum-seekers who want to bypass regular immigration procedures.  Twenty-five hundred of them came from countries that are breeding-grounds for Islamic terrorists, including Algeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  Many arrive without any documents at all, and “for most of them, we don’t know who the hell they are,” Bissett says.

In 2000, Canada accepted 38,000 “asylum-seekers”; last year, their number jumped to 44,000.  Once they arrive in Canada, they are granted housing, welfare, and health benefits—and turned loose.  They know that it will be up to two years before their immigration hearings are held, and one-fifth never bother to turn up anyway: They just disappear.  Those whose requests are turned down often stay illegally, and Canada does not have the resources or the will to track them down and deport them to their country of origin.

“Canada has the most generous refugee laws in the world that offers everything for the discriminating terrorist,” says Bissett.  “You get taken care of, and you can blend into a vast immigrant population.”  Two thirds of these asylum- seekers don’t have proper documents when they arrive.  Absurdly, new legislation that just took effect in July will, by adding more levels of review, actually “make it easier for asylum seekers to come into the country.”

Bissett points out that a number of terrorists have taken advantage of the system, including Ahmed Ressam, an “asylum-seeker” and Al Qaeda operative who planned to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport before U.S. authorities arrested him.

Canada’s visitor-visa regime is also in need of urgent overhaul.  Unfazed by the fact that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Canada still allows Saudi citizens to come as visitors without a visa, providing an excellent route for Islamic operatives deterred by more stringent U.S. security measures: It is a short drive from the Lester Pearson International Airport in Toronto to a pleasure boat on one of the Great Lakes, with the American Midwest wide open on the other shore.

Bissett’s warnings are echoed by David Harris, the former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service: “Given the fact that the U.S. is the main enemy of a considerable number of the most vicious groups on our territory, I don’t know that Americans should sleep terribly well,” he said in an interview last April.  “And it certainly means that the Canadian frontier assumes a complexion altogether different from that which is traditionally recognized.”  Canadian analysts insist that security can only be achieved when their country recognizes these problems and revamps its immigration and asylum regulations.