It’s probably no coincidence that just weeks before the recent invasion of Iraq, the U.S. took steps to prevent any breach of its own borders. At the Port of Roosville—the closest crossing to Missoula—border agents were recently joined by extra personnel from the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The beefed up staff arrived in Roosville around March 1. That’s the day ports of entry throughout the country were given additional staff and put on heightened alert. In addition to the Customs and INS agents, Roosville is also being watched by officers with the U.S. Border Patrol.
With extra agents on hand, U.S. borders are supposed to be less porous than they were just a few months back. In late January, the U.S. General Accounting Office conducted an undercover investigation of ports in Washington state. GAO agents used off-the-shelf computer graphics software to create phony driver’s licenses and birth certificates. Without hassle or incident, the undercover agents were able to cross into the U.S. at two border points: Peace Arch and Port Angeles.
At Port Angeles in 1999, authorities did stop Ahmed Ressam when he tried to enter the U.S. from Canada driving a car full of explosives. Ressam allegedly planned to attack the Los Angeles airport during millennium celebrations.
Back in Roosville, immediately following last week’s attacks on Iraq, authorities on both sides of the border stepped up the screening process. Then, around 5 p.m. on March 22, an American-made sedan with California plates attempted to pass into Canada. Inside the car, Canadian Customs inspectors found a “clock-like object” and loose wiring that resembled a bomb.
An explosives disposal unit was called in from Vancouver and the Roosville border crossing was closed for the next six hours. The bomb squad later determined the suspicious object to be nothing more than a clock radio. However, the man driving the car was still in custody two days after the incident. For importing a clock radio, he faces no charges from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration continues to investigate the situation and may return the individual to the U.S.
For those who can’t cross the U.S.-Canadian border legally, there’s always the option of sneaking through the woods that line the boundary from the Cascade Mountains in Washington to the continental divide in Montana. This option has become much less appealing to would-be border jumpers since 9/11 as the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the region has tripled.
At the Border Patrol’s disposal are all types of night vision equipment, patrol vehicles and covert monitoring gear.
“We’re the guys you don’t see,” says Senior Intelligence Agent Paul Jones, describing the behind-the-scenes work done by the Patrol.
The U.S. Border Patrol’s presence at Roosville may be somewhat invisible, even during wartime. Still, travelers headed to Canada from Missoula may see signs of the times when they pass through downtown Kalispell on U.S. 93. At one recent “support our troops” rally, demonstrators held pro-war signs that offered an alternative to the night-vision goggles used by soldiers in Iraq and patrol agents in Roosville. It read: “Nuke ’Em Till They GLOW & Shoot ’Em In The Dark.”