28 May 2009

U.S. security -- the ignorance factor

American ignorance about Canada is a rich source of humour for many Canadians. Generally it isn't something to be taken seriously because, after all, we are a bit player in the grand scheme of world affairs and they are a giant. Why would they know very much about us? Oh yes, we are their major trading partner but trade is dull, not something most people spend a lot of time chatting about. So they know little about us, so what.

Well, occasionally it does matter. One such occasion is their obsession with security. Their hardening of the border, to use the current expression, to bolster their security is creating considerable difficulties for both trade and travel across the no longer "world's longest undefended border." To the extent it interferes with trade, as boring as the subject may be, it has serious ramifications for the economies of both countries, particularly ours. And, unfortunately, it appears the U.S. concern about security is based to no small degree not only on paranoia but on ignorance. Leading Americans from Hillary Clinton to John McCain to, and here is where it becomes deeply troubling, the head of U.S. Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, have at one time or another claimed the September 11 attackers came from Canada. In fact, none of them had been in Canada and all had entered the U.S. on valid American visas.

Napolitano has now retracted her view but was still expressing it up until a month ago. And her retraction was phrased oddly. "Now we know the 9/11 terrorists did not use the Canadian border," she is quoted as saying, as if her agency had just discovered something new.

If senators of border states (and Clinton wasn't the only one), presidential candidates and, of the greatest importance, the key figure in the American security establishment, all believe in this blatantly false but critically important piece of information, how badly informed are the Americans about security over all? Is their intelligence about Canada on this issue of the same standard as their intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? This is a scary prospect.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan referred to Ms. Napolitano's comments on the issue as a "slight misspeak." Let us hope he's just being tactful.

No comments:

Post a Comment