Collaborative border-security and shared-protection policy drew 200 state and international law-enforcement personnel to a single room Wednesday.
The Northern Border Summit convened at Crowne Plaza in Lake Placid Tuesday and Wednesday, conjoining legal forces from all along the 5,500-mile U.S.-Canadian and Interstate borders.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. arrived under tight security at about noon to deliver the keynote address.
“Today, on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, the threats we face are unprecedented,” he said.
“There’s no question that our nations’ security interests are currently and permanently intertwined.
“Our countries manage a 5,500-mile land border, which is crossed by 200 million people — and hundreds of billions of dollars of goods — each year. This poses a tremendous set of challenges.
“And the very openness of our border — which both Americans and Canadians value and seek to maintain — makes it vulnerable as a point of access for criminals of all stripes, for fugitives, for illegal traffickers and for terrorists.”
TO AVOID DUPLICATION
Holder said that, working together, both nations next year will launch a pilot NextGen Cross-Designated border-security program to allow officers to work in both countries.
The effort expands on shared anti-crime goals and looks to streamline extradition and expedite procedures in a “bold move,” Holder said, toward “comprehensive anti-crime policy that respects sovereignty” while still protecting civil liberties.
“Extradition and mutual legal-assistance processes could be streamlined to avoid delays,” he added, and “certain sentencing laws and information-sharing policies and practices should be updated.”
Specific details of Border Summit topics and elements of discussion were not released to members of the press.
But Holder summed up the summit to participants as a work session meant to forge and reinforce essential partnerships.
“You’ve shared innovative ideas for combating terrorism, cybercrime, drug trafficking, financial fraud schemes and organized criminal networks. You’ve also voiced issues of concern and identified areas for improvement,” he said, commending U.S. attorneys from at least 15 states and Canada provinces, district attorneys of border counties from here to Washington state and law-enforcement personnel.
NextGen teams of cross-designated border officers would allow both the United States and Canada to more effectively “identify, assess and interdict persons and organizations involved in transnational crime,” Holder said.
“They would also allow us to conserve precious resources, to avoid duplicative efforts and to leverage tools and expertise.”
The U.S. attorney general’s focus was confirmed by U.S. attorneys from New York, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire and local district attorneys from Essex, Franklin and Clinton counties.
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said cross-border law enforcement is based in part on the Shiprider Agreement Program, a transnational police structure used on ships at sea.
For years, he said, this region has seen large cases of drug smuggling, human trafficking and organized crime that require multi-jurisdictional interaction.
“Criminal organizations know no border,” Champagne said.
And the goal is to develop a response to match and counteract that threat.
The region’s district attorneys were appreciative that Holder came, in person, to encourage their efforts.
“This shows his commitment to the northern border and the efforts we put forth,” Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said.
The state, federal and Canadian authorities also looked for ways to share services and streamline funding, Wylie said.
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague said the networking aspect is critical.
“It is very helpful to get to know our Canadian counterparts,” she said.
TERROR THREAT REAL
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Richard S. Hartunian said that among top issues in this state is the Akwesasne border, where smuggling drugs and human beings, contraband and other illicit goods is more prevalent, due in part to the vast remoteness of the border itself.
He defended periodic use of checkpoints as “a tool of vigilance.”
U.S. Attorney for Vermont Tristan J. Coffin said key summit discussions allowed them to “look carefully at what the real investigative and security goals are” for both state and national interests.
Neither the U.S. attorney nor district attorneys would reveal specific data, when asked, about the number of terrorist threats they’ve dealt with in the past year.
Hartunian said only that “the terror threat is very real.”
The northern-border legal contingent said nothing further about viable threats over the 9/11 anniversary weekend or if the Canadian border was at all involved.
Numerous regional law-enforcement officials were at the conference, including State Police Troop B Maj. Richard C. Smith Jr.
Members of the press were screened carefully before entering the room, and all gear bags were checked by bomb-sniffing dogs.
Holder was appointed U.S. attorney general by President Barack Obama in December 2008. This Border Summit is the first convened since the president took office.
This article was written by Kim Smith and published by The Press Republican on September 15, 2011.
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