Border Integrity

Dec 15, 2006

The length and geography of Canada’s shared border with the United States presents security challenges. To meet those challenges, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Border Integrity Program tackles cross-border crime by taking an international and ­integrated approach in their investigations.

Canadian and American law enforcement agencies from all levels operating near the shared border, work together daily to target organized crime and other national security threats.

The following contains excerpts from an interview with the Director General of the RCMP’s Border Integrity Program – Chief Superintendent Mike Cabana, and Assistant Chief to the U.S. Border Patrol, Bruce Cooke, who has been based at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa for the past four years.

What is the RCMP’s Border Integrity Program?

C/Supt. Cabana: Following 9/11, everyone’s attention was drawn to the border as it became the subject of worldwide ­discussion. Every country began focusing on the integrity of their borders.

The RCMP looked at its programs and recognized the need to regroup a number of them under one umbrella to improve coordination and effectiveness.

The RCMP’s Border Integrity Program encompasses units that investigate cross-border criminality and threats to Canada’s national security along the shared land border and at major air and marine entry points.

There are many challenges in securing Canada’s border with the United States, including its length (approximately 8,900 kilometres) and its many remote/isolated border points. How is the border integrity program addressing those challenges?

C/Supt. Cabana: If you look at the border and you look at its geography, a great deal of it also involves shared inland waterways and coastlines. We’re addressing the land, air and marine border challenges by leveraging resources with both domestic and U.S. agencies and through a number of joint initiatives. No single agency has enough resources to address the integrity and the security of the border in isolation.


Criminal organizations are very good at adapting because they don’t have red tape to go through. By sharing information and leveraging resources with law enforcement on both sides of the border, we’re getting very good at anticipating where criminals are going so we can set a direct course to target them.

I think one of the most effective post 9/11 initiatives at the moment is the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs). There are 23 teams situated in strategic locations along border regions. The IBETs assess available intelligence to identify high-risk areas along the border.

IBETs are also linked to local, provincial and state police, Combined Forces Special Enforcement Units (CFSEUs), Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETS); National Port Enforce­ment Teams (NPETS) and all of the ­border security and national security investigative teams. That’s what allows us to secure the border.        

The five core IBET agencies are: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforce­ment (ICE), US Customs Border Protection/ Border Patrol (CBP/BP) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

What are some of the myths concerning border security?

C/Supt. Cabana: One of the biggest myths is that border security only means patrolling the border. It goes beyond that. IBETs focus on building partnerships, gathering intelligence and investigating. They are intelligence-driven.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is one route used by criminals to smuggle contraband both ways across the Canada/U.S. border.

Rather than driving along the border hoping to come upon something, IBETs leverage the resources of the other ­agencies, analyze the information, and then identify where the vulnerabilities and the hot spots are.

The border is literally a line that separates two sovereign countries. But if we only focus on that line it’ll give us a myopic view of the realities. Criminal organizations are not on either side of that line meeting and talking, plotting their next move. We have to focus on criminal organizations operating inland, as well as at the border. The border is one point in a long continuum.

We hear a lot about intelligence-led policing. What is it?

C/Supt. Cabana: Intelligence-led means setting operational priorities based on knowledge of the environment and risk assessments. It isn’t new to law enforcement, but with recent major events – 9/11 being one of them – we’re becoming ­better at streamlining our intelligence, allowing for a more robust and effective intelligence sharing mechanism. Agencies no longer look at their intelligence in ­isolation, and that leads to a clearer ­understanding of risks, vulnerabilities. Conse­quently, decisions and investigative priorities are made in consultation with all stakeholder agencies.

As Assistant Chief to the U.S. Border Patrol, what are your thoughts on the strong focus on ‘intelligence-led’ policing in securing the border?

Asst. Chief U.S. Border Patrol, Bruce Cooke: It is absolutely the right way to go. Both Canada and the United States have finite resources when it comes to law enforcement on our shared border. If we each go off on our own and do our own thing without coordinating and without sharing intelligence, no one benefits... with the exception of the bad guy.

Criminal organizations out there have been hiding in the weeds, but when we share information and identify the threats, we part the weeds and expose them. No single law enforcement agency has all of the information; they all have a piece of the information. We need to pull all of those people and pieces of information together to find out what the big picture is, identify the target and go after them.

How do provincial and municipal police forces contribute to border security?

C/Supt Cabana: They are key. If we look at the philosophy behind what I call the “layered approach” it means we can’t focus on one area, we have to focus on a continuum. If we are talking about leveraging the intelligence of all agencies to get a clearer picture of the missing piece of the puzzle, this is where it is crucial to have municipal and provincial agencies participate.

Police often conduct training exercises on the shared waters to target smuggling networks.

Do communities also have a role to play in securing the border?

C/Supt. Cabana: Very much so. No one agency has all of the resources to lock down the border and make sure absolutely nothing can get through. The public can be our eyes and ears. They know what is usual and what isn’t.

Increasingly, employees from other law enforcement agencies are working alongside RCMP members (sharing offices in some instances). Is this something we’re likely to see more of in the future?

C/Supt. Cabana: I think so. It shows the level of integration that we’ve been able to attain. We not only have representatives from U.S. agencies but provincial and municipal partners too. The RCMP also has staff working in the United States and we have members seconded to municipal and provincial agencies. Integration is a two way street.

If we take the Border Integrity program as an example, we have a national coordinating committee which has representation from U.S. partners such as the U.S. Border Patrol, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They work in our offices with our members and are part of setting the direction for that program.

When people sit together in the same office it benefits coordination, information sharing and greatly reduces the red tape. Some of the questions that used to take more time to resolve, can now be resolved quickly through conversation.

From an American perspective, why was it important to have the U.S. Border Patrol be part of the RCMP Border Integrity program?

Asst. Chief U.S. Border Patrol, Bruce Cooke: The greater exposure we have to each other’s processes and decision making, the better we’ll be able to combat terrorism, organized crime and offenses happening on our shared border. People living in our respective countries expect us to be watching and controlling the border because both of our populations want to be safe.

The more we work together face to face, the better we’ll understand why we are doing things and how we arrived at that decision. The best way to do that is to literally sit in the same office. Law enforcement cannot operate effectively if policy development is done in a vacuum.

You have attended law enforcement conferences and workshops on border security around the world. How is Canada perceived when it comes to our efforts to secure the border?

C/Supt. Cabana: Whenever I attend an international conference or speak at one, there is recognition that some of the things that Canada and its partners have put in place are best practices.

In fact, there are similar IBET-type arrangements being implemented all around the world. Our Mexican law enforcement partners came up and talked to us about all of our border initiatives. They were also interested in our integrated marine projects and plan to pursue some of them with the United States and other neighbouring countries. And on its southern border, the U.S. has implemented Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) which closely mirrors the IBET’s approach.

How is marine security being addressed?

C/Supt. Cabana: The marine environment is more complicated because the border is fluid. It’s gained a great deal of importance. There are quite a few marine ­security developments since 9/11.

For example, we are involved in the Marine Security Operation Centres (MSOCs) on the east and west coasts which are led by the Department of National Defense (DND) and include a number of partner agencies. The newer central region MSOC is led by the RCMP and focuses on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. It also involves other federal partners as well, local and provincial police services.

These MSOCs contribute to what we call ‘domain awareness.’ In other words, what’s out there, what looks right, what doesn’t, and where the risks are. They are linked to other marine initiatives such as the Marine Security Enforcement Teams (MSETs) created in 2005. MSETs are marine patrols on coast guard vessels involving RCMP members as the enforcement component patrolling the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to protect the infrastructure and the waterways, and gather intelligence.

We have even looked further outside the proverbial box. A year ago we were involved in a pilot project called ‘Shiprider’ which took place in the shared waters around Detroit and Windsor. It was the first time this type of bi-national arrangement was ever tried in Canada.

For two-weeks, the RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard worked side by side on each others’ vessels with special designation on each side of the border. They could participate in law enforcement interdiction as an integrated team anywhere on the Great Lakes, on either side of the international line.

How has the RCMP approach to border security impacted border operations?

C/Supt. Cabana: If we were to take stock of all of the major operational successes in the past six months, I would venture that 99 percent were integrated.

An example that comes to mind is Project Frozen Timber which was a major two-year drug smuggling operation. Again, the IBETS in the region targeted a network of smuggling organizations using aircraft to ferry tons of drugs across the border, marihuana to the U.S. and cocaine to Canada. That investigation involved pretty much every Canadian and American agency under the sun operating in that area, working together under the umbrella of IBET.

If you look at the successes, I think they speak for themselves.

Tanya Miller, has worked for the Border Integrity Program since 2005. Her clients include Marine and Ports, Customs and Excise, Immigration and Passport, Federal Enforcement and Integrated Border Enforcement Teams.

Photos: Roxanne Ouellette, RCMP
© FrontLine Security 2006