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There’s a Bomb in My Backpack

Could a trail-savvy terrorist hike a nuke into America through wilderness areas on the Canadian border? An anonymous hiker-patriot alerts the White House.
june 09 bomb 445x260 tamaki(Illustration by Jillian Tamaki)

After falling into that hole, I decided to retreat to the ski cabin on the Canadian side of the border, elevate my throbbing leg, and get a decent night’s sleep. I stoked the woodstove, devoured a box of mac-and-cheese, caught the sunset. Can you believe that? A cozy cabin, equipped with an air mattress and marijuana scraps, sits near the border like a backcountry safe house for incoming terrorists. Sir, I recommend you dispatch one of those nifty drones and bomb the place immediately. Local skiers will be shocked and awed, but I’m sure they can be pacified if you also airdrop a few lightweight aluminum snow shovels. Those people dig avalanche pits just for fun, eh? Here are the coordinates: UTM 11U 0499694E 5432212N (WGS 84), elevation 5,550 feet.

Now, some experts will tell you that defending the northern border is a waste of resources. They’ll say it’s too big, too wild, too…indefensible. They’ll point out that the hundreds of millions we spend on the border with Mexico don’t stop a million people a year from sneaking in. They’ll say you should concentrate on identifying terrorists before they get close. Did you read Jeffrey Goldberg’s November 2008 Atlantic Monthly article about sneaking through airport security? Allow me to spoil the thesis: Airport security is a joke. All you need is motivation and half a brain. (The Atlantic article is helpful, too.) Now, I know Goldberg is a pretty smart guy–even though he wrote a how-to guide for aspiring airline terrorists–but are we really going to give up on airport security because some pointy-headed writer says it’s a lost cause? Of course not. And the same should go for border security.

I was hopeful when, last spring, Homeland Security announced plans to test a “virtual fence” near Detroit and Buffalo. But the project represents less than half a percent of the $8 billion allocated for border surveillance technology–and will most likely result in spying on poorly dressed Niagara tourists. And in January, new Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano called for a review of “vulnerabilities” on the northern border. But the Canadians flipped out–”Us?” they protested. “A security threat?”–and sent Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to Washington, where Napolitano assured him there was nothing to worry about. Latest plan: As of June, Canadians crossing into the U.S. will need–ready for this one?–a passport or equivalent documents. Pretty ingenious, Sir.

Here’s a better idea, and it’s a two-for-one solution (consider it a freebie, my contribution as a patriot): Incorporate U.S.-Canada border security into your plans for economic recovery. Just imagine: 20,000 new agents patrolling wilderness areas along the Canadian frontier. But not the ATV-riding, siren-blaring, paramilitary force deployed on the Mexican border. No, create a wilderness-savvy division that blends the best of Special Forces and Outward Bound: fast, smart, light on the land. Elite backpacker-rangers armed with maps, compasses, and high-powered assault rifles–and, of course, low-impact ethics. Best-case scenario, we get the word out that the border is under Uncle Sam’s watch–and foil a plot that saves Seattle or, I dunno, Whitefish, Montana. Worst case, you free 20,000 Americans from unemployment and get them hiking through the woods, breathing clean air, and goosing the economy with their paychecks (think of all the Gore-Tex jackets!). I’m not alone here, Sir. Despite complacency on the part of so many of our nation’s lawmakers, some northern-state politicians, like Montana Senator Jon Tester, have demanded that we dedicate more people and money to border security. “There is a significant concern that terrorists can enter the United States undetected at or between the Ports of Entry,” he told a Senate Homeland Security committee.
Of course, as a law-abiding, tax-paying, wilderness-loving citizen, I would never really cross into America illegally. And I didn’t need to. As the sun went down over the Kootenay Mountains, I stepped outside of my terrorist’s cabin and looked south across the darkening forest. The tops of pine trees on United States soil swayed in the distance. The moon slowly lit the night, as if God himself had His hand on the dimmer switch. Somewhere, a wolf howled. I savored the soft whisper of the breeze.

At that moment, I felt utterly alone. But how could I be sure?

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