The XX Factor

Sharron Angle, Terrorists, and the Canadian Border

Politico has a story today scolding Sharron Angle for repeating the “debunked urban myth” and “canard” that terrorists have come through U.S.-Canadian border. It’s true that none of the 9/11 hijackers came through Canada, and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer has sent a letter to Angle reminding her that, “There have been no terrorist attacks on the United States coming from Canada.”

Well, yes, but not for lack of trying. He’s almost forgotten about these days, but back in 1999, Ahmed Ressam-the so-called millennium bomber-was caught trying to sneak into the United States at Port Angeles, Wash., on a ferry from Victoria, British Columbia. He had a trunk full of explosives and intended to bomb LAX on New Year’s Eve .

I mention this not to defend Angle, because her comment did imply that she was referring to the 9/11 terrorists, but because the story of Ressam’s capture cannot be told too many times.  It’s a remarkable story, one told best by the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine back in 2001 . (Go read it, please. It’s well worth your time.) Inspector Dina Dean noticed that Ressam was fidgeting and called for a secondary inspection. When the inspectors popped the trunk of his car and saw something, they suspected drugs, not bomb materials. They patted Ressam down, and he broke away. Two customs inspectors chased him down in their personal vehicles and apprehended him.

Ressam is in jail-and will be for a long time, as his original 22-year sentence was deemed too lenient earlier this year-because of the skills, quick wits, and heroics of the U.S. customs inspectors and not a small amount of luck. Does the fact Ressam came through Canada make it a terrorist haven? No. But his case shows it doesn’t take a haven to cause problems:  It takes only one person getting through-perhaps a more skilled terrorist who’s not nervous, a customs inspector who misses a subtle warning sign-to wreak havoc and devastation here.  So yes, however kooky Angle might be, her larger point that border security is important, north and south, is valid.

Photograph of Sharron Angle by Getty Images.