While we are focusing on tightening even further airline security, our long sea-lined borders are wide open. I first noted this when a relative of mine sailed with a bunch of friends from Isla Mujeres in Mexico and disembarked in St. Petersburg, Florida, without anyone checking her ID or the luggage she and her fellow travelers unloaded. I then remembered that when I was sailing in the Caribbean, we docked one night next to some twelve other boats, abutting what can only be described a floating bar. I did not get much sleep that night; the partying lasted until the wee hours. However, I met a fair number of crew members that manned various boats, mainly from the third world. I could have readily given a ride to any one of them, or agreed to carry a "gift," back to the United States.
I did not connect these two dots until I met a former head of the US Coast Guard at a meeting at the Charleston Plaza, in Charleston, SC. When we ran out of topics about which to chat, I asked, "By the way, if someone sails hundreds of miles away from the United States, visits another country, and returns, is he or his fellow passengers and crew ever checked?"
"No," was the quick response. I was told that, in effect, each year about 2 million leisure (and fishing) boats make such journeys, and, "there is just no way to check them all." To be sure I heard him right, I asked, "And hence the border guards check none?"
"Well," he demurred, "If the boat comes from Colombia, or there is specific information that it might be carrying contraband, it surely will be stopped, most likely by the Coast Guard." This seems still hard to believe. So I checked with a lawyer at the Naval War College, and she relayed that indeed this was a "weakness" in the defense of our borders.
We are now moving to install machines that screen one's body in our airports and overseas, at great expense. However, these machines are unable to detect explosives hidden in the body's orifices -- a place drug mules are known to hide contraband. Will the next step be to strip search millions of travelers? And does it make sense to tighten security ever more for those traveling by air -- while leaving the sea lanes wide open?
One may say that Al Qaeda is looking for a spectacular event, the kind of splash achieved when an airline is crashed. Smuggling a few terrorists on a boat into the country will not have this kind of effect. However, it takes little imagination to realize what such a bunch could do in Disneyland, a stadium, or even merely a shopping mall. It makes no sense to assume that as we control one border ever more closely--the terrorists will not note that another is very inviting.
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