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NEWS: The costs of perimeter security

The Globe and Mail‘s Barrie McKenna writes, “Ottawa and Washington are now busily working out what their Declaration on a Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness, signed in February, might ultimately mean. On the table for discussion are items such as better information sharing, co-ordinated entry-and-exit controls, customs preclearance and harmonized standards. Canada’s major business groups are hopeful that the talks will help unclog the now much-thicker border, saving them millions.”

But McKenna notes, “Provocative new research – a study titled ‘Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security’ – by Ohio State University national security professor John Mueller and engineering professor Mark Stewart of Australia’s University of Newcastle suggests we may already have gone way too far (to the point where additional security spending starts to produce negligible benefits). All the money spent by the U.S. to deter terrorism far exceeds any reasonable estimate of the toll of likely future attacks.”

“The study puts the cumulative increase in U.S. homeland security spending in the decade since 9/11 at more than $1-trillion (U.S.) – excluding the $150-billion-a-year cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To justify this jaw-dropping sum, the extra security would have to deter an improbable 1,667 attacks every year on a scale of the foiled New York City Times Square bombing, according to their study. …It’s virtually impossible to justify a trillion dollars, based on ‘any rational and accepted standard of cost-benefit analysis,’ Prof. Mueller and Prof. Stewart argue.”

McKenna notes, “(Canada) has spent roughly $10-billion since 9/11 beefing up border security and emergency preparedness.”

McKenna does not make the point in his article that this figure also excludes the estimated $18 billion Canada has spent on the war in Afghanistan. In November 2008, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny wrote, “How do we get a new U.S. administration …to help solve our problem (of a thickening border)? …We have to be able to offer the President something he needs if we are going to convince his new administration that it should resist inevitable congressional pressure to shut Canadian products out of U.S. markets. That something is significant military assistance, both to defend the continent and deploy abroad when it makes sense… Sensible military assistance is not too much to offer an ally so essential to our well being – especially if it gives us a preferred seat at the table in Washington when issues are discussed that are vital to Canadian job creation.”

Also not noted in this Globe and Mail article suggesting the need for a full cost-benefit analysis of border security spending is the need for a full analysis of the loss of civil rights that could come with perimeter security proposals now being negotiated. As noted in the CBC’s Neil Macdonald’s article last week, some border security practices appear to be already justified by a cost-benefit analysis of sorts in which “billions of dollars worth of vital commerce” trump civil rights.

Macdonald wrote, “Three leaked memos, released by WikiLeaks, show that U.S. diplomats used Canadian information to place several never-arrested suspects – including one paid police agent (Mubin Shaikh) – on U.S. blacklists. …(The memos to the U.S. contained) the names of 27 Canadian citizens turned over by (the Harper government) government as possible threats, along with 14 other names of foreign nationals living in Canada. …The cables are a snapshot of periods in 2009 and 2010. Over the years, the number of names handed over is certainly much higher. (If this information were not shared) U.S. authorities, already suspicious that Canada is ‘soft on terror’, would likely tighten the common border, damaging hundreds of billions of dollars worth of vital commerce.”