Northern exposure

Posted: Aug 23, 2002 12:00 AM
Former Canadian Ambassador James Bissett says Canada's asylum laws would not typically be of concern to the United States, but adds that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, things have changed. "Canada has the most generous asylum system of any country in the world," Bissett acknowledges of our neighbor to the north. "The lack of an effective pre-screening mechanism enables almost 100 percent of claimants to receive a formal hearing with free legal advice. No other country has a higher approval rate. Moreover, once on Canadian soil, few asylum-seekers are sent home, even when found not to be genuine refugees." Bissett, who was also executive director of Canada's Immigration Service from 1985 to 1990, says that although none of the Sept. 11 terrorists came from Canada, the existence of terrorist cells there has been "well-documented." The head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service identifies more than 50 terrorist organizations operating in the country. U.S. intelligence authorities, in fact, won't soon forget December 1999, when Ahmed Ressam, a Canadian asylum-seeker from Algeria who hadn't bothered to show up for his refugee hearing, was apprehended attempting to enter the United States from Canada with a trunk load of explosives in his car. Although at trial prosecutors did not try to prove specific targets, Ressam is thought to have planned an attack on Los Angeles International Airport. JOINING ARMS Exactly 13 months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, on Oct. 11, the Christian Coalition of America will convene in Washington for a so-called coming together of political and spiritual arms: a "God Bless America - One Nation Under God" conference. "After September 11, 'God bless America' was on everyone's lips," recalls Roberta Combs, president of the coalition. "But if we want God's blessings, we must return to the Judeo-Christian values that made America great - that guided us through war and peace, depression and prosperity." ELDER HUNK Earlier this week, we observed that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is described in the current issue of AARP's Modern Maturity as "Elder Cool." They're not kidding. "Donald Rumsfeld, 'Elder Cool,' indeed! Be still, my elder heart!" says Cara Lyons Lege, one of dozens of readers to write. "I put down the dish rag, spray wax, or whatever - to watch his news conferences. Uh-huh!" DEFINING HILLARY Number of lines it takes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to define herself in the 2002 edition of "Who's Who in America" - 65. Number of lines similarly used by former President Bill Clinton - 15. Then again, Mr. Clinton wasn't recipient of the "Eleanor Roosevelt Living World" award in 1997, one of the myriad honors bestowed upon his wife that she lists in the book. W. STANDS ALONE Noticeably absent amid all the colorful "W. 2004" campaign paraphernalia, now available through the Republican National Committee Web site, is Richard B. Cheney. Not that many people expected Cheney to serve a second term with Bush. Still, whereas "Bush-Cheney" caps and T-shirts were once the trend, W. stands alone in this latest line of campaign wearables, etched coffee mugs, lapel pins, buttons, stainless steel tumblers, cocktail glasses, license plates and bumper stickers. WASHINGTON SKELETONS Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at Montana's Museum of the Rockies, has been named senior scholar of paleobiology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington. And he's carting with him his newly excavated dinosaur. Horner led the expedition this summer near Hell Creek, Mont., that discovered and excavated two Tyrannosaurus rex specimens and one Triceratops. This weekend, a helicopter will airlift those and other specimens to the team's base camp. A partial T. rex found by Horner's team near Hell Creek is being donated to the Smithsonian, which considers the remains a "significant" addition to its bones collection. GOD AND ABE One congressman has spent part of his August recess filing a "friend of the court" brief defending the Pledge of Allegiance from a federal appeals court that ruled it unconstitutional for school children to recite the words "under God." "Judges that step over the line and attack our heritage need to be brought back to the plain and simple intent of America's Founding Fathers," says Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), who calls the 9th Circuit Court's "outrageous attack" on the pledge an assault on the nation's heritage and beliefs. "I'm not just wringing my hands over it, I want to make sure that decision in reversed," he says. His brief contends that the court not only misinterpreted the First Amendment to the Constitution, but also ignored several U.S. Supreme Court rulings. One was a 1963 case in which a Supreme Court justice stated the pledge "may merely recognize the historical fact that our nation was believed to have been founded 'under God,' (and that) reciting the pledge may be no more of a religious exercise than the reading aloud of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which contains an allusion to the same historical fact." WE'RE OUR ENEMY One of the most knowledgeable U.S. intelligence experts, whom this columnist has turned to for the past two decades, is W. Raymond Wannall, retired assistant director of the FBI who headed its intelligence division. Wannall was responsible for all FBI operations surrounding intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, security and espionage. He also served as the FBI's representative on the United States Intelligence Board, frequently testifying on Capitol Hill. This week, Wannall handed us the article he's just written for the Fall 2002 International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, titled "Undermining Counterintelligence Capability," especially relating to post-September 11. The historical record during the past three decades, he begins, shows clearly that the United States' retrenchment in intelligence and foreign counterintelligence operations has been extensive. "During that time," he charges, "the U.S. intelligence community has been under constant siege in a concentrated - and admittedly successful - attack by its enemies at home, let alone abroad. Since the 1970s, the intelligence community had largely failed to receive support, from both executive and legislative branches, and from the public-at-large, for its work, particularly in the realm of combatting domestic subversion and terrorism. "Proponents of civil liberties, on both the political left and right, had generally been able to control the media dialogue in ways inimical to the FBI," Wannall continues. "Had that not been the case, the intelligence community might have been able to give a forewarning to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon." Wannall says that although "an arguable proposition, the fact remains that intelligence, often described as the nation's first line of defense, has itself been placed in an almost indefensible position by its critics."