Fortress America raises its walls

The United States has reportedly decided to expand and extend its controversial US-VISIT border surveillance program.
When originally implemented in January, the program targeted citizens of all but 27 countries, forcing them to be fingerprinted and photographed when entering the United States. Brazil protested the program by retaliating: it started fingerprinting and photographing US citizens.

Some people affected by the US program were forced to undergo more than just fingerprinting and being photographed, however. Before they could obtain visitor’s visas, they had to be interviewed by US officials and undergo background checks.

Now, anonymous leaks from within the Bush administration indicate the US has expanded its list of countries whose citizens will be photographed and fingerprinted to include all countries except Canada and Mexico. The move has angered several key US allies, including England, Japan and Australia.

The US-VISIT expansion plans, and the exclusion of Canada and Mexico, have puzzled observers who note that the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders are proven vectors for “criminal activity.” Two of the 9-11 hijackers trans-shipped into the US via Canada, and the US-Mexico border resembles a war zone, with the US military and border patrol unable to control narcotics smuggling, human smuggling, illegal immigration, and other activities which the US says compromises its security.

US-VISIT does not operate in isolation. The US government has been trying to force the European Union and other world governing bodies to institute biometric passports and tracking systems; these are signficant first steps toward creating a worldwide surveillane web.

The US is also trying to force dozens of countries to provide the FBI and CIA with detailed information on all air passengers seeking to fly to the United States. The US is seeking information including credit card numbers, home phone numbers and addresses, and other personal information. So far, the European Union has refused to comply with the US request.

Canadian officials are increasingly seeking to get in bed with the US in regards to information-sharing and border security. Prime Minister Paul Martin, mired in a corruption scandal, and other Canadian federal officials are urging closer ties to the US, and warning that even though Canada is spending $8 billion over the next five years on border security, the spending and implementation is not being handled in a timely or professional manner.

The US has stepped up its militarization of the US-Canadian border, with electronic surveillance, aerial surveillance, more border personnel, spy programs, strip searches, background checks and other tactics. These border strategies have increased seizures of Canadian marijuana destined for the United States.

As travel into and out of the United States becomes more difficult, world citizens are looking for information that will protect them from intrusive US programs. In issue 49 of Cannabis Culture, which will be available in three weeks, readers will find a comprehensive article about how the US is turning itself into a fortress, both domestically and internationally.