WASHINGTON – Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock Jr. sees the effects of a “porous” border with Canada in his courtroom in Bangor: a growing number of drug trafficking cases, particularly involving dangerous methamphetamine.

In Maine’s northern reaches, Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore is on the front lines of the battle to control Maine’s 611-mile border with Canada. He says his department needs more federal money to combat illegal trafficking and border crossings.

Those are real-life illustrations of a massive security gap along the nation’s northern border that is cause for grave concern as Maine combats a growing drug smuggling trade, says U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

A new federal report highlights just how vulnerable Maine’s long border with Canada is to an array of illegal activity, from the potential of terrorists entering the country to the problem of methamphetamine trafficking, says Collins, R-Maine.

The report by the Government Accountability Office says the U.S. Border Patrol is able to detect illegal crossings on only one-quarter of the 4,000-mile border with Canada — and that authorities have an “acceptable level of security” over just 32 miles of that stretch from Washington state to Maine.

Those gaps exist even though the Department of Homeland Security spent nearly $3 billion last year on northern border security measures, making 6,000 arrests and interdicting 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs.

The findings show the need for much more coordination among federal, state and local authorities, said the GAO, Congress’ investigative arm.

Collins said in an interview Wednesday in her Capitol Hill office that the problem also involves the Obama administration’s shifting of federal border protection away from northern states to the boundary with Mexico.

In 2008, Maine received more than $5 million from Operation Stonegarden, a federal program that helps local departments boost their manpower and improve their equipment to better work with federal authorities.

That money helped agencies such as the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department pay overtime so deputies could spend more time patrolling the border, buy better vehicles and other equipment and, in some parts of the state, patrol in areas outside local jurisdiction, according to Collins’ office.

Maine’s allotment dropped to $1.5 million in 2009. And last year, Maine received only $1.1 million of the $60 million spent nationally on Operation Stonegarden.

The Department of Homeland Security says it allocates money based on risks, threats and border-specific law enforcement intelligence findings.

“There is a huge problem on the southwest border … but we can’t ignore the northern border,” Collins said.

Sheriff Madore agrees, noting that there are eight to 10 official border crossings in his county — of the two dozen statewide — but scores of ways to sneak across the border, from old logging roads to frozen rivers.

Recent drug arrests have included cross-border traffickers with large amounts of ecstasy, marijuana and crystal meth, but it is likely that even more are slipping through. Madore said more federal aid would enable his department to step up patrolling.

“It is a big and growing problem … if we don’t have the resources,” Madore said.

Collins, the top Republican, and other members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee requested the GAO report that was released this week.

Collins also co-sponsored a bill, signed into law recently by President Obama, that requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop a new counter-narcotics strategy for the northern border.

Judge Woodcock said he is particularly concerned about methamphetamine dealers coming across the border, saying that Maine – rural, mostly white and poor – has “all the characteristics of a state vulnerable to methamphetamine. Once it gets here, if it does, it will be very, very difficult to eradicate.”

Other senators criticized the state of northern border security. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the homeland security committee, said, “The American people are grossly underprotected along our northern border.”

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said the federal agency already is working on a plan to address some of the concerns raised by the GAO report.

Spokesman Adam Fetcher said the department is looking to make “critical security improvements along the northern border, deploying additional Border Patrol agents, technology and infrastructure.”

Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

[email protected]