'Below the Radar'--Our Homeland Security Investigation

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, September 5, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The American Northwest. It's a big-sky country with big problems for homeland security. There's plenty of peace and quiet, but turns out not much radar coverage. And as our Steve Brown found out about the threat from the skies, bad things may well come in small packages.


STEVE BROWN, FOX CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With so much wide-open space in northern Minnesota, getting around usually means a long drive. But for some folks up here, it's a short flight instead.

REP. COLLIN PETERSON (D), MINNESOTA: These people aren't causing anybody any harm.

BROWN: Collin Peterson is a frequent flyer in northern Minnesota. He's a pilot.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Gentleman from Minnesota is recognized for two minutes.

BROWN: He's also a congressman.

PETERSON: I come from an area that's got...

BROWN: And Representative Peterson does not like the idea of clipping the wings of pilots like himself in the name of homeland security.

PETERSON: If the terrorists get in the country somehow or another, they aren't going to come in by general aviation, they're going to try to sneak in some other way.

BROWN: You see, air travel by small planes means big money in northern Minnesota.

THOR EINARSON, MANAGER, INTERNATIONAL FALLS AIRPORT: Ninety percent of our traffic is basically May through September, based on the fishing and the outdoors activities in Canada.

BROWN: And small planes bring in people who help fill resorts on both sides of the Canadian border. Tourism is important business up here. And it's serious business for pilots flying in to do a little fishing in the boundary waters.

EINARSON: We direct the aircraft to an area. It's called International Customs area.

WALLY SCHOLD, U.S. CUSTOMS AGENT: Our inspection has been a little bit more intense, especially right after 9/11.

BROWN: When an aircraft from Canada or another foreign country lands in International Falls, it's parked in this big yellow circle on the tarmac.

EINARSON: You cannot touch that aircraft till the Customs or Immigration has given us permission to service the aircraft.  We are totally hands-off.

TONY JOHNSTONE, WINDFIELD, KANSAS: You don't clear Customs or Immigration going one way or the other. I mean, you can wind up in jail or lose your airplane or fines or all of the above.

BROWN: But you cannot just land anywhere anymore when entering the U.S. from the north.

PHIL BOYER, AIRCRAFT OWNERS & PILOTS ASSOC.: You have a certain number of airports, and they are limited, across the northern border that allow pilots to land and clear Customs.

BROWN (on camera): But there are other places in northern Minnesota where a plane could take off and land and not be seen at all by anyone, like this small airfield in Little Fork. It's a grass landing strip, so a small plane could come in here, pick up passengers or pick up cargo, criss-cross back and forth across the U.S. and Canadian border. And the only security measures in place are the signs at the edge of the airfield.

(voice-over): Now, you're probably thinking, "What about the radar? There must be radar watching the air traffic back and forth across the border."

GEN. LARRY ARNOLD, COMMANDER, CINCOM: I'm sure that they have a radar system up there, and if you're coming across that border and if you don't stop and clear Customs, I'm sure that you're going to have some company on your tail pretty quick.

BROWN: Actually, no. There isn't much radar coverage at all in places like northern Minnesota. Who says so? The military men and women of NORAD, the North American Air Defense System. Their job is to watch and protect America's skies. NORAD is plugged into radar pictures all over the continent, but it admits the view near the Canadian border is, at best, incomplete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are lots of places along the northern border that are not very interesting, in terms of traffic.

BROWN: So with spotty radar coverage in northern Minnesota, how do Immigration and Customs officials make sure planes don't sneak past them into the U.S.?

SCHOLD: We don't. We don't. There's no way we would know that.

BROWN: What we have up here amounts to an honor system for small airplanes entering the U.S.

PETERSON: So when we land there, we go to the Canadian Customs.

BROWN: And Congressman Peterson says that's just fine with him. We went for a ride with the congressman to get a look at his district from the sky and hear why he thinks the federal government ought to leave small airplane pilots alone.

PETERSON: What you're going to do is you're going to eliminate general aviation. You're going to eliminate guys like me being able to fly around like this.

BROWN: The congressman believes if radar ever covers the entire U.S., small planes would get treated just like commercial airliners, watched and directed by federal air traffic controllers.

PETERSON: We're a lot less dangerous to anybody than a truck or even a van. I'll fight this to the death. If we're going to make every damn car and truck and van be on control, there's something wrong someplace. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're going to make us do it and not do it to them.

BROWN: Later, we land at Piney Creek airport, maybe the only airfield in the world where the runway is international, the south end is in the U.S., the north end in Canada.

PETERSON: Probably just going to fly around and be back here in about an hour.

BROWN: And Peterson says America's neighbor to the north is a much bigger problem than small planes.

PETERSON: The Canadians don't have the tough immigration laws coming into their country that we have. That would be a much better use of resources, to figure out how to get them to tighten down on who they let into the Canadian country.

BROWN: It's true. Earlier this year, Fox News showed you the Canadian government's open-door immigration policy. Canada allows in people from terrorism hotbeds around the world even without proper identification.


BROWN: These refugees are free to roam anywhere in Canada. The Canadian Intelligence Service believes there's a connection between the country's immigration policy and the 50-some terrorist groups operating within their borders.

DAVID HARRIS, CANADIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE: Well, I think it's fair to say that the anti-American, the American-targeting terrorists, like the Islamists, among others, regard Canada as an ideally situated place for some of their operations against the States.

BROWN: Peterson says filling all the nation's radar gaps would be an expensive waste of taxpayer dollars. But he admits if terrorists wanted to, they could fly a small plane into the U.S. undetected.

PETERSON: Some guy comes in and he's not [INAUDIBLE] anybody, he can come in from Canada, and if he stays low enough, they'll never see him. You know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) could fly all the way to Minneapolis, and nobody would ever see him.

BROWN: Doesn't that bother you?


MAYOR RICHARD DALEY (D), CHICAGO: And that is a flaw in the whole national security plan.

BROWN: It bothers Chicago's mayor. Richard Daley calls small airplane travel the biggest security loophole in America.

DALEY: You can fly your single or two-engine place without authorization -- you can fly anyplace in America, except over the White House.

PETERSON: This plane here is not very big. You can't really carry much in it.

BROWN: But even small planes can do damage.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The plane is actually embedded into the building!

BROWN: Like earlier this year, when a suicidal teenager slammed a small plane into a Tampa high-rise. Still, Peterson says the people in northern Minnesota believe small planes are not a threat.

PETERSON: These folks do not feel threatened by anybody.

BROWN: It's an open land up here near the Canadian border, and in the minds of many, impossible to defend.

EINARSON: If the bad guy or bad guys want to get the job done -- planes, trains, automobiles, a kayak, a canoe, a pair of swim fins or a good pair of walking shoes -- they can get into the United States one way or another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're more interested in providing adequate coverage around population centers or other significant places where damage can be done.

BOYER: You know, there are so many ways to cross our northern border into the United States, so many rivers, so many unguarded frontiers across that large stretch of land, that it would seem to me a light plane, a general aviation aircraft, would be a lot more trouble than one needed to go to to get across the border.

PETERSON: When you've got people that are willing to commit suicide, that's very hard to stop. I don't care what you do.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he's right. The sense of security is certainly false, as you will see when we bring you parts two and three of our exclusive series Below the Radar tomorrow night.

Click here to order the entire transcript of the September 5 edition of On the Record.

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