TORONTO – The Canadian government has not tightened its security procedures sufficiently after the Sept. 11 attacks, leaving its border and airports vulnerable to terrorist infiltration, a key official said Tuesday.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser (search) said the lack of coordination among security agencies and the weaknesses at airports and border crossings need to be urgently addressed.
Fraser also found that authorities lacked an overall plan to focus on the most important threats, guide spending and choose among conflicting priorities.
"These are basic things that should be working more effectively than they are now," Fraser told a news conference. "I would hope that this report will lead to corrective action."
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Canadian government allocated $7.7 billion over five years to bolster the fight against global terrorism, prevent extremists from taking haven in Canada and ensure their prosecution.
In the recent federal budget, the government earmarked $605 million more for security at ports, better threat assessment, intelligence initiatives and fingerprint analysis.
But Fraser found that departments and agencies are still unable to share some security information and not all of their systems communicate with each other.
In one case, an alert from one of Canada's (search) allies was not passed on to the intelligence unit for which it was intended.
"The government as a whole did not adequately assess intelligence lessons learned from critical incidents such as September 11 or develop and follow up on improvement programs," her report says.
For example, information about the 25,000 Canada passports lost or stolen each year is not available to front-line officers, even though these passports could be used by terrorists or other criminals, the report said.
Watch lists used to screen visa applicants, refugee claimants and travelers seeking to enter Canada are "in disarray" because of inaccuracies and shoddy updating, Fraser found.
"There is no overall quality control of this vital function, which is spread over several departments and agencies," the report said. "No one monitors delays in the entry or the quality of data on watch lists."
The Immigration Department's watch list was not updated between June 2001 and November 2001. When it was updated, more than 1,500 names were added, including those of two Sept. 11 hijackers identified by American authorities in August 2001, the report said.
The auditor's report is the second in as many months to rock the governing Liberal Party (search) and could further weaken Prime Minister Paul Martin's (search) popularity as he prepares to call a national election within weeks.
A report from Fraser last month exposed a federal spending scandal that saw $75 million funneled through government institutions to advertising agencies for little or no work.
Canadians were outraged at the misspending, which was intended to combat elements in Quebec that almost won a 1995 referendum to separate the mainly French-speaking province from Canada.
Polls had shown Martin, who took over in December, coasting to an re-election with a majority in Parliament. But Liberal Party support has plummeted and Martin may get a minority government, an outcome which could frustrate his legislative agenda.
Martin, who took over in December, defended the government's security efforts, telling the House of Commons that one of his first acts was to consolidate national security issues under the new post of minister of public security.
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan also has indicated that the government plans to create a secret communication system to help agencies share information more effectively.
Fraser also reviewed Royal Canadian Mounted Police files and estimated that as many as 4,500 people with access to restricted areas at five major Canadian airports had possible criminal associations that warranted further investigation. That figure represents about 6 percent of the total.
"This represents a serious threat to security at airports," the report said.