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I-Team: Protecting New England's Border From Terrorists

BOSTON (CBS) - Tracking terrorists in places few people ever see.

It is the world's largest open border, an unsecured stretch spanning five thousand miles and separating the United States and Canada.

And while this border represents the best of two free societies, it's also a national security challenge right in our backyard, because terrorists see this border as their land of opportunity.

CBP Director of Air Operations Mike Johnson banks the chopper hard to see if the open border between the US and Canada has been breached.

WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve reports

Flying 500 feet above a small Vermont town with the I-Team along for the ride he notices foot prints in the freshly fallen snow.

In this vast wilderness - anything out of the ordinary can stand out to the trained eye.

"They look human, and they got a hit on a sensor at the border line," says Johnson. "And that could be anything from a snowmobile to a terrorist."

Wes Martin works for the US Border Patrol, US Customs and Border Protection. He rides an ATV along what's called the "slash" -- the open and mostly unsecured space between the two countries.

"Basically what we are looking for is any kind of disturbance in the snow, footprints, and broken branches, turned over rocks."

"It's a very vast area, it's easy for them to cross without detection, so we have to stay on our toes and be vigilant."

The former head of the US Customs and Border Protection told congress last Spring that the northern border presents much more of a challenge when it comes to preventing a terrorist from entering this country, than compared to the Mexican border. That of course makes it much more of a concern for law enforcement in New England.

That concern has to do with our 'do not fly list' which prohibits a potential terrorist from landing at an American airport. Casey Durst-- area Port Director for US Customs and Border Protection in northern Vermont -- says the rules are different in Canada.

"We have different visa requirements and an individual traveler that may not be admissible in the United States through the air."

"But they may be admissible into Canada and then may attempt enter in the United States through a northern border land location."

And there have been times when people have been arrested who federal agents believe have ties to terror. They were turned over to the joint terrorism task force.

Shawn McVey is with the US Border Patrol, US Customs and Border Protection. His job is to take the path less traveled to find the bad guys trying to sneak into the United States. He knows he can't make a mistake. He has to be right every time.

"Since 9/11, the Border Patrol's primary mission is to prevent terrorists from entering the country."

"We are here to prevent a terrorist from bringing in a weapon of mass destruction through the border."

The stakes couldn't be higher. Last year a report by the GAO (General Accounting Office) expressed concern that not enough of the border was secure. Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone is part of this region's anti-terrorism advisory council.

"There is only so much we can do on the physical border of a 4000 mile territory. Information and intelligence, and information sharing has to be better."

In 2011, 7400 people were arrested trying to enter this country along the northern border. That number includes drug dealers, smugglers, human traffickers, money launderers.

We don't know how many would be classified as terrorists. But we do know compared to the southern border more suspected terrorists are caught just a few hours to our north.

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