With the U.S.-Canada border under sudden intense scrutiny in the United States, a handful of American senators placed it under an ever-harsher spotlight Thursday by asking for the military's help in patrolling the boundary.

Democratic senators from states located near or along the 6,400-kilometre border are asking the U.S. Department of Defence to provide military radar in an effort to nab drug traffickers who use low-flying aircraft to move their product from Canada into the United States.


A U.S. border agent watches video monitors of cameras placed along the U.S.-Canada border at Sweetgrass, Mont., May 28, 2009. On Thursday, a handful of American senators asked for the military's help in patrolling the boundary. ((Todd Korol/Reuters))

New York Senator Charles Schumer is leading the charge and sent a letter Thursday to Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to formally request help.

Schumer says statistics from media reports and Homeland Security show that drug smuggling from Canada into the U.S. is on a dramatic upswing. According to a region-by-region report he released, border seizures of marijuana increased by 22 per cent from 2007 to 2009.

From 2004 to 2009, seizures of ecstasy increased sixfold, to more than two million doses. Heroin and cocaine seizures have also significantly increased in the past few years.

Schumer was joined in his request by fellow New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jon Tester of Montana and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin.

"Given what is at stake in combating illegal cross-border activity, and given its past success, [we] write to ask your agencies to co-ordinate in determining whether there are any available military technological assets anywhere around the world that can be more effectively deployed along our northern border to combat drug smuggling," the senators wrote in the letter.

Their move is seemingly at odds with Napolitano, who defended bilateral border security efforts just a day earlier by tersely brushing off the findings of a recent congressional report that suggested merely a fraction of the boundary was under "operational control."

"The term 'operational control' is a very narrow term of art, and it does not reflect the infrastructure and technology and all the other things that happen at the border," she told a House of Representatives border security hearing on Wednesday. "And so it should not be used as a substitute for an overall border strategy."

Last week's report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm, found that less than one per cent of the border is secure, and added that Islamic terrorists are far more likely to enter the U.S. from Canada than from Mexico.

Efforts to patrol it are marred by petty bickering among an array of different federal and state departments, the report also found.

The findings have resulted in the type of American attention that hasn't been focused on the Canada-U.S. border since the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many Americans — politicians and everyday citizens alike — continue to mistakenly believe that the perpetrators of those attacks entered the United States via Canada.