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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Consultants as the Commanders of Texas Border Security


(Third in a series on border security outsourcing in Texas.)

Who is Leon “Leo” W. Rios? 

Gen. John Abrams at Germany reunion
News reports along the Texas border about the “border surges” of the governor’s Operation Border Star variously identity Rios as an official with the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), a senior DPS analyst, or a manager of the Border Security Operations Center.

Rios speaks to the media as if he were a Texas government official. But his current official position is senior vice president for border and port security at Abrams Learning and Information Systems (ALIS), a Washington Beltway homeland-security consulting firm.  ALIS asserts that Rios’s work in Texas for the Governor Rick Perry and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has “facilitated development and coordination of interagency border security concepts, plans, and operations to improve U.S.-Mexico border security—resulting in a significant reduction of border-related crime.

Rios comes to the homeland security and border security consulting business by way of the U.S. Army, along with his boss Ret. Gen. John N. Abrams, who founded ALIS in August 2004.

Former Col. Rios served in command positions with Abrams in Germany in the late 1980s in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which Abrams commanded and was charged with protecting the German inner-border. At a recent reunion in Germany that brought business colleagues Abrams and Rios together, Abrams and other former army officers spoke of their role guarding the line between East and West and on “the separation between freedom and oppression, good and evil…,” according an account of the reunion by the Blackhorse veterans group.

While an army officer, Rios published a couple of military strategy studies, at least one of which has bearing on his role in shaping border security in Texas. While stationed at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff at Ft. Leavenworth’s School of Advanced Military Studies. Rios in 1985 authored, “Will, Technology, and Tactical Command and Control.” 

According to the report’s abstract, the army “is becoming increasingly dependent on technical communications systems for command and control although the systems are vulnerable to failure, interception, or interference. The technical complexity of communications systems present new sets of problems rather than facilitating and sustaining command and control.” (That conclusion is just as pertinent 25 years later, given the disarray, confusion, and ineffectiveness of the technology-driven information and intelligence operations under ALIS control.)

In the 1990s Rios served as director of Policy and Strategy at the U.S. Southern Command, the U.S. military’s “unified command” for Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

Steeped in military practice and thinking, the ALIS senior leadership have brought this military tradition to the challenges of homeland security and border control in Texas. This can be readily seen in its work for the governor’s office and DPS through its favoring the military terminology and structures -- “unified commands,” “operations ,”  “”ranger recons,” intelligence centers,” “forward deployment,” and “surges”  Like the military, the military-styled Operation Border Star has little transparency or accountability, and the battles are always being declared victories despite the absence of measurable indicators.


Depiction of Operation Wrangler (a 2007 Border Star surge) by DPS/Border Security Operation Center


Consultants as Managers, Strategists, and Evaluators

Abrams and Rios are no longer in command.  They are hired guns, consultants for Operation Border Star -- the border security campaign launched by Governor Rick Perry and DPS director Steve McCraw.

Contracted to “refine plans and strategies for seamless integration of border security operations,” ALIS has been charged with directing, coordinating, operating, and staffing the state’s border security infrastructure – the Border Security Operation Center and the six Joint Operations Intelligence Centers (JOICS). DPS has contracted ALIS to “sustain continuous border security operations” for the state and to manage BSOC.

Among the main goals of ALIS’ Border Security Management and Operations contract are:

·         * Develop and refine “plans and strategies that will support continuous operations in all sectors to ensure a secure border region by countering the threats of organized crime, terrorism, and the flow of contraband.”

·         * “Implement procedures to create an effective interagency unified command structure that provides unity of effort among local, county, state, and federal entities participating in border-related law enforcement activities.”

·         * “Coordinate operations, exercises, and other readiness activities by establishing centralized operational planning and oversight  [emphasis added] as well as continual support to steady-state and enhanced-state operations along the border.”

·         * “”Orient senior governmental leaders on border security issues.”

·         * “Oversee the implementation of the state-selected technology for the web-based Texas Border Neighborhood Watch Surveillance Program [which is part of the Texas Sheriffs Border Coalition] to include sensor technology as well as other available technical support of both fixed and mobile law enforcement operations.”

·         * “Identify and document ‘best practices” throughout all border security operations and implement a process whereby these ‘best practices’ are codified and implemented as a measure of incremental organization and operational improvement.”

·         * “Assess organizational and operational efficiency/effectiveness and provide a method for achieving continuous improvement throughout all sectors of border operations.”

·        * Besides staffing the Border Security Operations Center [with 19 ALIS contract staff including Rios], “field operations staff support will also include the necessary manpower required to support and sustain the JOICs.”

In addition to these functions – from design, management, and implementation to oversight, assessment, and advisory roles – in Texas’ vaunted border security model, ALIS has also been contracted to formulate and manage the information and intelligence systems of Border Star through the TxMap border-crime mapping project, fusion center mergers, and “border- security operations information and data exchange.”

From the beginning of Operation Border Star and the border-targeted “surges” of border sheriffs, state police, and Texas National Guard, Leo Rios has brandished his DPS identity rather than his identity as a Beltway consultant.  During a series of “border surges” in mid-2006, Col. Rios and Col. McCraw visited the targeted security zones in the Rio Grande Valley.  

Exiting their Chinook helicopter, like military commanders inspecting the frontlines, Rios and McCraw met with border sheriffs and other sympathetic law enforcement officials.  Variously identified as a DPS intelligence analyst or a TDEM official, Rios told reporters and assembled troops that Operation Border Star was demonstrating the state’s ability to shut down the border.

"Lo and behold, we started up again,” said Rios.” We hit them again, and we had a sizeable number of seizures and arrests," The bottom line from the operation was that "we're capable of shutting down all transports of illegal drugs and criminals in this area to zero for up to seven days. This was due to be a banner year, and we shut them down," Rios said.

Year after year the consultancies and contracts continue to be renewed by the governor’s office, DPS, and the Public Safety Commission. Although only consultants, the ALIS border security team in Texas act like and are treated as commanders who answer to no one.

(Next: How JOICS and BSOC Work, Or Don't)

Also see Tom Barry, "At War in Texas," Boston Review at: http://bostonreview.net/BR35.5/barry.php

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