Remember when there was all the concern in the 1990s among activists and progressive policy advocates about the militarization of the border? Timothy Dunn wrote an excellent book titled The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992.
Over the past ten years, however, questions about the appropriateness of having the U.S. military -- and U.S. intelligence apparatus -- directly involved in border control operations have faded. There is a bipartisan consensus around a post-9/11 concept of border control called border security.
Ranging across the entire political spectrum is support for "securing the border" -- some because they fear immigrants, others because they believe it will stop drug flows, some because there is so much money to be made in homeland security contracts, and others because they say it's a precondition for immigration reform.
In the Republican presidential candidate debate, Rick Perry called for the use of Predator drones to patrol the borderlands. That may seem like an outlandish and very expensive proposal, but DHS is already collaborating with the U.S. military (and private contractors) in the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles of Predator provenance.
The Bush administration institutionalized the border security framework, and the Obama administration is putting its own mark on border security policy with its new strategy to combat transnational threats. As part of this new overlay, DHS has created the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT) in Arizona.
Given that ACTT was created to combat transnational threats and protect national security, it is not surprising that the Defense Department claims a role in ACTT operations.
At the request of DHS Assistant Secretary Alan Bersin, JTF-North [the El Paso-based Joint Task Force Bravo] provided support to the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats…. JTF-North facilitated intelligence and operational planning, and provided sensor capabilities during execution of this intelligence-driven operation.
Through JTF-North’s missions and activities, USNORTHCOM continues to sustain important relationships with Federal law enforcement agencies in securing our nation’s borders against drug traffickers and their associated activities. Robust collaboration exists today between JTF-North and operational-level leaders in CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI… [by way of USNorthCom’s] Counternarcotics (CN) Programs. USNORTHCOM’s CN Program is an integral part of the defense and security of our nation.
As part of ONDCP’s new border counternarcotics strategy, the “Intelligence Community” and DOD are involved in formulating and coordinating “Common Operating Pictures” and “Common Intelligence Pictures” with other federal partners and local law enforcement agencies.
This collaboration bringing together the nation’s military and intelligence apparatuses with border law enforcement agencies will adhere to the information-sharing restrictions specified in the August 2010 Executive Order on Classified National Security Information Programs for state, local, tribal, and private sector entities.
But the real danger is not that local law enforcement will share classified national security information with the public or with the nation's enemies.
Rather the danger that all this alarmism about national security and transnational threats along the border will feed the politicking of the border hawks -- and lead to still more waste and misguided drug, immigration, and border policies.
For more information about ACTT, see the new TransBorder Policy Report: ACTTing Out the Drug War at Ground Zero.