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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Deceptive Advertising for Border Drone Toys



Candice Miller, the Republican chair of the House Border and Marine Security Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, is effusive in her praise of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), referring to the drones at a March 15, 2011 hearing on Capitol Hill as “fantastic technology” that have proved “incredibly, incredibly successful in theater.”
As the new chair of the subcommittee that oversees the air operations of Customs and Border Protection, Miller has become one of the leading congressional advocates of increased domestic drone deployment. Miller is a member of the House Unmanned Systems Caucus, which works to increase drone use and open U.S. airspace to UAVs.
Over the past few years Texas Republicans – most prominently Gov. Rick Perry, Senator John Cornyn, and Cong. Michael McCaul – have been the among the leading high-profile proponents of drones for border security. Democratic Party politicians also generally share the mounting enthusiasm in Congress for this high-tech fix for border security.
Neither the high price tag for the Predator and Reaper drones –$20 million apiece – nor the inability of CBP to offer any substantive documentation of their successful deployment deters congressional drone boosters.
In support of the department’s use of drones for border security DHS officials routinely assert that drones are a “force multiplier” and that UAVs form an essential part of the “technological pillar” of border security. Congressional drone boosters commonly echo and amplify these DHS claims.
Yet DHS assertions about the success, value, and worth of drones in border security operations suffer a widening credibility gap six years after Predator drones first started patrolling the southwest border. UAVs may, as Miller states, be fantastic technology.
The purported achievements fall more into the realm of pure fantasy.
DHS has steadily expanded its drone fleet, and Congress has offered more cheerleading for drones than oversight.  Due diligence and accountability are nowhere to be found.
What makes this absence of proper oversight and good management especially shocking is that the waste, inefficiency, and strategic blunders of the drone escalation mirror the monumental failures of the SBInet “virtual fence” project – the other major DHS venture into high-tech border security.
Customs and Border Protection, which has eight drones in its UAV fleet with another two projected to be delivered by early 2012, projects a 24-drone fleet according to its strategic plan. Congressional members, alarmed about an array of perceived border threats, have pressured CBP to quickly increase its drone fleet and patrol areas despite CBP acknowledgements that it lacks the capacity and personnel to deploy the drones it already has.
Multiplying the Border Force
Since the inclusion in 2003 of immigration and border security agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, CBP has increasingly adopted a military lexicon to describe its operations. That makes sense since CBP since for the first time CBP had an explicit security mission – as evident in the wholesale adoption of the term “border security.”
Over the past six years CBP has spent more than $2 billion to create a “technological pillar” for border security. The other two border security pillars are personnel (Border Patrol and CBP agents) and infrastructure (mainly the border fence).
The two main components of CBP’s new technological border security are the “virtual fence” project (first known as SBInet and now called the Alternative Technology Plan) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). In both cases, one from the ground and the other from the air, surveillance technology monitors stretches of the border and intelligence analysts attempt to determine if the received data includes evidence of illegal border crossings.
In both cases, CBP promotes these high-tech surveillance programs as “force multipliers.” That’s a Department of Defense term meaning a “capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.”
The claim, then, is that UAVs increase the capability of the Border Patrol by increasing the effective scope of their patrols.
The ostensible logic of the force-multiplying effect of UAVs is persuasive, just as the CBP assertion that the virtual fence functions as a force-multiplier has been presented as common sense – that technology enhances productivity.
One problem with the “force multiplier” argument for border drone deployment is that DHS has never provided any data to support the assertion. The other main problem is that DHS probably cannot supply this supporting data because it is simply not true.
UAVs might be better described as being manpower-intensive rather than force-multipliers.
At any time, it is more likely that CBP drones are sitting on U.S. military bases along the border rather than serving as the Border Patrol’s “eyes in the skies.”
Why is that? Numerous reasons.
Bad weather, including cloudy conditions and winds, is a common explanation. Another is that CBP and its Office of Air and Marine lacks the personnel to operate the drones.
Attempting to explain why it is so challenging to get drones in the air, Gen. Kostelnik, who as OAM chief directs CBP’s drone program expressed his frustration with preconceived notions that the unmanned character of UAVs:
We're not flying to the full potential, not because of aircraft or airspace limitations, but because we're still building the force. We're still growing the crews….
We are all here talking about unmanned. The real issues have nothing to do with the unmanned part. The real issues are all about the manned piece, and this is a manpower-intensive system.
The manpower-intensive character of UAVs, observed Kostelnik, is especially true for “the remotely piloted ones like the Predator.” As the retired general explained, the Predators require two pilots for any one mission, but also large teams to handle launching and grounding. The manpower crunch obstructing more Predator patrols is also due to all the analysts required to do the “intel kind of things” with the steady stream of images transmitted by the drones.
Despite all the emphasis by CBP on the force multiplying advantages of UAVs, neither Kostelnik nor anyone else at CBP has offered any public description of exactly how much “manpower” drone missions require.
Although UAVs have the capability of flying as much as 20 hours, most missions apparently average about 10 hours, while the many training missions are still shorter.
During the same subcommittee meeting, Kostelnik was asked to give members some idea of the number of crew members required for a drone mission. According to Kostelnik, a typical drone mission requires three crews in addition to the two pilots – one handling navigation and the other directing the sensors -- to handle launching, landing, and recovery.
But what makes UAV missions so “manpower-intensive” is the data management and analysis associated with the stream of images flowing into the control centers.  “Taking the data takes more people,” explained Kostelnik, and the “data that comes out of our aircraft is now sent to processing, exportation, and dissemination cells.”
This complex data input component of UAV surveillance is what Kostelnik, using military jargon, called a “distributed infrastructure” that complements the command control centers on military bases where the pilots and aviation crews work. Another five full-time people are necessary, noted Kostelnik, to “tell the sensor operator where to look and the pilot where to fly.”
The OAM chief estimates that there could be 50 people involved in a typical drone mission.
Without even taking into account the number of Border Patrol agents deployed in planes, helicopters, and ground vehicles, the OAM chief estimated that UAVs depend on teams of fifty or more. Counting those agents that hunt down suspected illegal border crossers, it’s likely that more than a hundred Border Patrol agents and other support staff be involved in any one UAV surveillance incident.
Although CBP officials have repeatedly testified in Congress about the progress and success of the drone program, the CBP has not produced any hard information about the numbers of men and women involved in a typical UAV-driven border arrest or drug seizure.
Drones may be, as Cong. Miller says, a “fantastic technology.” But that doesn’t mean that they are a “force multiplier” as DHS repeatedly asserts.
Even if DHS could demonstrate that the Predators reduce the number of Border Patrol agents needed to effectively patrol U.S. borders, the homeland security department should still be required to justify the $20 million it spends for a Predator and its control system. If it were a responsible steward of government revenues, it should provide data showing that drone surveillance is at least as effective as surveillance by manned light aircraft or by Border Patrol officers on the ground.
Yet none of the numerous congressional DHS oversight committees have demanded such an accounting from DHS and CBP, and DHS has ramped up the border drone program without undertaking such a cost-benefit evaluation.
One reason for this lack of due diligence is the boyish enthusiasm in Congress and among border politicians for this new technological toy in their border security playground.
Reporting for the Washington Post, William Booth brought attention to this this uncritical drone boosterism.
“In his trips to testify on Capitol Hill,” wrote Booth, “Michael Kostelnik, the retired Air Force general and former test pilot who runs the Office of Air and Marine for the CBP, said he has never been challenged in Congress about the appropriate use of domestic drones. “Instead, the question is: Why can’t we have more of them in my district?” Kostelnik said.”



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More Predators on the Border





Here's a link to a Dec. 21 Washington Post story on border drones, where I am quoted.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/more-predator-drones-fly-us-mexico-border/2011/12/01/gIQANSZz8O_story.html 


The lack of diligent congressional oversight -- really, it's more cheerleading and boosterism -- over DHS is one of the  main reasons that Homeland Security is so bloated and unfocused. It's big government at its worst. No, that would be the Pentagon, but one would think (or hope) that a new federal bureaucracy would be expected to meet some standards of accountability. 


WaPo's William Booth captures this problem by quoting CBP's Kostelnik, who runs the drone program:

In his trips to testify on Capitol Hill, Michael Kostelnik, the retired Air Force general and former test pilot who runs the Office of Air and Marine for the CBP, said he has never been challenged in Congress about the appropriate use of domestic drones. “Instead, the question is: Why can’t we have more of them in my district?” Kostelnik said.
Booth gave me the last word:
 “Congress and the taxpayers ought to demand some kind of real cost-benefit analysis of drones,” said Tom Barry, director of the TransBorder Project at the Center for International Policy, a Washington think tank, who has studied the domestic Predator program. “My sense is that they would conclude these aircraft aren’t worth the money.”

 Join Border Wars Policy Group to follow/discuss border security, immigrant imprisonment, and drug policy issues at: 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency -- Review of El Narco


What’s going on in Mexico is not a “war on drugs.”

No doubt that the drug-related violence and crime are products of drug- prohibition and counternarcotics policies instituted by the United States and later give international legitimacy by the United Nations. Yet the essence of the turmoil and terror in Mexico is the product of a drug war.

If the only contribution of El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Bloomsbury Press, November 2011) were to succeed in getting us to understand this difference, the book would be regarded as one of the best on the origins and evolution of the drug trade in Mexico.

As British journalist Ioan Grillo explains in his new book, the
“war on drugs” dates back many decades in Mexico and has been largely coincident with U.S., ever since President Nixon announced the new war four decades ago  -- marked by both the failed U.S. interdiction plan called Operation Intercept in 1969 and by the U.S. –supported drug eradication campaigns in the early 1970s (using highly toxic defoliants like paraquat, also deployed in the still raging Vietnam War).

What Grillo calls the Mexican Drug War is distinguished from the rhetorical “war on drugs” both because it has become more like an actual war and because the objective of drug control has been subsumed into a combat for territorial, social, economic, and to some degree political control by warring factions – including the various and evolving cartels, the Mexican military, and the Mexico police.

But it is less clear cut and more worrisome than simply a battle for the supremacy among legal and illegal warlords. That’s because we learn from Grillo – in his superbly organized and narrated exposition of the Mexican Drug War – that the Mexican state and its instruments of law enforcement and security are no longer simply corrupt and compromised, as has been a fundamental truth in Mexican governance historically, but that they are often no longer representatives of a corrupted state but father functionaries of criminal factions.

Grillo makes as a strong case that the Mexican Drug War, as we now know it, began not with President Calderón’s declaration of war on Dec. 11, 2006 shortly after moving into Los Pinos but rather two years previously when Los Zetas, a grouping of former-special force soldiers, “militarized the conflict” in their campaign to institute control over sections of northeast Mexico, mostly notably in Nuevo Laredo.

“Suddenly,” as Grillo describes the transition, “the public saw captured criminals in combat fatigues with heavy weaponry.” The Zetas,” writes Grillo, “were not thinking like gangsters, but like a paramilitary group controlling territory.”

One of the many standout contributions of El Narco is Grillo’s success in helping us understand that the evolution of the drug war in Mexico is not simply a matter of more deaths and more horrific ways of killings. Not just a matter of scope and scale, the Mexican Drug War has become a new phenomenon that defies easy definition.

Grillo mounts a strong case that the Mexican Drug War is a “criminal insurgency,” arguing convincingly that the security of the Mexican state is at risk from insurgent cartels, which are not just defending themselves from the official security forces but contesting state power to govern.

Insurgency is typically met with counterinsurgency and often outside military intervention – which an increasing band of U.S. hawks are saying is all but inevitable – but Grillo contends that the solution should “not come from the barrel of a gun.”

The author presents a cogent plea for a pragmatic and long-overdue reform of drug prohibition laws that have fostered a shadow and increasingly violent economy of drug trafficking and consumption. “People kill over street corners because they are fighting over the wealth of the black-market trade, not because they smoked spliffs.”

El Narco is the best overview book on the Mexican Drug War.  While the book’s subtitle “Inside the Criminal Insurgency” exaggerates the extent that Grillo managed to penetrate the drug industry in Mexico, the book is less valuable for its bit of investigative reporting but more for the author’s admirable ability to assemble a great deal of material – past and present – about the drug trade into an engaging and highly illuminating briefing about what’s going on in Mexico and what both countries may face if more sensible policies are not adopted by the international community, particularly the U.S. government.

Grillo’s writing is consistently accessible and pleasing – and refreshingly direct. He writes, for example, that, “The Obama administration stumbled on with a befuddled agenda on Mexico,” noting that its mixed messages – hailing Calderón’s courage and achievements while also speaking frankly, as Hillary Clinton did, about the emerging insurgent character of the evolving Mexican Drug War – illustrate that it has been “increasingly confused on Mexico and shaky in its support for the current strategy.”

The chapters on narco “Culture” and narco “Faith add little new to our understanding of Mexican drug trafficking, and simply recount the usual tales of the narcocorridas and Santa Muerte.

Grillo’s “Diversification” chapter is mostly descriptive and the analysis that the drug cartels have become diversified criminal organizations falls short. Could the major cartels or associated bands survive without the immense profits of drug trafficking? Unlikely, unless they assumed control over entire legal industries. But Grillo makes a strong point when supporting his argument about the evolved character of the cartels when he describes the new business of extortion and protection payments, which is eroding the traditional financial base of Mexican politics and law enforcement.

Grillo deserves special credit for supporting the groundbreaking investigative journalism of Gary Webb in his1996 series Dark Alliance that highlighted how U.S. political goals, such as the CIA and White House support of the Nicaraguan contras, overrode the drug war goals of the DEA. Your appreciation of Grillo grows as he takes the American media to task for failing to take up the investigation the Webb began: "The Los Angeles Times and New York Times should have followed these leads rather than just looking for holes."

El Narco is also refreshing in its analysis of Calderón’s naïve and moralistic view of governance in the era of the Mexican Drug War. Upon taking office, the president “spoke repeatedly about the need to restore order and reassert the power of the state,” writes Grillo,” observing too that the “message applied as much to street blockades and riots [by political dissidents] as drug decapitations.”

In this context, El Narco also talks straight about the repression of the indigenous and student protesters and dissidents in Chiapas and Oaxaca by the military and police, as in recalling “the murder of American Indymedia journalist Brad Will.”

In El Narco Grillo asserts, “Mexico is becoming the new point of comparison for a criminal insurgency.” 

While his definition of a criminal insurgency is fuzzy, there is little doubt that the threats to Mexico’s national security and public safety need to be met with a more enlightened strategy – and that Mexicans deserve more from the Obama administration than another five years of befuddlement.


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Fuentes Pessimistic about Mexican Politics, No Hope for Drug War Solution without U.S.

Marina Mendez Ransanz

In a recent BBC Mundo interview, noted Mexican writer and intellectual Carlos Fuentes discussed the current tumultuous political situation in Mexico. He showed a clear lack of enthusiasm for the candidates to the presidency, who will run in the incoming presidential elections of 2012.

Fuentes stated that the traditional parties in Mexico –PRI, PAN and PRD -- offer no solutions for the grave crisis affecting the country, and that their proposals to address the power of organized crime lack clarity and have attracted little public enthusiasm.

“The problems are too big, and the politics are too small,” the writer said with regard to the situation in Mexico.

Carlos Fuentes belongs to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is a group that includes several former presidents, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso from Brazil, César Gaviria from Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo from Mexico, international leaders, intellectuals, and businessmen.

In a report published by the Commission last June, the Group warned about the failure of the war that has been waged against the drug cartels under the frame currently used by several governments, such as Mexico and the United States.

Fuentes expressed his disagreement with President Calderón’s drug war strategy, which is characterized by its apparent frontal attack against the cartels. But he credits Calderón for bringing the drug-trafficking and organized crime threats to the forefront of the political agenda.

Fuentes is a longtime advocate of drug legalization. By 2007 he had already proposed the legalization of drugs as a measure to reduce the violence caused by their distribution and the criminal activities surrounding this market. Illegal drugs should be legalized, he concluded, but for this to be effective will require joint action by the entire international community.

On numerous previous occasions, Fuentes has also observed that all efforts directed toward fighting drug trafficking in Mexico will be useless unless the United States addresses the demand for drugs in its territory.

In 2010, through a live chat with readers of the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Fuentes said that drugs are largely bought in the United States and it is there that decriminalization should begin. He expressed hope about the marijuana decriminalization initiative (defeated in 2010) in California, and was hopeful too that other states would follow the California example.

Fuentes, a prominent Mexican intellectual and internationally acclaimed novelist,
advocates for gradual policy reforms that will result in drug decriminalization. It’s a pragmatic and peaceful solution, which, he says, recognizes the reality of a large and long-lived demand for drugs in the U.S. market.

Fuentes believes that the scourge of drug-related violence in Mexico and the threat of the cartels to Mexican national security stand little chance of being resolved without more direct U.S. involvement.

He told BBC that eventually -- for both national and international reasons – the U.S. government will be obliged to take a more active role in addressing the criminal crisis in Mexico and to act together with the Mexican government to confront the power and violence of the drug-trafficking organizations.

Fuentes had choice words to describe the PRI and PRD presidential candidates, while observing that PAN, the party that currently holds Los Pinos, stands little chance of achieving electoral success given their perceived poor performance during the last two presidential terms.

The PAN was able to gain access to power in the year 2000 after more than 70 years of undisputed ruling by the PRI, and the Mexico’s population welcomed this transition great hope and high expectations.  Now, these past 11 years of PAN governments are widely regarded as a huge missed opportunity.

About Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the PRD candidate, Fuentes mentioned with some regret that he represents an outdated Left.

Enrique Peña Nieto, the current PRI candidate, was recently the protagonist of an embarrassing incident in the Guadalajara Book Fair when he was not able to mention 3 books that had made an impact on his life. Furthermore, while answering the question Peña Nieto misattributed a famous book written by Fuentes to Enrique Krauze, another Mexican writer.

Referring to Peña Nieto, Fuentes said that the PRI candidate has every right not to have read Fuentes’s books. However, the writer added “he has no right to be the president of Mexico out of ignorance.”

“Problems demand a man capable of talking to Obama, Angela Merkel or Sarkozy on the same level, and this is not the man capable to do so,” Fuentes said of Peña Nieto.


(Marina Mendez Ransanz is a Latin American Rights & Security intern at the Center for International Policy, working with the TransBorder Project)



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Friday, December 23, 2011

Border Security Enhanced, Drug War Transformed


U.S. border from Sasabe, Sonora/Photo by Tom Barry


Published in CounterPunch
http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/21/the-drug-war-transformed/
Connie Mack and the "Terrorist Insurgency" in the Americas
The Drug War Transformed
by TOM BARRY
“This is a terrorist insurgency,” says Connie Mack, the Republican who chairs the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mack, who introduced the Enhanced Border Security Act in mid-December, believes that the Merida Initiative has failed and that the administration needs to revamp the counterdrug assistance program to include a “counterinsurgency plan.”

Explaining why his Enhanced Border Security bill is needed, Mack said: “The Mexican drug cartels have evolved into what some call the greatest national security threat faced by the United States with the ability to severely damage the U.S. economy.”

Adopting the language of the Obama administration’s new strategy to “combat transnational organized crime,” Mack warns that both Mexico and the United States are facing a “terrorist insurgency” waged by transnational criminal
organizations “along our southern border, with operations across Mexico and Central America as well as in over 1,000 U.S. cities.”

Five years after President Felipe Calderón launched Mexico’s drug war in December 2006 and three years into the Merida Initiative counterdrug assistance program, there is widespread anxiety in Mexico that the government is not gaining the upper hand on the drug cartels and that the drug-related violence, which has left a toll of 50,000 dead, will continue into the nextsexenio, the six-year presidential term.

Whatever their politics, most close observers of the drug war in Mexico would agree with the Republican firebrand from Florida that the last five years of Mexico’s drug war have done little to increase governmental security and social stability. Most assessments of the Merida Initiative’s impact on Mexico and Central America are similarly negative.

The basic facts of the drug-related crisis in Mexico are clear enough, but what’s not so evident is its character and identity.

As President Calderón’s sexenio draws to an end and as the U.S. government evaluates its involvement in Mexico’s drug war and its border policy, new questions are being asked about drug threat and about the proper response.

Mack insists that traditional counternarcotics strategies are insufficient and out of step with the changing character of the drug trade in Mexico and in Central America.

What we are seeing in the region is not simply the business and violence of drug-related crime, says Mack. Instead, Mexico and the drug transit countries of Central America are facing insurgency and terrorism that threatens the security of region and of the United States.
Mexico has vociferously rejected Mack’s contention that the drug cartels represent an existential threat to state power.

But the basic facts of the drug war – widespread territorial loss of effective governing power, the involvement of local drug bosses in politics, the massive deployment of the military, the increasing firepower of the cartels, the war-level loss of life, and the use of horrific violence to make statements – seem to support Mack’s contention that Mexico is facing what he variously calls a “terrorist insurgency” and a “criminal insurgency.”

The inability of the Obama administration’s expanded border-security operations to significantly obstruct the crossborder flow of drugs from Mexico also points to the inadequacy of the U.S. response, whether at home or in Mexico.

Mack is, of course, not alone in his characterization of the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) as insurgents and narcoterrorists. Nor is he the only major public figure who is raising alarm about an increased threat to U.S. national security.

Two retired U.S. generals, including the former chief of the U.S. Southern Command, came to similar conclusions in a recent report commissioned by the Texas state government alarmingly titled Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment.

There’s no disputing the severity of the drug-related violence in Mexico and Central America. Yet the increasing discussion of the security implications of illegal drug trade also relates to the Obama administration’s own attempt to redefine the domestic and international drug problem as a battle against transnational criminal organizations.

The Transformed Drug Threat

The U.S. government has traditionally referred to Mexican and other Latin American drug cartels as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). But the Obama administration has altered the nomenclature of the drug trade, and the DTOs are now routinely categorized as transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

By newly designating the Mexican DTOs as transnational criminal organizations, the Obama administration has opened new political room for foreign policy hawks and anti-drug hardliners like Connie Mack to credibly argue that the U.S. needs to respond differently and more aggressively to the evolving drug trade scenario in the hemisphere.

Obama counternarcotics officials have dropped the term “war on drugs.” Instead, the four-decade war has been superseded by the newly organized “combat against transnational crime” and transnational organized criminal organizations – as spelled out this year by the White House in the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.

The shift in the terminology to describe the U.S. national and international enforcement of its drug control laws – shedding an embarrassing military metaphor and adopting a more appropriate law-enforcement one – was long overdue.

Wars, after all, are fought to win not to flounder — with nary a sign of victory after four decades of drug war-fighting. In contrast, crime-fighting is accepted as a constant slog where no final victory is ever expected.

President Obama, however, insists, that the combat against the drug-trafficking TCOs is a matter of urgent national security, promising to prioritize the targeting of TCOs that represent a “high national security risk.”

In keeping with new parlance of the administration, Connie Mack, who chairs the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, contends that the U.S. and Mexican governments no longer simply confront drug trafficking organizations but now face powerful transnational criminal organizations that threaten not only the region’s security but also U.S. national security.

In contrast to Mack, other critics, apart from those of the right wing, lambast the Merida Initiative for contributing to widespread human rights violations by the Mexican military and for continuing drug war strategies that are based on failed drug prohibition policies.

Counting on Connie Mack

During his seven years in Congress, Mack has won strong support from his conservative constituency for his hardline positions on U.S. Latin America policy, particularly with his shrill anti-communist critiques of Castro in Cuba, Chávez in Venezuela, and Zelaya (removed by military-backed coup) in Honduras.

As chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Mack has won a larger megaphone for a view of hemispheric relations in which U.S. hegemony persists. In language reminiscent of the imperial era politics in Latin America, Mack states: “You can count on me to challenge these tyrants wherever they are and always stand on the side of freedom, security and prosperity.”

Mack’s hawkish views on Mexico represent an ideological continuity in that he regards the TCOs as insurgents who challenge the established order. Yet his new focus on Mexico and the border security also have more immediate political origins – including an opportunity to bash the Obama administration and an attempt to assuage anti-immigrant constituents outraged over Mack’s criticisms of the repressive Arizona immigration law as threat to “freedom-loving conservatives.”

Mack may see his hawkish stances on border security and on the Mexico drug war as restoring the trust of his conservative constituents and helping him in his likely bid to to unseat Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

In a Sept. 16 letter to the State Department complaining about the failures of the Merida Initiative, Mack wrote that “the transformation of drug cartels into TCOs and their attempts to undermine the Mexican government through tactics labeled as characteristics of an insurgency” required an overhaul of the Merida Initiative to address the new security environment.

Mack told the State Department:
The failure of this Administration to set performance measures, target dates or tangible goals to measure the success of U.S. programs has made it impossible to claim ‘success’ on the initiative itself. Meanwhile, the Mexican drug cartels have capitalized on the United States’ sluggish assistance to actively undermine the Mexican state through insurgent activities such as violence, corruption, and propaganda.
Both the Calderón and Obama administrations insist that the battle against the cartels – called drug war in Mexico and combat against transnational crime in the U .S. – is making steady progress toward the goal of reducing the threat of the drug-trafficking organizations.
Responding to Mack’s letter, the State Department wrote:
We believe the [Merida] Initiative is already having a positive impact. Through its bold efforts, with U.S. support, the Mexican government has successfully dismantled drug smuggling routes, seized major amounts of illicit drugs and jailed drug kingpins.
Critiquing the Merida Initiative, Mack says, “If we are unable or unwilling to identify the problem correctly, then we are unable to properly put a policy forward to combat the issue at hand.  The security and safety of the American people depend on it.”

That’s exactly right. But it is not a problem that began with the Merida Initiative or with the Obama administration.  Mack only compounds the problem of incorrectly identifying the issue at hand in Mexico and at the border by introducing new identifiers such as “terrorist insurgency” and “criminal insurgency.” Such terms confuse tactics and methods with objectives and goals, while leading both countries down the path of increased militarization.

The Obama administration also confiscates the drug-related crisis in Mexico by raising the specter of transnational crime as a national security threat and by identifying the Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the cause of the crisis rather than as largely a product of America’s own drug war and drug prohibition policies.


Join Border Wars Policy Group to follow/discuss border security, immigrant imprisonment, and drug policy issues at: 

Tom Barry directs the TransBorder Project at the Center for International Policy and is the author of Border Wars  from MIT Press. See his work at http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Raising Alarm about Terrorist Insurgency in Mexico


(Second and final part of an article on the identification problem in Mexico's drug war crisis.)

The U.S. government has traditionally referred to Mexican and other Latin American drug cartels as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). But the Obama administration has altered the nomenclature of the drug trade, and the DTOs are now routinely categorized as transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).
By newly designating the Mexican DTOs as transnational criminal organizations, the Obama administration has opened new political room for foreign policy hawks and anti-drug hardliners like Connie Mack to credibly argue that the U.S. needs to respond differently and more aggressively to the evolving drug trade scenario in the hemisphere. 
Obama counternarcotics officials have dropped the term “war on drugs.” Instead, the four-decade war has been superseded by the newly organized “combat against transnational crime” and transnational organized criminal organizations – as spelled out this year by the White House in the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.

The shift in the terminology to describe the U.S. national and international enforcement of its drug control laws – shedding an embarrassing military metaphor and adopting a more appropriate law-enforcement one – was long overdue.

Wars, after all, are fought to win not to flounder -- with nary a sign of victory after four decades of drug war-fighting. In contrast, crime-fighting is accepted as a constant slog where no final victory is ever expected.

President Obama, however, insists, that the combat against the drug-trafficking TCOs is a matter of urgent national security, promising to prioritize the targeting of TCOs that represent a “high national security risk.”
In keeping with new parlance of the administration, Connie Mack, who chairs the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, contends that the U.S. and Mexican governments no longer simply confront drug trafficking organizations but now face powerful transnational criminal organizations that threaten not only the region’s security but also U.S. national security.
In contrast to Mack, other critics, apart from those of the right wing, lambast the Merida Initiative for contributing to widespread human rights violations by the Mexican military and for continuing drug war strategies that are based on failed drug prohibition policies.


Counting on Connie Mack

During his seven years in Congress, Mack has won strong support from his conservative constituency for his hardline positions on U.S. Latin America policy, particularly with his shrill anti-communist critiques of Castro in Cuba, Chávez in Venezuela, and Zelaya (removed by military-backed coup) in Honduras.

As chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Mack has won a larger megaphone for a view of hemispheric relations in which U.S. hegemony persists. In language reminiscent of the imperial era politics in Latin America, Mack states: “You can count on me to challenge these tyrants wherever they are and always stand on the side of freedom, security and prosperity.”

Mack’s hawkish views on Mexico represent an ideological continuity in that he regards the TCOs as insurgents who challenge the established order. Yet his new focus on Mexico and the border security also have more immediate political origins – including an opportunity to bash the Obama administration and an attempt to assuage anti-immigrant constituents outraged over Mack’s criticisms of the repressive Arizona immigration law as threat to “freedom-loving conservatives.”

Mack may see his hawkish stances on border security and on the Mexico drug war as restoring the trust of his conservative constituents and helping him in his likely bid to to unseat Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.
In a Sept. 16 letter to the State Department complaining about the failures of the Merida Initiative, Mack wrote that “the transformation of drug cartels into TCOs and their attempts to undermine the Mexican government through tactics labeled as characteristics of an insurgency” required an overhaul of the Merida Initiative to address the new security environment.
Mack told the State Department:
The failure of this Administration to set performance measures, target dates or tangible goals to measure the success of U.S. programs has made it impossible to claim ‘success’ on the initiative itself. Meanwhile, the Mexican drug cartels have capitalized on the United States’ sluggish assistance to actively undermine the Mexican state through insurgent activities such as violence, corruption, and propaganda.
Both the Calderón and Obama administrations insist that the battle against the cartels – called drug war in Mexico and combat against transnational crime in the U .S. – is making steady progress toward the goal of reducing the threat of the drug-trafficking organizations.
Responding to Mack’s letter, the State Department wrote:
We believe the [Merida] Initiative is already having a positive impact. Through its bold efforts, with U.S. support, the Mexican government has successfully dismantled drug smuggling routes, seized major amounts of illicit drugs and jailed drug kingpins.
Critiquing the Merida Initiative, Mack says, “If we are unable or unwilling to identify the problem correctly, then we are unable to properly put a policy forward to combat the issue at hand.  The security and safety of the American people depend on it.” 
That’s exactly right. But it is not a problem that began with the Merida Initiative or with the Obama administration.  Mack only compounds the problem of incorrectly identifying the issue at hand in Mexico and at the border by introducing new identifiers such as “terrorist insurgency” and “criminal insurgency.” Such terms confuse tactics and methods with objectives and goals, while leading both countries down the path of increased militarization.
The Obama administration also confiscates the drug-related crisis in Mexico by raising the specter of transnational crime as a national security threat and by identifying the Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the cause of the crisis rather than as largely a product of America’s own drug war and drug prohibition policies.