Friday, August 7, 2009

Border Security and the Academy

Even before the March 2003 opening of the Department of Homeland Security plans were underway to involve universities in the new effort for homeland security. Congress, as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, authorized the new department to “designate a university-based system for several university-based centers for homeland security.” Today, there is a network of universities that receives DHS funding to collaborate with the government to, as the act stipulated, “enhance the Nation’s homeland security.” It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, with universities benefiting from large grants from a rapidly expanding part of the federal government and with the government benefiting from the sponsored research of hundreds of university scholars. But there has yet been no overall evaluation of how this DHS-academy cooperative venture – now six years old – has contributed to improving homeland security. Since the creation of DHS there have been rising questions and concerns about departmental operations, including issues of waste, over-reliance on private contractors, and widespread abuses and excesses in immigration enforcement and border control. Given the failures and controversies surrounding the department’s Secure Border Initiative – including the border fence and high-tech surveillance systems (“virtual fence”) – there is good cause to question the involvement of universities in the support and development of DHS border security infrastructure and strategies. The huge sums of DHS funds flowing to private contractors such as Boeing also raise questions about the degree to which research and education about border issues is shaped by monetary incentives. Within a historical context, the new relationships among government, industry, and the academy that have emerged after Sept. 11 as part of the Bush administration’s “global war against terrorism” are not dissimilar to the complex of government-business-military-university relationship that emerged as part of the cold war, what President Dwight Eisenhower termed the “military-industrial complex.” Centers of Excellence The new DHS-academy condominium includes “centers of excellence.” Today, there are 13 DHS university-based centers of excellence. Through DHS’s Science & Technology Directorate and the department’s Office of University Programs, DHS aims “to leverage the independent thinking and ground-breaking capabilities of the Nation's colleges and universities” with its centers of excellence. The newest DHS university research is the Center of Excellence in Command, Control and Interoperability (C2I), which is led by Purdue University and Rutgers University. According to DHS, this center will “create the scientific basis and enduring technologies needed to analyze massive amounts of information from multiple sources to more reliably detect threats to the security of the nation and its infrastructures, and to the health and welfare of its populace.” The August 10 visit of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to El Paso to meet with the and to speak at the 2009 Border Security Conference will likely highlight the role of one of these centers of excellence, namely the National Center for Border Security and Immigration. The leading university partners in NCBSI are the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Arizona. According to UTEP’s border security center, it aims to “stimulate, coordinate, leverage, and utilize the unique intellectual capital in the academic community to address current and future homeland security challenges, and educate and inspire the next generation homeland security workforce.” What is more, the DHS-sponsored and financed center will “foster a homeland security culture within the academic community through research and educational programs.” DHS says that NCBSI is “developing technologies, tools, and advanced methods to balance immigration and commerce with effective border security, as well as assess threats and vulnerabilities, improve surveillance and screening, analyze immigration trends, and enhance policy and law enforcement efforts.” NCBSI was launched at the 2008 Border Security Conference at UTEP, a conference officially sponsored by Cong. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and UTEP and financially sponsored by major military and security contractors, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics. Last year DHS provided UTEP a six-year $6 million grant to open the border security center. Also in 2008 UTEP landed a $1 million start-up grant from the Department of Defense to open its Center for Defense Systems Research. Although a DOD-financed center, CDSR also has a border security focus. Among the center’s partners are Customs and Border Protection, Electronic Warfare Solutions, and the major military contractor SAIC. Both NCBSI and CDSR were until recently headed by founding director Ret. Brig. Gen. Jose Riojas, who was named by the Obama administration for a position in Veteran Affairs. Both centers fall under UTEP’s Office for Strategic Initiatives. Before joining UTEP as vice-president for strategic initiatives, Riojas was commander of Joint Task Force North, headquartered at Ft. Bliss in El Paso. Also located at UTEP is another government-funded center of excellence – focusing on intelligence. It’s the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence, which is one of a network of university centers funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Backed by a multimillion dollar grant from the Director of National Intelligence, this center of academic excellence aims to “build a workforce prepared for 21st Century challenges.” Next: DHS Feeds Booming Security/Defense Industry


Elpaso said...

Thanks Tom for this excellent paper- your well researched information is very useful to us in El Paso- and along the new Mexico thru Texas frontera.
We have been watching UTEP and their involvement with DHS. As you know Homeland Security Director Janet Nopalatino will be comming to the speak at the UTEP - Rep. Reyes Border Security Summit next Monday, August 10.

RNB Research said...

I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great ... Keep it up!