Saturday, September 19, 2009

Technical Wish Fulfillment on the Border -- A History of Waste and Deception

Human rights, racial profiling, social costs,and justice are among the leading concerns of the critics of toughening immigration and border enforcement policies. The immense cost of the immigrant crackdown and new border security programs rarely is mentioned as a reason why U.S. citizens should oppose the buildup by the Department of Homeland Security in the budgets of the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Another curious feature of the immigration policy debate is that immigration advocates are generally mum on the advisability of integrated electronic surveillance infrastructure on the border. While speaking out and protesting the border fence, liberal immigration reform advocates tend to give a pass on the so-called “virtual fence” – the $6.7 billion project to deploy cameras and sensors along the southwest border in what the Border Patrol calls SBInet (Secure Border Initiative Net).
It’s a project that has come under repeated harsh criticism by the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General of DHS, It is also generally considered a giant boondoggle by immigration restrictionist groups that prefer a phystical fence.
In contrast, immigrant advocates have been mostly silient during the long history of the Border Patrol’s attempts to mount a technical barrier at the border. As candidates, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said that they preferred a technical fence to a real one – despite the long and continuing record of failure, waste, and poor management that has plaqued the program since 1997.
SBInet (2006) is the latest iteration of the virtual fence, succeeding the America Shield (2004), which succeeded the Integrated Surveillance Intelligenc System (1998).
In the name of securing the southwestern border, Congress and the U.S. public have been willing to issue blank checks to border security and defense contractors that have repeatedly promised they can install an integrated electronic surveillance system without ever having delivered. Officially, SBInet will cost $6.7 billion but both the GAO and the DHS inspector general have viewed this figure with extreme skepticism – saying that it cost three times that amount or more.
At a congressional hearing this week on SBInet, the GAO’s chief of homeland security issues Richard Stana said that there was no way to estimate how much SBInet would cost because neither the Border Patrol nor SBInet contractor Boeing knows yet – despite having run through $620 million since September 2006.
It’s not as if this is the first time that those promising a technical fix to border control have wasted taxpayer money and filled their own pockets.
To understand the full extent of the virtual fence scandal it’s helpful to review the sordid history of the ISIS project, which, like SBInet, promised that it would secure the border and function as a “force multiplier” for the Border Patrol.
One of the main proponents of ISIS was U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx), who was the Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso before running for Congress in 1997.
Reyes and High-Tech Border Security
Questions about Reyes’ campaign financing and possibly related contract have surrounded the congressman’s persistent and longtime support for high-tech electronic surveillance along the border, involving two no-bid contracts. Since coming to Washington in January 1997 Reyes has been a key advocate of constructing a “virtual fence” along the southwestern border, despite the all-too-real multibillion dollar price tag and absence of hard data that the billions result in improved border security.
Reyes and family have been involved in promoting virtual fencing since Border Patrol contractors started laying out the first components of the electronic surveillance system in the late 1990s.
But it wasn’t until the Inspector General (OIG) of the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) in December 2004 released an audit of the border electronic surveillance project, then-called the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS), that the some of the details of the electronic surveillance project were publicly revealed.
The audit focused on the Border Patrol’s relationship with the two ISIS contractors, starting with the Alaska native-based Chugach Development Corp. (headquartered in Virginia) and continuing with its successor International Microwave Corp. Rebecca Reyes, daughter of Rep. Reyes, directed the ISIS project for the two contractors.
According to GSA, the audit review of ISIS encountered serious management issues that undermined the value of the more than $200 million that had been spent on the surveillance project. The GAO inspector general found, among other things, that ISIS suffered from: “lack of competition in the awarding” of the contract, “inappropriate contract for construction services,” “inadequate contract administration and project management,” “providing equipment without contract approval,” and “ineffective management controls.”
The GSA inspector general’s audit concluded that the government had paid for "shoddy work" or "for work that was incomplete or never delivered." Official inattention to the contracted project "placed taxpayers' dollars and . . . national security at risk."
A follow-up investigative report by the Washington Post (April 11, 2005) detailed the chronology of ISIS deployment in which Rep. Reyes and his daughter, Rebecca, played major roles.
The Post recounted how Walter Drabik of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had launched the ISIS project in 1996 shortly after former Border Patrol Chief Reyes arrived in Washington. Reyes came to Congress as a strong proponent of electronic surveillance, while opposing proposals for an extended border fence.
A $2-million contract with the Alaska-based Chugach Development Corp. was soon succeeded by a series of multimillion contracts with International Microwave Corp. From its 1999 beginning ISIS was subject to controversy, intra-agency tensions, and allegations of inside dealings.
According to the Post report:
"Over the objections of Border Patrol officials, INS official Walter Drabik chose cameras distributed by a firm called ISAP. U.S. officials and contractors said IMC International Microwave Corp.] had bought the ISAP firm without disclosing it to INS officials. This allowed IMC to buy cameras from its own subsidiary, substantially increasing profits. Undisclosed self-dealing could be illegal."
Because of escalating concerns about the failed implementation of the project and about failed Border Patrol oversight, Congress was by the end of the decade threatening to eliminate the ISIS project. According to the Washington Post article, IMC then turned to Rep. Reyes and other allies in 2000 to help rescue ISIS. “Within months, INS and GSA officials granted IMC a contract expansion worth $200 million, with no competitive bidding.” The Post described Reyes as “a former Border Patrol official and key backer of the system of 12,000 sensors and several hundred cameras installed for the Border Patrol between 1998 and last year [2004].”
Family connections to shoddy border surveillance project
INS’ Drabik said, according to the Post’s report, that he recommended that first Chugach, then IMC, hire Rebecca Reyes as liaison to the INS. Both did so. Rebecca Reyes, 33, ultimately became IMC's vice president for contracts, and ran the ISIS program. Rebecca is one of three children of the congressman. The others are Silvestre Jr. and Monica.
As the El Paso Times (April 25, 2005) reported: "All three children of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes worked in some capacity for defense contractors that were criticized by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. General Services Administration for installing faulty or incomplete equipment for a border security technology system. International Microwave Corp. and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. — through their political action committees and others — also gave Reyes about $17,000 in campaign contributions during the past five years."
In 2001 Silvestre Reyes Jr., a former investigator for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), was hired by IMC as an ISIS technician. According to the congressman, his son helped set up the Border Patrol repair center in New Mexico that employed 19 IMC employees and two Border Patrol agents. The GSA audit found that “little to no work” was done at this center. Silvestre Jr. became a L-3 employee after the company bought IMC.
Monica Reyes, according to her father, was employed by IMC to conduct training.
After International Microwave was purchased in late 2002 by L-3 Communications, a major defense, homeland security, and intelligence contractor, Rebecca Reyes became a vice-president at that corporation, which assumed control of the ISIS project. As vice president for surveillance systems, Reyes described a remote electronic surveillance deployed by L-3 as “a force multiplier.”
Commenting on the involvement of the Reyes children in the border electronic surveillance debacle, Gene Davis, a retired deputy Border Patrol chief for the Blaine sector in Washington state, told the El Paso Times: “I am very concerned when I look at Congressman Reyes and his kids. I don’t like the way it looks. And what really upsets me is the amount of money taxpayers put into a system that wasn’t working, and that put our nation’s security at risk.”
The Post also noted that David Watters, the Border Patrol officer overseeing the much-criticized ISIS repair center in New Mexico, had a daughter and a niece working at the center.
“What we have here, plain and simple, is a case of gross mismanagement of a multimillion dollar contract,” said Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). “This agreement has violated federal contracting rules. And it has wasted taxpayers’ dollars. Worst of all, it has seriously weakened our border security.” Rogers, then-chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight, conducted a hearing on June 16, 2005 to determine why the L-3 subsidiary failed to execute the border security project.
L-3’s then-CEO Frank Lanza said that the Rebecca Reyes was cleared of any wrongdoing by the GSA investigation.
Reyes made her way to a vice-presidency at L-3 Communications from Chugach, where she worked as a technical writer, and then to IMC (which acquired a part of Chugach), where she directed the ISIS project, and then to L-3 in late 20002, when L-3 acquired IMC. At L-3 Reyes first served as vice president of surveillance systems.
Reyes later became director of policy, procedures and administration at L-3 subsidiary MPRI (Military Professional Resource Inc.), according to a report on intelligence outsourcing by CorpWatch and Amnesty International. Essentially, MPRI is an employment service for mercenaries, and has, for example, a major Army contract to supply interrogators, translators, and private intelligence agents for Iraq operations. MPRI says it maintains a “database of select former military (or military related), DOD civilians, Homeland Security and law enforcement professionals who would like to be considered for MPRI requirements.”
When asked as part of the research for this article about his children’s work for government contractors, Reyes’ aide Vince Perez said that "None of the Congressman's children work or have ever worked for companies that receive funding from a project requested by the Congressman. Nor do any of the Congressman’s children work for entities that have contributed to his campaign."
The current places of employment of Monica Reyes and Silvestre Reyes Jr. could not be determined. L-3 Communications is a longtime source of contributions to the Reyes campaign committee.
L-3 Communications denied that its newly acquired subsidiary IMC overcharged or failed to install the surveillance technology for which the government had paid. However, Joe Samprano, chief of the company’s subsidiary Government Services Incorporated, said that ISIS had grown too quickly for IMC to effectively manage – a problem that was rectified by the takeover of the project by the much larger L-3 Communications team in November 2002. Government Services Incorporated is the parent of MPRI, which it bought in 2000, and outsources interrogators and intelligence agents throughout the world but primarily in the Middle East.
Rep. Reyes and IMC’s Acri
Anthony Acri, IMC’s president, defended his firm’s work, saying the system was well-built and was a good investment for taxpayers. Acri said the halt in work on the system "is very dangerous for our country."
The OIG report prodded L-3 Communications to repair the faulty work of International Microwave, and L-3 fired Acri.
In addition to the charges of nepotism that surrounded the ISIS project, IMC and Reyes were linked by campaign contributions from IMC’s president and his family. In 1999-2001, IMC President Anthony Acri, Ann Acri, and Anthony Acri Jr. from Bramford, Conn. (home of IMC’s corporate headquarters) gave Reyes’ campaign committee $9,500 in ten separate donations.
Responding to the charges about the surveillance project, Rep. Reyes said:
"I had no role in whatever way of anyone getting these contracts. These contracts, whether they're bid or no-bid or whatever, that's done by the different government) agencies. My job, as I see it, since I used systems like this and since I know how important they are to Border Patrol agents in those situations, is to make sure we're out there funding them so that we can get these systems installed throughout the border.”
A continuing record of failure and poor oversight
A year after the GSA issued its audit review DHS’ own Office of Inspector General (OIG)issued its own scathing report on border electronic surveillance operations. The DHS concluded that Border Patrol oversight of the project’s contracting was “ineffective.” Rather than checking invoices from contractors, the Border Patrol simply approved them and certified them after the contractors had been paid.
As to the effectiveness of ISIS remote electronic surveillance, the OIG stated:
“We determined that more than 90 percent of the responses to sensor alerts resulted in ‘false alarms’ - something other than illegal alien activity, such as local traffic, outbound traffic, a train, or animals. On the southwest border, only two percent of sensor alerts resulted in apprehensions; on the northern border, less than one percent of sensor alerts resulted in apprehensions. “Lack of defined, stabilized, validated requirements increases likelihood of program changes, interoperability problems, equitable adjustments, and cost overruns. A broadly defined Statement of Objectives approach coupled with undefined requirements leaves programs vulnerable to failure and cost overruns."
The Border Patrol claims that electronic surveillance is a “force multiplier,” meaning that the technological barrier increases the efficiency and impact of individual agents. But the DHS report of December 2005 found the Border Patrol was “unable to quantify force-multiplication benefits” and what is more found that one of the many flaws of ISIS was that the project was badly undermanned, especially in monitoring the output of the surveillance system.
A new GAO report this week – the fourth in a series of blistering critiques of SBInet – show that the virtual fence appears to be based on a badly mistaken and very expensive belief in technical fixes for a complicated social and international issue.

Border Congressman's Record on Intelligence

Earmark and campaign funding scandals continue to tarnish Silver’s image an independent-thinking moderate. Since becoming chair of the intelligence committee, he has adopted positions that caused consternation, particularly for liberal Democrats.
Reyes’ vote against the October 2002 resolution authorizing military force in Iraq, his support for immigration reform, and his opposition to the border fence have given Reyes a base of support among liberals.
But his strong support for increased budgetary allocations for Iraq and Afghanistan, prominent role in support of missile and star war defense systems, continuing advocacy of increased border security including the so-called virtual defense and expanded Border Patrol presence, and close ties with the military and military contractors have burnished his reputation as a national security hawk.
While named chairman of the House Permanent Intelligence Committee by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because of willingness to buck the Bush administration (initially, at least) on the Iraq war and because of his credentials as a Democratic Party team player, Reyes has in his new position not distinguished himself as a independent voice in national security and intelligence issues.
One indicator of his hardliner approach to intelligence was his surprising recommendation that president-elect Obama retain President Bush’s directors of the CIA and the National Security Agency. In December 2008, Reyes told CongressDaily (Dec. 10) that he recommended to the Obama transition team that then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and then-CIA Director Michael Hayden should be kept in their posts at least six months. Despite a widespread conviction about Democrats that it was time to turn the page on the intelligence and domestic surveillance practices of the Bush administration, Reyes said, "There's got to be some continuity, and the leadership of both the CIA and the DNI is going to be pivotal to keeping us safe and secure," Reyes said. Hayden had come under sharp criticism in Congress for having been in charge of the National Security Agency when it started conducting widespread electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens after the Sept. 11 attacks. While McConnell wasn’t tied directly to the warrantless wiretapping, there was growing concern in Congress that CIA wasn’t adequately briefing it on its operations, and he also drew criticism from many Democrats for his role in crafting and pressing for the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2008, which gave the intelligence community for some domestic surveillance. Reyes’s position on torture has been overly nuanced, according to critics. According to the CongressDaily report, Reyes recommended that the incoming administration continue parts of the CIA’s alternative interrogation program. While critics, including some within the intelligence community, have charged that the CIA’s interrogation practices included routine use of torture, Reyes told the transition team that it needed to find the right balance, which would not include torture but would allow the CIA to extract valuable information from suspected terrorists. But he was typically vague about his own convictions about torture. "There are those that believe that this particular issue has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available," Reyes said. In a formulation that sounded much like that of the Bush administration, Reyes said, ‘We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security.” Reyes also came down on the side of the Bush administration when he opposed adding language to the fiscal 2009 authorization bill prohibiting intelligence agencies from using any interrogation methods not authorized by the Field Manual. Another controversial vote was his June 2008 vote in favor a bill that would grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies like AT&T that participated in warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens. Reyes has continued to disappoint in his unwillingness to exercise strong congressional oversight of the intelligence community. While Reyes has not publicly opposed the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate CIA interrogation practices in the wake of the release of a report by the Office of Inspector General on torture, neither did he support it, politically positioning himself in the middle. In a typically bland statement, Reyes said, "In nearly every case, the men and women at the CIA were following what they believed to be lawful guidance. Rather than point fingers and assign blame, we need to carefully examine the mechanisms that allowed this guidance to be developed and implemented and enact reforms that will guard against such institutional failures." The office of the Inspector General was created by Congress in wake of the Iran-Contra scandal in which CIA operatives independently mounted clandestine operations. After serving four years, OIG director John Helgerson stepped down in early February 2009. His independence alarmed the Bush administration and CIA director Michael Hayden launched an executive investigation of the agency’s own inspector general. The Obama administration has been content to leave the office vacant these last seven months, thereby substantially reducing any oversight of the agency. The failure of Reyes and Sen. Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to insist that the OIG directorship be filled has sparked criticism among intelligence reformers. Melvin Goodman, author of The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, wrote: “The weakening of the OIG by CIA leadership is an affront to Congress, particularly to Feinstein and Reyes; they are demonstrating a dereliction of duty.”
Image: El Paso Newspaper Tree

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Virtual Fence's History of Incompetence

(An excerpt from the third part in the Reyes the Rainmaker series.) Although a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx.)is a major force in Congress for more border security. But unlike many border security advocates, Reyes opposed building border fences along open, nonurban stretches of the border. He has won praise from immigrant rights advocates for both his support for immigration reform and his opposition to the border wall part of DHS’ Secure Border Initiative.
But Reyes has been a longtime supporter of electronic surveillance projects, despite their high cost, history of failed government oversight, and persistent technical failures. At a July 20, 2006 homeland security hearing, Reyes said:
“That is why I have consistently lobbied my colleagues for greater resources for border security, including additional Border Patrol agents, equipment, and technology; more immigration inspectors and judges; and thousands of new detention beds.”
Declaring his opposition to the then-proposed 700-mile border fence, Reyes argued instead for a virtual fence:
“In these more remote areas our limited border security resources would be much better spent on additional personnel, equipment, and technology such as sensors to create what is often referred to as a ‘virtual fence.’ A virtual fence could also be implemented more quickly and therefore could help us gain operational control of our borders sooner.”
The July 20, 2006 statement by Rep. Reyes is prefaced on the Reyes blog with this assertion of his strong border security credentials: “As usual, the Congressman grapped [sic] everybody's attention with his rock-solid, common sense border vision and his sweeping command of policy and facts.”
The virtual fence has been part a favored project of the Border Patrol and homeland security contractors since 1997. But its 12-year history gives little assurance that it is a rock-solid, common sense approach to border control.
A series of OIG reports continuing into 2009 have offered blistering criticisms of the succession of electronic surveillance projects undertaken by the Border Patrol. Yet the plans for the virtual fence have not only continued but have continually expanded in ambition scope – with scant evident of impact.
After having spent $239 million in the ISIS project, the Border Patrol in 2004 launched a new electronic surveillance project called America’s Shield, which received strong congressional and Bush administration support. By 2006 another $200 million had been spent on federal contractors with homeland security firms – still without any documented impact.
In December 2005 SBInet became the latest iteration of the electronic border surveillance project. In fiscal year 2007 alone, prior to any deployment of the system, the virtual fence project cost the U.S. taxpayer $219 million in contracts with Boeing. SBInet subcontractors include many leading homeland security firms, including L-3 Communications, Unisys, DRS Technologies, Lucent Technologies, and USIS.
DHS estimates that SBInet will cost $6.7 billion to fully deploy SBInet, but DHS’ own inspector general said that the final cost may triple the current estimates.
Because of the repeated Border Patrol management failures since 2006 in the planning and implementation of SBInet, the House Homeland Security Committee charged CBP, through a provision in FY 2009 appropriations, with meeting 12 legislative conditions for the release of further appropriated funding ($400 million).
A new GAO report (April 2009), building on a series of critical reports about SBInet management, found that CBP met only three of the dozen conditions. A year earlier, GAO had concluded: "Important aspects of SBInet remain ambiguous and in a continued state of flux, making it unclear and uncertain what technology capabilities will be delivered, when.”
A June 2009 report on SBInet from DHS’ inspector general concluded that the Border Patrol lacked sufficient control over the project – whose short-term costs are estimated to exceed $8 billion. "With continued heavy reliance on contractor support services, CBP risks losing control of program decisions while remaining accountable for mission results," DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner wrote in the latest OIG report slamming the virtual fence.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The National Security Complex -- Integrating Military, Intelligence, and Homeland Security

Who’s taking care of our national security – our nation’s defense, military operations, homeland security, and intelligence?
There’s the Department of Defense, the U.S. armed forces, the Department of Homeland Security, and the “intelligence community” of agencies led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
But since Sept. 11 national security has been increasingly outsourced.
Industry involvement in national security is nothing new. It became such a pervasive and influential part of national security operations in World War II and the onset of the cold war that President Dwight Eisenhower gave it a name: “military-industrial complex.”
But that’s no longer an accurate description of government/industry collaboration in shaping national security.
Since Sept. 11 a new government/industry complex has emerged – one that brings together all aspects of national security. Its formation and explosive growth are the product of three interrelated trends: 1) increased outsourcing to private contractors unleashed by the Bush administration, surge in the intelligence budget, and creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
While governmental functions are divided into departmental responsibilities, the various dimensions of post-Sept. 11 national security operations are more integrated in industry.
Who are the top homeland security contractors, the top intelligence contractors, the top military contractors?
The top ten DHS contractors in 2008 were Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, IBM, L-3 Communications, Unisys, SAIC, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Electric, and Accenture.
Other corporations that are among the top 25 DHS contractors include General Dynamics, Fluor, Computer Sciences Corp, American Eurocopter, Electronic Data Systems, and Motorola.
Who are the top intelligence contractors? There is no public list of corporations that perform work for the intelligence community.

Tim Shorrock in his new book Spies for Hire reports that based on company releases and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission the top five intelligence contractors are likely: Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, SAIC, General Dynamics, and L-3 Communications. Other major intelligence contractors include Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI International, DRS Technologies and ManTech International. As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a key member of the House Appropriations Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx.) exercises oversight and control over the ballooning intelligence budget. Since Sept. 11, the 16 agencies that comprise the intelligence community along with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have experience two main trends: the doubling of the intelligence budget and the rapid increase in private outsourcing. Within the past eight years – since Sept. 11 2001 – the intelligence budget has soared, rising from an estimated $30 billion at the turn of the century to an estimated $66.5 billion today. Just as the White House and Congress have cooperated to ramp up the intelligence budgets, the intelligence community has channeled most of the new funding to private intelligence contractors, both major companies like CACI and individual contractors. An estimated 70% of the intelligence budget now is channeled to the private sector. Who are the top defense contractors? The top ten are: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE Systems, L-3 Communications, United Technologies, KBR, and SAIC. Others within the top 25 include Computer Sciences Corp., General Electric, ITT, Electronic Data Systems, DRS Technologies, Textron, Honeywell, and Booz Allen Hamiliton. Generally, the top military contractors, like Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, are also the top intelligence and homeland security contractors. The military-industrial complex has become the military/homeland security/intelligence complex. In his farewell address President Eisenhower warned:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

That warning, while still well-advised, is now badly out of date. The power of this complex has become so pervasive that it is difficult to determine what remains a purely governmental function in national security. Corporate hires perform soldiering and intelligence collection, and even hiring and management are now outsourced to the private sector. Most major military contractors have homeland security and intelligence divisions that are much larger than the progenitor defense corporations of the 1960s. It’s no longer entirely accurate to call corporations like Lockheed Martin defense or military contractors. Doing so ignores their central place in both homeland security and intelligence operations.
What we now have might be more accurately termed a national security complex where intelligence, defense, and homeland security are closely linked and integrated.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

El Paso: Where Homeland Security Meets National Security

(This is an excerpt from the second of a three-part series titled “Reyes the Rainmaker,” focusing on the power and influence of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in national security, homeland security, border security, and intelligence operations, how those programs have been integrated into regional economic development efforts, and how Reyes has drawn increasing support from the military contracting sector.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) has enjoyed an increasing stream of campaign contributions from government defense, security, and intelligence contractors. Contributions from these firms are now among his largest sources of campaign funds.
Reyes and his staff have repeatedly denied that there is any connection between contributions and his congressional actions. But the appearances of “pay-to-play” activity continue to follow the congressman.
One of the first cases surfaced in 2004 as part of a federal GSA investigation of shoddy work by International Microwave Corporation on an electronic surveillance program on the border. The president of the company had made several large contributions to the Reyes campaign committee, and Rebecca Reyes, the congressman’s daughter, was director of the project. Reyes has said that he had nothing to do with her employment.
In the summer of 2006, just after Reyes became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, media reports associated contributions by The PMA Group, the defense lobbying giant, to favored treatment by Reyes of PMA clients in the form of earmarks and contracts. Over the past four years, the defense companies that have received earmarks have also been the source of generous campaign contributions.
The opening this summer of a congressional review of the lobbying and campaign operations of The PMA Group by the House ethics panel and a parallel Justice Department investigation have sparked new media reports about the now-defunct PMA.
Military-Industrial Complex Comes to Congress
It may be that there are no direct links between the contributions that Rep. Reyes received for his campaign or for his PAC and the defense and intelligence appropriations that benefited these donors. The current House review and Justice Department investigation may shed light on the campaign and PAC contributions from the defense and security industry and the shaping of the defense appropriations bills.
Although neither the House ethics panel nor DOJ has released any details about their investigations, it’s likely that the targets of the investigation are the senior members of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, where the Pentagon’s defense budget is reshaped and approved, rather then the members of the Armed Services Committee, where Reyes sits.
The investigations apparently do not target the House Intelligence Committee, which came under intense scrutiny several years ago, when one of its members, former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Ca.), came under judicial scrutiny for accepting bribes in exchange for favors as part of his work on the intelligence committee. Cunningham, who used his House position to channel millions of dollars to defense and intelligence contractors, began an eight-year sentence in 2006 for accepting bribes bribes and evading taxes.
When Reyes became chairman of the committee, he drew criticism when he opposed releasing an internal review, saying in a statement at the time that "my view was that the report was an internal review, principally of staff activity, and that the full report — with all of the names of staff — was not intended for dissemination beyond the committee.” [2007 article from The Hill]
At stake is not just the rule of law, but the quality of governance. The dominance of campaign and PAC contributions from defense, security, and intelligence contractors that depend on government appropriations for virtually of their revenues raises issues about undue influence. It’s a concern that President Dwight Eisenhower raised in his farewell address:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of nwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.”
In the past five decades the influence of this sector has expanded as the defense budget has grown, and it’s a sector that now comprises not only defense contractors but private contractors for the Department of Homeland Security and all intelligence community agencies, where outsourcing is even more prevalent than at the Pentagon.
Photo: Thaad missile defense system supported by Rep. Reyes

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fostering a "Homeland Security" Culture

(Excerpted from "Reyes the Rainmaker," a three-part series on Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx) and his role in promoting military, homeland security, and intelligence operations in the the El Paso area. For the entire article, see: ) Working in close coordination with CDSR is UTEP’s new National Center for Border Security and Immigration, which was created in 2008 by a $6-million grant from DHS. The University of Arizona is UTEP’s partner in the new homeland security research center. NCBSI was launched at UTEP’s 2005 Border Security Conference. NCBSI 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.” Additionally, the DHS-sponsored and financed center will “foster a homeland security culture within the academic community through research and educational programs.” NCBSI , according to DHS, 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.” Even before the March 2003 opening of the DHS plans were underway to involve universities in 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. The new DHS-academy condominium includes an expanding national network of “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 institute 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.” There has 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 by DHS’ own inspector general and by congressional oversight committees 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. 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 (DNI). 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” and to “broaden the base of diverse talent pools to achieve Intelligence Community mission effectiveness.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Homeland Security Doctors Now Care for Private Sector

The revolving door between government and industry has been spinning off a stream of Department of Homeland Security officials who are finding a new home on the private side of the homeland security complex. Soon after leaving the top post at DHS Michael Chertoff coauthored an article in the Daily Beast on pandemics. His coauthor was Dr. J. Bennet Waters, formerly Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Transportation Security Administration and served previously as Chief of Staff of DHS’s Office of Health Affairs and as Counselor to two DHS Deputy Secretaries. "Treating a pandemic as a health problem is not just bad policy, it is a dangerous approach,” they wrote. Instead it should be treated as a “national crisis” with the impact on health just one of the many aspects of a pandemic. According to Chertoff and Bennet, a pandemic of the swine flu would, in addition to its health consequences, create myriad other consequences: economic, diplomatic, and matters of national security among them.” Furthermore, the authors say: “While post-9/11 realities require us to be vigilant about intentional biological attacks, naturally occurring biological events would yield equally devastating consequences.” One of the commentators on Chertoff and Bennet’s Daily Beast article asked:

“Why the Daily Beast is wasting ink (and money?) on Chertoff is beyond me: It is NOT journalism; and WHERE is the disclosure on the various lobby groups and corporartions that this man works for? Could it be that he lobbies for pharmaceutical companies? Surely, the Beast can find reputable people to write on this issue, not a self-interested hack.”

Dr. Bennet has recently joined the Chertoff Group, a homeland security and risk management firm formed by former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff.
Another member of the Chertoff team is Jeffrey Runge, who is Chetoff Group’s deputy chief operating officer. Like Chertoff and Bennet, Runge came to the homeland security business from DHS, where he was the assistant secretary of health.
But the Chertoff is doing more than writing alarmist articles about the national security implications of swine flu. They are also doing business.
BioNeutral Group has hired Chertoff Group. BioNeutral is marking a new antimicrobial called Ygiene, which is says will be an “an integral part of a comprehensive plan that deals with a pandemic such as the Swine Flu.” According to BioNeutral CEP Stephen Browand, “Ygiene out-performs all other antimicrobials and will become the solution of choice once approved by the EPA for commercialization in the United States. The company is in discussions to distribute and license its groundbreaking technology.”
That’s where the Chertoff Group comes in.
Under the new business agreement, Chertoff Group’s doctors, Bennet and Runge, will be spending half the time at BioNeutral, working to “enhance the company’s strategic alliances, corporate operations, product testing, regulatory approvals, capital strategies and sales to the public and private sectors.”
Given Chertoff’s sorry record of responding to national disasters – Hurricane Katrina – here is something to be alarmed about. Also see: Former Bush Officials Find Terrorism Obsession Can Be Profitable, at:

Unpredented Per Capita Prison Debt in Texas

There are 18 Texas counties with project revenue bonds for prisons that are financed through lease-purchase agreements. These are among the poorest and most sparsely populated counties in the nation.
Many of these sponsor prisons and detention centers for immigrants under agreements with ICE, USMS, and BOP. Others typically are county jails and detention centers that were constructed with the intent of attracting inmates from other state jurisdictions, other states, and USMS. The counties with the largest prisons are those that have immigrant inmates, notably Willacy and Reeves.
In most of these prison-town counties, the hosting town, usually the country seat, has become a prison town – where the detention center or prison is the primary single source of employment and revenue.
Another measure of the centrality of imprisonment in the life of these Texas communities is the per capita debt from prison bonds.
When it comes to per capita public debt, Texas is a leader on two counties. It has the lowest per capita tax debt in the nation – meaning that the tax burden from state taxes is the lowest in the country. At last count – according to 2004 census figures – Texans had a per capita state-tax burden of only $1,368.
But, because of the recent proliferation of public bond-financed privately run prisons, these 18 counties have per capita debt burdens from lease-purchase contracts that far exceeds the per capita burden from either state or tax-backed debt.
The main reason for this is that the prisons are usually located in the most sparsely populated counties.
Hudspeth County, which hosts a USMS immigrant prison, has only 3,240 inhabitants spread over 4,572 sq. miles – less than one person per square mile. Yet it has incurred a prison debt of $21.8 million for a private prison for USMS-custody immigrants, which is run by the Shreveport, La.-based Emerald Corporation.
According to the Texas Bond Review Board, this revenue debt translates into a per capita prison debt of $6,636. The $21.8 million in outstanding revenue debt doesn’t include the $18.8 million in debt service that Hudspeth County will pay until the bonds mature in 2025.
The per capita prison debt exceeds the county’s annual per capita income --$9,549 – which is one of the lowest in the nation. One-third of the families in this border county lives under the poverty line.
And Hudspeth County is hardly the exception among prison communities in Texas. Reeves County, which owns a Bureau of Prisons immigrant prison operated by GEO Group, has a per capita prison debt of $8,224. Like Hudspeth County, Reeves County is mostly open expanses of highland desert, with five people for every square mile. One quarter of its families lives in poverty, yet there is a $92 million prison debt.
Deep in South Texas, Willacy County, like Hudspeth County, ranks as one of the poorest counties in the country, with an annual per capita income of $9, 421. Raymondville, its county seat, hosts the largest ICE immigrant detention center, which is operated by Management & Training Corporation (MTC). The Texas Revenue Review Board says that Willacy County residents face a per capita debt ratio from $130.6 million in outstanding prison bonds of $7,755.
When entering into these prison-financing deals, Texas county governments are assured that there is no financial liability. If the public facility corporation issuing the debt cannot pay off the bonds, it will be the bondholders who will take the hit not county residents.
It is true that the government and its residents don’t face any direct liability if there is a default, but there are costs and risks. If there is a default, the bond issuing capability of the government will likely suffer, since its bonds will be downgraded (meaning both that investors will be harder to find for its municipal bonds and that the interest rates for these bonds will increase.”
This is the case with Reeves County, whose bond ratings dropped to junk bond status after it was unable to meet payments in 2003 when the beds in a newly constructed prison were empty and again in 2006 when there was uncertainty if Reeves County and another West Texas county, Garza County, would win new contracts with the Bureau of Prisons for holding “criminal aliens.”
The 18 Texas counties with prison bonds are not the only Texas localities that private prisons. All the major private prison corporations have taken advantage of Texas as the country’s most receptive state for private prisons. Corrections Corporation of America, MTC, and Cornell Companies, for example, both own and operate immigrant prisons for the Bureau of Prisons.
Photo/Tom Barry: Dilapidation in Sierra Blanca, prison town and county seat of Hudspeth County.