“We know how to secure the border,” Gov. Rick Perry told Fox News in the wake of his reelection. Perry, who is promoting his new book, Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, told Fox that “this administration and frankly this Congress have been abject failures [at securing the border] and have been for many years now.”
But what exactly is Perry doing in Texas, and how can it be assessed?
Perry and his chief of homeland security Steve McCraw, who also serves as director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), explain that the Texas model of border security comprises an array of innovative strategies and operations that other border states and the federal government should adopt.
While Perry and McCraw routinely charge that Washington is not fulfilling its responsibility to control the border, they do more than complain. Since 2005 they have launched an array of high-tech and intelligence-centered border-security initiatives, including the Border Security Operations Center, Joint Operations Intelligence Centers, the TxMap border crime-mapping project, and “Unified Commands.” In addition, the governor’s office has supported -- with federal and state funding -- the border-security deployments of the border sheriffs, known as Operation Linebacker. Five years into the Texas model of border security, there is, however, little information about these operations and only vague assertions about their effectiveness.
Nonetheless, the Texas Public Safety Commission approved, without discussion, an “emergency procurement” contract between DPS and Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), the private contractor to which DPS has delegated its core border security operations. Prior to the transfer of the Department of Emergency Management to DPS in 2009, it was the Office of the Governor that outsourced border security operations.
ALIS has two border security contracts – one to develop and operate the border crime-mapping project called TxMAp and a larger Border Security Operations and Management contract. Both have been routinely renewed without any public accounting of accomplishments. DPS has declined to fulfill an open records request for documents and progress reports mandated by these contracts.
In a Nov. 15 letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott, DPS Asst. General Counsel Jennifer Cohen contends that “the reports are confidential” and “consequently must be withheld from public disclosure.” Among the public records requested were documents that DPS has contracted ALIS to produce.
These requested documents included:
• Most recent version of Texas Border Security Campaign Plan (Subtask 2.2);
• Program status reports for August 2010, September 2010, or most recent month available, including BSOC-specific monthly reports (Subtask 1.1); •
•ALIS’s plan to integrate the three fusion centers (Task 8); • Most recent version of the “comprehensive plan for conducting effective information operations” (Subtask 4.2);
• Most recent plan “for the conduct of unified information operations” (Subtask 4.2);
• Most recent monthly report from BSOC/ALIS (Subtask 4.2); and • Most recent edition of Border Sentinel.
The DPS letter makes the following case, citing legal precedents, for nondisclosure of these public records:
“[T]he Department believes this information is either confidential or extremely sensitive to ongoing law enforcement operations along the Texas-Mexico border. Operation Border Star is a comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional border security program. Some important goals of Operation Border Star are to arrest narcotics smugglers and human traffickers; interdict shipments of drugs coming from the border as well as money and weapons going to the border; and cripple the support structure used by smugglers and traffickers. Clearly, these are important law enforcement goals, particularly in light of the upsurge in border violence as drug cartels become increasingly confrontational toward each other and toward law enforcement officers"
“The requested reports contain detailed border operations, including pre-mission summaries, post-mission briefs, and mission analyses. All of these reports contain extensive information regarding the detection and investigation of crimes, including tactical plans, equipment details, critical assessments, and so forth.”
“The information contained in the reports at issue would reveal highly sensitive information that, in the hands of criminals, would greatly impede the efforts of law enforcement officers along the border. For instance, revealing the equipment and tactics utilized by Texas law enforcement in their border security operations would help smugglers and traffickers avoid detection as they cross the border into Texas with illegal cargo. The analyses of weaknesses contained in the responsive reports would be even more beneficial to criminals seeking to avoid detection and prosecution. Accordingly, the Department believes these responsive records are excepted from required public disclosure. In addition to the discretionary exception to disclosure stated above, the Department believes the reports at issue are confidential by law and therefore must be withheld from public disclosure.”
Governor Perry and DPS Director McCraw have promoted the Texas “model” or “paradigm” of border security as one that is having great success in the state and one that should be widely adopted. It is, however, a model that is almost exclusively in the hands of a Washington Beltway consulting firm – ALIS – that has been contracted over the past several years not only to implement the model but to design in.
Yet neither the Public Safety Commission nor the state legislature has taken its oversight responsibilities seriously. As a result, basic questions about the Texas border security model remain unanswered, such as:
* What exactly are the Border Security Operations Center and Joint Operations Intelligence Centers that ALIS has created and staffed, and what kind of information and intelligence do they disseminate?
* Is there any vetting of the information and intelligence distributed by these outsourced border security institutions, and are civil liberties and privacy concerns respected?
* Where is the statistical evidence and crime data that demonstrated the effectiveness of ALIS’s border crime mapping and its “border security operations and management.”?
*Why are these contracts being routinely renewed without any accountability?
* What type of oversight is provided by the Texas Rangers Division, which DPS's McCraw recently put in titular charge of the BSOC and JOICs?
Public access to information about the structure and impact, as well as to the contract-mandated monthly progress reports from ALIS, will help Texans and Washington officials better understand the much-touted model of border security in Texas.
Research support for this series was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
Also see, Tom Barry, "At War in Texas," Boston Review at: http://bostonreview.net/BR35.5/barry.php