Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Arizona Alliance's Dubious Achievements in Combating "Transnational Threats"

Border fence along ACTT's Arizona-Sonora corridor/Barry

(This is the second of three articles on the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats – ACTT.)

ACTT is described as “a multi-agency operation in the Sonora-Arizona Corridor (what it calls FA-1) involving over 50 federal, tribal, state, and local law enforcement and public safety organizations.” Its aim is to “deny, degrade, disrupt, and ultimately dismantle criminal organizations and their ability to operate; engage communities to reduce their tolerance of illegal activity.”

In addition to local agencies such as Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, DHS says that ACTT involves the collaboration of the Mexican government to “combat individuals and criminal organizations that pose a threat to communities on both sides of the border.” DHS also asserts that the multiagency operations launched by ACTT are ‘intelligence driven.”

What TCOs and transnational threats has ACTT combated? Which ones have been degraded or dismantled in the last two years?

It’s difficult to evaluate the achievements of ACTT or other similar DHS operations with similar objectives, such as the much-heralded Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST), because DHS sets no performance standards and doesn’t provide any specific definitions of either transnational threats or TCOs.

Instead, DHS offers, in the form of occasional press releases, only same measures of progress that typified pre-9/11 border control operations, namely quantities of illegal drugs seized, number of unauthorized immigrants apprehended, and selected reports of individual arrests.

DHS can’t point to any of its “intelligence-driven” operations in Arizona that have led to any arrests of members of the main drug cartels in Mexico.

In a visit to the border in February 2011, Alan Bersin, director of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), boasted of the increased border security resulting from ACTT operations:

ACTT is one of the many examples of the ways in which DHS is working side-by-side with the law enforcement agencies that have a stake in strengthening border security and improving the quality of life of affected communities. This alliance is significantly strengthening border security enforcement across federal, state, tribal and local jurisdictions, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Just how did border security improve as a result of this new operation to combat transnational threats?

Bersin pointed to these specific achievements since the inception of ACTT.

·        The seizure of more than 1.6 million lbs. of marijuana, 3,800 lbs. of cocaine, and 1,000 lbs. of methamphetamine;
·        The seizure of more than $13 million in undeclared U.S. currency and 268 weapons;
·        Nearly 14,000 aliens denied entry to the U.S. at Arizona ports of entry due to criminal background or other disqualifying factors; and
·        Approximately 270,000 apprehensions between ports of entry;

Yet these figures were not specific to ACTT operations but were CBP totals.

DHS does have extremely detailed reports from its ACTT initiative, but these weekly activity reports are not available to the public. However, a recent hacker attack on the email system of the Arizona Department of Public Safety did produce one of these “law enforcement sensitive” weekly reports, which was attached to a departmental email message. The LulzSec hackers said that targeted “AZDPS specifically because we are against SB1070 and the racial profiling anti-immigrant police state that is Arizona.” 

The October 2-9, 2010 ACTT report for the Arizona-Sonora corridor (the only corridor then covered by the ACTT multiagency initiative) did underscore that ACTT figures of arrests and seizures are compilations from participating federal and local agencies, rather than being the direct result of this initiative.

One section of the report includes a recounting of the “enforcement operations conducted in an effort to disrupt, degrade, and dismantle criminal organizations.”

That week the Border Patrol reported that “agents seized a total of 8,461 pounds of marijuana in 38 incidents.”

At the ports of entry, CBP officers reported the following two incidents categorized as “Degrade, Disrupt, and Dismantle Operations":

·        “CBP Officers selected three male subjects who were traveling together wearing new clothing and shoes for an outbound exam. During the exam it was discovered that all three were Mexican nationals present in the U.S. without admission. All three subjects stated they were returning to Mexico and declared $100 all together. Further exam revealed $433 combined between all three subjects. During the interview they admitted the currency was payment for transporting an unknown amount of marijuana into the United States from Mexico through the desert near Nogales, AZ. All three were processed for removals and returned to Mexico.”

·        “CBP Officers noticed a female traveler walking south in a hurried manner, clutching her purse tightly and avoiding eye contact; and selected her for an outbound exam. The traveler was identified as a Mexican national. A search of her purse revealed an envelope with currency and a second package of currency in her wallet. A personal search of the subject led to the discovery of 4 more packages strapped to hers arms and lower back. CBP seized a total of $15,126 for violation of bulk cash smuggling.”

Under “Impact and Consequences of Actions,” the Border Patrol reported (for the week):

·        “Of the 1,077 aliens arrested in FA-1, 1,009 (94%) were removed through a process other than local voluntary return.
·        “Of the aliens who have been sent out of Tucson Sector via the ATEP [Alien Transfer and Exit Program, which deports illegal immigrants through distant border crossings to discourage reentry] program in FY11, 4.9% have been re-apprehended. Of that 4.9%, 75% have been re-apprehended in Arizona.
·        “Overall, Tucson Sector Border Patrol has decreased 49% in apprehensions, and is up 41% in marijuana seizures by weight compared to last fiscal year.”

The ACTT weekly report makes no mention of cartel members, TCOs, or transnational threats. It does note that ICE agents “identified zero illegal aliens documented as gang members,” and that ICE agents arrests are “conduct[ing] threat assessments at targeted residences and locations in Tucson and Phoenix” and also “continue to focus on identification, disruption, and dismantling of major human and drug smuggling organizations.”

But there was nothing to indicate that it had made any progress on degrading transnational threats or dismantling TCOs that DHS says are endangering U.S. national security.

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