Friday, December 9, 2011

Border Security is Food Security in Texas, & Public Records are only for Generals

Threat to Texas as presented in Strategic Military Assessment 

For those of you who follow border security issues closely, this may seem like old news.  But there is some fascinating and disturbing new information about the border security report produced for the Texas Department of Agriculture by two retired military generals -- Robert Scales and Barry M. McCaffrey and their respective security consulting agencies.

The report, as you may remember, was alarmingly titled Border Security: Strategic Military Assessment, and praised Texas for mounting a “comprehensive military-like operational campaign against narco-terrorists” and encouraged the federal government to follow example of the border security campaign launched in Texas under Gov. Rick Perry’s leadership. The retired generals called the Texas border a “war zone.”

You might ask what all this has to with the price of beans? Why the agriculture department?

Explaining why his department has taken on the border security issue, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples asserts “violent Mexican drug cartels are invading Texas farms and ranches, threatening the lives of our fellow citizens and jeopardizing our nation’s food supply.” The slogan of the department’s new border security website is: “Defend Our Borders, Protect Our Citizens, Secure Our Food.”

Staples may have commissioned report by the so-called “independent consultants” to raise his own political profile.

Border security hawkishness is a path to political power.  

A political fact that is especially relevant is that Staples is campaigning to become the state’s next lieutenant government, following the political path of Rick Perry, who served as agricultural commissioner before becoming lieutenant governor under George W. Bush.

Texans are constantly reminded not to forget the Alamo. Fighting against Mexico and Mexicans runs deep in the heart of the history of the Lone Star State.

Rick Perry, who made Texas border security a central theme of his 2006 and 2010 reelection campaigns, is fond of saying that “there can be no homeland security without border security.” Commissioner Staples builds on this argument by asserting that without border security there can be no food security.

In addition to hiring the two generals, both of whom operate their own security consulting firms, to assess the security threat along the Texas border, Staples has launched Protect Your Texas, a Texas Department of Agriculture-sponsored website that solicits comments from Texas ranchers and farmers.
But all the above may be old news to border watchers.

However, that’s not all.  We are trying to track down the public records used by the retired generals to make their alarmist assessment. And we started looking into the background of the consultants – finding what we regard as truly alarming facts about the Ret. Gen. Barry M. McCaffrey.

(Read an earlier post, Hired Gun Comes to Texas for the disturbing facts about consultant McCaffrey’s war record and his post-military record as a paid Pentagon warmonger.)

Pubic Records Denied, Public Records Disclosed

In our probe of the “border security is food security” clamor in Texas, we have been asking to see the public records cited in the Strategic Military Assessment to support the reports recommendations that a military response is necessary.

The Office of the Governor, which launched the Texas Border Star campaign that is so lavishly praised in the report, responded to our public records request stating that it didn’t have any of the requested documents that were cited in the military assessment report, including the Border Security Strategy and Operations Plan, the first Border Security Plan, and the Concept Plan for Border Star.

But Perry’s office suggested we pursue our inquiry with the Agriculture Department, which commissioned and produced the report. That made sense, but we already had and were told that the department didn’t have any “responsive documents” – even though they were cited in its highly publicized report.

We also tried to get the records cited by the Strategic Military Assessment report from the Department of Public Safety. While originating in the governor’s office, the direction of Border Star and other components of the state’s much-touted border security operations moved over to DPS in 2009. That’s when Steve McCraw, Governor Perry’s appointed chief of the state’s Homeland Security Office, was appointed DPS chief – while maintaining his homeland security directorship.

Finally, the requested records were located at DPS.

In addition to those cited above, we requested other records also cited in the generals’ military assessment of the border. These included records from two Border Star surge operations called Operation Comanche Moon and Operation Blue Heron that the generals referenced in support of their recommendations for a more expansive military response to purported border insecurity.

We also requested records cited by the report from the Border Security Operations Center, the command center for Border Star that has been operated under contract by another security consultancy agency called Abrams Learning and Information Systems.

But there is a catch. These documents are, according to DPS, not available for “public disclosure” – even though they were apparently disclosed to the two independent consultants for the purpose of producing an alarmist report about the military threats and needed military responses needed on the Texas border.

There’s hope, though. In denying our request for public records, DPS referred our request and its denial to the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

But shortly before Attorney General Abbott was asked to consider our request and support the DPS denial, he took a high-profile stance himself as a border security hawk. In a November 2 letter to President Obama, Abbott warned that, “if your Administration continues to fail to secure the border against this threat, it is only a matter of time before American lives are lost.”

In his letter to Obama, Abbott echoed the assertions of Perry, McCraw, Ag. Commissioner Staples, and the two hired generals that federal government should join in the border security campaign initiated and directed by Texas.  

Texas officials close to Perry boast that Border Star is “model” that DHS should emulate.  Abbot wrote:

I implore you to aggressively confront this escalating threat. To protect American lives, your administration must immediately dedicate more manpower to border security—especially along the 1,254 mile Texas border, which remains unacceptably porous. Texas and its law enforcement personnel at the state, county and local levels remain committed to working with your Administration to maintain the highest level of public safety. We ask that you collaborate with us to accomplish that goal before more American blood is lost. 

DPS insists that the records cited and apparently reviewed by the ex-military consultants are exempt from public disclosure under provisions of state law that specify that certain law enforcement records if publicly disclosed would “unduly interfere with law enforcement.”

All this raises several issues and concerns:

1.    Why doesn’t Rick Perry’s governor’s office, which launched Operation Border Star the Border Security Operations Center – tapping criminal justice assistance funds from the U.S. Department of Justice – have records of the founding documents in its files?

2.    Why doesn’t the Texas Department of Justice, which commissioned and promoted the Texas border security report, have the documents cited in the report it published in its own files? (Shouldn’t the commissioner have vetted the authors and their conclusions before it released the report in a major press release and in congressional testimony in Washington?)

3.    On what grounds did the government of Texas – whether the governor’s office or DPS – disclose these and other records about the state’s border security campaign and operations to the private for-profit consultants who were not current (or past) law enforcement officials? (And on what grounds did it deny the release of even redacted documents?)

4.    The governor’s office, DPS, the Texas Rangers, the Public Safety Commission (which oversees DPS), and most recently the Agriculture Department all hail the accomplishments of Border Start and other components of the “Texas model of border security,” yet there is no publicly available information that would allow the public to: 1) determine what exactly are Operation Border Star and related entities like the Border Security Operations Center, 2) assess the validity of the claims of success (arrests, drug seizures, shutting down transnational criminal organizations, increasing public safety in border areas) made by Governor Perry, DPS Chief McCraw, and consultants McCaffrey and Staples, 3) allow the public (Texas and U.S.) and legislators (Texas and U.S.) to evaluate if the millions of dollars in U.S. criminal justice funds and state appropriated revenues are being well spent, 4) assess the practice of DPS and the governor’s office of outsourcing border security strategy and operations to private security firms, and, finally, 5) make a determination whether Border Star and its affiliates are products of law enforcement or rather of crass political motives.

Related articles:

At War in Texas (Boston Review)
Outsourcing Texas Border Security

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



Great reporting. Keep digging.

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well, your little report here implying that the border is secure just shows how inept, and how not qualified you are to raise your questions here. War Zone, you betcha ya, you push your grocery cart, or your shopping cart throught the parking lot to HEB or the Home Depot or the like and before the clean up crew is there you will listen to the crunch of the bullet casings, and the crushed cell phones littering the parking lot. In other words your every day citizen wonder everytime they leave their house, is this going to be "the wrong place at the wrong time"? The ranchers, the people who abut the river, they will tell you their tales of woe, but here we have you bloviating as if you know. Well you don't and are doing a huge disservice to the rest of the Country allowing them to believe otherwise.