Sunday, December 30, 2012

Border Security Drones On the Ground without Strategy or Budget

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program of CBP’s Office of Air and Marine isn’t classified like the drone programs of the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East and South Asia. Yet information about the federal government’s use of UAVs for homeland security has been scarce. Meanwhile, Congress last year approved the authorization act for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only after the FAA agreed to take measures to fully integrate drones into the national air space by late 2015.

CBP has kept a tight lid on its drone program since 2004, when the agency decided to launch its drone program using unarmed versions of the Predator drones used by the CIA and the military in what the Bush administration called the “war on terrorism.”

CBP launched its drone program without undertaking a cost-benefit evaluation and without a strategy that included a specific role for UAVs.  The border agency claimed that the Predator drones would function as a “force multiplier.” Yet CBP offered no research indicating that UAVs would indeed increase the efficiency of Border Patrol agents or result in higher rates of drug seizures and apprehensions.

Over the past eight years, CBP has steadily expanded its UAV program without providing any detailed information about the program’s functionality and total costs. Instead, to keep its expensive UAV program moving forward CBP has relied on hugely supportive congressional oversight committees and on the widespread belief among politicians and the public in the efficiency of high-tech solutions.

After eight years information about the homeland security drones has been limited to a handful of CBP announcements about new drone purchases, unverifiable CBP statistics about drone-related drug seizures and immigrant arrests, and congressional presentations by OAM’s chief Michael Kostelnik marked more by anecdotes and assertions than by facts.

Although the drone program started in 2004, the first hard information provided by DHS about its drone program came in May 2012 in the form of a brief report by the DHS Office of Inspector General.

The OIG report didn’t examine the accomplishments or the worth of the UAV program. The limited focus of the report was even more basic, namely, CBP’s failure to have a budgetary plan for its UAVs. According to the OIG report, CBP has kept acquiring new drones even though it didn’t have the staff or infrastructure to support its expanding fleet of Predator and Guardian drones.

The OIG report’s conclusions point to an utter lack of strategic, operational, and financial planning by CBP.  According to DHS report, “CBP had not adequately planned resources needed to support its current unmanned aircraft inventory.” Specifically, the OIG found that CBP had not initiated the planning processes to ensure “resources need to support its current aircraft inventory.”

Although CBP’s annual budget and the supplementary authorizations for border security did cover the basic purchase price of new UAVs, the agency kept purchasing Predator and later Guardian drones even though OAM didn’t have the personnel, budget, or infrastructure to operate the UAVs.  According to the department’s inspector general, CBP lacked even the most elementary plan to “ensure that required equipment, such as ground control stations and ground support equipment, is provided.”

The OIG also found that OAM didn’t have procedures to bill other federal agencies such as FEMA and the Forest Service when CBP responded to request for drone deployment away from the border.  During his tenure as OAM chief, Kostelnik has repeatedly and increasingly boasted that his division’s drones are serving a wide range of missions not related to border security such as providing aerial images of forest fires.

Although Kostelnik has frequently attempted to explain the worth of the drone program by referring to such non-mission related operations, not once did the OAM chief explain who paid for such operations and not once did congressional members ask Kostelnik about the finances for non-border operations.

There is no public record of where and when DHS drones have been deployed. One of the mysteries of the program over the past eight years is how CBP has been able to reconcile its seemingly contradictory about drone deployment. On the one hand, CBP routinely insists that UAVs perform a critical role in securing the border against an array of threats. On the other hand, however, CBP has increasingly described the value of its drones in terms of their use by other federal agencies.

What is more, OAM has made its drones available to assist local law enforcement agencies in operations unrelated to border security and has regularly shipped its drones to air shows around the nation and even outside the country, notably appearances at the Paris Air Show. At a June 12, 2011congressional hearing, Kostelnik mentioned that OAM took one of its Guardian Predators to the 2011 Paris Air Show where it was on display at the DOD pavilion.

“That was the first time ever a Reaper Class Predator B aircraft was ever on display at the Paris Air Show,” said Kostelnik, noting that its created a “good deal of interest with our partnership nations.” Seemingly unable to justify OAM’s deployment of drones for effective border control, Kostelnik noted OAM’s role in getting other nations interested in buying Predators.  “So in that arena we're on the leading edge of that policy,” observed Kostelnik.

One explanation of the use of CBP drones for non-border objectives, including promoting Predator purchases abroad, is what the OIG describes as the lack of OAM planning processes that would “determine how mission requests are prioritized.” OIG wasn’t able to find any evidence of a CBP/OAM strategy that guided drone deployments.

Without an overall strategy, “CBP has “procured unmanned aircraft before implementing adequate plans to: Achieve the desired level of operation; Acquire sufficient funding to provide necessary operations, maintenance, and equipment; and Coordinate and support stakeholder needs.”

Concerning the actual operations of the border security UAVs, OIG found that:

1. Drone usage fell drastically short of OAM’s own “mission availability threshold” (minimum capability) and its mission availability objective, 37% and 29% objective.

2. Because of budget shortfalls for UAV maintenance, CBP in 2010 alone had to transfer $25 million from other CBP programs to maintain its UAV fleet even at usage level that fell far short of the planned minimum.

3. CPB has run its drone program in violation of its own operational standards, lack the required “mobile backup ground control stations” at three of the four drone bases.

The OIG observed that despite this history of low usage and the lack of operational budget for its UAV fleet, OAM was getting three additional drones from General Atomics.

In its understated conclusion, the OIG stated that CBP is “at risk of having invested substantial resources in a program that underutilizes resources and limits its ability to achieve OAM mission goals.” Therefore, “ CBP needs to improve planning of its unmanned aircraft system program to address its level of operation, program funding, and resource requirements, along with stakeholder needs.”

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Border Security Muddle Post 9/11

By Tom Barry, Truthout | Op-Ed

 As the nation transitions away from its post-9/11 fears and wars, US border strategy needs to be overhauled and updated. A new strategy for border control should be closely linked to a penetrating review of counterterrorism, the drug war, and immigration policies.

The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after 9/11 precipitated the border security muddle - with strategic, political, and economic consequences.
Without duly considering the strategic implications, the administration shifted the border and immigration-enforcement agencies from the Justice Department to DHS. 

From the start, DHS was an unwieldy bureaucracy, the function of which was never entirely clear. The department's law enforcement, intelligence, counterterrorism, and security responsibilities overlap with those found within the Justice Department, White House, intelligence community and Defense Department - creating a strategic mess. The federal government has yet to formulate a definition of homeland security that would justify the continued existence of this hastily established, unwieldy department.

Instead of adding a counterterrorism dimension to its law-enforcement mission, security became the core mission of the Border Patrol. Its core function - namely patrolling the border to deter or apprehend illegal border crossers - was rhetorically reconfigured to match its post-9/11 mission. Accordingly, immigrants and illegal drugs were relabeled as security threats, as "dangerous people and goods."

Janet Napolitano, DHS secretary, Alan Bersin, former commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher repeatedly attempted to counter the rising fury among House Republicans and border security activists with a shower of statistics demonstrating the extent of the Obama administration's commitment to border security.

Still, DHS and the Border Patrol are caught in contradictions and threat-assessments of their own making. The bombastic declarations by the Bush administration and by the Border Patrol about the Secure Border Initiative - about the high level of border security the combination of a border wall, a virtual fence, and a near doubling of the Border Patrol would achieve in several years - has made it difficult for the Border Patrol to scale down the expectations and demands of the border security hawks.

The dramatic decrease in illegal border crossings by immigrants, along with the skyrocketing fees demanded by immigrant smugglers, provide indisputable statistical evidence that the border security buildup is certainly making it ever more difficult to cross the southwestern border illegally.

More gruesome evidence can be found in the increasing number of immigrant deaths as desperate women, men and children attempt, unsuccessfully, to cross the border along its most forbidding stretches of deserts, mountains and raging waters.

The rising seizures of illegal drugs do point to increased border vigilance. Yet, the continuing capability of smugglers to satisfy increasing US demand for most illegal drugs underscores the validity of the charges by border hawks that the border is still not "secured."

The Border Patrol's recently released "2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan" illustrates the disjuncture between the agency's new counterterrorism mission and its longtime border-control operations. Rather than determining that security objectives should be guided by targeted strategic planning, the Border Patrol persists in its awkward efforts to shoehorn traditional border control functions into a border security strategy.

DHS and the Border Patrol have unwisely doubled down on a security-centered strategy for border control. Yet, as the new strategic plan makes clear, the identified risks and threats almost exclusively concern the traditional targets of border patrols - immigrants and drugs.

The border security muddle has also had political consequences.

DHS categorizes all illegal border crossing entries as security threats - thereby committing the nation to the impractical and monumentally costly goal of securing the border. As the Border Patrol knows well, it is virtually impossible to ensure effective control over America's boundaries. That would mean sealing more than 7,500 miles of land border and more than 12,000 miles of coast while monitoring the legal entry of more than 175 million visitors each year.

By promising border security through "operational control," the Border Patrol has left itself open to critics who charge that America remains vulnerable despite the billions of dollars spent in border security programs. As a result, the Border Patrol has found itself subject to sharp political criticism and escalating demands that the border be secured.

Instead of toning down its border security commitments and adopting more pragmatic positions, the Border Patrol has further muddled border policy in its new strategic plan. The agency once again failed to explain in a straightforward manner its dual challenge. On the one hand, it is now tasked with protecting the nation against the entry of foreign terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, it is charged with enforcing immigration laws and fighting the war on drugs.

The two functions should be guided by different strategies and involve different types of operations. Unfortunately, the new strategic plan subsumes all border operations under its counterterrorism role - maintaining the post-9/11 myth that all pressures the agency faces on the border are security threats. Indeed, the new strategic plan increases the strategic emphasis on security, risks and threats. It is no surprise, then, that the agency is floundering as it attempts to formulate meaningful performance measures.

In addition, the border security muddle is fraught with adverse economic consequences.

In the name of securing the border, the Border Patrol has insisted that no expense should be spared. Nearly 10 years ago, the Border Patrol committed itself to a new mission of securing the border against threats to the homeland. During this period, DHS has spent more than $100 billion in various border security operations. 

The General Accounting Office (GAO) and Congressional members have long demanded that the Border Patrol measure the cost-effectiveness of the agency's various initiatives and operations. But Border Patrol has held itself above the most basic standards of transparency and accountability while resisting the most elementary cost-benefit evaluations.

Auspicious Time for Border Policy Reform

As the nation transitions away from its post-9/11 fears and wars, US border strategy needs to be overhauled and updated. A new strategy for border control should be closely linked to a penetrating review of counterterrorism, the drug war, and immigration policies.

The time is auspicious for such a revision. New budgetary and debt concerns, escalating critiques of immensely expensive and shamefully ineffective border security programs and expanding critiques of the drug war have opened up new political space.

Moving forward, DHS must define what it means by "border security," and the Border Patrol must go back to the drawing board to formulate a more comprehensive and cogent strategy, along with closely linked performance measures.

The Border Patrol must also demonstrate that its "metrics" are indeed based on closely considered threat assessments and risk-management processes. As part of its strategic thinking, the agency must do the following: categorize risks and threats, prioritize them, justify this prioritization, mount programs to target these prioritized threats, and establish a methodology to measure performance.

DHS must distinguish between vulnerability and probability in its border operations. Simply because it is possible that a band of foreign terrorists, along with weapons of mass destruction, could enter the United States by illegally crossing the border doesn't mean that it is likely. Border Patrol operations must assess risks based on probability - not on mere possibility. Without risk assessments based in probability, there would be virtually no limit to border security spending. Similarly, the costs of border security investments should be proportional to verifiable benefits.

The Border Patrol is fond of making bold pronouncements about border security and is constantly launching new initiatives, as amply demonstrated in this new plan. New rhetorical flourishes about border security are not needed. Rather, US border policy merits a serious strategic review of the border security mission with the aim of producing a strategic plan that contains substance and displays vision.

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol remain trapped in a policy muddle of their own making.

(This article contains excerpts from a new international policy report, The Border Patrol's Strategic Muddle, published by the Center for International Policy.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Questionable Bipartisanship for Immigration Reform

The Border Security and Criminal Alien Consensus

Published by Counterpunch at:
Democracy in America works. One has only to observe the surge of bipartisan support for immigration policy reform following the November elections.
Election results revealed the new demographics of a multiracial, multiethnic America that is pushing aside the anti-immigrant backlash that dominated the immigration policy debate over the past two decades. Being anti-immigrant, anti-immigration no longer makes good politics in much of America.
The new bipartisanship for immigration reform may signal the advent of less divisive, more constructive politics in America. But underlying the apparent bipartisan support for some type of pro-immigrant, pro-immigration reform is another less welcome bipartisanship based around the traditional conservative politics around security, drug policy, and criminal justice issues.
The emerging post-election bipartisanship exists in the shadows of an almost enthusiastic bipartisanship in favor of increased “border security” and of ridding the nation of “criminal aliens.”
These two terms – border security and criminal aliens – have become central to the immigration policy debate over the past two decades. Both terms are also closely related to deeply bipartisan yet deeply dysfunctional convictions about drug wars and drug prohibition.
Border Security Consensus
Within Congress, there is no – absolutely none,  — opposition to border security policy and operations. This bipartisan consensus in support of the border security buildup is largely uncritical and unconditional, and also counts on support of nongovernmental immigration reformers who have come to accept the conventional wisdom increasing border security increases the political base for reform.
The enthusiastic support for almost any spending program described as a border security initiative persists year after year— despite persistent widespread waste, recurring corruption, immigrant abuse, and the Border Patrol’s inability to set forth a coherent border security strategy with associated performance measures.
In Congress, there are differences about border security but these are largely limited to questions about just how many more agents, drones, walls, and surveillance systems are needed.
Unfortunately, President Obama already set the bottom line of the debate, when speaking about the need for immigration reform. In late November, he told the media: ”I think it [immigration reform] should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we’ve taken because we have to secure our borders.”
Even as the immigration policy debate has dramatically opened following the election with substantially changed views about legalization, the “secure our borders” imperative remains unquestioned. Indeed, there will be many in Congress who will use the new immigration debate as an opportunity to lobby for even more border security spending than the Obama administration has authorized  – in part because border security has proved popular politically and in part because of the infusion of pork-barrel spending in border areas.
The broadening political consensus for immigration reform is hopeful. Bipartisan border security, however, is a sure sign that the traditional bipartisanship over all types of security spending issues – defense, intelligence, homeland, and border policy — continues to taint politics and fiscal responsibility.
Bipartisanship is the rule not the exception when security issues are involved. That’s a sorry tradition in U.S. politics – a tradition that since 9/11 has expanded beyond national security to include homeland security and border security.
Uncritical Acceptance of Border Security
At first, the post-9/11 fear of foreign terrorists drove the multi-billion dollar campaign to “secure our borders.” The buildup continued, however, even as that fear diminished, counterterrorism experts (and common sense) concluded that it was unlikely that foreign terrorists or weapons of mass destruction would enter the country across the southwestern border – the focus of the new border security operations.
Congress and the White House have kept increasing the border security budgets – not so much to obstruct terrorists but to “secure our borders” against immigrants, driven by the mounting anti-immigrant backlash during the second Bush administration. More recently, border hawks – and the Obama administration – explain border security operations mainly in terms of the drug war or what’s now called the “combat against transnational crime.”
Since 2005, when Congress began debating comprehensive immigration reform, a key factor in ensuring wide support for the border security buildup was, oddly, the assumption that the imperative to “secure our borders” was a necessary precondition for immigration reform.
The uncritical – and largely enthusiastic – backing for more border security has cost the nation more than $100 billion over the last ten years. It has left a legacy of national shame and monumental waste in the form of useless virtual fence projects, embarrassing walls between north and south, a mounting toll of dead and murdered immigrants, and an escalation drug war throughout the U.S. and Mexican borderlands even as political pressure is mounting throughout the hemisphere to end drug prohibition.
Aside from the near total absence of strategic focus, the border security buildup represents an insult to professions of good governance and accountability. Again, the uncritical acceptance of border security has resulted in systemic abuse of the standards of accountability, transparency, and performance evaluations.
Rather than once again giving a free rein to the border security hawks, the coming immigration debate represents an opportunity to assess the assumptions and achievements of the continuing border security buildup. Without such a critical examination of border security, the proponents of immigration reform / border security become accomplices of the waste, human rights abuses, and drug war escalation that have become emblematic of the Border Patrol.
As part of the new movement for immigration reform, advocates and activists need to stand up and reject the implicit political marriage of immigration reform and the border security buildup. That doesn’t mean open borders but rather a stance in favor of sensible border control and regulation, not virtual militarization.
It would be unfortunate if progress on immigration reform gives border security a free pass, leaving mounting questions about the waste, militarization, misdirection, and lack of accountability in U.S. border policy unaddressed and unresolved.
Protecting the Homeland Against Criminal Aliens
In addition to border security, another source of broad agreement in the immigration reform is the widely shared conviction that noncitizen immigrants (whether here legally or not) should be “removed” from this country if they have criminal records. Even nongovernmental advocates of immigration reform accept the criminal exclusion provisions, or at least haven’t opposed these restrictions.
At first glance, this determination to deny legal residency and to deport criminal immigrants makes good sense. Why, after all, should America open its borders to foreigners who not only threaten public safety but who also burden every level of government with law enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration costs?
One should expect that in the coming immigration debate all the main actors – whether they be progressives, liberals, centrists, conservatives, and hawks — will accept the notion that the so-called “criminal aliens” have no place in U.S. society.
Yet if immigration reform is largely about social justice, can this automatic exclusion be defended morally? There are also unaddressed questions about the impact of this exclusion and deportation of criminals on the stability of neighboring nations and the spread of international criminal networks.
For reform advocates, opposition (whether tacit or explicit) against including criminals from immigration-reform benefits may stem less from an ethical conviction than from a political calculation – much as support for border security operations is seen as a precondition for any reform.
Immigrants are America
That’s a phrase often used by proponents of liberal immigration reform.
As the prospects for reform increase, it will be tempting for advocates to maintain a sharp focus on the strategy and tactics of the reform campaign, yet give short shrift to their own rhetorical and social-justice arguments for legalization of those immigrants who are already part of our communities and economy.
If “Immigrants are America” and if immigrants are “America’s voice,” as the pro-reform slogans have it, then perhaps the immigration reform campaign shouldn’t be so narrowly fought – on strictly immigration issues.
In the past, immigration reform activists have been so focused on their own campaigns and strategies that they have not sought out allies in the prison-reform, criminal-justice reform, and drug-law reform movements.
There are strong and increasingly powerful movements and lobbies to reform drug laws, mass imprisonment practices, and the dysfunctional criminal justice system. Immigration reformers would do well ally themselves with such citizen movements.
For fear of reinforcing the anti-immigrant stereotypes of immigrants as criminals and drug addicts, the immigration reform campaign over the past two decades has largely distanced itself from the movements against mass incarceration, drug prohibition, and the expansion of the federal government’s domination of our criminal justice system.
There are few other sectors of U.S. society that have been so victimized by our nation’s drug laws, imprisonment habit, and harsh criminal justice system.
Since the early 1990s there has been a steadily increasing merger of the criminal justice, drug prohibition, and immigration enforcement systems. Scholars call this conflation of the immigration and criminal-justice system the crimmigration of America.
Once caught in the grips of crimmigration, immigrants are doubly punished – first by jail, fines, and prison sentences; and second by automatic removal from the country.
Many otherwise law-abiding immigrants, as do many U.S. citizens, have drug violations on their record. Many immigrants have spent some time in jail or been on probation, the same as millions of U.S. citizens. If we are to accept that America has been a nation of immigrants and that immigrants continue to be an integral part of this nation, then our lawmakers shouldn’t exclude immigrants from the benefits of any immigration reform.
Such a course of action would preempt hundreds of thousands of future deportations that separate families and weaken communities.  Dealing directly with the criminal alien shibboleth in the reform debate, rather than assuming that all immigrants with records will be ineligible for reform benefits, would created a more expansive community of immigration reform proponents, including members of the growing anti-drug prohibition movement.
In a powerful way, such a willingness to link immigration reform to criminal justice issues would also demonstrate that immigrants are not a population apart – that immigrants are America, and like many Americans have criminal records, mainly for drug control violations but are not dangerous criminals who represent a threat to community public safety or to homeland security. In the process, the coming immigration reform debate could push aside the restrictive framework that has stifled criticism of the border security buildup and the process of crimmigration.
Time to Reassess Border Security and Criminal Alien Bipartisanship
Fortunately the November election has opened up political space for immigration reform.  Few observers of the immigration debate expected this increased support for a less restrictive immigration policy.
In the early 1990s, political pressure generated by the leading immigration restrictionist organizations and by the immigration backlash movement led to an expanding array of measures to target and then deport legal and illegal immigrants with criminal records. This same lobby has also been largely responsible for the monstrous buildup in border security.
For the most part, immigration reformers have largely accepted increased border security operations and the crackdown on “criminal aliens” as necessary preconditions for liberal immigration reform. Yet in may now be possible, as part of this new democratic opening for immigration reform, that the critique of the nation’s flawed and counterproductive immigration policy may also now extend to federal government’s border security buildup and criminal alien crackdown.
If democracy is to really work in America, more than to simply pass new policies to better regulate immigration, our body politic will also need to confront the political culture of heedless popular assent to laws, policies, and spending initiatives promoted as anti-crime and pro-security.
Tom Barry directs the TransBorder Project at the Center for International Policy and is the author of Border Wars  from MIT Press. See his work at

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bipartisan Support for Border Drug Wars

The Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST) are amorphous border-security task forces created by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a way to put the agency's own stamp on the expanding drug wars along the border and on the federal government's new initiative to "combat transnational criminal organizations."

Created under the rubric of border security, the teams purportedly combine federal and local law enforcement officials in the “combat against transnational criminal organizations.”

Like the hundreds of anti-drug task forces organized and financially supported by the Justice Department (and coordinated by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy) over the past three decades, the main focus of the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces – called BEST teams -- is the drug control.  Like the DOJ anti-drug task forces, the BEST teams bring together multiple governmental jurisdictions and agencies.

Although many are situated along the northern and southern borders, ICE has created teams in other locations where there area adjacent seaports. 

ICE established the first BEST task force in Laredo, the center of Henry Cuellar’s congressional district. Cuellar is a leading border hawk and the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. Initially, the BEST task forces were on the southwestern border. However, as ICE sought new ways to bring in other federal and local agencies into its immigration and customs enforcement operations, it announced new BEST forces are at rapid rate.

According to ICE, there are now 32 such teams around the nation, including new task forces in cities with adjacent seaports and in Mexico.

Paper Task Forces and Alliances

The BEST task forces are largely rhetorical constructs, requiring no additional border security infrastructure. When it establishes a new BEST, ICE simply includes this program as part of the portfolio of its office supervisors around the nation and in Mexico.

The new push to institutionalize these teams as part of the DHS bureaucracy and to dedicate new funding for the BEST program has faced virtually no opposition, and ICE has not been called to substantiate its claims about the surge in border violence and about the domestic impact of the drug wars in Mexico. Nor has its claim that TCOs are also threatening the security of the northern border been questioned.

Over the past five years ICE has made frequent assertions about the success of the BEST teams.  Mirroring a practice that is routine for the Border Patrol, ICE makes claims about how many drugs have been seized, drug smugglers arrested, and unauthorized immigrants apprehended by the BEST teams.

Yet, like the Border Patrol, ICE fails to disaggregate these figures from the total number of seizures and arrests made by the collaborating federal agencies and local law enforcement agencies. For both ICE and CBP, statistics about border arrests and drug seizures are exceedingly fungible in that the same numbers are indiscriminately used to tout the achievements of any number of agencies and initiatives.

ICE claims that “BEST teams leverage federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign law enforcement and intelligence resources in an effort to identify, disrupt, and dismantle organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities along our borders and threaten safety and security.” On its website, ICE regularly trots out statistics about arrests and drug seizures (including 848,260 pounds of marijuana, as of July 2012). However, ICE hasn’t reported any evidence that these teams have disrupted or dismantled the TCOs.

To demonstrate that they are on board with the new combat against TCOs and as a response to political pressure for more border security, ICE and the Border Patrol have created sharply named initiatives, operations, alliances, and task forces that don’t really exist.  The BEST teams aren’t really teams in the sense of crews working together in real operations, they have no team headquarters and rarely if ever even meet together as a team. 

CBP has a similar collaborative paper initiative called the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT) in Arizona and planned for three other areas of the southwestern border. Like the BESTs, CBP’s ACTTs are little more than paper bureaucracy created by CBP to demonstrate its commitment to the new combat against transnational criminal organizations. The so-called “alliance” is merely a desk in the CBP sector headquarters.

Basically, the BEST program is a paper initiative designed to assuage inter-agency rivalries and to provide a collective rhetorical framework for the new combat against TCOs. These task forces are a new federal overlay to the existing local and regional multijurisdictional task forces and to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) infrastructure.

The border security bureaucracy keeps growing despite the surge of deficit and debt fear mongering.

Thanks for the deep bipartisan support for “border security,” the House and the Senate stand united behind institutionalizing and expanding a network of multijurisdictional anti-drug task forces.

As President Obama considers the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Task Force Act, he might also question DHS about the nature of these ICE taskforces. Does it make sense to endorse ICE’s creation of network of virtual counternarcotics task forces at a time when opposition to U.S drug prohibition and associated drug wars is escalating -- at home and abroad.

There is good reason to be concerned about the continuation and expansion of federal anti-drug programs given the decades of failures of these programs, particularly the notorious multijurisdictional narc squads so favored by the federal drug war bureaucracy.