Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Answers to the Border Drone Numbers Game

CBP has answers to the apparent inconsistencies and errors that I have pointed out in previous postings. Here, here, and here.

In response to a request to clarify the confusing and ostensibly errant numbers, CBP warned “it would be unfair to categorize UAS [unmanned aerials systems] by only using drug interdiction or border crossing metrics.”

Yes, ideally CBP would measure progress in securing the homeland by achievements by other measures, such as its role in countering terrorism and keeping the homeland secure – whatever that means.

The border agency further explains that:

CBP deploys and operates the UAS only after careful examination where the UAS can be most responsibly aid in countering threats of our Nation's security.  As threats change, CBP adjusts its enforcement posture accordingly and may consider moving the location of assets.

Then, the agency trots out the old force-multiplier assertion:

The UAS can stay in the air for up to 20 hours at a time-something no other aircraft in the federal inventory can do.  In this manner it is a force multiplier, providing aerial surveillance support for border agents by investigating sensor activity in remote areas to distinguish between real or perceived threats, allowing the boots on the ground force to best allocate their resources and efforts. 

That’s true. The Predators are called out when ground sensors signal movement. But as OAM’s (Office of Air and Marine) Major General Michael Kostelnik explained at the July 15, 2010 Border and Marine Security subcommittee hearing:

At a standard 15 sensor activations, 12 of them might just be the wind. Two might be animals. One might be a group of migrants, and one might be a big group carrying drugs.
If there is a plausible explanation as to why there has been no increase in the number of drug seizures and immigrant apprehensions despite a jump from 10,000 to 12,000 hours of drone flights, it may be, as CBP wrote in response to the request to clarify its numbers, that: 
UAS is not exclusive to the border security mission. CBP OAM leverages the Predator-B and Guardian UAS as a force multiplier during National Special Security Events and emergency and disaster response efforts, including those of the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, USCG, and other Department of Homeland Security partners.
In other words, the border Predators haven’t been on the border but have been deployed elsewhere on homeland security missions.
Which, would mean, that despite the increased number of Predators and Guardians assigned for border security duty, the drones aren’t patrolling the border and coasts – a scenario, if true, would likely upset all the border security hawks who insist that these drones are needed to secure the border.
It’s more likely, however, that CBP/OAM has from beginning been cooking the books and manipulating -- and that no one has called them on the inconsistencies.
Asked in the same query to show how CBP/OAM disaggregated the drone-related numbers from overall seizure and apprehension data and for the documentation to support its UAV flight-time declarations, CBP/OAM had no response.

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