Thursday, February 21, 2013

Border Security – Put Up or Shut Up (part 3)

     Ok. Now the big one. Everything up until now has been largely a matter of doing better at something we already know how to do. But really securing the southern border will require making a big change to the ways we think about, operate and resource  border security. Customs and Border Protection has about 46,000 employees. About 20,000 of them reside in the Border Patrol. They protect about 7,000 miles of border (both Canadian and Mexican), 370 ports of entry, and thousands of miles of coastline. Most agents are honest, dedicated, hardworking people. In the past 15 years, the Border Patrol has tripled in size, and changed strategies for protecting the border three times.  But more than 10 million people and perhaps a trillion dollars worth of “product” has gotten past them. Something needs to change. On a big scale. What?
PLEASE READ WHAT FOLLOWS CAREFULLY. I am NOT calling for militarizing the border.  I am suggesting that we think more like the military in terms of the scope and scale of CBP operations.
9) If a half million people and $100 billion in smuggled goods got through General George Patton’s lines each year, he would be asking ‘HOW”? And he would be demanding resources and adjusting tactics to prevent that invasion.
But all we see concerning crossings of our southern border is anecdotal. A tunnel on the news here. Pictures of people carrying back packs full of drugs there. Now a car or truck smuggling people or contraband at a check point. We are never offered an overall picture.  But the Border Patrol has it – they know where the smuggling is taking place.  They just don’t have the resources to cover the entire border all at the same time.  SO GIVE THEM THE RESOURCES!  It is not impossible. And it is not impossibly expensive.
Here is an example.  Suppose we wanted to put a network of 4-person observation teams, each with two cars, within two miles of each other, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.  That would require about 1000 teams or about 4,000 additional individual agents. Call it 20,000 to account for three shifts, time off, sick, on vacation, or training.  That’s a lot of people.  But it is smaller than the number of troops we are pulling out of Afghanistan this year alone.
      Suppose we wanted to use helicopters as a quick response to reinforce those teams. I don’t mean a few surveillance aircraft as we are flying now. I am talking about armed response units ready to arrest border violators.  A Blackhawk helicopter can cover 25 miles in 15 min. From a central point, it could move east or west about 50 miles along the border in a quarter hour. Each deployed helicopter could cover 25 of our teams. That’s about 40 helicopters at $8 million each or $160 million to cover the entire southern border. Add in aircraft for maintenance and training, and crews (maybe 500 people), and you are still below $500 million. Add a three person “strike team” (to arrest and fly out those they find) on each helicopter, and figure three shifts, spare people, etc. – you have another 500 people.  Add communications, training facilities, weapons . . . it all comes in at less than half of the $5 billion we are giving the hostile government of Egypt each year just to agree not to attack Israel. That’s less than 1% of what we were spending each year in the Iraq War.
Is this a plan? No. Is it a budget? No. But it is a rough, back of the envelope estimation of what it would take to adequately resource the Border Patrol (or the National Guard, or some other agency) to further secure our southern flank.
            The numbers are not impossible to imagine or impossible to fund. We just have to decide that the problem is big enough to provide the resources required.
      And now a final point we must pursue (and fund) if we are to be serious about security along our southern border.
10) We need a counter intelligence effort at least as intensive as during the Cold War. The violence in Mexico is not randomly distributed, It is concentrated in the areas across from the border crossing points into the US. And the reason should be obvious. Bad guys and their products are getting through our checkpoints in massive numbers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that we have intelligence breeches in many parts of our system.  We need an integrated, concerted effort to find those breeches, flip the people, and prosecute all concerned. No doubt Inspectors General and internal affairs are working hard to plug the leaks. . But $100 billion buys a lot of friends.  And way too many of our bureaucrats and law enforcement officers spend their entire careers in one place. We need one agency to take the lead with this, just as the FBI did during the Cold War.
I could go on and on with this analysis. Border security is a big, complex subject.  For example, I have consciously stayed away from the subject of technology because so much has already been written on this issue.  But surely you get the point by now. We know how to go after the cartels, their supporters and their operatives, inside this country and out.  We know how to secure the border. We know how to keep most drugs and illegal immigrants and purveyors of human trafficking out.  We just refuse to do it in an integrated manner. And we refuse to pay for it.  Instead we keep up the same old fight with the same old organization and same old resources, while pretending it will work differently today from yesterday.
© Dave McIntyre 2013

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