Watching the Watchers: Obama’s real reason for sending troops to the border

It isn’t what everyone is taking about, a crime spree by illegal immigrants or political pressure from the TeaParty/Republican Right. There is an important crime problem, all right, but it is happening amongst our own, on our side of the border. The crime is official corruption, and it is rampant.

President Obama’s plans to dispatch 1,200 National Guard troops to our southern border and ask Congress for $500 million in additional funding for border security led immediately to emphatic reactions from the Left and the Right, from Anglo nativists and Latino immigrant defenders, and from the mainstream media and political commentators. All of them focused on their own pet issues in a series of knee-jerk reactions that dealt with their own concerns and rallied their constituencies, but failed to recognize the true impetus for his decision.

All of them are angry at him, when they should be angry about something far more critical – and frightened, as well.

Representative of the Left’s reaction, Digby lambasted Obama for submitting to Republican scare tactics:

Obama Caves to Wingnut Pressure, Sends 1,200 Troops to a Border That Doesn’t Need Protecting
Mean Old Man McCain says we need 6,000 troops on the border, so I’m guessing President Goldilocks will say his “compromise” on this is “just right.” But hey, ratcheting up xenophobia is so good for everyone right now, why not just pretend there’s a huge problem that doesn’t really exist? We don’t have enough real ones apparently. After all, there are some Democrats who apparently think they need to show how much they hate Mexicans in order to win, so it’s all good.

At TalkLeft, Jeralyn also portrays the decision as capitulation, although she does at least bother to quote the administration on the intended purpose:

Obama Yields to Demands for National Guard Along Border
After meeting with Republicans to[d]ay, President Obama will ask Congress to fund sending 1,200 National Guard troops to secure the Mexico border in a greater effort to crack down on illegal trafficking organizations.
McCain says it’s not enough. He wants 6,000 deployed.
The cost of the 1,200 troops: $500 million. What’s it for?
«[I]ntelligence and intelligence analysis, surveillance and reconnaissance support.»
We already authorized $1.3 billion in Merida funds for the war on drugs in Mexico. Even though it hasn’t been fully distributed, Obama is planning on asking for another $390 million.
Throwing more money into the failed policies of the past 40 years will do no good. The cartels will become stronger.

The New York Times credits demands from Republican and Democratic legislators for pounding Obama into submission, portraying the claims of increased violence as a bipartisan concern while adding to their election-year theme of “Dems In Disarray”:

President Obama will send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border and seek increased spending on law enforcement there to combat drug smuggling after demands from Republican and Democratic lawmakers that border security be tightened.
The decision was disclosed by a Democratic lawmaker and confirmed by administration officials after Mr. Obama met on Tuesday with Republican senators, several of whom have demanded that troops be placed at the border. The lawmakers learned of the plan after the meeting.
But the move also reflected political pressure in the president’s own party with midterm election campaigns under way and with what is expected to be a tumultuous debate on overhauling immigration law coming up on Capitol Hill.

The Washington Post repeats the claims of Obama being forced to respond to Republican concerns and also tries to tie the move to a National Guard program of George Bush’s even though the two initiatives are not remotely similar in either size or mission, giving credit for “enhanced” American security to the Republicans and feeding Democratic distrust for Obama:

President Obama will deploy 1,200 National Guard troops and request an extra $500 million to secure the Mexican border, his administration said Tuesday, a move dismissed by Republicans as insufficient to win their cooperation on an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.
By reinforcing the 340 Guard members already monitoring border crossings and analyzing intelligence, the initiative echoes 2006’s Operation Jump Start, in which President George W. Bush devoted 6,000 guardsmen to a two-year commitment in support of the Border Patrol.
Then, as now, the troop deployment was fueled by heightened concerns about lawlessness — then it was illegal immigration, now it is drug traffickers — as well as political maneuvering in Washington to lay the groundwork for an effort to change immigration policy. But the issue remains bitterly contentious, with increasing pressure on Obama and lawmakers from both Latino supporters and conservative activists.
Obama’s proposal came after a testy, closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in which the president clashed with his 2008 campaign rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), according to people present. The two sparred over creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — something McCain previously supported — and a new Arizona law that requires police to identify illegal immigrants.
“I said we needed to secure the border first,” McCain recounted after Obama’s visit to the GOP luncheon.

FOX News jumped all over the decision with glee, crediting Arizona’s governor and the onerous anti-immigrant measure she recently signed into law for bringing Obama to heel:

President Obama is planning to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, heeding calls from border state lawmakers that security needs to be improved.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Obama’s plan represents a “very significant and important shift in the president’s immigration and border security policy.”
“I am pleased that President Obama has now, apparently, agreed that our nation must secure the border to address rampant border violence and illegal immigration without other pre-conditions, such as passage of ‘comprehensive immigration reform,'” she said.
“I am anxious to hear of the details that have not yet been disclosed of where, how, and for how long additional forces will be deployed,” she added. “With the accountability of this election year, I am pleased and grateful that at long last there has been a partial response from the Obama administration to my demands that Washington do its job.”

The mantra has spread internationally, with the usually intelligent Guardian interpreting the move as largely a political matter:

Obama to send 1,200 National Guard troops to bolster border with Mexico
Seen as a move against stringent immigration laws in Arizona, troop movement will head off Republican anger….
The move pre-empts Republican plans to try to force a vote on such a deployment and comes as Obama seeks cross-party support for a sweeping overhaul of US immigration laws.
The US president has also been trying to galvanise opposition to a tough new immigration law in Arizona that has strained the country’s relations with Mexico.

Republicans were quick to condemn the action as insufficiently aggressive

Quickly upping the ante, Senate Republicans offered an amendment to an emergency war spending bill to provide an additional $2 billion in border funding — four times the size of Obama’s proposal. McCain also introduced an amendment to send 6,000 troops to the border. Lawmakers could consider both proposals this week.
“The violence has crossed the border and escalated to a point where many Arizonans do not feel safe within their own homes or on their own property,” McCain and fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) wrote last week in a letter to Obama. “It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to stop the escalating violence along the border with Mexico.”
“I feel like a starving man that’s been handed a cracker,” said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, which favors increased security on the border.

while immigrant-rights supporters attacked it as short-sighted and misguided:

Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supports comprehensive immigration changes, said devoting $500 million to the border “is not a long-term solution, and it does nothing to solve the underlying problem of a broken immigration system.”

The list of people tying Obama’s decision to these same reasons goes on and on and on and on.

But all of these claims are either completely false or off the mark. We know, factually, that violence across our southern border states is not increasing but rather has been declining for years even as the illegal immigrant population swelled.

And the administration’s decision to send a contingent of National Guard troops to help at the southern border couldn’t have been triggered by recent claims of violence or frightened lawmaker’s demands or the new Arizona law, because they actually recognized and started reviewing the need more than a year ago.

McClatchy, quoting President Obama on March 11, 2009:

“We’re going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense,” Obama said during an interview with journalists for regional papers, including a McClatchy reporter.
“I don’t have a particular tipping point in mind.”

As the administration continued its review, what became clear was that there are plenty of Border Patrol and Customs agents now available to do the job and adding National Guard troops to border patrol or checkpoint management would be senseless. Under Bush, Customs and Border Patrol has expanded to 20,000 officers, the largest law enforcement operation in the country; a few thousand more troops without arrest powers wandering around the southern border wouldn’t add any meaningful capability.

But that review did disclose one glaring problem, a weakness so massive that it endangeres the entire border protection process: corruption in the ranks.

As they did with everything else, BushCo screwed up implementation of border security. They spent a lot of money ($2 Billion for 610 miles) on a fence that does nothing but redirect illicit cross-border traffic. They also massively increased the number of agents, but they failed to allow sufficient funds and manpower to vet and police those hires. As of last December, still operating under Bush-level funding:

Right now, only a fraction — 10 percent or so — of Customs and Border Protection recruits are given a polygraph screening that federal investigators say has proved effective in weeding out people with drug ties and other troublesome backgrounds. Officials say they do not have the money to test more recruits.
The F.B.I. is planning to add three multiagency corruption squads to the 10 already on the Southwest border, and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, the department’s primary investigative arm, has also added agents. But such hiring has not kept up with the growth of the agency they are entrusted to keep watch over.
Over all, arrests of Customs and Border Protection agents and officers have increased 40 percent in the last few years, outpacing the 24 percent growth in the agency itself, according to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office.
As one exasperated investigator at the border put it, “There is so much hiring; if you have a warm body and pulse, you have a job.”

As of this March, one year later, full screening is being done on only 15% of applicants. Of those, 60% fail and many of them are suspected of ties to criminal organizations. How many more slip through becasue they aren’t fully tested is unknown, and follow-up assessment after hiring is non-existent.

Inadequate screening and insufficient investigative ability has left the very agencies we depend on for security from dangerous aliens open to bribery and co-option by those very elements.

According to James F. Tomsheck, Assistant Commissioner of Internal Affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in prepared testimony before Congress this March:

There is a concerted effort on the part of transnational criminal organizations to infiltrate CBP through hiring initiatives and compromise our existing agents and officers. Since Oct. 1, 2004, 103 CBP law enforcement officers have been arrested or indicted on mission-critical corruption charges, including drug smuggling, alien smuggling, money laundering and conspiracy.

In that same hearing Thomas M. Frost, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security testified:

Specific to employee corruption on the border, since 2003, we have made 129 arrests of corrupt Customs and Border Protection Officers and Border Patrol Agents. In FY 2009, we opened 839 allegations involving DHS employees:
576 CBP;
64 CIS;
35 TSA, and
164 ICE

Kevin L. Perkins, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation also testified to the problem:

Of the 700 agents leading our charge against public corruption, approximately 120 are working along the Southwest border. The result is over 400 public corruption cases originating from that region. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, there were over 100 arrests and over 130 state and federal cases prosecuted.

And those are just the ones they catch on to. What we don’t know is how many more may be out there, aiding the smugglers to transport who knows what kinds of contraband.

Some of the cases are for big money. According to the FBI’s Perkins:

One particular case highlights the potential national security implications of public corruption along our nation’s borders. In that case, an individual gained employment as a border inspector for the specific purpose of trafficking in drugs. Through our collaborative efforts and a year-long investigation, this former public official pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to import more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States and received more than $5 Million in bribe payments.

Others are for pocket change, even though the value to smugglers is enormous. From Thomas Frost, DHS:

We investigated a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) at an international airport who was illegally selling TSA security stickers. The stickers are used to mark passenger baggage that has already undergone screening. The stolen stickers were then used to facilitate the transportation of narcotics. Using an undercover agent, we purchased a reel of 399 TSA stickers from the TSO for $200 in order to transport what the TSO believed to be a shipment of cocaine from Miami to New York City.

Fifty cents is all it cost for a sticker that would allow the safe transportation by air of 50 pounds of cocaine or heroin, worth tens of thousands of dollars. Some of those corrupted are not only dishonest, they are utterly stupid.

That’s what this contingent of National Guard will be dealing with; ferreting out the criminals within our Customs Service and Border Patrol. Much to the disgust of the rabid Right, who have some strange vision of turning the border into an armed encampment, these soldiers will be using their brains:

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said he’s heard that “the 1,200 border patrol troops are, in effect, desk jobs.”
“They aren’t boots on the ground at the border,” he said, adding that “they were not intended to be deployed to the border. Rather they’ll be investigating, administrative support, maybe training.”

How awful. They’ll be using high tech equipment and old-fashioned interview techniques, tracking behaviors and mapping patterns to try and find the corrupt agents and officers who let smugglers through:

The troops will be stationed in the four border states for a year, White House officials said. It is not certain when they will arrive.
The additional troops will provide support to law enforcement officers by helping observe and monitor traffic between official border crossings. They will also help analyze trafficking patterns in the hope of intercepting illegal drug shipments.

Who will watch the Watchers? In this case the hopefully incorruptable National Guard, at least until Customs and Border Patrol can get their own houses in order and build up enough capacity to police them selves. The similar problem already extant amongst federal, state and local law enforcement is yet another worry that will have to be addressed, as they will become even greater targets when Customs, Border Patrol and TSA employees are closed off.

And if this isn’t frightening enough, consider our northern border. Land and water, it is 5,500 miles long compared to only 1,900 with Mexico and almost completely uncovered:

Earlier, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., questioned whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth in border protection as people continue breaking through barriers to enter the United States illegally.
At a hearing on funding for border security, Price challenged the Homeland Security Department to explain why it has effective control of only 1 percent of the country’s border with Canada.

That’s correct. Out of 5,500 miles of border length, approximately 50 are covered. There are numerous perfectly passable roads crossing the Canadian border where no Customs officers are ever present, although many of them are equipped with hidden sensors and cameras. Canadians and Americans alike simply drive across on the honor system, with no inspection whatsoever. Most of the border is open country, with no one at all around, and in many areas smuggling is carried on unimpeded, a locally accepted means of making a living since our Revolution.

Pray al Qaeda terrorists never learn to use MapQuest, or how to snowshoe.

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7 responses to “Watching the Watchers: Obama’s real reason for sending troops to the border

  1. JAMES SCAMINACI III

    I think you wrote a very good post highlighting corruption on the border. I was certainly unaware of that.

    But, I seriously doubt that the National Guard will be investigating corruption among law enforcement on the border. That is not a military mission. I am not even sure it would be legal to do.

    I strongly doubt that the National Guard is trained to conduct such investigations.

    Most likely they will perform tasks they have been trained to do and beef up functions already established in the law enforcement and intelligence centers.

    • grahamfirchlis

      We’ll see. Over the last couple of decades there has been considerable movement within both the National Guard and the Ready Reserve to bring in and coordinate skill sets beyond the traditional See Target Hit Target tasks. Among the ones pushed hard have been counterintelligence and computer analysis functions, both of which fall well within law enforcement needs at the border. The trouble the involved agencies are having now is more than just manpower and resources for investigation. They don’t know who they can trust to vet the others. It is pretty certain from the volume of drugs getting through that officials higher up than line staff are involved in opening pathways. Bringing in the Guard to oversee and implement pattern recognition and analyze interdiction patterns would help ferret out whoever is making those openings.

      Maybe you’re right and this is business as usual, but that would be a shame; the problems are real and the situation is deteriorating to the point where we might as well not have the force in place.

      Or maybe I’m wrong completely and this really is all fluff, they’ll just go stand around for a while as some sort of political stunt. I hope not.

  2. The Other Sarah

    If you want honest data, get somebody who didn’t take the samples to enter it.

    Chain of custody docs to verify nontampering.

    ‘s SOP in civil courts.

  3. grahamfirchlis

    Hopefully that’s what these Guardsmen will allow to happen, if I’m right about their purpose. There just aren’t enough IA staff to vet or review the thousands of employees, and the level of corruption is growing rather than diminishing. In 2004 there were less than 100 opened investigations into corruption of border protection officials; in 2009 there were nearly 1,000, and that’s with inadequate staff.

    Worse, of the 15% of applicants in 2009 given a full hiring investigation including lie detector, 60% failed and among those a goodly number on further investigation turn out to have close ties to gangs involved with drug distribution and smuggling. How many gang plants have made it through is anyone’s guess, as is whether or not higher-ups in the hiring process are facilitating their hire.

    The money involved with smuggling has corrupted top law enforcement and civil authorities in Mexico, no reason to think it isn’t happening here as well. Can you imagine somebody like Rod Blagojevich as governor of Arizona or New Mexico?

    I’ve been getting interesting reports from friends in AZ about that rancher who was shot a while back. He’s become something of a poster child for claims of escalating cross-border violent crime, but now it looks like maybe that isn’t so. Stories circulating say the sheriff’s office has reviewed the evidence and the new thinking is he was killed by someone he knew; the trail of boot tracks leading from the crime scene to the border are either a decoy or coincidental.

    Speculation is that he stumbled upon someone from law enforcement on his property, someone he knew who was there for a drug meet and couldn’t bear any questioning as to why he was where he was, and that’s who shot him. Much tension in local circles now, wondering who it might be that pulled the trigger.

    This is a huge mess, and only getting worse. It will never resolve until we fix all the problems, from rationalizing immigration policies to decriminalization of drug abuse to straightening out our labor agreements so we stop exploiting little brown people all over the world for cheap goods while destroying manufacturing jobs here at home.

    • Sam Dobermann

      The money involved with smuggling has corrupted top law enforcement and civil authorities in Mexico, no reason to think it isn’t happening here as well. Can you imagine somebody like Rod Blagojevich as governor of Arizona or New Mexico?

      We don’t have to imagine. We have Bill Richardson, right here in Santa Fe. Fortunately he was focused on his run for President so all the selling price for pieces of state government was campaign contributions. That’s how he raised 16.5 million dollars for his reelection campaign in 06 in a state with about 1 million registered voters.

      I don’t know if he is in gun running yet but I wouldn’t be surprised.

      What is really funny is that he could possibly lose his citizenship if Republicans prevail on their quest to criminalize babies born in the US to non-citizens who were “just visiting.”

      His father, who was a naturalized citizen, born in Honduras IIRC to an American Banker and his Mexican wife. It rankled. So he made sure his son was born in the USA by sending his wife into Calif a month or two before her due date for each child. Soon after she would return to their Mexican estate.
      Bill was brought up with the idea he could (should?) run for President someday. All bases were covered. He picked NM after a trip looking over CA, TX, FL and NM. NM was it; low population, poor, poor education system, high Hispanic pop.

      He really is far worse than Rod Blagojevich, just not as flamboyant and craftier about hiding his nefarious activities.

  4. blacksheepone

    I won’t censor your comment, Sam Dobermann, but I will ask you to back your claims up with links to factual statements that make your case.

    If you can’t do so, I’ll ask you for an apology.

  5. Elvis Acosta

    Ca anyone get me a recent picture of Thomas M. Frost, Assistant IG, Office of Investigations, DHS OIG?

    Thanks.

    E

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