Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and the National Guard stressed on Wednesday, Oct. 24 that the key to securing the Southwest border and the nation from criminals, drug smugglers and possible terrorists is partnership and cooperation among U.S. agencies and neighboring nations.
“Partnerships are our lifeline,” Maj. Gen. Francis Mahon, the J-5 for U. S. Northern Command, told a seminar on defending the homeland during the final day of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition at the Washington Convention Center.
Richard Chavez, director of Operations, Coordination and Plans at DHS, displayed a slide of the homeland security enterprise, which he called his ”buddies list.” It included a number of federal, state, local, territorial and tribal organizations, the private sector and foreign governments.
“We see everyone you see on the slide as partners in our enterprise,” Chavez said.
The same message was presented by John Stanton, the executive director of the Joint Operations Division of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency in DHS, and Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard.
All panel members emphasized that the cooperation and coordination among the “partners” was even more important with the prospect of lower funding.
The forum was opened by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commanding general of Army North and Fifth Army, the Army component of NorthCom, who said his mission was to conduct the military to military relations with Mexico along the Southwest border, in support of state and Department of Defense officials.
Chavez said DHS’ primary focus was the safety, security and resilience of the homeland, with missions that include preventing terrorism, securing and managing the borders, enforcing and administering immigration laws and safeguarding cyber space.
He noted that the challenge on the Southwest border involved not just screening traffic coming north, but also the southern movement of guns and money. In that task, he said, the Defense Department was “a significant partner.”
Chevez said the department recently opened a national intelligence sharing office within its national operations center, which facilitates information sharing with state, local and tribal officials.
Future projects include developing a global mission integration plan that would attempt to reduce duplication and “manage redundancies” among DHS and partner organizations.
Stanton pointed out that in addition to border protection, CBP also is responsible for facilitating the extensive commercial trade across the U.S. borders and collects billions of dollars in customs fees annually.
He said the major routes for drug smugglers have shifted from southern California, to Arizona and now Texas in response to increased security against the earlier transit routes.
Baldwin said the drug cartels also are using sea routes into California and one of the biggest threats the guard anti-drug teams face is the heavily armed gangs that grow marijuana in the national forests in northern California.
He emphasized the value the guard brings to the counter-drug fight because it can do law enforcement in the states where the active military is severely restricted. The California Guard also operates education programs in the schools in an effort to reduce drug use, he said.
Baldwin said the guard was able to “surge” troops when needed to meet a problem and was applying technology, including fixed sensors and UH-72 Lakota helicopters with FLIR infrared sensors to monitor cross border traffic.
Mahon and Stanton noted that active duty troops have been used to provide increased surveillance along the border, which provides them with valuable real-world training while aiding the civilian law enforcement agencies. But, Mahon said, if an interdiction turns into a fire fight the federal troops must withdraw and leave the fight to the civil authorities.
All of the panel members said relations with Mexican authorities and its military have greatly improved, and are enhanced by training assistance, meetings and shared intelligence.
The federal officials also observed the long-standing and close cooperation between U.S. and Canadian civil and military organizations to help protect the long northern border.
Because all the agencies involved are limited in the number of personnel they can bring to the border security effort, the officials said they were applying technology wherever they can. That includes use of unmanned aerial vehicles and biometrics for identification. But Chavez observed that use of UAVs creates concerns inside the United States about violations of individual privacy