DeM Banter: Ponder a map of the Middle East today… and where there is trouble. Off the top of my bald head… we know there is an Egyptian “situation,” there is Syria (not getting much press over the past couple days), there is Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan (albeit not true mid east), Pakistan, Yemen, Libya (forgotten), and by default there is Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia…and from the over watch position there is Israel. Let’s not forget our Russian friends, China, North Korea, and issues on the Mexican Boarder…all the while we are cutting our military readiness. Anyone else wondering what the plan is? The Strategy? I’m not a conspiracy guy, or a futurist by any stretch…but one can easily see if something is not done soon…in the next five to ten years this globe could look much different. Where will Al Qaeda live? Everywhere? There will be a rise of nations not so friendly to anything the West has to offer… and this…from just a quick scan of the papers this AM. It’s all about choices…I know it’s a long post...
August 17, 2013
U.S. Military Needs Egypt For Access To Critical Area
By Jim Michaels, USA Today
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is heavily dependent on Egypt to move personnel and equipment to Afghanistan and around volatile parts of the Middle East, complicating U.S. efforts to place pressure on the Egyptian military in the wake of its violent crackdown on protesters.
“Egypt has been a cornerstone for the U.S. military presence in the Middle East,” said James Phillips, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
During the past year, more than 2,000 U.S. military aircraft flew through Egyptian airspace, supporting missions in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, according to U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the region.
About 35 to 45 U.S. 5th Fleet naval ships pass through the Suez Canal annually, including carrier strike groups, according to the Bahrain-based fleet. Egypt has allowed U.S. warships to be expedited, which often means getting to the head of a very long line of ships waiting for access to the canal.
“The Egyptian military has always been good to us,” said Kenneth Pollack, an analyst at the Brookings Institution.
Egyptian cooperation is particularly critical at a time when the Pentagon is facing budget pressures and tensions with Iran remain high.
In response to the Egyptian military’s bloody crackdown on protesters, President Obama announced this week that the United States would cancel Bright Star, a training exercise with Egypt that had been scheduled for next month. Washington has also suspended the delivery of a shipment of F-16 fighter aircraft.
Obama stopped short of cutting off the $1.3 billion in annual military aid it supplies to Egypt, though some in Congress, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have called for cutting the aid.
In canceling the exercise, the president said he was balancing the need to advance U.S. interests with “the principles that we believe in.”
If Egypt cut off its airspace and canal access, the U.S. military would face heavier costs and much longer transit times as it positions troops and equipment in the Middle East.
For example, without access to the canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, warships would generally have to sail around Africa in order to get to the Persian Gulf.
Analysts say Egypt’s ruling military would probably not cut off air and sea access immediately if U.S. aid were cut, but the relationship might deteriorate rapidly, particularly if Egypt’s generals feel they don’t need the aid.
Persian Gulf states may take up some of the slack if the United States cuts its aid. Relieved that Egypt’s military removed a Muslim Brotherhood government, Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, have already pledged billions of dollars to Egypt.
Historically, Egypt’s leaders have been sensitive to the appearance that outside powers are pushing them around. Egypt closed the 120-mile-long Suez Canal after the Six Day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
“Egyptian nationalism is a critical factor,” said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
U.S. military leaders have remained in touch with their Egyptian counterparts throughout the crisis in an effort to maintain the close relationship and communicate Washington’s concerns.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the crackdown that led to the deaths of hundreds of Egyptians.
“The Department of Defense will continue to maintain a military relationship with Egypt, but I made it clear that the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk,” Hagel said in a statement.
In Washington, the Pentagon will emphasize the importance of the military relationship in discussions with the White House as the president considers further steps to deal with the Egyptian crisis.
But U.S. military leaders will not want to be seen as trying to unduly influence Obama’s decisions, analysts say.
“In this administration, the Department of Defense has been incredibly wary to be seen as pushing the White House to do anything,” Pollack said.
New York Times
August 18, 2013
Sectarian Attacks Return With A Roar To Iraq, Rattling A Capital Already On Edge
By Tim Arango
BAGHDAD — The black-masked soldier stood at the army checkpoint examining the identification cards of each passenger, denying entry to anyone who did not live in the Sunni district of Ameriya. One resident later said entering his neighborhood now felt like crossing the border into a different country.
“This neighborhood is full of bad people,” said the soldier at the checkpoint as police officers rounded up people suspected of being terrorists in Ameriya, an operation that locals said targeted them only for being Sunni.
Across the country, the sectarianism that almost tore Iraq apart after the American-led invasion in 2003 is surging back. The carnage has grown so bloody, with the highest death toll in five years, that truck drivers insist on working in pairs — one Sunni, one Shiite — because they fear being attacked for their sect. Iraqis are numb to the years of violence, yet always calculating the odds as they move through the routine of the day, commuting to work, shopping for food, wondering if death is around the corner.
Adel Ibrahim, a 41-year-old engineer, guessed wrong. On Aug. 6, to prepare for the evening iftar, the meal to break the day’s Ramadan fast, Mr. Ibrahim went to a butcher shop in the central Karrada neighborhood to pick up meat for kebabs. Outside the shop, a Kia minivan exploded, killing Mr. Ibrahim and five others.
The next day Mr. Ibrahim’s father, Saleem Ibrahim, was in tears. “They took my son and my dream away,” he said.
The drastic surge in violence — mainly car bombs planted by Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate against the Shiite majority, and the security sweeps in majority-Sunni neighborhoods that follow — has lent a new sense of Balkanization to this city. Security forces have increasingly restricted the movements of Iraqis in and out of Sunni areas, relying on the neighborhoods listed on residence cards as an indicator of a sect. Sunnis also fear reprisals from reconstituted Shiite militias, groups once responsible for some of the worst of the sectarian carnage that gripped Iraq just a few years ago.
Even for the hardened residents of the capital, long accustomed to the intrusion of violence into everyday life, the latest upswing in attacks has been disorienting, altering life and routines in a manner that has cast a pall of fear over this city.
The targets of the attacks are not usually government ministries or luxury hotels, places many ordinary Iraqis can safely avoid. They are the markets and cafes, mostly in Shiite areas, that dominate neighborhood routines. During morning commutes, some Iraqis are taking circuitous routes to work to avoid central streets where bombs have struck. The sight of a Kia minivan, a vehicle of choice for bombers, caught in traffic causes fear. Neighborhood soccer teams are canceling matches because those, too, have become targets.
Taxi drivers are again making decisions about where to drive based on the rising sectarian tensions that have resulted from the resurgent violence. “Last year the situation was better,” said a Sunni taxi driver who gave his nickname of Abu Omar. “I wasn’t afraid to go anywhere, but this year I am worried about going to Shiite neighborhoods, like Shula or Hurriya, because I keep hearing that the militias are coming back.”
After Mr. Ibrahim was killed, the next wave of attacks came four days later, on Saturday evening, as Iraqis were celebrating the end-of-Ramadan festivities known as Id al-Fitr. A young bride-to-be, in her white wedding dress, sat in a hair salon when a parked car just outside blew up. The woman survived with only a small injury to her hand.
“She was so brave, she cried for a few minutes, but then decided to continue, and made it to her wedding,” said Said Haneen, the owner of the salon. “That’s how we Iraqis are.”
Across town that evening, a cigarette vendor named Jalal Hussain was wounded in another explosion. The next morning his stall was back in business. “It’s a struggle for existence,” he said, as he sold a customer a pack of Marlboros. “I have to feed my family. I have to open again, as long as I am alive. I have witnessed many other explosions, but this one was the closest. We have to keep on surviving. If you are lucky, you will survive another day.”
Often, the fear briefly abates after a day of bombings. Surely, the thinking goes, big attacks will not come on back-to-back days. “Customers are already calling to see if we opened or not,” Mr. Haneen said on the morning after the explosion near his salon. “Today, I know there will be no explosions, as yesterday there were many. Maybe in the next two or three days we will witness another wave of bombings, but not today.”
For Iraqis, the violence feels permanent, their country’s perpetual decline, inevitable. The space between ordinary citizens and their political leaders, garrisoned in the increasingly fortified Green Zone, where the government has positioned new tanks and soldiers and sought to make entry even more restricted, has never felt wider.
Iraqis long ago lost confidence in the ability of their security forces, trained by the Americans at a cost of billions of dollars, to protect them.
Now they feel increasingly mocked by their leaders, whose latest pronouncements of security successes are met with revulsion.
A few hours before the attacks on Saturday evening, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki sent a text message to every citizen with a mobile phone, wishing all a happy Id al-Fitr and “security, stability and prosperity.”
Hours after the attacks, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Saad Maan, appeared on state television, praised the security forces for a job well done and said that only two people had died, including an officer trying to defuse a bomb.
But according to an Interior Ministry official and news reports, more than three dozen people were killed, and more than 100 were wounded.
This prompted mocking comparisons on Facebook between Mr. Maan and the Saddam Hussein-era information minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, who in 2003 proclaimed the Iraqi Army was valiantly pushing back the American invaders, who were in fact fast closing in on Baghdad.
This violence is real, and it appears at least partly driven by events beyond the borders of Iraq, in Syria, where a civil war is raging. The United Nations recently warned that the sectarian battlefields of Syria and Iraq are “merging,” as the border between the two countries has become a revolving door for Sunni extremists.
At the same time, Shiite militiamen from Iraq, supported by Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, head over to support the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, while also reasserting themselves on the streets of Baghdad.
At the checkpoint at the entrance to Ameriya, the Sunni district, the soldier sent away a man who was trying to get to his job at a cafe.
“I’ve worked there for years,” the man said. “You know me. Take my ID. I have to go to work.”
Inside Ameriya, Othman al-Kubaisi, who owns a cosmetics store, said customers from other parts of the city had stopped coming.
“The government treats us like we have been torturing them for years, and now it’s time for them to take revenge on us,” he said.
Like many in this fractured city these days, Mr. Kubaisi tries to stick close to home when he can, routinely leaving only to stock up on supplies for his store.
“It’s better to avoid problems and stay home,” he said.
Los Angeles Times
August 18, 2013
Drone Strikes In Yemen Show Elasticity Of U.S. Standards
Attacks take place even if intelligence on a terrorist plot is not precise, analysts say.
By Ken Dilanian
A surge of U.S. drone missile strikes that has killed about 40 suspected militants in Yemen over the last three weeks may appear inconsistent with President Obama’s pledge in May to use drone aircraft to target and kill only individual terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to Americans.
White House officials say the targeting rules haven’t changed for the 10 recent drone strikes. But analysts and former U.S. officials say the current campaign, after the pace of attacks had slowed, shows that the standards are elastic.
They say the wave of attacks highlights Obama’s willingness to accelerate lethal operations in response to terrorist threats, even though intelligence on the latest plot was imprecise about the timing or location of apparent targets.
“The tendency had been ‘less is more’ in terms of these strikes, and I think we’ll go back to that,” said a former U.S. diplomat who served in Yemen, but who asked for anonymity because the drone strikes are classified. “But at the moment, when you have guys on the move and a plot in the works, there is a bias toward taking as many whacks at them as you can and seeing if you can’t knock them on their heels.”
A Yemeni official, who asked not to be quoted speaking about sensitive matters, said the U.S. strategy amounted to “keep them busy, keep them hiding, put them under pressure.”
Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi met with Obama in the Oval Office on Aug. 1, and has publicly endorsed America’s drone campaign in his country. The tempo of the latest airstrikes, which began July 27, picked up sharply after his visit.
U.S. officials have not publicly identified those targeted since Hadi’s visit, but acknowledge that no senior Al Qaeda leaders have been killed. Yemeni officials say only a few of the dead appear to be on a list of 25 “most-wanted terrorists” that the government in Sana distributed this month.
In an Aug. 8 strike in the Wadi district of Marib province, a family member said two teenagers were killed.
Arfag Marwani said in a telephone interview that his younger brothers Hussain, 16, and Hassan, 17, were shopping when the missile hit. He denied that they were terrorists, though he said the third victim might have been a militant.
“The drone hit them … without any good reason,” Marwani said.
Obama declined to discuss the drone strikes in Yemen at a White House news conference on Aug. 9.
“I will not have a discussion about operational issues,” he said. He referred reporters to a speech he gave May 23 at the National War College about “how we make these determinations about potential lethal strikes.”
In the speech, Obama said, “We act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”
Critics say it’s difficult to see how the current wave of attacks is meeting that strict standard, or why greater efforts aren’t underway to capture the suspects.
“This looks a lot like they are bombing and hoping,” said Gregory Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia.” “It’s not clear they know who they are hitting.”
U.S. officials dispute that, but refuse to discuss their targeting decisions. The latest drone strikes bring the total in Yemen so far this year to 22. That compares with 42 last year.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the attacks are consistent with the language and principles that the president outlined in his May speech.
Obama presented “the legal rationale that underpins our operations and the constraints that guide them. Those remain in place,” she said. “The president did not say that our need for direct action would necessarily be lessened in the future.
“He made clear, however, that under his new policy guidance the use of drones is heavily constrained.”
In recent months, White House officials have promised to bring greater transparency to the use of armed drones outside war zones. So far, that hasn’t happened.
In May, they said they would gradually transfer the drone campaign from the CIA, which has the lead in Yemen, to the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which also conducts drone strikes in Yemen but operates under laws that allow for acknowledgment of lethal operations. That transfer may not happen for years, U.S. officials now say.
A Pentagon spokesman, James Gregory, said the U.S. military has worked with Yemen’s military “to respond to ongoing threats.” He said they have put “unprecedented pressure” on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group based in Yemen, and “that pressure has helped disrupt ongoing plots.”
Times staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington and special correspondent Shuaib Almosawa in Sana, Yemen, contributed to this report.
August 17, 2013
Iran Has 18,000 Uranium Centrifuges, Says Outgoing Nuclear Chief
DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has installed 18,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges, the country’s outgoing nuclear chief was quoted as saying by Iranian media on Saturday.
The U.S. and its Western allies are pressing Iran to curb its uranium enrichment programme, which they suspect is aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability, but Iran refuses and insists its nuclear activity is for purely peaceful purposes.
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator who oversaw a previous deal to suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment, has welcomed new talks with world powers over the programme but has insisted on Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
Iran has 17,000 older “first-generation” IR-1 centrifuges, of which 10,000 are operating and 7,000 are ready to start operations, the ISNA news agency quoted Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, outgoing head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), as saying.
A May report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog indicated that Iran had by then installed roughly 16,600 IR-1 machines in two separate facilities.
Abbasi-Davani also said there were 1,000 new, more advanced centrifuges ready to start operations, in a reference to IR-2m centrifuges, which once operational would allow Iran to enrich uranium several times faster than the IR-1 machine.
The IAEA in its last report in May said Iran had installed a total of 689 such centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings.
Rouhani on Friday appointed Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s previous foreign minister, to take over the AEOI. Salehi, who once headed the agency, is seen as a pragmatist, as opposed to the more hardline Abbasi-Davani.
August 17, 2013
Guessing Game As Pakistan’s Powerful Army Chief Prepares To Retire
By Mehreen Zahra-Malik, Reuters
ISLAMABAD–In a nation long plagued by military coups, the question of who will replace Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief has taken on new urgency this year as the country tries to shake off the legacy of decades of military dictatorship.
General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in the nuclear-armed country, is expected to step down after six years in November – presenting Pakistan’s new premier with the toughest of choices yet since coming to power in May.
The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history since independence in 1947. But even during periods of civilian rule, the army has set security and foreign policy.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he wants to disentangle the military from politics and he has taken over the foreign affairs and defence portfolios in an apparent show of determination to wrest those responsibilities from the army.
But the military is unlikely to relinquish its hold at such a sensitive time. As Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, Pakistan is striving to prevent old rival India from increasing its influence there.
Illustrating the difficulties Sharif might face in setting foreign policy, his bid to improve ties with India has been undermined by violence between Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed Kashmir region. While the two armies trade fire and blame, Pakistan’s civilian government can only look on.
Nevertheless, the Pakistani military has meddled less in politics under Kayani, earning him a reputation as a pragmatic leader willing to ease the military’s grip on political affairs and publicly endorse democracy.
Sharif, himself ousted in a military coup in 1999, has a difficult relationship with the army, and picking Kayani’s successor could be the defining moment of his second term.
“It’s not just that Nawaz wants someone he can trust and who he can use to neutralise the army’s political role,” one retired senior military official told Reuters. “The army also wants someone who will be able to work with Nawaz.”
The job has been at the centre of a drawn-out guessing game and officials would not speculate publicly on it. But in private interviews with army officers, politicians and diplomats, several names have emerged as possible contenders.
Those include Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmood, the current chief of general staff, Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, who is considered pragmatic on U.S. relations, and Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam, the most senior official after Kayani.
Some have even floated the idea that Kayani – whose term was extended for three years in 2010 to the discontent of some of the top brass climbing the ranks below him – might end up staying in the job for another three years.
Kayani, a chain-smoking, unsmiling man known for his low-key manner, is dubbed the Quiet General of Pakistani politics. His public statements in support of Pakistan’s transition to democracy have earned him respect in the West.
In a speech just before the May election, Kayani said a bad democracy was better than the worst kind of dictatorship. And yet his words hardly concealed a warning that the army’s support for democracy would not be available forever.
“Everyone says that under Kayani the army is now transformed and we can trust in its democratic credentials. But let’s not jump the gun,” said a source in Sharif’s administration.
“One era of soft military leadership does not make for a lasting legacy. The civilians will have to work hard to make sure everyone knows their limits.”
But even under Kayani some generals have grumbled quietly over the softer approach, and a new army chief might feel pressure to exert his authority over the civilians.
This could set the military on a collision course with Sharif again, like in 1999 when he was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf and jailed. Just a year earlier, Sharif had picked Musharraf as his new army chief.
“There are no guarantees the current status quo will last beyond Kayani,” said one diplomat in Islamabad.
Criticising the top brass has long been taboo. But that too has changed after the Supreme Court ruled last year that the military must stop interfering in politics, eroding the generals’ untouchable status in the eyes of the public.
The army’s standing also took a hit over a secret 2011 operation by U.S forces to kill Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil. Ordinary Pakistanis saw it as a violation of sovereignty that the army had failed to prevent.
Technically, Kayani has to come up with a shortlist of three candidates and send it to Sharif for approval. In reality, Sharif may not have much choice but he will at least try to strike a semblance of balance, officials say.
“A super assertive new chief whose first priority is to win back the former glory of his institution and a prime minister who likes being the boss and won’t share the spotlight with anyone. That’s an interesting combination,” said one official close to outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari.
“The new crop of generals are not even remotely as patient as (Kayani) when it comes to the screw-ups of civilian leaders.”
New York Times
August 18, 2013
War On The Border
By Todd Miller
THREE generations of Loews have worked the family’s 63 acres in Amado, Ariz. In the last 20 years, the Loew family harvested thousands of pounds of onions, garlic and pumpkins without incident. So Stewart Loew, 44, who was born and raised on the farm, was surprised when he went to irrigate his fields one night and found himself surrounded by federal agents.
Pointing to the fires about 200 feet away that Mr. Loew lit to keep warm while he irrigated his fields, one of the agents slogged out of the ankle deep water in the irrigation ditch and asked Mr. Loew what he was doing.
“I’m irrigating, dude,” said Mr. Loew, who was in his pajamas. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t ‘dude’ me, I’m a federal officer,” the Border Patrol agent said, and demanded Mr. Loew’s identification.
Since Mr. Loew did not carry his wallet in his pajama pocket, the agents followed him into his house; a local police officer, who knew the Loew family, had already arrived, vouched for Mr. Loew’s identity and assured the federal agents that Mr. Loew posed no threat to the homeland or national security, and the agents left without comment or apology.
This kind of brush with law enforcement would have been unthinkable to previous generations of farmers here. But these run-ins have become increasingly common in the rugged, hilly desert stretch along the southern borderlands where, in the post-9/11 world, everyone — even farmers in pajamas — is a potential threat.
The United States-Mexico border has become a war zone. It is also a transfer station for sophisticated American military technology and weapons. As our country’s foreign wars have begun to wind down, defense contractors look here, on the southern border, to make money.
Lately it has become entirely normal to look up into the Arizona sky and to see Blackhawk helicopters and fixed-wing jets flying by. On a clear day, you can sometimes hear Predator B drones buzzing over the Sonoran border. These drones are equipped with the same kind of “man-hunting” Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (Vader) that flew over the Dashti Margo desert region in Afghanistan.
The Border Patrol is part of Customs and Border Protection, now the federal government’s largest law-enforcement agency. Its presence is a constant factor not only in the lives of Stewart Loew and his neighbors, but also in the lives of those who live in places like San Diego, El Paso, Brownsville, Tex., and other big cities along the southern border that have sizable Latino populations.
The Border Patrol, however, concerns itself far less with counterterrorism than with the agency’s traditional tasks of immigration and drug enforcement. This creates an uneasy mixture of missions. And it results in the deployment of an expensive military apparatus to police and capture immigrants who cross the border in the hopes of finding jobs as maids, janitors or day laborers.
In 2012, a majority of the more than 364,000 people arrested by Border Patrol agents nationwide were migrant workers crossing the border. Agents did not capture or arrest a single international terrorist.
But they have disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of people like Stewart Loew who live and work near the border. There’s a point on Interstate 19, two miles from the Loews’ farm, that buzzes with what borderland residents call the “men in green,” who stop and interrogate everyone who drives past. Border Patrol vehicles scan the off-road areas smugglers and migrants use to circumvent official checkpoints. A mobile control tower with a sophisticated surveillance system mounted on its cabin is visible near the Loews’ farm.
The Department of Homeland Security, which includes Customs and Border Protection, plans to invest billions more in borderland surveillance towers, drones and helicopters if the House adopts the immigration reform bill that the Senate passed in June. Even if it doesn’t pass, there is more than $1 billion in the federal budget for surveillance towers that will likely be clustered around the Arizona desert lands, near Mr. Loew’s farm, where most undocumented migrants cross the border.
The Republican senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota added a proposal to the immigration bill that would provide about $40 billion in financing for extra agents and 700 miles of fencing along the United States’ southern boundary, which Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, noted would become “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” Indeed, if the Senate’s bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, passes in the House, the Border Patrol will swell to 40,000 agents, making it the size of a small army.
In recent years, we have built up our boundary and immigration policing apparatus with great speed. Founded in 1924, the Border Patrol deployed just over 4,000 agents in 1993. In only 20 years the agency’s ranks have more than quintupled, and if the reform passes it will increase its size tenfold.
The Border Patrol buildup in the aftermath of 9/11 was unparalleled. In the 10-year period following 9/11, the United States spent a staggering $90 billion on border enforcement.
In 2012, the Migration Policy Institute reported that immigration and border enforcement spending totaled almost $18 billion. That is 24 percent more than the $14.4 billion combined budgets in the last fiscal year of the F.B.I., the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Add the billions anticipated in the Senate bill, and you have what the trade publication Homeland Security Today calls a “treasure trove” for contractors in the border security industry.
Projected as an approximately $19 billion industry in 2013, defense contractors seem, in the words of one representative from a small surveillance technology company hoping to jump into the border security market, to be “bringing the battlefield to the border.”
In 1999, the anthropologist Josiah Heyman wrote that the Southwest was becoming a “militarized border society, where more and more people either work for the watchers, or are watched by the state.”
There is nowhere else in the country with such extensive and concentrated surveillance technology; nor is there any part of the United States in which people are as clearly divided between the police and the policed.
And the militarized security zone has begun to creep beyond the southern border and to affect those who live near the northern border in places like Spokane, Wash., Detroit and Erie, Pa., where the Border Patrol has significantly increased its ranks.
IN the border zone — 100 miles from the boundary into the interior — the Border Patrol’s authority extends beyond that of other law enforcement agencies. For example, agents have the authority to conduct routine searches at the border even in the absence of reasonable suspicion, probable cause or a warrant.
“The problem with giving the largest federal law enforcement agency, and one that operates with few if any accountability mechanisms, is that it is a recipe for civil liberties abuses, and seriously risks further erosion of Fourth Amendment rights,” says James Duff Lyall, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Mr. Lyall notes that the areas involved constitute a sizable portion of the country; if you consider land and coastal borders, this 100-mile zone encompasses approximately two-thirds of the United States population.
Agents that operate in the 100-mile zone now regularly board buses and trains and ask passengers for identification. They have — and use — the authority to further question anyone who raises suspicions, especially people who appear to be from another country.
In 2007, for example, a Border Patrol agent in Syracuse, N.Y., asked Silvio Torres-Saillant, a professor of English at Syracuse University, to produce his documents. When Mr. Torres-Saillant, a United States citizen of Hispanic descent, gave the agent his university identification, the agent demanded additional documents. At the Border Patrol’s Rochester, N.Y., station, 2,743 people were arrested on buses, trains and in stations from 2006 to 2009.
Border Patrol agents record the skin complexion of the people they arrest, and most of those arrested were of “medium” complexion and from Latin America, according to a 2011 report, “Justice Derailed: What Raids on New York’s Trains and Buses Reveal About Border Patrol’s Interior Enforcement Practices,” by the New York University School of Law and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
In a much-publicized incident, Border Patrol agents stopped Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, 125 miles south of the border, in New York. When Mr. Leahy asked what authority the agent had to detain him, the agent pointed to his gun and said, “That’s all the authority I need.”
The Immigration and Nationality Act gives Border Patrol agents even greater authority when they operate within 25 miles of the international border. Here agents “have access to private lands, but not dwellings, for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States.”
Mr. Loew says agents don’t always comply with the 25-mile exemptions; he points out that his farm in Amado is 30 miles from the border, and that that did not stop agents from entering his property or from surrounding him while he prepared to irrigate his fields.
Three years after Mr. Loew’s brush with federal agents, Border Patrol agents held his 16-year-old son at gunpoint after they mistook the minivan he was driving for another one. Mr. Loew says he wonders if the agents were veterans, since so many Border Patrol recruits seem to be ex-military men; in fact, almost one-third of all agents have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s no wonder that more and more people in the 100-mile zone from across the political spectrum view the Border Patrol as an occupying army.
If immigration reform passes, it will mark another milestone in a transformation that has already resulted in the creation of a war-zone-like area in which agents enjoy special powers to chase down, question and detain people.
Two oversight offices within the Department of Homeland Security have already received hundreds of complaints of rights violations, including beatings and Taser shootings, at the border. In the last three years, Border Patrol agents have killed at least 15 people along the Southwest border. Whether or not the immigration bill passes, the militarization of the border and the disturbance it causes people like Stewart Loew suggest it is time to look seriously into how we might better police the agencies that police the border.
Todd Miller is the author of the forthcoming book “Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Homeland Security.”