Posts tagged ‘Customs and Border Protection’
Protecting the Border — and Everywhere Else.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for protecting Americans from terrorism, transnational organized crime and natural disasters, but new threats continue to spring up.
In the past year, DHS confronted unexpected challenges like the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa and the massive influx of illegal immigrants, most of them children unaccompanied by adults.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently cited his biggest threat concerns. One is the lone wolf, self-radicalized gunman with no known connection to terrorist groups. Johnson said that is the threat he worries about most because it’s the hardest to detect and “could happen on very little notice.” The recent attacks on uniformed soldiers in Canada and police in New York City underscored the danger. Johnson also has concerns about Americans returning from fighting in Syria and the Islamic State, radicalized by Islamist extremists and armed with the skill sets to commit mayhem.
Those threats, and ways to deal with them, were discussed Oct. 6-9 at a homeland security conference in Washington sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
Officials from one of DHS’s biggest components, Customs and Border Protection, said congressional budget cuts require them to look for equipment and technology that will help them do their job with less people and, for less money. “We’re about managing risk now,” said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher.
Wolf Tombe, CBP’s chief technology officer outlined several areas where new technology could help. Tombe said DHS was dealing with massive amounts of data from biometric identification systems like fingerprints.
“The real ideal capability is to use all of them – fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scan – to see if they all match” the people presenting themselves for entry into the United States at airports, seaports and land border crossings, Tombe said. Right now fingerprints are the core biometric technology. Facial recognition “is in its early stages” of use and iris identification and verification “is being evaluated,” he added.
“The U.S. border is tens of thousands of miles and it is impossible to cover with a human presence alone,” Tombe said. Cross-border tunnels used by drug, gun and people smugglers are getting bigger and more sophisticated with lighting and their own sensors and communications, Tombe said, adding that CBP “would much rather send a robot” to investigate a tunnel than endanger an officer.
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Enemies, Foreign and Domestic — and Biologic.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the violent extremist group known as ISIL (or ISIS), poses a “potential threat” to the United States but he is also worried about homegrown lone wolf attackers driven to violence by radical Islamist propaganda.
Following an address Thursday (October 9) on border security and immigration at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Johnson called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — “a dangerous terrorist organization” that has killed U.S. citizens and threatened to attack the West.
The al Qaeda splinter group has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, executed prisoners, kidnapped women and terrorized Kurdish, Yazidi and Christian minorities in the areas it controls. The group is also known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and IS, for Islamic State.
Noting ISIL’s “very slick” social media and propaganda skills, Johnson added: “They represent a very significant potential threat for which we have to be vigilant.” But he refuted reports that that ISIL/ISIS fighters has been apprehended trying to cross illegally into Texas from Mexico. Johnson said four people were apprehended on the border who said they were members of the Kurdish Workers Party, which is fighting ISIL in Syria (and ironically, considered a terrorist group by the United Sates for its autonomy-seeking attacks in Turkey). Nevertheless, the four were arrested, detained and will be deported, Johnson said.
In a question and answer session at the Washington think tank, Johnson said he worries about Westerners who travel to the Middle East to fight in Syria’s civil war, and return to the United States or countries accorded U.S. visa waiver privileges with a radical jihadist ideology and weapons training. But Johnson said he is also concerned about domestic-based lone terrorist acts “inspired by the social media” of radical groups. “In many respects, that’s the terrorist threat I worry most about because it’s the hardest to detect and it could happen on very little notice,” Johnson said.
To counter violent extremist propaganda the Department of Homeland Security has launched community outreach programs, seeking help from leaders in U.S. communities with large Muslim populations.
Despite a surge in women travelling with children and unaccompanied minors, Johnson says the number of foreigners trying to enter the United States illegally is down since 2000 and the number of them being apprehended by the Border Patrol is up, but DHS isn’t easing up on border security efforts.
He announced several initiatives across the department — including the creation of three new task forces — to direct the resources of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Coast Guard in three areas: the ports and maritime approaches in the Southeast, land borders in the Southwest and California and a standing joint investigative task force to support the other two.
Asked about the Ebola virus crisis in West Africa and its appearance in the United States and Spain, Johnson said DHS officers will be taking the temperatures – with non-contact thermometers of all arriving airlines passengers coming from the three African countries hardest-hit by Ebola: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Additionally, he said there would be more active screening of the estimated 150 people a day who come to the United States by air from those countries. The temperature screening will start this weekend at Newark, JFK, Dulles, Los Angeles and Atlanta airports.
More Eyes in the Sky.
UPDATES with links to background information, photo of Multi-role Enforcment Aircraft.
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s aviation chief says he would like to add a ninth tethered surveillance balloon to the radar-equipped, counter narcotics warning system along the southern U.S. border.
Randolph Alles, head of Customs and Border Protection’s Air & Marine Office, says he’d like to anchor the balloon, known as a tethered aerostat, on an island off the Southern California coast near the Mexican border — but it all depends on future funding, he told a homeland security conference Tuesday (October 7).
The low band radar-equipped Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) costs about $35 million a year to operate. “That’s not enough to keep the system going at current speed,” Alles told the Homeland Security Week conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
TARS was created in the 1980s by U.S. Customs – then part of the Treasury Department – to interdict cross border narcotics traffickers using small, low-flying airplanes. The lighter-than-air aerostats, once tethered to the ground by a cable, are stationed between 12,000 and 15,000 feet above the ground. The Defense Department took over the program in the 1990s and last year it was turned over to CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Six of the current eight aerostat sites are located along the Southwest Border at Yuma and Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Deming, New Mexico; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas. There are also two additional sites monitoring the Caribbean — in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. Alles said it would cost about $15 million to acquire a new site and the aerostat, sensors and support equipment – not counting annual operating costs.
Alles, an assistant CBP commissioner and retired Marine Corps major general, says TARS needs a radar upgrade. While the system on board now is fine for tracking airplanes, he wants to get a maritime radar that can track vessels approaching the United States on the water.
The radar replacement is just one of the plans Alles has for improving sensors on all of CBP’s aircraft and maritime vessels. A 10-year capitalization program draws to an end in 2016. Alles said he and Air & Marine staff are working on a new recapitalization plan.
Alles’ goal is to integrate sensors with all CBP aviation platforms, including the P-3 Orion and Dash 8 fixed wing aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters and the Predator unmanned aircraft system. But so far, only $44 million is being sought in the next federal budget for two more King Air 350 twin-engine Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft, equipped with wide area marine search radar with air search capability and a ground moving target indicator..
Homeland Security Week.
Border management and immigration, cyber security and emergency response and disaster relief will be among the topics discussed as the four-day Homeland Security Week conference opens Monday (October 6) at th Washington Convenion Center.
Government officials scheduled to attend include U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michal Fisher, Randolph Alles, the head of the Air and Marine Office at Customs and Border Protection and the chief technology officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Wolfe Tombe. Experts from government, academia and industry will be participating in panel discussions and roundtable sessions. Companies in a wide range of the security industry including thermal imaging, radar, video cameras, law enforcement equipment and information technology security will be in the exhibit hall.
Maritime security, battling transnational organized crime — particularly in the areas of narcotics and money laundering — and weapons of mass destruction will also be discussed at the event, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA)
Your 4GWAR editor will be there catching up with old colleagues and sources. Here’s a story we got out of last year’s event.
Stopping the Madness
United Nations officials say they found hundreds of bodies piled up after an attack by rebels in South Sudan last week. A year ago in Mali, a rebellion by desert nomads reignited when Tuareg separatists who had fought as mercenaries for Muammar Qaddafi returned home with heavy weapons looted from Libya’s armories after the strongman’s fall.
All over the continent, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, conflict has erupted. National governments and international agencies are trying to head off future violence in Africa – and elsewhere around the world – through a multilateral treaty to regulate the $70 billion to $85 billion international conventional arms business.
The Arms Trade Treaty was overwhelmingly approved by the United Nations General Assembly in April 2013 and nearly 120 countries have signed the treaty. But the pact will only go into effect when 50 countries ratify the treaty. So far, only 31 have done so.
Treaty signatories have included some big arms exporters like the United States, Brazil and Sweden but others like Russia and China have not. And while more than 20 African countries have signed the treaty, only two – Mali and Nigeria – have ratified it.
The ATT regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. The treaty’s aim is to foster peace and security by thwarting uncontrolled destabilizing arms flows to conflict regions — like Africa. “It will prevent human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms. And it will help keep warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools,” according to the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs.
At a gathering hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, on Wednesday (April 23) government experts on Africa and arms controls said signing and ratifying the treaty wasn’t enough to stop the flow of small arms like machine guns, grenades, mortars and rocket launchers.
“The ATT is not a solution in itself. It’s a tool,” said Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, adding that it was important for individual governments to get control of “international transfers and national stockpiles of weapons” whether they were held by the military, local militias or demobilized rebel groups.
He said that securing weapons stockpiles was an area where the United States could help struggling countries. The State Department’s Bureau of Political and Military Affairs has helped countries like Niger, Burundi and Angola secure stockpiles or destroy old munitions. Since 2001, in Africa alone, 250,000 small weapons have been destroyed and 350,000 have been marked with unique serial numbers with U.S. assistance to maintain inventory controls of military and police arsenals and help track missing or stolen weapons.
Raymond Gilpin, dean of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, agreed, saying the treaty is “by no means a silver bullet.”
He noted that in some explosions of violence in Africa like the Rwanda genocide of 1994, “machetes can be as deadly or more deadly” than firearms. One of the basic problems in controlling the movement of arms – legal and illegal – in Africa is the lack of basic data: Just how many guns does a government own? Who has control of them? “Most African countries don’t have a baseline for tracking weapons,” Gilpin said.
He made several recommendations for closing the gap including public/private partnerships to make the supply chain more transparent and “muscular international diplomacy” with countries that aid and abet weapons trafficking.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its initial plans Thursday (November 7) for gradually integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace of the United States.
The FAA, an agency of the Transportation Department, has been studying unmanned aircraft — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or simply drones — for years, trying to figure how to let aircraft without a pilot on board make their way into a domain already crowded with commercial airliners, private planes and jets, military aircraft, skyscrapers, bridges, radio towers, power lines and stormy weather.
As an early step in that process — expected to take 15 years — the FAA issued its first annual Roadmap outlining the steps needed to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation’s airspace. The roadmap addresses current and future policies, regulations, technologies and procedures “that will be required as demand moves the country from today’s limited accommodation of UAS operations to the extensive integration of UAS” into national airspace in the future, according to an FAA statement that accompanied release of the 71-page roadmap that tackles such issues as operator training, air traffic control challenges and national security issues. The FAA also released the 26-page UAS Comprehensive Plan to safely accelerate working civil UAS into the nation’s airspace system.
While the military has made extensive use of drones for reconnaissance, surveillance and attack over the last dozen years, UAS are strictly limited in their operations in U.S. airspace. Research institutions, government agencies and law enforcement must first obtain a waiver, known as a certificate of authorization — which allows, but sharply restricts the areas where non-military UAS flights can take place. The agriculture, energy and scientific communities already have developed numerous uses for UAS, but are limited in their use by the FAA — as are local police and fire/emergency departments.
Other groups, however, have voiced privacy and civil liberties concerns about widespread use of drones — large and small — in U.S. skies, especially by law enforcement agencies.
The Associated of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the main industry group, estimates that UAS technology will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first 10 years after drones are integrated into the national airspace.
Full disclosure: 4GWAR editor John M. Doyle writes freelance articles for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems magazine.
Shooting at LAX
A shooting at an airport security checkpoint in Lose Angeles has left one Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer dead, wounded two other TSA agents and a bystander, according to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets.
Panic and hysteria spread through Los Angeles Airport’s (LAX) Terminal 3 Friday (October 31) following gunfire that killed 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez. He was the first TSA employee killed in the line of duty since the agency was created shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Police chased down and shot the suspected gunman in the leg and head. He is being treated for his injuries at an area hospital. He was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, originally from New Jersey. Authorities are still trying to determine why Ciancia pulled a semi-automatic rifle in the security lane and began shooting.
Federal authorities charged him with murder of a federal officer and committing violance at an international airport. Both crimes are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty, the New York Times reported.
The incident disrupted air travel at the nation’s third busiest airport for hours. The disruptions had a ripple effect across the United States and elsewhere around the world as police searched the airport to make sure the gunman had no accomplices or had left booby traps in the busy transportation hub.
Authotrities said Ciancia had no apparent links to any terrorist group but the attack underscored the threat posed by a lone wolf gunman – whatever the motive.
Drug Gang’s Super Tunnel
U.S. officials in California have uncovered a tunnel running under the U.S.-Mexico border from Tijuana to San Diego – packed with marijuana and cocaine.
The tunnel stretched for the length of six football fields end-to-end and had lighing, ventilation and an electric rail system, officials said. The tunnel, which authorities described as a “Super Tunnel” was 35 feet below the surface, four feet tall and three feet wide. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy told reporters it was built by Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, CNN reported.
Three people are in custody charged with drug trafficking. If convicted they face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison, according to Reuters.
Members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force — numerous tunnels for smuggling people, drugs and weapons have been discovered between the United States and Mexico in recent years – found the subterranean passageway Wednesday (October 27) night in the course of a long-term investigation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Authorities also seized about 325 pounds of cocaine along with more than eight tons of marijuana associated with the would-be operators of the tunnel, San Diego TV Station XETV reported.
It was the eighth large-scale smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006, according to ICE. In total, federal authorities have detected more than 75 such tunnels in the last five years, mostly in California and Arizona.