Posts tagged ‘Customs and Border Protection’
Back in the Money.
Just days before another funding crisis for the Department of Homeland Security, the House of Representatives voted 257-167 Tuesday (March 3) to approve a bill already passed by the Senate.
President Obama signed the bill Wednesday (March 4) in the Oval Office. The measure funds the department through the end of the budget year, September 30, 2015.
The House vote came after a messy fight in Congress. Republicans wanted to use the legislation to repeal Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Congress extended funding for one week just ahead of last Friday’s deadline, then Republicans relented Tuesday and approved full-year funding without the immigration condition, the Associated Press reported.
Without action, funding would have expired at midnight Friday (March 6), furloughing some workers while requiring the vast majority who are deemed essential to keeping the nation safe, to work without receiving their paychecks. Now that won’t happen.
A Matter of Fairness.
If Congress fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight (Friday, March 27), funding for the Department of Homeland Security will cease.
Pundits, politicians and analysts are quick to point out that the vast majority of DHS employees have been deemed “essential” to national security so the department will not shut down.
There will still be U.S. Border Patrol agents halting people, drugs and weapons smuggling in the Southwest and elsewhere.
There will still be Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel screening passengers and their baggage at more than 400 U.S. airports.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will continue checking people and cargo coming into the United States on trucks, planes and ships – as well as in cars and on foot at border crossings.
The U.S. Coast Guard will continue its myriad tasks ranging from rescuing people at sea to maintaining security at the nation’s ports and harbors to enforcing maritime safety and environmental laws.
The Secret Service will continuing guarding the president and other top officials.
But the 85 percent of the department’s approximately 240,000 workers who required to report for duty if the funding stops will not be paid until Congress passes a DHS appropriations bill.
“What message does this send … that we don’t think enough of you to pay you?” an alarmed Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked in a CNN interview today (February 27) as both the Senate and House of Representatives tried to figure a way out of the political tangle touched off by Republicans’ objection to President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
While some say nothing bad will happen if non-essential DHS workers are furloughed – and others argue something terrible could happen, it is obvious that there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who see political gain in a partial shutdown of DHS: either to make the point that the agency’s budget is bloated or to convince voters the other side don’t care about protecting the nation from terrorism in a time of mounting threats.
Following his presentation at a Border Management industry conference earlier this week, we asked Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher what a partial DHS shutdown would mean for his agency’s mission.
“It impacts our operations, no doubt,” he said. But Fisher was confidant his people could still secure the border. “It’s unfortunate if it comes to that, that they will be working without pay, but I will tell you – in terms of their commitment to border security – on that we’ll not falter.”
At the same conference (sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement) TSA Chief of Staff Thomas McDaniels Jr. said the approximately 45,000 airport screeners exempt from being furloughed are required to report for work in the event of a funding halt. He noted the average starting salary for Transportation Security Officers, is $25,000 a year. “So we’re asking our frontline homeland security officials who are not making the most money to go without paychecks,” he said. While they are guaranteed retroactive pay once Congress can come to agreement on a funding bill, McDaniels added, “I think that’s a lot to ask of people who may be living paycheck to paycheck.” The last government shutdown to halt TSA paychecks lasted 17 days, he said, but there was no “significant attrition” after things returned to normal.
Wolf Tombe, CBP’s chief technology officer, told conference attendees that the country is confronting new threats from cyber-attacks and lone wolf terrorists, to disease outbreaks like Ebola. “The threat is evolving. We need to evolve with it, to stay ahead of it,” he said, outlining technologies his office is exploring from wearable sensors and cameras to hand launched surveillance drones to thermometers that can take an arriving air passenger’s temperature from a safe distance of 10 feet.
But if Congress fails to reach a compromise on DHS funding “all this gets shut down,” Tombe told 4GWAR “because I’m not considered essential. So my organization gets furloughed.”
WASHINGTON — Wolf Tombe has been the chief technology officer of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since 2003.
He says his mission is to find or develop new gizmos that will enhance the safety of CBP’s 46,657 officers and agents and increase mission effectiveness – all while reducing costs.
“Everything is about ‘How do we train and equip our officers to do their job better?,” he told attendees at a Border Management industry conference this week.
And toward that end, he is looking at wearable technology like heart rate monitors and wearable cameras he told the conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. Among the technologies CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, is considering are small unmanned aircraft, including a drone mounted on the wrist.
Such technology would meet CBP new technology requirements: enhancing officer safety, increasing mission effectiveness — and reducing costs, he said. If it does any or all of those things, “bring it in and we’ll look at it,” he told conference attendees Wednesday (February 25).
Threats to the homeland, whether a disease outbreak like Ebola or lone wolf terrorists, are evolving and “we need to evolve with them, to stay ahead of it,” Tombe said.
In addition to the wrist drone, Tombe said CBP was considering the benefits of small hand-launched drones that Border Patrol agents and other CBP law enforcement officers could carry in their vehicles to get a better situational picture in remote and rugged areas like the deserts of the Southwest or the big woods along the U.S-Canadian border.
“All this technology is consumer grade,” Tombe said, meaning it is generally less expensive than equipment designed for the Defense or Homeland Security departments. He said manufacturers of wearable heart rate monitors and football and batting helmets helmets equipped with impact sensors that can text a high school coach or parent need to consider their law enforcement applications.
While the wrist drone is just in the “late prototype stages” and only stays aloft for 3 to 5 minutes, Tombe said “we’ll bring it in and take a look at it.” Meanwhile, his office plans to test the efficacy of slightly larger handheld drones with DHS operational units as well as local law enforcement departments like the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
Redefining “Secure Border”
More than a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks showed that America needed to do a better job securing its borders, a debate continues over the best ways to manage who gets in and out of the country.
The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has mushroomed to more than 20,000 since 2001. There have been numerous border enforcement programs like teaming Border Patrol agents with National Guard troops, flooding areas reporting high levels of illegal border entries with large numbers of Border Patrol personnel and equipment. There was even a failed program to build a physical and virtual fence along the border with Mexico — to the tune of $3.5 billion.
Now law enforcement officials are worried abou radicalized U.S.-citizens-turned jihadis coming back from fighting in the Middle East — with skills that could be used for terrorism. And Congress and the White House are embroiled in a political battle over millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States, a battle that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol leaders say it is time to rethink what we mean when we talk about securing the border. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told a Washington think tank gathering last month that a secure border — where no one can cross illegally at any time — is virtually impossible, without doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and boosting the agency’s budget by $97 billion.
Since late 2013, the agency had moved away from determining its effectiveness by counting every person it apprehends trying to cross the border illegally. Instead it has re-evaluated “what it means to secure the border,” Fisher told a border security discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Rather, the Border Patrol characterizes a secure border as one of low risk – where there is a high probability of detection coupled with a high probability of interdiction.
“Border security is not an end state to be achieved and revisited every five years,” Assistant Chief Michael Schroeder told the audience. “It’s a continuous struggle,” he added. Schroeder is the author of an explanatory paper, published by the Border Patrol, detailing how and why it developed the low-risk idea in its 2012-2016 U.S. Border Patrol Strategic Plan. Instead of arrest statistics or measuring resources like number of agents or the size of the agency’s budget, the Border Patrol had to develop “a preliminary set of risk indicators” to analyze risk along U.S. borders.
Fisher is slated to be one of the government and industry speakers this week at a Border Management Summit in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday (February 24-25). You can learn more at the website of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, the conference sponsor.
The Border Patrol is using technologies like moveable ground radar, biometric identification obtained from first-time illegal border crossers and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to acquire more data on border activity and shifts from past patterns. The situational awareness provided by UAS “is something we’ve never had before. It’s led us to the metrics we have today,” according to Schroeder.
Apprehensions of people trying to cross into the United States illegally are down to 1970 levels. So the Border Patrol is using intelligence and analysis to predict where the high risk areas are — and when and where to move law enforcement resources when drug, gun and people smugglers change tactics.
But a recent report by the DHS inspector general’s office (OIG) casts doubt on the value of border surveillance by unmanned aircraft — and the information they gather.
For starters, the report contends CBP has yet to prove the value of its UAS program while drastically understating the costs. The OIG’s second audit of the program since 2012, found the effort by CBP’s Air and Marine Office “still has no reliable method of measuring its performance” and that its impact on stemming illegal immigration has been minimal.
“We see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border , and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time,” said DHS Inspector General John Roth.
More than 10,000 troops are guarding “sensitive sites” around France including synagogues, railway stations, airports and tourist attractions in the wake of last week’s terrorism incidents in Paris that left 17 people dead — including three alleged attackers.
Nearly half the soldiers – about 4,700 – will be assigned to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools, the Washington Post reported January 12.
“I’m glad the soldiers are here. But the fact they’re here means something is very wrong,” said the director of on Jewish school in Paris. “It shouldn’t be this way,” the school official told the Post. Some mosques will also receive government protection, following more than a dozen attacks on Islamic buildings since January 7.
That’s when masked gunmen stormed a satirical weekly magazine killing 12 people including a Muslim French police officer. The alleged gunmen, two bohers, originally from Algeria, were killed by police January 9 during a hostage rescue raid outside Paris. Five cartoonists and three other staffers were killed at the weekly, Charlie Hebdo, which has outraged Muslims in the past with cartoons and satirical copy about the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo plans to print 3 million copies, rather than the usual 600,00 of its next issue, which will a drawing of Muhammad on the front page.
Four more people, and a female police officer were killed by another radicalized Muslim man who took hostages at a kosher market in Paris before he, too, was shot by police January 9.
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In response to the Paris attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to increase random screenings of passengers at airports as well as ordering the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a short-term review of whether more security measures are needed.
“We have no specific, credible intelligence of an attack of the kind in Paris last week being planned by terrorist organizations in this country,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement, the POLITICO website reported.
DHS said the latest security measures are being taken as part of “precautionary” steps following the attacks in Paris, just as they were following recent incidents in Sydney and Ottawa. Johnson also urged Congress not to pass a funding bill for DHS with any restrictions on spending. House Republicans have said they plan to restrict U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a DHS unit, from implementing President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
The Paris attack seems to have had some affect on Republicans’ strategy, however. While Republicans will still try to block Obama from implementing his immigration overhaul — they won’t risk funding for the Department of Homeland Security to do it, says Texas Republican senator John Cornyn, according to CNN.
Cornyn said January 11 on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Republicans will try to “address and defund” what he called an “unconstitutional” executive action to limit deportations for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. “But we’re not going to take any chances with the homeland,” Cornyn said.
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Nigeria says 150 people lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week.
The Nigerian defense ministry says this figure includes “many of the terrorists” who had attacked the town in Borno state and faced resistance by troops. Local officials earlier estimated the number of deaths at as many as 2,000, the BBC reported. Nigeria has often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram.
Earlier, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, accused the West of ignoring the threat posed by Boko Haram. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said the world had to show more determination to halt the group’s advance in Nigeria. The archbishop told the BBC that the slaughter in Baga had shown that the Nigerian military was unable to tackle Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, at least 23 people were killed at the weekend by three female suicide bombers, one reported to be 10 years old.
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.