Border Patrol adapting to new threats

Strategy to use drones, copters in Southwest

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Just eight months after Defense Department officials complained in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that there was “no comprehensive Southwest border security strategy” in place, the U.S. Border Patrol unveiled a new strategy Tuesday that relies on helicopters and unmanned aerial drones and targets repeat offenders.

Recognizing that it had to realign its priorities, resources and organizational structure to focus on new security threats while continuing its missions of immigration enforcement and drug interdiction, the new strategy represents what Border Patrol officials called “an evolution” to account for and take advantage of changes and improvements in the border environment and the agency since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

While threats to the Southwest border have evolved since the agency’s last official strategy in 2004, the new plan said Border Patrol resources and capabilities to meet those threats “have also grown.” Accordingly, the new national strategy is structured to adjust to those evolving threats and to reflect what the agency called “the effectiveness of the Border Patrol’s additional resources and improved operational capabilities.”

The new 32-page strategy comes at a time that the number of agents has more than doubled to 21,000 since 2004 and the apprehension of those entering illegally from Mexico has dropped to a 40-year low.

The strategy evolves from a resources-based approach to a risk-based approach, built around a framework of what the Border Patrol called the use of “information, integration and rapid response to better secure the border in the most risk-based, effective and efficient manner.”

The strategy represents a natural evolution from an under-resourced organization focused on obtaining sufficient personnel, technology and infrastructure to “an organization that is managing rapid growth and is focused on using those additional resources in the most effective and efficient manner.”

“The U.S. Border Patrol has proudly protected our borders since its founding in 1924. Its mission has always been important. However, on 9/11, that mission immediately became more vital than ever before to our nation’s security,” Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher says in the report.

During a hearing before the House Homeland Security subcommittee Tuesday, the chief defended the new strategy, saying it would give the Border Patrol tools, programs, techniques and approaches that are more focused, effective and efficient.

The report said the agency will introduce and expand sophisticated tactics, techniques and procedures; increase mobile response capabilities and expand the use of specially trained personnel; and disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations by targeting enforcement efforts against the highest priority threats.

It also will increase and sustain the certainty of apprehension for illegal crossings, and increase community engagement through community programs, media relations and leveraging the public to help it achieve its goals.

The Sept. 12 GAO report said the Defense Department was hampered in identifying its role regarding border security and planning for that role since it could not identify a comprehensive Southwest border security strategy.

GAO’s auditors said top Defense officials expressed concern not just about the military’s role on the Southern border, but that key officials at the Department of Homeland Security - including those who oversee the Border Patrol - had not bothered in eight years to map out a comprehensive border strategy.

The auditors said Defense officials told senior leaders at Homeland Security they felt the military’s “border assistance” was “ad hoc in that DOD has other operational requirements.” It noted that the Defense Department assists when legal authorities allow and resources are available, while Homeland Security had “a continuous mission to ensure border security.”

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