Sunday, February 12, 2006

The U.S. government has sent more than $376 million to Mexico in the past decade for that country’s military and police to help stop alien and drug smugglers, guard against terrorists and protect America’s southern border, including $50 million due this year.

The money, quietly authorized through State and Defense department programs, has been used to train and equip the Mexican military and police, drawing disagreement on whether those institutions are part of the solution for U.S. border security, or are part of the problem.

Rep. Rick Renzi, Arizona Republican and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the program has had “great success” and helped put narcoterrorists and smugglers “on the defense.”

“While Mexico does have too much corruption, there are elements within the Mexican government on the front lines of the war against terrorists and smugglers willing to fight and die to bring back honor and integrity,” he said. “The United States and Mexico must stay engaged, so we both can be successful in this battle.”

But T.J. Bonner, a veteran U.S. Border Patrol agent who heads the 10,000-member National Border Patrol Council, described the program as “appalling,” saying it amounted to the U.S. government funding attacks on U.S. law-enforcement personnel along the border by rogue Mexican military troops.

“This funding program should cease immediately, and the Mexican government needs to be placed on notice that any further incursions by its military or police will not be tolerated,” he said, referring to recent incidents on the border in which men in Mexican military uniforms confronted U.S. law-enforcement officers in this country.

“If they have this kind of money to give away, there are better ways to spend it,” Mr. Bonner said. “Mexico cannot control its own military, and it makes no sense to give them better weapons and equipment they can use to attack and threaten our own law-enforcement officers,” he said.

Mexico has denied that any of its military personnel have been involved in recent border incursions, blaming drug smugglers. The incidents are under investigation by both governments.

The money funds helicopters, four-wheel-drive vehicles, trucks, all-terrain cycles, communications and detection equipment, binoculars, computers and other equipment. It also has been used to train Mexican military and police in intelligence gathering and counterterrorism.

The 2006 budget request calls for the delivery of a telephone intercept system, which would give Mexico the ability to eavesdrop on suspected narcoterrorists and smugglers.

Mr. Renzi said that although it is “likely” some of the money forwarded to the Mexican government has been “misspent,” oversight of those units receiving U.S. cash has been improved.

“To ensure that the money is being properly used, there have been more vettings and more polygraph tests, and Mexico has been cooperating in the vetting process,” he said.

According to the State Department, the funds help the Mexican government respond to terrorist threats. The department said in a report to Congress justifying the expenditures that Mexican military cooperation “is critical” to homeland defense and counternarcotics programs.

Most of the 2006 funding request, about $28.1 million, comes from the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for technical assistance, equipment and arms transfers, as well as programs to encourage the cultivation of legal crops and assistance for drug demand-reduction programs.

An additional $18.4 million is from the Defense Department’s International Military Education and Training program, which provides counternarcotics assistance and training to foreign military personnel and police. The budget also includes $2.5 million for grants and loans to help purchase U.S.-produced weapons, defense equipment and military training; $1.1 million for additional training for the military and a limited number of civilians; and $450,000 to train military officers as part of the Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program.

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