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Fear, Corporate Profiteering, and Government Expansion of the Security Surveillance State on the US Borderland

Profiting from fear on the Borderland. (Photo: CBPPhotography)

Part of the Series

If one were looking for a convention of the Borderland national security state complex, it can be found at the Border Security Expo taking place at the Phoenix Arizona Convention Center March 12-13.

Representatives of the full incestuous array of the thriving Borderland security industry will be in attendance – if last year’s gathering is a guide – covering a full spectrum of federal, state and local agencies that can provide the modern form of gold sought by the Spanish Conquistadors: US government contracts.

The grand business exchange of the expo consists of an exhibition hall of vendors and is open free to members of law enforcement and the government. A news release issued by Eagle Eye Expositions LLC – which purchased the borderland security expo brand from E.J. Krause & Associates in May 2012 – boasted that the 2012 event “showed a 24 percent increase in exhibit space with a waiting list of more than 70 companies unable to participate. Attendance was also up 21 percent with event participants from 40 states and 10 countries.”

Indeed, the floor plan for the March gathering includes spaces for more than 180 exhibitors including General Dynamics, Raytheon (both are also among the co-sponsors of the event), Motorola, Lockheed Martin, Glock and a bevy of industries that are aimed at increasing the pace at which the US/Mexico Borderland is turned into a full-fledged militarized zone – and cashing in on the bonanza.

In its promotional materials, Eagle Eye Expositions is luring exhibitors with hard-sell marketing, boasting of the money to be made in the growing Borderland security government/industry alliance: “From education to implementation, Border Security Expo 2013 is the most cost-effective and productive way to showcase your products and services, build your company’s brand, and sell to this multi-billion dollar marketplace.” Eagle Eye adds in its exhibitor’s packet: “No other event brings together so many different law enforcement agencies with so much buying influence and decision-making authority.”

As for the substance of the conclave, Eagle Eye states: “The Border Security Expo conference and exhibition focuses on issues of terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking and a technological infrastructure that must be upgraded, heightened and enhanced. The expanded mandate and mission of the US Border Patrol has created a need to meet new challenges with new solutions. This year’s show, as in the past, showcased numerous technological solutions to secure our borders and ports of entry.”

But exactly what is the United States spending billions of dollars in government, law enforcement, military and expansion of private sector contracting to protect the nation from? It begs the question: Is this is an excessive national security state Borderland buildup in search of a factual justification for its exponential growth?

Perhaps it is the second component of the Borderland Security Expo that attempts to provide a rationale for this thriving market (and not just on the Mexican border): the two-day conference of speakers. Industry representatives will pay a whopping $1,075 to hear high-level government spokespersons, consultants and local law enforcement officials, among others. (Law enforcement and government officials receive a discounted registration fee for the full conference package.) These conference presenters include taxpayer-salaried individuals, among them:

  • David V. Aguilar, deputy commissioner, US Customs and Border Protection (scheduled)
  • John Morton, director, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Michael J. Fisher, chief, US Border Patrol
  • Mark S. Borkowski, component acquisition executive and assistant commissioner, Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, US Customs and Border Protection

It’s an opportunity for the contract decision-makers and the profiteers to mingle while being informed about the latest developments in keeping lurking dangers at bay.

One of the breakout sessions is titled, “Terrorism and Transnational Criminal Organizations – Growing Confluence,” which represents a key positioning segue for the Department of Homeland Security and vested interests in creating a state of fear on the Borderland and in the United States to grow the contracts, profits and jobs. Robert C. Bonner, the speaker for the anti-terrorism session, represents the revolving door of DC border-security-insiders-turned-lobbyists-and-industry-representatives. As Eagle Eye Expo describes him, Bonner is “Senior Principal, Sentinel HS Group; Former Commissioner, US Customs and Border Protection; Former Administrator, US Drug Enforcement Administration; and Former US District Judge for California’s Central District.”

According to the Sentinel HS Group website, it “is a strategic consulting firm providing strategy, policy, and risk analytics services to the US government.” In addition, “Sentinel’s partners and management team were drawn from multiple components of the US Department of Homeland Security, international customs and civil security agencies, and the private sector.”

Sixteen for-profit media companies specializing in governmental security issues are listed as partners, assisting Eagle Eye Expositions in turning a profit on the exhibition. The media partners include: The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Israel Defense, Fierce Homeland Security, and Defense Update. None of these media publications, Truthout presumes, were denied credentials for covering the exhibition, while Truthout was.

(When the head of Eagle Eye public relations, Kelvin Marsden-Kish, was asked – via email – why Truthout was not granted media credentials for covering the conference, he did not respond.)

Perhaps Eagle Eye Expositions took offense that a news outlet might be critical of the Borderland security industry, as Truthout was in its 10-part series “Truthout on the Mexican Border.” Perhaps it was one of the BuzzFlash-Truthout commentaries such as a recent one, “War on Drugs in Latin America Is to Advance US Economic Interests, Not Reduce Drug Trafficking,” which made the following observations:

The word “militarized” in relation to counternarcotics is important, because as the Truthout series reported the goal of the US may not at all relate to reducing the flow of illegal narcotics. The actual aim is more likely to be the US insertion of militarized activity into south of the border nations that are playing an increasingly important role in the expansion of global corporations based in the US, cheap labor markets, and expanded markets for US-based companies such as Walmart. In addition, by creating an excuse for expanded US military and intelligence agency and law enforcement involvement in cooperative Latin American nations, the US is attempting to preserve hemispheric hegemony.

Indeed, were some form of immigration reform to pass, the militarization of relations with Mexico, Latin America, and parts of South America will continue to increase, not decrease. That is because stakeholders who stand to financially and ideologically benefit from a large-scale law enforcement, military and intelligence agency buildup – in the name of waging the war on drugs – will continue advocating aggressive national security policies.

What the so-called war on drugs enables is the growth of the national security state – including the United States Southern Command, the Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the CIA, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly School of the Americas), and other tactical forces – involved in mission creep in the Americas: to implement the modern Monroe Doctrine of US political and trade dominance.

Todd Miller, who covered last year’s Border Security Expo for, discussed the telling symbolism of the event being held in Arizona, where it is taking place again this year:

After all, the Arizona-Mexico border region is Ground Zero for the development of an immigration enforcement apparatus, which soon enough may travel from the southern border to a neighborhood near you.

The sold-out convention hall was abuzz with energy befitting an industry whose time has come. Wandering its aisles, you could sense the excitement, the sound of money being spent, the cacophony of hundreds of voices boosting product, the synergy of a burgeoning marketplace of ideas and dreams. General Dynamics, FLIR thermal imaging, and Raytheon banners hung from the vast ceiling, competing for eyeballs with the latest in mini-surveillance blimps. NEANY Inc.’s unmanned aerial drones and their water-borne equivalents sat on a thick red carpet next to desert-camouflaged trailer headquarters.

At various exhibits, mannequins dressed in camo and sporting guns with surveillance gizmos hanging off their helmets seemed as if they might walk right out of the exhibition hall and take over the sprawling city of Phoenix with brute force. Little imaginable for your futuristic fortressed border was missing from the hall. There were even ready-to-eat pocket sandwiches (with a three-year shelf life), and Brief Relief plastic urine bags. A stream of uniformed Border Patrol, military, and police officials moved from booth to booth alongside men in suits in what the sole protester outside the convention center called a “mall of death.”

Miller points out the telling bait and switch from a security emphasis based on apprehending undocumented workers to stopping terrorism (as mentioned earlier), which sometimes also blends into the use of the term narco-terrorism:

As the new uniformed soldiers of the Department of Homeland Security, close to 20,000 Border Patrol agents now occupy the US Southwest. Predator drones and mini-surveillance blimps regularly patrol the skies. (Border scholar Joseph) Nevins says that it is a “highly significant development” that we have come to accept this version of “boundaries” and the institutions that enforce them without question.

The Border Patrol became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and was placed under the wing of Customs and Border Protection, now the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country with 60,000 employees. In the process, its “priority mission” became “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the US.” Since then the Border Patrol has not netted a single person affiliated with a terrorist organization nor a single weapon of mass destruction.

It has, however, apprehended millions of Latin American migrants coming north, including a historic number of Mexicans who were essentially victims of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). No terrorists; they were often small farmers who could no longer compete with subsidized US grain giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland for whom NAFTA proved to be a free pass into Mexico. US officials were well aware that the trade agreement would lead to an increase in migration, and called for the enforcement buildup. In the post-9/11 world, under the rubric of “protecting” the country from terrorism, the DHS, with the help of state governments and local police, has enforced what is really a line of exclusion, guaranteeing eternal inequality between those who have and those who do not ….

This should be a reminder that a significant, if overlooked, part of this country’s post 9/11 security iron fist has been aimed not at al-Qaeda but at the undocumented migrant. Indeed, as writer Roberto Lovato points out, there has been an “al-Qaedization of immigrants and immigration policy.” And as in the Global War on Terror, military-industrial companies like Boeing and Halliburton are cashing in on this version of for-profit war.

If one wants to confirm the critical mass of the private sector and government cross-pollination into a muscular force for the development of a national and local security apparatus in the Borderland – regardless of need – start with the example of who was the honorary chair of last year’s Borderland Security Expo conference: Jayson P. Ahern, principal, The Chertoff Group and former acting commissioner, US Customs and Border Protection.

Michael Chertoff, of course, was the second head of the Department of Homeland Security under Bush. The company’s website offers this description of the firm:

We’ve been there, on the front lines, dealing with the United States’ most critical security challenges: stopping terrorists before they have a chance to act; responding to unprecedented natural disasters without a single life lost; detecting and interdicting hackers trying to break into the myriad networks that are the lifeblood of both government and the private sector; and even dealing with modern-day pirates and other threats to trade and travel.

The Chertoff group trades off its relationships developed by government insiders, with Chertoff at the top of the rainmaking pyramid, to take advantage of lucrative consulting fees for access and expertise.

Last year, Ahern, as the honorary chair, introduced the keynote speaker of the 2012 Borderland Security Expo, Tea Party xenophobic Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, as a “true patriot.” Brewer went on in her combative keynote speech to repeat mistruths about alleged rampant violence and murder on the Arizona border, blast politicians in Washington, DC, and generally put on the Jan Brewer right wing “ignite the fear” show.

In his book, “State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream,” author Jeff Biggers debunks Brewer’s claims of barbaric and massive violence (see chapter three of “State Out of the Union”) caused by undocumented Mexicans. So it is noteworthy that Brewer was given a major forum at the Security Expo for her fictionalized apocalyptic portrayal of the need for an increased national security state in the Borderland.

In fact, perhaps the most credible evidence undercutting the basic premise of the Border Security Expo comes from a US government study, as reported in “In Sight Crime”:

A US government study points to an overall decrease in US border crime between 2004 to 2011, further indicating that fears of a “spillover” effect from Mexico’s war against organized crime may be unfounded.

The report, released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) earlier this month, found that the average rate for both violent and property crimes had dropped in the Southwest border states. Arizona saw the most significant decline, of 33 percent over the seven-year period. Other decreases were seen in Texas (30 percent), California (26 percent), and New Mexico (8 percent from 2005 onward) ….

Available data has generally failed to support concerns of crime and violence. Figures from the FBI, for example, show that violent crime in Arizona declined from 532 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 408 in 2010. An analysis by the Austin-based newspaper the Statesman found that, despite the release of a government-sponsored report warning of escalating violence in Texas, the combined number of murders in the state’s 14 border counties fell by 33 percent between 2006 and 2010. The GAO’s most recent study further supports the interpretation that claims of rampant “spillover violence” in the US border region have been mostly exaggerated.

Tom Barry, who recently wrote on the strategic dysfunction of the Border Patrol for Truthout, laments – in a follow-up email – about the waste of dollars and resources on an agency lacking a vital mission:

On an institutional and personal level, the language of “border security” functions simultaneously as a mask and crutch. The military jargon of threats, forward-operating bases, operational control, etc. hides the fact that this agency’s operations have little or nothing to do with security. Rather, it is more about sitting bored, shift after shift, in green-and-white trucks looking for immigrants and weed. Perhaps, just perhaps, this glorified sense of mission – this security mask – would be okay if it existed primarily to keep up morale (lowest among federal bureaucracies) and to keep these gals and guys awake in their trucks. But as seen in the strategy statements of all these homeland security agencies, especially CBP along with USBP and Office of Air and Marine, the mask is much more than an internal morale booster; it functions to justify ever higher budgets, increased presence in border communities, and enormously expensive high-tech solutions.

On March 1, Tom Diaz, an expert on the dangerous business model of the gun industry asked in a Washington Post column, “Guns kill more people. So why does terrorism get all the attention?”

There have been no credible reports of hordes of terrorists walking across the border from Mexico. Immigration, even when it was at its highest, had little impact on crime or violence in the US Borderland. The so-called War on Drugs in Mexico and the Americas is an abject failure, with the US consumer demand for illicit drugs remaining fully supplied and unabated.

More than three times the number of Americans are killed each year with guns than the number of lives that were lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Why can the federal government do so little about the domestic daily death toll made possible by the gun industry, but build up a massively funded Borderland security-surveillance industry?

Indeed, Eagle Eye Expositions (which is also offering a similar Canadian border conference later this year – and even a “Global Summit of Borders” in May) has found itself a matchmaker for forces bent on turning America’s southern border into a zone of fear. All signs are that, whatever temporary budget battles in DC, the Borderland security industry will keep growing like a hedge fund manager’s Cayman Islands bank account.

And Eagle Eye Expositions will draw a hefty profit from serving as the go-to (but not the only) convention for players in this growth business dependent upon the largesse of the government and its affiliated agencies.