Mar 11, 2014
Living in a Constitution-Free Zone
Posted on Feb 7, 2013
By Todd Miller, TomDispatch
A former Marine with close-cropped brown hair, Tussing has a Napoleonic stature and despises being stuck behind a podium. “I kind of like moving around,” he quips before starting “The Changing Role of the Military in Border Security Operations,” his talk at last October’s Border Management Conference and Technology Expo.
Perhaps Tussing realizes that his audience holds a new breed of border-security entrepreneur when his initial Army-Marine joke falls flat. Behind the small audience are booths from 74 companies selling their border-security wares. These nomadic malls of the surveillance state are popping up in ever more places each year.
Hanging from the high ceiling is a white surveillance aerostat made by an Israeli company. Latched onto the bottom of this billowing balloon are cameras that, even 150 feet away, can zoom in on the comments I’m scrawling in my notebook. Nearby sits a mannequin in a beige body suit, equipped with a gas mask. It’s all part of the equipment and technology that the developing industry has in mind for our southern border, and increasingly the northern one as well.
Tussing homes in on a 2010 statistic: 59,000 people (“illegals if you will”) tried to enter the United States from countries “other than Mexico, the euphemistic OTMs.” Six hundred and sixty-three of these “OTMs” were from countries Tussing calls “special-interest nations” such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and Somalia, and also from countries the U.S. has identified as state-sponsors of terrorism like Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.
A Government Accountablity Office report, he adds, claims that “the risk of terrorist activity is high along the northern border.” Of that 4,000-mile border between the two countries, he adds, “only 32 of those miles are categorized as what we say are acceptable levels of control.”
As what Tussing calls the “coup de grâce” to his argument for reinforcements of every sort along that border, he quotes Alan Bersin, former director of Customs and Border Protection: “In terms of the terrorist threat, it’s more commonly accepted that the most significant threat comes from the north,” not the south.
A Constitution-Free Zone
In 2012, the U.S. government spent more on the Homeland Security agencies responsible for border security than all of its other principal federal law enforcement agencies combined. The $18 billion allocated to Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement significantly exceeds the $14.4 billion that makes up the combined budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. In the years since 9/11, more than $100 billion has been spent on border security. Much of that went to the southern border, but now an ever larger chunk is heading north.
On that northern border, things have come a long way since North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan in 2001 held up an orange cone and said, “This is America’s security at our border crossing… America can’t effectively combat terrorism if it doesn’t control its borders.”
Now Predator B drones, sometimes in the air for 20 hours at a stretch, are doing surveillance work from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Spokane, Washington. Expensive surveillance towers equipped with night-vision cameras and sophisticated radar have been erected along the St. Clair and Niagara Rivers in Michigan and western New York state. Homeland Security built a $30 million border security “war room” at Michigan’s Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which, with its “video wall,” is worthy of a Hollywood action flick. This “gold standard” for border protection, as the CBP dubs it, is now one of many places where agents continuously observe those rivers of the north. As at Selfridge, so many resources and so much money has been poured into the frontlines of “homeland security,” and just upstream from cash-starved, post-industrial Detroit, the poorest city of its size in the United States.
In addition, the CBP’s Office of Air and Marine—essentially Homeland Security’s air force and navy—has established eight U.S. bases along the border from Plattsburgh, New York, to Bellingham, Washington. While such bases are commonplace on the southern border, they are new on the Canadian frontier. In addition, new state-of-the art Border Patrol stations are popping up in places like Pembina, North Dakota (at the cost of $13 million), International Falls, Minnesota ($6.8 million), and other places. This advance of the homeland security state in the north, funded and supported by Congress, seems both uncontroversial and unstoppable.
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