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Border Patrol International

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Posted on Nov 21, 2013
visualpanic (CC BY 2.0)

By Todd Miller, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

In 2012, agent Adrian Long told Frontline, the CBP’s in-house magazine, that his agency trains Iraqis “in Border Patrol techniques like cutting sign, doing drags, setting up checkpoints and patrols.” Long was repeating the same lingo so often heard on the U.S.-Mexican border, where agents “cut sign” to track people by their trail marks and do “drags” to smooth out dirt roads so they can more easily see the footprints of any “border intruders.” In Afghanistan, Border Patrol agents are similarly training forces to police that country’s 3,436 miles of frontiers. In 2012, during one training session, an Afghan policeman even turned his gun on two CBP agents in an “insider attack,” killing them and seriously injuring a third.

Around soccer’s World Cup, which South Africa hosted in 2010, CBP assisted that government in creating a Customs and Border Control Unit tasked with “securing South Africa’s borders while facilitating the movement of goods and people,” according to CBP’s Africa and Middle East branch country manager for South Africa Tasha Reid Hippolyte. South Africa has even brought its military special forces into the border patrolling process. Near the Zimbabwean border, its militarized guards were using a triple barrier of razor wire and electric fencing that can be set to offer shocks ranging from mild to deadly in their efforts to stop border crossers. Such equipment had not been used in that country since the apartheid-era.

In many cases, the U.S. is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries.  More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have taken part in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.

Meanwhile, U.S. borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters.  As Michael Schmidt wrote in the New York Times in 2012, for example, “An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.” There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers. 

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Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti’s case, in the international waters around your country, the U.S. border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the “homeland.” If you don’t meet Washington’s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from travelling anywhere at all.

CBP attachés are now detailed to U.S. embassies in Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Italy, and Canada, among many other countries. According to an agency publication, Customs and Border Protection Today, they have been tasked with the mission of keeping “terrorists and their weapons from our shores,” as well as providing technical assistance, “fostering secure trade practices, and strengthening border authority principles.” The anonymous writer then typically, if floridly, describes “our country’s border” as “the armor of the body politic; it protects the systems and infrastructures that function within. Knives pierce armor and can jeopardize the body—so we sheath them; keep them at bay; and demand accountability from those who use them.”  

As CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner put it in 2004, the U.S. is “extending our zone of security, where we can do so, beyond our physical borders—so that American borders are the last line of defense, not the first line of defense.”

Perhaps this is why few here batted an eye when, in 2012, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin flatly declared, “The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.”

On the Edge of Empire

As dusk falls and the rainstorm ends, I walk along the river’s edge where those Dominican border patrol agents are still sitting, staring into Haiti. Considering that U.S. forces occupied the Dominican Republic and Haiti numerous times in the previous century, it’s easy to imagine why Washington’s border chieftains consider this sad, impoverished spot part of our “backyard.” Not far from where I’m walking is the Codevi industrial free trade zone that straddles the border.  There, Haitian workers churn out jeans mainly for Levi Strauss and the North American market, earning less than three dollars a day.

I approach one of the CESFRONT guards in his desert camouflage uniform.  He’s sitting with his assault rifle between his legs. He looks beyond bored—no surprise since being suspicious of people who happen to be on the other side of a border can be deadly tedious work.

Diaz, as his name patch identifies him, tells me that his shift, which runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, is normally eventless because Haitians rarely cross here. When I explain where I’m from, he wants to know what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like. I tell him about the fencing, the sensors, the cameras, and the agents everywhere you look. I ask if he has ever met agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

 “Of course!” he says in Spanish, “there have been training sessions.”

Then I ask if terrorists are crossing this border, which is the reason the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo gives for supporting the creation of CESFRONT.


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