DHS Intelligence and Border Security: Delivering Operational Intelligence

By Michael W. Cutler on June 28, 2006

Statement of
Michael W. Cutler
Center for Immigration Studies

Before the U.S. House of Representative Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment

Chairman Simmons, ranking member Lofgren, members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome this invitation to appear before you today at a hearing that I believe is of critical importance to the safety of our citizens and indeed to the very survival of our nation.

The gathering of effective intelligence is essential for effective law enforcement and for issues relating to national security. Nothing can be of greater significance than the issue of developing effective intelligence, that is to say, the culling of accurate information and understanding its place in the overall picture. Intelligence should be thought of as being comparable to the way that a digital photograph is made. A digital photograph is comprised of a huge number of elements or pixels, which are placed in the proper location to paint a clear picture. As the number of pixels increases, the clarity of the photo increases proportionately. So too, the clarity of the picture painted by effective intelligence is proportionate to the quantity and quality of the intelligence or nuggets of information that can be gathered and placed in the proper position in the mosaic that makes up the overall picture. The ability to understand the significance of each kernel of information, also contributes to the clarity of the picture that the intelligence will create.

Effective intelligence also requires that it be disseminated quickly to the ultimate users of the intelligence. It has a short shelf life and therefore where critical intelligence is concerned, time is of the essence. Pixels do not lose their value over time, intelligence does. Additionally, it is important to understand human nature. Approximately 400 years ago Sir Francis Bacon said, Knowledge is power. That statement is as true today as it was when he first said it. Various federal agencies realize that intelligence that they possess provides them with a certain amount of power and therefore their members have been reluctant to share their knowledge with other agencies. However the point to intelligence is to protect our nation and intelligence that is critical today will become worthless in a very short period of time. That is why it must be freely and expeditiously shared with those who truly possess the Need to know.

It is also worth noting that intelligence comes from many sources. It comes from electronic surveillance and other high-tech means and also comes from low-tech sources; informants who are willing to talk and field personnel who make observations in the field when they find documents and other materials that yield valuable information. That is why it is essential that field agents understand that they have a vital role to play in the development of intelligence. They are our government's eyes and ears on the ground and their discoveries and insights are invaluable. Because of this, not only must they be provided with accurate intelligence to help them do their jobs, they must also be provided with an opportunity to share their observations with intelligence analysts who may be able to take seemingly unconnected observations and even hunches and weave them into a tapestry of effective intelligence.

I would like to share with you an experience I had approximately 20 years ago which is as relevant today as it was when it occurred. Back then I was assigned to a unit of the former INS in New York that was charged with finding illegal aliens who were working illegally in the United States. My colleagues and I were in the process of arresting a number of illegal aliens who were working in a diner in Staten Island, New York when one of the illegal alien employees, a citizen of Egypt, fled the restaurant when he realized we were present. He made an exhaustive although ultimately futile effort to evade us and we succeeded in taking him into custody. We took him back to his apartment to attempt to retrieve his passport, a standard procedure, since his passport would be helpful in positively identifying him and determining his date place and manner of entry into the United States. His passport would also be useful in arranging for his deportation should the immigration judge order him deported. With his consent, we entered his apartment and were surprised to find that there were numerous department store shopping bags lining one of the walls in his sparsely furnished apartment. These bags were filled to the very top with hundreds upon hundreds of coupons for all sorts of merchandise ranging from dog food to detergent to cereal. He had no meaningful explanation for this but we had no way of making any inquiries to understand the possible significance of those coupons. We retrieved his passport and he was ultimately deported. Several months later I was shocked to learn from a televised news program that the PLO had sent a number of their people to the United States to engage in coupon fraud in order to fund terrorism in the Middle East. Purportedly this tactic netted the PLO millions of dollars in ill-gotten funds. This young man who was seemingly engaged in nothing more sinister than washing dishes in a diner was apparently an operative of a terrorist organization. We had him in custody and we deported him, losing a potential treasure trove of intelligence from a terrorist operative or at least terrorist sympathizer. To this day I wonder what intelligence we might have gained had we understood the significance of the shopping bags filled with coupons on the day we arrested him. I also wonder where he is now and what efforts he might be engaged in that pose a threat to our nation or our allies today.

If the news media understood the significance of coupon fraud, why did not the former INS make certain that their field agents were aware of such activities? Keeping our law enforcement personnel in the dark not only keeps them from being as effective as possible at carrying out their day to day duties, it also keeps them from recognizing situations that may make their jobs more hazardous and also prevents them from pressing an investigation further, where the results might yield highly critical information.

This is also the reason that I am greatly concerned when I hear members of the administration talk about the need to conduct field investigations where critical infrastructure facilities are concerned such as airports and nuclear power plants but where limited resources make routine immigration law enforcement a non-priority. Certainly it is vital that we make certain that we make vital infrastructure facilities as secure as possible and not only where hiring illegal aliens is concerned, but from other perspectives as well. However, as we have seen in a number of terrorism investigations over the past several years, many of the suspected terrorists who have been identified and arrested have not worked as such sensitive locations as airports and nuclear power plants, but had relatively pedestrian jobs driving taxi cabs and ice cream trucks as well as teaching in schools and working in used car lots. The goal of terrorists is to hide in plain sight or in the parlance of the 911 Commission, to embed themselves in our nation.

The routine enforcement of immigration laws can provide our government with the opportunity to cultivate informants and provide essential insight if our agents are properly briefed and properly debriefed. They need to be encouraged to come forward whenever they make observations that arouse their suspicions or curiosity and need to have an easy way to report on their findings in the field.

Finally, we also need to provide our field personnel at ICE with appropriate training, including foreign language training. When I attended the Border Patrol Academy in 1972 I was required to successfully complete a Spanish language training program as were all enforcement personnel who were hired by the INS. Today, incredibly, that foreign language training is not only not required, it is not even offered for newly hired special agents of ICE. As I have stated at previous Congressional hearings at which I have testified, you simply cannot investigate people you are unable to communicate with. It is absolutely essential that our ICE personnel be given Spanish language training and they also need to be trained in various strategic languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu to name a few. They also need to be given on-going training to properly identify fraudulent and/or altered identity documents, since these documents are the linchpins that hold the immigration system together. From what I have been told, this training is far from adequate at present, and this is not in our nation's best interest. I would remind you that the terrorists who attacked our nation on September 11, 2001 used multiple identities and false documents as well as documents that were improperly issued to them, in order to embed themselves in our country as they prepared for the horrific attacks that they launched against our nation and our people on that terrible day.

I look forward to your questions.