Napolitano Is Releasing a Border Strategy Tomorrow; Does Anyone Care?

By Janice Kephart on July 6, 2011

Local TV in Arizona has reported that on Thursday, July 7, 2011, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, with Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin and Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, will be announcing the 2011 Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy in Nogales, Ariz.

Ironically, I was just reviewing the 2010 "Implementation Update" for the 2009 Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy yesterday for a larger piece I am doing on the growing national security threat on our southwest border stemming from the uncanny connectivity between the Mexican drug cartels, arms trafficking, Hezbollah, the Colombian FARC, Venezuela's Chavez, and Iran. (I am an expert in a lawsuit on this, as are two former 9/11 staff, two CIA Mideast veterans, three high-level Iranian defectors, and a number of other court-recognized experts on Iran and terrorism. The legal documents for the case are here). Now that we have substantial proof that Iran helped train, plan, and support the terrorist travel of al Qaeda's 9/11 hijackers, Hezbollah's support of the cartels and easy access into the United States seems potentially more than just access by operatives to conduct the terror financing we know has gone on here for years. However, I divert.

What is most concerning about the 2010 Implementation Update is the disconnect between the rhetoric and stated goals of the report and the reality on the ground. First, while the Obama administration has put forth a counternarcotics strategy for the past three years, we have yet to have a Southwest Border Strategy from this administration that tells the Border Patrol exactly their mission, and how they are to achieve that mission. Not surprising, considering reports of the Border Patrol being told not to conduct apprehensions. Or, consideration of tolerable levels of illegal immigration? I mean, who would put that in writing?

However, the counternarcotics strategy gives the Border Patrol a whole one and a half pages in its 64-page report. It focuses on assigning more agents to checkpoints (where smugglers know not to go) and efforts to stop southbound illegal traffic to support Mexico's population, which seems in this strategy to be at least as important as stopping the nefarious drugs reaching our U.S. population. Specifically, this strategy has at a central mission to "focus beyond stemming the inbound flow of illegal drugs from Mexico in recognition of the role that the outbound flow of illegal cash and weapons plays in sustaining the cartels." The goal: to "ensure the prosecution of all significant drug trafficking, money laundering, bulk currency, and weapons smuggling/trafficking cases." [emphasis added] (p.3)

Interestingly again, this strategy goes into as much depth with "Project Gunrunner" as the Border Patrol's role in counternarcotics, describing it as follows:

ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) initiated Project Gunrunner in recognition of the growing violence along the border and the resulting threat to our national security. During FY 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ATF received $10 million for Project Gunrunner, to include hiring 25 new special agents, 6 industry operations investigators, 3 intelligence research specialists, and 3 investigative analysts. This funding has been annualized and is being requested as part of the President‘s FY 2011 budget request. (p. 47)

Yet despite an emphasis on "outbound flow of … illegal weapons" in this strategy, the now infamous "Operation Fast and Furious" is never mentioned, nor its complete lack of ensuring "the prosecution of all significant drug trafficking, money laundering, bulk currency, and weapons smuggling/trafficking cases." In this operation, agents were instructed to withhold arrests or extensive surveillance of Mexican drug trafficking, money exchanges, and weapons buying/smuggling/trafficking. Instead, agents were ordered to just watch guns be purchased and moved out of Phoenix gun shops by drug cartel "straw purchasers".

When BORTAC agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010, reportedly by one of the guns purchased during this operation, Congress (and the media) launched an investigation. The Department of Justice sent an eight-page explanation of their refusal to cooperate with any degree of transparency in the congressional inquiry into this operation, which was then followed up on by testimony from three ATF agents who, between them, have over 50 years of law enforcement experience. Not your typical whistleblower types, by any account. According to congressional testimony on June 15, 2011 by these ATF agents, all of whom were assigned to Operation Fast and Furious, they stated for the record that they were not only threatened with their jobs if they did not follow orders (see testimony of Olindo James Casa), but basically ordered not to do their jobs. Excerpts of their descriptions are as follows:

ATF agents assigned to the Phoenix Field Division, with the concurrence of their local chain of command, "walked" guns. ATF agents allowed weapons to be provided to individuals whom they knew would traffic them to members of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). They did so by failing to lawfully interdict weapons that they knew were going to be delivered to members of DTOs, and they did so by encouraging federal firearms licensees to continue selling weapons that were destined for delivery to members of the DTOs where no interdiction efforts were planned. …

Surveillance on individuals who had acquired weapons was often terminated far from the Mexican border. Therefore, while the case agents and the others believed that the weapons were destined for Mexico, the potential exists that many were sent with cartel drugs to other points in the United States…. I continue to be horrified. I believe these firearms will continue to turn up at crime scenes, on both sides of the border, for years to come.

Peter Forcelli, Supervisory Special Agent, ATF, testimony before House Oversight and Government Reform (June 15, 2011)

Over the course of the next 10 months that I was involved in this operation, we monitored as they (40 "straw purchasers" believed to be purchasing guns for Mexican DTOs) purchased hand guns, AK-47 variants, and .50 calibre rifles almost daily. Rather than conduct any enforcement actions, we took notes, we recorded observations, we tracked movements of these individuals for a short time after their purchases, but nothing more…. I can recall, for example, watching one suspect receive a bag filled with cash froma third party then proceed to a gun dealer and purchase weapons with that cash and deliver them to this same unknown third party…. My supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest, but rather, to keep the straw purchaser under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk… Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals—this was the plan. It was so mandated…. I and other field agents involved in the operation repeatedly raised these concerns with our supervisors. In response, we were told we simply did not understand the plan.

John Dobson, Special Agent, ATF, testimony before House Oversight and Government Reform (June 15, 2011)

I wonder to the extent Secretary Napolitano will acknowledge Operation Fast and Furious as one of many failed – in fact neglectful – programs from last year. Yet, Attorney General Holder, who has current oversight over Operation Fast and Furious, will not be joining Secretary Napolitano to add to the transparency of the discussion regarding this horrid operation, let alone fill out the details on the rest of the counternarcotics strategy, which typically includes a large cache of work for federal prosecutors dealing with the cartel's criminal, immigration and smuggling activities, alongside the FBI and DEA's activities. How convenient. The secretary can buck the questions regarding the ATF, FBI, DEA, and all other highly pertinent counternarcotics strategy questions because it is not within her jurisdiction.

Maybe I'll be wrong. Yet unless the Attorney General is a surprise guest, I doubt this press conference will be more than the rhetoric the secretary herself complains about incessantly. Nor will we learn how the ugly operations of cartels are being stemmed in any real way.