Just back from my first visit to Israel. I remain stunned by what I saw and those with whom I talked. Stunned is the best word I can think of because I am still trying to disassemble images and assemble words to make some sense of my experiences.
The first night, by way of the congested highway from Tel Aviv, the only comparison of the Jerusalem that came to me long into the early hours was some sort of poorly lit version of San Francisco in the 1950s. The next morning, by the light of day and after a walk through the market in the old city area, San Francisco was quickly replaced by nothing more or less than a possible understanding of perhaps what most cities, in spite of geography, history, and cultures, may look like in the near future because of the threat of increased terrorism.
In truth, I was only able to see the walls the first few days I was there. Very old walls, new walls, walls being constructed to replace less imposing walls, all topped in various fashion by wire or spikes. And guns. Everyone who has served in the army, which is required of all Israeli citizens, either carries a weapon or presumably had placed their weapon in a safe place before venturing into the streets. Only gradually could I focus on the incredible diversity of people jammed into this city, nose to nose, religion to religion, the poor walking on crooked streets lined by the omnipresent fortified walls on the other side of which lived the rich, the powerful, the lucky few.
Is what I saw the only answer to terrorism, perhaps a preview of what American cities may or could become? I have no idea at this point. Maybe in a few weeks my experiences will begin to make sense. In the meantime, I remain nothing more or less than stunned by this ancient city. And, of course, anxious to see, experience, and gradually understand more about Jerusalem along with the rest of Israel and the countries bordering it.
When our military men and women enlist, they promise to uphold certain obligations that are expected of them. These obligations at a personal level are frequently extremely challenging for them to live up to. In return, our military institutions also sign on to a list of obligations that enlistees expect of them. These institutional and societal obligations are not challenging to live up to.
Among our military and societal obligations to our military is the promise to provide medical care to all serving in our behalf. When our military return from foreign deployments, these men and women should receive the best health care that we as a society can provide. Along with that also goes the legal promise their civilian job will still be waiting for them.
What happened to Lieutenant Commander J. Gregory Richardson (retired) should never have occurred. When he returned in 2011 from his fifth tour of duty spanning a military career of three decades, neither were his documented medical issues resolved, nor did his employer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs, accommodate his documented medical issues in the work place.
CBP IA Integrity Programs Division did not provide Richardson the opportunity to continue to serve his country; that is our loss. Neither did it show the slightest bit of compassion to this returning disabled veteran who eventually was forced out of his job as a GS-14 Senior Security Analyst.
Said one of Richardson’s co-workers, “All he needed was an once of compassion.” None of his division supervisors or senior leadership at CBP IA, Mr. James Tomsheck, took the time or the effort to help Richardson. Instead they and their agency for years have hidden behind procedures, policies, and bureaucratic paper shuffling.
Our institutional and societal obligations to those in our military are not challenging to live up to.
Two reasons. First, the frequency and intensity of Oklahoma earthquakes have grown dramatically in the last few years. In both the northwest and the central part of the state these increases are directly tied to the injection wells required for fracking. Increasingly damage to both private and public property is a concern.
Second, the frequency and intensity of Oklahoma earthquakes is occurring closer and closer to the Cushing hub. This pipeline node and tank farm on any one day stores more than 50 million barrels of oil. Any damage to the Cushing hub infrastructure could severely impact the petro-chemical plants and refineries that are concentrated along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Alabama. As such, Oklahoma earthquakes are potentially man-made disasters that could have a negative impact on our national security because they potentially threaten our oil-based economy.
In my opinion the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is taking a first step, unprecedented in this state, to attempt to limit earthquakes caused by a by-product of the fracking process. It still remains to be seen, however, whether their efforts will succeed.
For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20160524-update-on-earthquakes-newest-results-from-oklahoma-commission-look-encouraging
What difference does it make if SBInet cost $1 billion, or $1.2 billion, or the real amount, $1.389 billion?
First and foremost, American taxpayers paid the SBInet contracts to Boeing. There is a big difference, exactly $389 million, between the first number listed above and the last.
For example, imagine what cities like Flint, Michigan could do to fix their lead problem in the water, or the salaries that elected officials in Ferguson, Missouri could offer its police officers so they could hire the best trained personnel available. Imagine the impact on public education in troubled school systems in Chicago, Baltimore, and other major cities. There are, in fact, endless ways that $389 million could be used to improve the lives of Americans.
The public has a right to know how its money is spent. Simple as that.
The new Reorg at CBP provides some hope that this largest of all federal law enforcement agencies at last recognizes its crucial problems and intends to resolve them. However, what is always most difficult is to change in an organization of this size because it is the managerial culture which shapes and drives it. Without significant cultural change in the leadership at CBP, positive accomplishments as determined by measurable outcomes are very difficult to obtain.
A case in point. By all accounts SBInet was a miserable failure that cost the taxpayer more than $1 billion. But even more importantly, Border Patrol Agents and Custom Officers to date have been denied state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that would increase their efficiency on the job and, at the same time, reduce their risk. Anyone who does not understand the danger that these men and women face on a daily basis really does not understand the nature of their work.
The documented failure of SBInet has required CBP to try to catch up after years of technology failures along the border. One must hope that the five new contracts awarded by CBP’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition to defense contractors will very soon bring the latest in surveillance technology into the capable hands of CBP Agents and Officers.
The responsibility for shepherding these five technologies to fruition rests directly upon the shoulders of Mark Borkowski, CBP’s Assistant Commissioner and Chief Acquisition Executive. The fact, however, that Borkowski supervised the failed SBInet program from 2006 to 2010 does not create much confidence that he will succeed in a timely and productive manner to increase our national security in our borderlands.
In the last week two new earthquakes hit the Cushing, Oklahoma area. Cushing, a small town of about 6,000 residents, is home to one of the largest tank farms in the country. This huge tank farm, which stores more than 50 million barrels of oil, is crucial to American industry because it supplies the entire Gulf of Mexico petro-chemical industry. Not only would our national oil and gas industry be adversely impacted by the disruption of the Cushing hub, but our national security is also at risk.
More than 585 earthquakes occurred in Oklahoma in 2014. These earthquakes, which are increasing in intensity, now threaten our largest oil hub. The direct cause is the practice of the disposal of millions of barrels of contaminated water through induction wells. This water is a bi-product of fracking.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is mandated by law to regulate the oil and gas industries. But unfortunately the OCC lacks the expertise and experience in handling this unprecedented situation. DHS seems disinterested and the EPA, while showing some sympathy to this man-made disaster, has been of little help. The OCC has done its best to try to provide solutions to this human-made disaster, but with limited funds, limited resources, and limited expertise, the Cushing oil hub remains extremely vulnerable.
The new reorg at CBP includes two new departments. Operations Support and Enterprise Services in theory are intended to make CBP more efficient and generally less prone to internal problems. This new reorg is most probably another reaction to the unprecedented scandal emerging from the resignation, then forced retirement, of James Tomsheck in the summer of 2014, and the revelations revealed since then about CBP employees and leadership.
But whether the new reorg actually makes any real difference is to a great degree going to be based upon the quality of the new leadership at CBP. If the leadership culture remains unchanged, then fundamental problems within the agency-including corruption, violence, and graft-will stay the same.
In the meantime, CBP can do much to redeem itself by simply becoming more transparent. It could start, for example, by openly responding to the recent GAO report substantiating Raytheon’s protest that Elbit should not, for several reasons, have received the CBP bid to build a new border surveillance system. According to testimony, Elbit is already behind schedule. No one wants to see another failed SBI-net boondoggle, but Elbit already appears to be duplicating Boeing’s previous errors.
The public deserves better.
As the result of an unprecedented scandal at CBP IA during the summer of 2014, CBP has finally announced a new and major reorganization. Two new offices have been created and two new CBP executive positions have been created to lead these new offices.
CBP appears to still be searching for ways to insure that an in-house agency will never again turn against it. Tomsheck’s special unit at CBP IA, the Integrity Program Division, developed a series of programs while directed by Janine Corrado and Assistant Director Jeffrey Matta, that ran counter to CBP strategic goals and objectives. One result was that hundreds of cases alleging employee abuses languished at the Integrity Program Division and remain in limbo for victims, their families, and the public.
The Integrity Program Division also invented new programs that spied upon their own and other CBP employees. No CBP employees have been held accountable for these and other serious mismanagement issues.
The internal report about the scandal at CBP IA still has not been released.
In recent testimony to Congress, Mr. Mark Borkowski stated that, “…the plan…is admittedly behind schedule…”. The plan he refers to is part of the newest version of SBI called the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign. The plan refers to the attempt to construct surveillance towers along the Arizona border.
Mr. Borkowski is now the assistant commissioner at Customs and Border Protection in the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition. Before that he was the leader of SBI, the Secure Border Initiative.
If this at all sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because since 1989 the Border Patrol has rolled out a series of programs that promised to control illegal immigration, illegal drugs, and possible terrorists. First there was ICAD, ICAD II, and ICAD III. Then came ISIS, eventually followed by the ASI and finally, in 2006, SBI, SBInet, and its derivatives.
What all of these border surveillance programs have in common is that none of them, not one, worked as promised. Now we have a new program, but the same old leadership under Mr. Borkowksi. Borkowski led SBInet from 2006 until its demise in 2011. SBI cost taxpayers more than $1 billion.
This time around Mr. Borkowski’s explanations for why he is again behind schedule-and why we should ignore a recent GAO report questioning the success to date of the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign-sound very familiar. We’ve heard these excuses many times before.
Two and one-half decades should have been more than enough time for Mr. Borkowski and CBP finally to get it right. Both the public and Congress need to pay close attention or we will again end up spending billions for border surveillance that does not work.
The SAREX program initiated by Mr. James Tomsheck in March 2011, and supervised by Janine Corrado and Jeffrey Matta at the Integrity Program Division, is another example of Customs and Border Patrol Internal Affairs breaking federal law and agency policy in the name of protecting us from alleged criminal behavior by Customs and Border Patrol employees.
SAREX, under the leadership of Mr. James Tomsheck at CBP IA, quickly went out of control, infringing upon the privacy rights of thousands of CBP employees.
As such, SAREX is one more example of Mr. Tomsheck’s poor leadership and data management while he was the senior executive at CBP IA from 2006 to 2104. Mr. Tomsheck apparently felt that his SAREX program was not bound by either federal law or federal policies and procedures.