Are Border Drones the New Golden Security Fleece?

Now that the Obama administration has announced that almost all of the National Guard originally assigned to the Mexican border by President Bush will be reassigned, one wonders just exactly what the 300 National Guard left at the border will do.  Of course, there was always the very real question, rarely asked, about what all those thousands of National Guard actually did for more than five years.  Whatever it was, and that’s still not clear, it cost $1.35 billion dollars.

Given that their original assignment was based more on Bush’s attempt to make his own party look strong for the Congressional elections of 2006 than actually improving border security, the price seems a little high. But then it seems the Feds always pay retail. The Obama administration did no better, choosing to keep the National Guard in place long past Congress’ goal of 20,000 boots-on-the-ground patrol agents.

Now we are told by the current administration that while the majority of our citizen-soldiers can go home, 300 will remain at a cost of $60 million per year.  Again, the price seems steep.

It appears that at least some of those 300 citizen-soldiers may be operating border drones and training border patrol agents how to do the same. Not the big drones the size of a small airplane, like the one that crashed near Tubac, Arizona, in April of 2006.  That was a Predator 2 and cost $6.5 million.

These border drones are supposed to be much smaller versions of Predator 2, the kind that the military deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  These drones can be launched from the back of pickups and have a smaller downside: easier to operate, less expensive-although far from cheap-than their big cousins, they can provide surveillance of the bad guys with limited risk to Border Patrol agents.

In fact drones are now being offered as the next border Golden Security Fleece.  In the tradition of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) previous Gold Fleeces, including ISIS, ASI, the SBI, SBI-net, and all the other offspring derivatives spawned just before DHS finally pulled the plug on Boeing, now comes a parade of drones produced by the same old defense contractors.  With names for the “large” drones-and I’m not making these up-running from the plane-sized Reaper, Global Hawk, and the Phantom Ray, to mini-drones called the Cicada, these robots are now defined as the new solution to every border security problem.

Drones do indeed seem to be good at finding the bad guys, following them around, then blowing them up.  But here’s a geographical lesson for DHS: the U.S.-Mexico border is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan.  Assuming the drone mission is only surveillance, and this may be a false assumption, the problem with surveillance drones, no matter the size, is the same problem with the virtual wall, sophisticated cameras, sensors, fast boats, computers, and all the other high tech gear that the Border Patrol already owns.

The problem is not seeing the bad guys, the problem is getting the good guys to where the bad guys are before the bad guys split.

In spite of the drone ramp up along the Mexican border, where is the hard evidence to suggest that drones are any better than having more humans, Border Patrol agents, securely in place? I’m not saying there is not a specific use for drones in certain border terrains, I’m saying that yet again a single drone solution may not be the answer to a variety of different kinds of surveillance problems and situations.

Until there is demonstrated evidence to the contrary, and that might be a long time given the Bush and Obama administration’s record of  transparency, this flood of border drones appears nothing more or less than the next border Golden Security Fleece.

So beware of DHS in the guise of Jason and his Argonauts. Secretary Napolitano and her colleagues have a long history, see above, of paying retail for the newest security pie-in-the-sky gadget, the next Golden Security Fleece. That is to say, while Congress sleeps the defense contractors get the Gold, the taxpayers get the Fleece, and nothing much really changes along the Mexican border.

Let’s hope border drones are different.


Chapter 7, The Fence, Lee Maril

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