Posted 10 months ago on June 5, 2014, 6:15 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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"Border Patrol Nation": How US Creates War Zones at Boundaries With Mexico, Canada
Thursday, 05 June 2014 10:40
By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview
Todd Miller speaks with Truthout about his new book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security and about how the public is unaware that this country's borders are being transformed into heavily militarized zones, north and south.
"Todd Miller's invaluable and gripping book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security is the story of how this country's borders are being transformed into up-armored, heavily militarized zones run by a border-industrial complex," writes Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch. "It's an achievement and an eye opener."
The following is the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week interview with Todd Miller, author of Border Patrol Nation:
Mark Karlin: In the conclusion to your book, you state that "the very things we are supposed to fear from a foreign attack . . . [are] already part of Border Patrol tactics." Can you explain the implications of that statement?
Todd Miller: In Border Patrol Nation, I document a number of instances that could seem as if they were a part of an area under a state of exception. I describe people pulled out of cars and handcuffed, as gunmen crouch with their rifles pointed. I describe a Native American man pepper-sprayed by agents, pulled out of his truck and knocked briefly unconscious with a baton. I describe instances of home invasions and the Homeland Security tactic of the early morning raids, pounding on people's doors while they are still asleep, and handcuffing people who are still in bed and disoriented. In a way, you can describe the United States as a country in a constant low-intensity wartime posture, and if you fit a certain profile, if you have a certain skin complexion, an accent to your tone, are from a particular place in the globe, if you are associated with certain communities, or even carry certain political ideologies, you could be easily targeted by this enforcement regime.
In the conclusion, I also describe my hometown Niagara Falls, a city like many in the rust belt that has been left to disrepair, that has more than 5,000 derelict houses, buildings and churches, many collapsing before our eyes. There are potholes in some streets that look like craters, as if some bomb from above has already been dropped. A high poverty rate makes the streets, in places, look like they were filled with refugees. And likewise, there are some places in the city that look like it has already been blasted by the artillery, yet we still justify the billions and billions funneled into Homeland Security saying that the true, yet not-well-defined enemy, lurks on the other side of an international boundary line. In other words, it already looks like the war has come.
Who are some of the financial beneficiaries of militarizing our borders, the complex as you call it?
There has never been as much participation as there is now of private industry in boundary-building. One vendor I met was with a small Tucson-based company called StrongWatch. He was peddling a high-powered video camera, which fit into the bed of a truck, called Freedom-On-The-Move. Even though the vendor knew that I was a journalist, he described his product to me as if I were from the Department of Homeland Security, like I had the cash and power to buy it. Enthusiastically he said that "Freedom" could capture a border-crosser in the "last mile," after perhaps they had walked for two or three or four days, when they were thirsty, hungry and weak - when they were easy to capture. The vendor spoke excitedly, as if he were looking into a crystal ball at a market only projected to expand and expand. In the United States, border and immigration enforcement budgets every year have only become larger and larger. The 18 billion dollars allotted to this in 2012 was higher than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Only a few years ago, StrongWatch was only selling its wares to the military. But now things have changed. StrongWatch is now just one example of many companies - including such monoliths as Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin - who are turning their attention to this border enforcement market that, according to one projection of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management market, will reach as high as $544 billion by 2018. Five hundred and forty-four billion. Another projection described the global border security market as being in an "unprecedented growth period." As the StrongWatch vendor told me at the end of our conversation, "We are bringing the battlefield to the border."
You have written about surveillance hi-tech trade shows that you have attended geared to obtaining government contracts for patrolling our borders. Can you recount what these are like in terms of making border enforcement a corporate profit center?
The most important annual border trade show in the United States is called the Border Security Expo, and it takes place each year in Phoenix. Not only do the big shots from Homeland Security agencies normally make an appearance, but so do more than 100 companies, big and small, to show off their products in a large exhibition hall. Entering the hall is like going into a pavilion of science fiction, a world that could have only been described in a novel 20 years ago. But the world is changing fast. A surveillance balloon looks down at you overhead, able to read the notes scrawled in your notebook with its high-powered camera if given a chance. Perhaps a mini-drone, that can fit in a backpack, will be flying around in a demonstration. And then there are the barrel cacti, hollowed-out and filled with unsuspected surveillance cameras, on display to your side. Who on earth ever knows when they are being watched?
One year the masterpiece was an antiballistic tower, centered perfectly in the middle of the exhibition hall, like the artistic masterpiece of the technology show. Large poster-sized pictures showed it withstanding a massive ball of fire, as if this were a common-place occurrence in places like Douglas, El Paso, Nogales and San Ysidro. The media, normally local television stations, describes this with an air of technological fetishism - "look at that cool thing," as if it were all beyond critique. Through the variety of booths and displays amble border patrol types, other law enforcement, people in suits, and people from all over the world. There is a strange feeling of being in a high-tech surveillance mall, a Best Buy designated for the NSA, as smiling faces talk about how to build bigger walls, both real barriers and virtual ones involving surveillance drones, implanted motion sensors, integrated fixed towers, and war rooms in Border Patrol posts throughout the US southwest, increasingly in the north, and more and more throughout the world. There is plenty of money to be made.
How much has the Border Patrol grown in the last 30 years? What are Border Patrol agents being used for in addition to chasing down and harassing nonwhites in the border zone with Mexico?
In the early 1990s, there were less than 4,000 US Border Patrol agents. Now there are approximately 22,000. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the parent agency of Border Patrol (and now the largest federal law enforcement agency at 60,000), didn't exist. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, now at 20,000 agents, didn't exist. The types of border and immigration enforcement programs that these Homeland Security agencies have, with their "force multipliers," more than 650,000 state and local police nationwide - didn't exist.
What has been created since a number of US border operations in the 1990s, such as Hold-the-Line and Gatekeeper, and in the post 9/11 era, is an national security force of a size and magnitude that we have never seen before. Although presented as if this type of hard-lined boundary enforcement has been present, it has not. It is very new.
And now a counterterrorism mission has merged with drug interdiction and immigration enforcement, melding the three top US foreign policy initiatives into one domestic federal mission. One lawyer I interviewed in Buffalo, New York, called the Border Patrol the "National Security Police." In one sense the concentration of Border Patrol agents and surveillance technology along the 2,000-mile borderline with Mexico represents the most massive concentration of the surveillance apparatus that we have ever seen in the United States and is now a blueprint, "to track a marked population" for the rest of the country. The result is significant. We are turning into a country of watchers and those who are watched, a country of police and those thought to be thieves.