Belmont Club

Barrier Technologies

Paul McCleary at Aviation Week describes efforts along a 262-mile stretch of Arizona border to keep back cartel soldiers, illegal immigrants and drugs. He argues that although drugs want to go north even more than people do.  “The area around Nogales is part of the Tucson Sector, which is the most active alone the entire border.”

Covering only 262 mi. of border, the sector still managed to account for 1 million lb. of marijuana seized in Fiscal 2010, and 203,000 illegal border crossers detained. Tucson also has the distinction of being the test bed for the Homeland Security Department’s huge and controversial SBInet program, part of its larger Secure Border Initiative. SBI was initiated in 2005 to add fencing, paved and graded roads and install SBInet technologies such as radar, sensors, cameras and other communications gear along the border.

Against these are ranged, not just simple illegal aliens, but wealthy, sophisticated and extremely able criminal syndicates. “But the bigger issue for the border, and for the region south of the border, are the organized, deadly and very wealthy criminal gangs that hold sway throughout portions of northern Mexico, and in places like Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia.” Those gangs are giving the Secure Border Initiative a run for its money. Despite surveillence technology, UAVs, checkpoints and the like, the gangs often get through.

The border that separates the U.S. and Mexico is teeming with security fences, surveillance towers bristling with cameras and sensors, mobile surveillance trucks, unmanned ground sensors, Border Patrol agents on foot, horseback, in trucks and helicopters, and National Guard troops. Above it all flies a growing fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by agents on the ground. Major roadways in the border states also have checkpoints manned by armed Border Patrol agents looking for contraband or illegal immigrants. And yet, drug smugglers and illegal immigrants continue to flood the border.

The main job of the sensor net is to track threats until the border patrol can get up to them. When the border patrol relied on ground sensors, it could take up to two hours for a response team to reach the group of intruders. With the sensor net intruders can be tracked in real time until the agents reach the scene.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has been dissatisfied with the SBI and ordered the program frozen, “pending a top-to-bottom review. At the time, nine towers in the Tucson Sector had been completed … Alternatives include the much less expensive mobile surveillance systems (MSS), mobile sensor towers mounted on trucks, 40 of which are already in use on the border with more on the way—albeit at the expense of the SBInet system.”

Today’s events have superficial parallels n the 1910-18 Border Wars. One hundred years ago, a revolutionary war broke out in Mexico. Rebel factions, including Pancho Villa, engaged in cross border raids forcing President Woodrow Wilson to garrison the border with Army Troops.

The height of the conflict came in 1916 when revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked the American border town of Columbus, New Mexico. In response the United States Army under the direction of General John J. Pershing launched the Pancho Villa Expedition into northern Mexico to find and capture Villa. Though the expedition was successful in finding and engaging the Villista rebels, the revolutionary himself escaped and the American army returned to the United States in January 1917. Conflict at the border continued however and the United States launched several more smaller operations into Mexican territory. Violence decreased significantly at the border after the United States victory at the Battle of Ambos Nogales in 1918. Conflict was not only subject to Villistas and Americans; Maderistas, Carrancistas, Constitutionalistas and Germans also engaged in battle with American forces during this period. The war was one of the highlights of the Old West era.

Imperial Germany used the troubles in Mexico to stir up trouble in the Southwest. The British intercepted a communication known as the Zimmerman Telegram in which imperial Germany asked Mexico to join with it in war against the United States. Codebreakers in the British “Room 40” leaked the contents of the telegram to the US and it led materially to the American declaration of war against the Kaiser.

Although the similarities are superficial, the roles of Iran, Venezuela, Wikileaks and the Cartel War inside Mexico are all reminiscent of historical roles played by Germany, Room 40 and Pancho Villa one hundred years ago. Mark Twain observed that history never repeated itself, but events within its pages occasionally rhymed. But the notion of troops on the border, far from being an Republican invention, is actually the echo of century old Democratic President’s actions.

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CNN reports that over 30,000 lives have already been lost in the Mexican Drug Wars. “A report released by the Stratfor global intelligence company this week said clashes between cartels in 2010 ‘have produced unprecedented levels of violence throughout the country.'”


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