Education and collaboration are important components to keeping the nation’s border secure,
Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol (CBP) Michael J. Fisher told students of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) Executive Leaders Program (ELP), Aug. 12.
During his 90-minute presentation Fisher discussed the challenges facing the agency as well as its risk-based approach to border security. The agency employs technology and collaboration in its mission to guard the nation’s boundaries.
“The Border Patrol and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] does not have the market cornered for getting us to a secure border,” Fisher said prior to his presentation. “We are heavily dependent on a whole of government approach. We are really dependent on our state, local and tribal partners. It’s not taking a back seat and saying ‘when are you guys going to fix this?’ The environment is too complex for one component within one agency within one department to take on.”
Speaking at educational programs offers an opportunity to communicate CBP’s mission and approach while also learning from the diverse professions comprising the ELP student composition.
“I think the academic community is in a good position to contribute because they are inquisitive by nature and are creative in thinking about the challenges we face,” he said. “I learn a lot from these kinds of discussions.”
During his visit to NPS, Fisher also met with faculty members Richard Olsen, professor of physics, and David Trask, Chair of the NPS Remote Sensing Center. They discussed research at the university’s center on surveillance using unattended, discrete seismic, acoustic and electro-optical sensors as well as airborne manned and unmanned systems carrying electro-optical and radar, and concluded with an unclassified discussion of the contribution of satellites. This technology could assist CBP identify tunnels in both urban and non-urban environments, according to Trask and Olsen.
CBP began experimenting with drones in 2005 and today employees have a fleet of nine Predator B UAVs. With launch and recovery sites across the country, the aircraft can fly 18- to 20-hour missions that can bounce from one ground control station to another and are equipped with advanced radar systems.
“It covers a large tract of ground and it’s able, through the radar, to track multiple targets,” Fisher said. “What we have learned over the years is being able to take a section of the border and identify incursions, then do handoffs to ground support teams.”
Drones also have a less visible benefit. The drones can help analyze areas where there is little to no activity along the border because of terrain or other impediments. Drone flights confirm whether that is the case, enabling more effective distribution of resources.
“When you look at the networks and cartels, they are no more than a business trying to make money and there are pieces of terrain along the border that don’t lend themselves to a good business model,” Fisher said. “So we do flights to confirm that in fact there is no traffic happening.”
After its consolidation with affiliated agencies under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella, in 2003 the agency shifted from its traditional resourced-based philosophy to one that capitalizes on three pillars: Information, Integration and Rapid Response.
With divergent opinions from elected officials, policy makers and the public as to what constitutes a secure border, CBP defined it for itself as it released its 2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan— it’s a border that is defined as low risk.
“The thought was that if nobody higher was going to define it, we decided to define it for ourselves as we moved to implementation (of the plan),” Fisher said. “Then everybody can point to it and say ‘no you got it wrong’ and we can have a discussion.”
Risk factors include immigration flow rates; apprehensions; the number of crossings at a given point in time; increases or decreases on the terror screening database; recidivism and the number of apprehensions per recidivist; and, the tonnage of narcotics and the average apprehension per seizure.
“Not any one of those is a silver bullet that helps us assess an area as low risk but we put that into an algorithm to numerically look at the border and see area that are trending in the wrong direction and match our resources to those areas of higher risk,” he said.