This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Digging into Blackwater USA

Hugo Chavez has lost the referendum to vote his reform package into law. And some news has surfaced that a group out of Serbia might have had something to do with the “no” vote, but more on that next week. We’re also looking in why the RC-26B aircraft is not part of the Merida Initiative package and why it should play a central role.

But for now, we're digging into Blackwater USA...

When two US government inspectors were asked by a US Border Patrol Agent if they were US citizens, they replied, “yes.” It was all they needed to enter the country at a land crossing between US and Mexico. No government issued form of identification was requested. The Border Patrol Agent never even got up from his seat, located some 10 feet away.

The agent obviously didn’t know that the two investigators were working for the Government Accountability Office on a report requested by the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security. The report, entitled, “Despite Progress, Weaknesses in Traveler Inspections Exist at Our Nation’s Ports of Entry,” found that both the Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol had some serious issues to overcome, including communication between field offices and headquarters, and training.

Training is an expensive process the US government would rather outsource. It has been well documented that contracts awarded by the Department of Defense (DOD) have focused on training Iraqi policemen and others in the Middle East, but what about training US agents inside the United States?

Such considerations have been on the books for Blackwater USA since at least 2005, when the company’s president at the time, Gary Jackson, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security in May of that year. “Just as the private sector has responded in moving mail and packages around the world more efficiently, so too can Blackwater respond to the customs’ and Border Patrol’s emerging and compelling training needs,” Jackson told Committee members.

Since early 2007, Blackwater has worked hard to lobby the right politicians in San Diego County for a license to operate a new training facility located in Potrero, California. A number of news stories have outlined the battle between Blackwater and local residents, numbering around 850 in the rural border town community, who don’t want the so-called “mercenary training camp” installed in their backyard.

What’s more, the training camp would be located less than ten miles from the US-Mexico border. The selection of the site, according to Blackwater, has nothing to do with the company’s interest in increased involvement in border patrol and the United States’ efforts to combat narco-trafficking on the US-Mexico border.

But this base’s location become more interesting given the results of a recent DOD bidding process for a US$15 billion dollar contract to combat narcoterrorism.

On 14 September, Blackwater USA, along with four other government contractors received slices of a multi-billion dollar contract awarded by the Pentagons’ Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office. Presumably, Blackwater will help with the development of surveillance technology used to stop “narcoterrorists” crossing into the United States from Mexico.

These facts, when considered together with the news that military contractors will be used to train Mexican law enforcement officials as part of the Merida Initiative, or Plan Mexico, draws a narrow bead on Blackwater as a likely candidate for a bidding process that will award the contract to train Mexicans how to fly the surveillance helicopters used to patrol the Mexican side of the border.

If this is the case, we should consider two more questions. First, how will the Mexican government react to Blackwater's presence so close to their border and on Mexican soil to train Mexican law enforcement officials. Second, in the long run, how involved will companies such as Blackwater become in protecting the US-Mexico border? As we've seen in Iraq, mission creep is tough to avoid.

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