The controversial US Drone Border Security Program

What really went wrong?

US Drone Border Security Program
Done security remains the much discussed topic in recent times at the United States governmental level. Recent news emerged that President Obama is in some serious discussion with the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to spruce up drone surveillance along US borders. The president has specifically requested for some emergency supplemental funding for the Department of HS to strengthen continual border security surge.

It should be noted in this regard that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack prompted the USA government to launch drone surveillance program with Predator drones. General Atomics, the manufacturer of Predator drone gave their first demonstration to Customs and Border Protection, i.e., CBP in 2004, thus kicking off the drone surveillance program. However the first formal deployment of Predator drones happened in 2005, over the Southwest border. This was monitored by CBP, the DHS agency known to be blessed with generous funding. However the program came under critical review from several quarters including the Government Accountability Office or GAO, the Congressional Research Service as well as the DHS Office of the Inspector General, i.e. OIG.

Since the controversial drone deployment over a dozen reports emerged which took highly critical standpoint lambasting the drone program for its inability to fulfill specified objectives. These reports also mentioned absence of adequate performance measures which resulted in failure to devise operational plans and strategic directions. The latest report, published in December 2014, and released publicly in early January 2015, is perhaps the most severe governmental evaluations of the troubled drone program till date.

As the report mentioned that in spite of steady fund flow, the drone security program has actually failed to contribute significantly towards creating a more secure border. Hence the report concluded that there is really no justification why taxpayer funds should be invested for such a futile mission!

Experts are of the opinion that the drone border security program has failed partly because of lackluster approach of CBP. They didn’t study thoroughly how drones could help strengthen border surveillance before entering into the purchase, operation and maintenance contracts with General Atomics. They didn’t also take into account specifically what types of drones could best fulfill the border surveillance criteria. Rather they were inspired by the national security establishment and shortlisted drones which the military and CIA have applied for surveillance and targeted killings in Middle East and South Asia regions. With counter terrorism in mind, CBP relied on only one supplier while staying away from open bidding.

Now that critical comments pouring in from different sectors, many are wondering whether the border drone security program will experience an early extinction! This might not be so, considering the fact that border drone program has explicit support of the Congress and White House. Therefore plans are on to expand the drone fleet in near future by adding seven more Predators to the present force. The border drone defense strategy will receive further boost with Guardians which are Predator marine-surveillance variants. The drone security program will be a success only if it focuses on prime issues like unauthorized immigration or illegal drug control, while strategically shifting from military tactics and strategies.

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