Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Climate Change: Regulators, Sinkers, and Adapters

Tom Barry

The fog of doubt about climate change is lifting as the climate-change deniers retreat fitfully to the sidelines. Science and simple observation have, for the most part, triumphed over ideology. The most retrograde politicians, policy institutes, and corporations are still busy manufacturing and propagating this denial ideology.

The deniers no longer occupy the center of the climate-change debate. Instead, the debate has increasingly moved to discussion about how to best address the intensifying threats of global climate change.

The facts of higher temperatures, weird weather, and increasing levels of atmospheric carbon are finally clearing away the ideological fog. After more than three decades of fruitless debate, the consensus accepting human-induced climate change rules.  

With the climate-change deniers in full retreat, new camps among climate-change activists are defining themselves and advancing new lines of debate. Broadly speaking, it could be said that there are three new camps, each with their own prophets and manifestos. The camps don’t stand in opposition, and they share many of the same convictions. But priorities and emphases differ.

The three camps might well be termed the Regulators, the Sinkers, and the Adapters.

The dominant camp includes those activists, scientists, writers, and policy advocates who constituted the vanguard in the public-education campaign against the climate-change deniers. The Regulators insist that policy changes at the local, national, and international levels are urgently needed.

The fundamental argument of the Regulators is as follows: Without severe governmental regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions – whether by financial disincentives, carbon-trading regimens, or outright prohibitions on carbon releases – the planet and human civilization, as we know it, will be but a wistful memory.

The second broad camp focuses less on prevention and more on plans to trap and dissipate greenhouse gases, mainly carbon. As the Sinkers readily acknowledge, regulations are needed to prevent and mitigate climate-change aggravating emissions, Yet atmospheric levels are already dangerously high, thus making it imperative, they assert, to seek solutions to sequester the carbon that’s already wreaking havoc with climate and societies. The priority, then, argue the Sinkers, is to preserve and to create (either naturally or technologically) “carbon sinks.”

Climate-change adaptation is the third major camp with the new climate-change consensus. While not disputing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through governmental regulation and to sequester as much atmospheric carbon as possible, climate-change adapters focus on strategies designed to assist communities to survive climate change with environmentally sustainable techniques.

Determination and Hope Amid Gloom

Generally, climate-change scenarios fall within doomsday futures. Yet amid the prevailing doom and gloom new visions of more hopeful futures are emerging, especially among the Sinkers and the Adapters.

The deepening consensus the climate change is already upon us and will most certainly intensify has sparked a surge of new thinking and activism about the contentious human-nature relationship. Among an expanding community of climate-change activists -- environmentalists, scholars, entrepreneurs, and technologists – there’s an incipient, growing determination to move beyond the gloom to envision more stable and survivable futures.

Most of this more explicitly hopeful thinking about meeting the challenges of climate change is found among the Sinkers. By adopting more sustainable land-management practices that restore landscapes or by seeking innovative technological solutions, the most enthusiastic of the carbon-sink adherents argue that we can beat the climate-change crisis.  Emblematic of this type of Sinker optimism is a recent book titled Cows Save the Planet – and Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth.

Adapters tend to think on smaller scale than the Regulators or Sinkers -- less about saving the planet and more about preparing for the trends and vagaries of climate change at the household or community level. In many ways, the Adapters are the new survivalists. But members of this new breed of survivalists aren’t retreating to the hills with their guns and stores of food in preparation for a predicted social and economic collapse, as has been the tradition of survivalists and “doomsday preppers,”

Adapters, for the most part, aren’t retreating.  They are standing their ground, reaching out for solutions and adaptations that will sustain life and community even as environmental conditions change.  Overall, the Adapters are pragmatic realists. They accept climate change as our new reality. Rather than finding escape routes, Adapters are seeking practical adaptations to increased flooding, droughts, forest fires, and pest infestations linked to disturbed climatic cycles.

The pragmatic realism of the Adapters would seem, by definition, to exclude hope, optimism, and idealism. Certainly, for the most part, most adaptation strategies are hardly visionary. Fortifying eroding shorelines with sand transfers or constructing cross-regional aqueducts to supply drought-stricken communities, for example, are short-term solutions that fail to break from unsustainable development paradigms.

Recognizing the urgent necessity to adapt to changing climatic conditions and weird weather events, a new breed of climate-change adapters are embracing and propagating the tenets of environmental sustainability as survival strategies. They are spreading hope by demonstrating that simple land and water management techniques can restore some measure of stability while putting communities back in touch with the vagaries of nature.

In the world’s aridlands -- comprising about 40% of the planet’s land surface -- the escalating threats of higher temperatures, prolonged droughts, and diminishing groundwater reserves are raising questions about whether current populations can survive in these increasingly harsh and degraded environments.

Among the most prominent voices among the Adapters in aridlands, including the western U.S.-Mexico borderlands, is Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist at the University of Arizona. Nabhan’s latest book, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, addresses survivability issues by pointing to an inspiring array of drylands adaptation strategies in the transborder West that could, if widely adopted, begin to restore balance and let desert dwellers glimpse a future.

What’s clear is that no living thing on this planet can count on the patterns and balances of nature to which we have become accustomed. The escalating levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the array of indicators that climate and weather patterns have gone awry have led some to conclude that we are already past the point where climatic conditions can be stabilized.

Climate-change activists – whether they are Regulators, Sinkers, or Adapters – are well aware of these indicators. Yet, increasingly, many are outlining scenarios of reform, mitigation, and sustainable alternatives that instill hope. With determination, good sense, and visions of more sustainable relationships with nature, they are giving us some reason to be hopeful –especially about the capability of humans – ourselves and our communities -- to adapt and change directions.

(Reviews of Cows Save the Planet and Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land forthcoming.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Audits show border budget blunders

Spending missteps include failed effort to construct high-tech fence

This undated photo shows a prototype of a tower for a virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Playas, N.M. AP / U.S. Customs and Border Protection photos
This undated photo shows a prototype of a tower for a virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Playas, N.M. AP / U.S. Customs and Border Protection photos
In the past decade, the federal government has showered billions of dollars on border security and enforcement.
The money has purchased everything from a huge increase in border law enforcement workers to new vehicles, miles of fencing and all variety of high-tech surveillance gear.
It’s also bought a lot of nothing.
One example: A program designed to purchase sophisticated radiation detectors for ports of entry to better guard against terrorism attempts was abandoned in 2011 after years of haphazard planning and poor results of the new equipment. Among other things, it sounded false alarms for radiation in such materials as granite and kitty litter, according to a government report.
By the time the program was canceled, the Department of Homeland Security, the Cabinet agency that includes Customs and Border Protection, had sunk more than $200 million into it.
That represents a fraction of the estimated $100 billion the U.S. government has spent on border security within the past decade. The unprecedented spending that has transformed the borderlands of the Southwest has also led to a nearly nonstop stream of reports, audits and studies criticizing how some of the billions has been spent.
A U-T San Diego review of those reports and audits showed that border enforcement agencies have been criticized for spending on everything from the steel bought and used for the fences to helicopter repair programs, even housing for Border Patrol agents.
The missteps leave critics deeply skeptical over how additional billions would be spent, if approved as part of immigration reform legislation that Congress may pass.
“They’ve been given too much money too fast, when they don’t have strategies in place of how they are going to spend it,” said Tom Barry, a researcher with the Center for International Policy and a frequent commentator on border policies.
In testimony to Congress and in response to audits, Customs and Border Protection has acknowledged errors but also insists the unprecedented boost in spending has made the border, particularly the boundary with Mexico, far more secure.

Successes, blunders

Apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants trying to enter the country across the southwestern border with Mexico have plummeted.
In 2000, the Border Patrol caught 1.6 million people. This year, the agency is on track to apprehend fewer than 400,000.
Seizures of drugs, both by agents in the field and CBP officers at the ports of entry, totaled 4.2 million pounds in 2012 — up from 1.5 million pounds in 2000.
The agency points to those numbers as signs that the hardening of the border has been effective. But those gains have come along with some eye-popping spending blunders.
Chief among those was a failed effort to construct a high-tech fence along the U.S.-Mexico border that would use cameras, sensors and other gear to lock down the boundary, dubbed SBInet. Congress appropriated some $4.4 billion for the fence in 2006. In the succeeding years, 26 audits detailed cost overruns, blown deadlines and equipment that didn’t work as intended.
In January 2011, the program was canceled after $1.1 billion had been spent and just 53 miles of the fence was built.
Now the agency is embarking on a second plan known as Integrated Fixed Towers along the border. It would utilize some of the equipment from the SBInet but also deploy a network of towers with radars and cameras that would be able to detect an adult walking as far as 7 miles away. Images would be transmitted back to agents at a command post.
Estimated cost for the entire deployment is about $1.1 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Double the budget

In the upcoming budget year, Customs and Border Protection is slated to receive $12.5 billion. That is an increase of more than $500 million from 2013, and nearly double the $6.7 billion the agency received in 2006. It does not include additional dollars that could flow to the agency as a result of a new border security bill.
The agency is now the largest component of the massive Department of Homeland Security, which contains 22 separate agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration.
More than one of every five dollars allocated to the Department of Homeland Security goes to Customs and Border Protection — about 22 percent of the department’s total budgetary authority of about $60 billion.
Scrutiny over the years over how the money has been spent has covered numerous areas. A sampling:
• Customs and Border Protection paid far more than expected for a 25-acre parcel of land in Lordsburg, N.M., for a new Border Patrol station in 2009. It’s one of many new and upgraded stations built to handle an increase in agents. Original appraisals by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers valued the property at $37,500 and $47,500. A competing appraisal from the state of New Mexico, the property owner, pegged the value at $1.25 million. The difference stemmed from disagreement over comparable sales in the area.
The final price of $750,000 was settled on after another round of appraisals and after Customs and Border Protection dismissed the first two valuations because they “misinterpreted key elements” of the property, according to an audit of the sale by Homeland Security’s inspector general.
The audit faulted the agency for poor bargaining tactics, because it insisted on locating the new station in tiny Lordsburg. The 56,000-square-foot, $25 million station has a wind turbine, indoor gun range, underground rainwater collection system and room for 375 agents.
• In May, the inspector general audited Customs and Border Protection’s program for refurbishing and updating its aging fleet of H-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The report found the agency “did not properly manage or oversee” its program.
The audit said that over four years the agency had the Army — which had loaned the helicopters to the agency — do the overhaul at a cost of $22.3 million per helicopter. By contrast, the Coast Guard had the same helicopters and refurbished 27 of them in the same time period at an average cost of $5 million each.
The helicopters flew an average of 15.4 hours per month in 2011, the audit said. The Coast Guard’s Black Hawks flew an average of 54 hours a month.
The delays and increased costs for repair, coupled with the expense of flying the gas-guzzling choppers, means the agency is considering idling as many as nine of the choppers in 2014, the audit concluded.

Operational measures

After nearly a decade and billions of dollars spent controlling the border, in 2010 Homeland Security said it had “operational control” of less than half of the boundary. That definition means the Border Patrol can consistently detect and catch illegal border crossers.
With more than half of the border not under that kind of control, Homeland Security did something unusual: It stopped in early 2011 using “operational control” of the border as a measure of how well the border agencies were doing their jobs.
A GAO report this year said that the department is now using apprehensions of people who cross as an interim measure of how effective the Border Patrol is. But the GAO noted this measure “reports on program activity levels and not program results” and it therefore limits the amount of oversight and accountability of the agency.
With potentially billions more poised to be spent on border security, critics are calling for a clear-eyed assessment of how well the money is working. Barry said the agency has to come up with a more cogent overall strategy for how it will control the border with the infusion it receives and decide on specific performance measures to gauge if the strategy is working.
“There has to be a bottom line, somewhere,” Barry said.

© Copyright 2013 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Militarized and Drone Border Surge Need Review

Only a thoroughgoing congressional investigation into the origins, corporate ties and management of the UAV program by CBP could penetrate the veil of unaccountability and nontransparency that currently block serious scrutiny of the OAM's drone operations and acquisitions. Any investigation would also need to push its way past the profusion of military jargon favored by CBP officials to justify and describe DHS drone operations.

Speaking in support of the immigration reform bill called the"Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,'' passed in the Senate, John McCain boasted that the bill would make the US-Mexico border the "most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall."

This proposed border surge, including the plan to more than double the DHS Predator/Guardian fleet will prove a boon to General Atomics and other military contractors that constitute the core of the military-industrial complex. In doing so, the ever expanding post-9/11 homeland security/border security industrial complex will increasingly merge with the post-World War II military-industrial complex.

Yet the proposed border surge in high-tech spending isn’t responding to demonstrable security threats or remotely associated with the counterterrorism mission of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, the border and the entire "homeland" will be subject to more drone surveillance as a product of the strange bipartisan politics of immigration reform.

With Predator drones flying overhead and an array of new high-tech ground surveillance systems, the "border surge" also constitutes the frontline of the expanding surveillance state at home.

Photo: Ceremony at General Atomics handing over another Predator-type drone to CBP/OAM chief Major General Kostelnik (center), with GA's Cassidy to his right and Coast Guard Commander Allen to his left/ General Atomics.

Warfighting Commander Randolph Alles Takes Control of CBP Drone Program

For eight years Major General Kostelnik was the face and voice of the DHS drone program. Having retired at year's end in 2012, Kostelnik passed the directorship of the program to Major General Randoph Alles.

The January 2013 appointment of Randolph Alles to replace Kostelnik underscored DHS' commitment to manage its border control mission within a military framework of national security.

Alles is a relatively unknown figure within CBP. He joined the agency in March 2012 as second-in-command to Assistant Commissioner Kostelnik, serving as deputy assistant commissioner at OAM. 

Alles finished his 35-year career in 2011, serving concurrently as commander general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and vice chief of naval research. In his capacity as commander of the Warfighting Lab, Alles was the point person for the Marine Corps in the inter-military squabble to secure UAV development budgets and war-fighting commands. 

The spat that pitted the Air Force against the other armed branches highlighted the Pentagon's mad rush into the age of drone surveillance and warfare. The intensity of the rivalry and the duplication of drone development and acquisitions - which preceded 9/11, but intensified in the following years - underscored the extent to which the Pentagon and the military are too often driven more by competition over funding and weapons systems than by their national security mission.  

The extent to which this inter-military squabble over the drone budget - one of the few parts of the DOD budget that was increasing, and moreover, rising rapidly - influenced the DHS decision to expand into drone surveillance and to enter into sole-source contracts with General Atomics can at this time only be speculated. 
However, in assessing the focus, performance, and operational prioritization of CBB/OAM and the DHS border security mission, it is helpful to review the background of the OAM chiefs, especially given their prominent roles in drone warfare and drone development and acquisitions. 

With respect to Alles, it is instructive to recall his testimony before the House Armed Services committee in 2007, in which he advocated for separate and even duplicative UAV development and deployment strategies for the various military branches.  

As commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Alles directed Marine planning to "improve expeditionary warfare capabilities across the spectrum of conflict." In his role as Warfighting Laboratory chief, Alles was in charge of the corps' development and acquisition of "various aspects of advanced technologies."

In his prepared statement, Alles defended the decision by the Marine Corps to proceed with his own drone development and operational program and objected to the Air Force proposal that it be the "executive agent" for military UAVs.  "The Marine Corps opposes the idea that any one service should control the procurement or employment of these valuable assets," said Alles, addressing the Air Force contention that the Army and Marine Corps shouldn't be contracting for research, development, and procurement that the Air Force had already initiated in the mid-1990s with the Predator project of General Atomics.  

Arguing that "efficiency does not imply effectiveness," Alles told committee members that the Marine Corps needed three tiers of UAVs in varying sizes to be effective at all levels of combat, even though these UAVs may nearly duplicate drones being acquired and deployed by other military branches, particularly the Air Force.

The most prominent example of duplication and questionable effectiveness was the production by General Atomics of nearly identical UAVs for the Air Force, DHS, and the US Army.  At the same time, the Air Force and DHS contracted General Atomics to develop and manufacture armed and unarmed UAVs called Predators, the US Army had contracted General Atomics to develop and produce Sky Warrior UAVs.

The differences between the Predators and Sky Warriors (later renamed Grey Eagles by the Pentagon) are akin to the differences between different models and grades of the Toyota Sienna - featuring the same basic design structure, but differentiated by motor size and the number of Hellfire missiles as part of its "payload."

Frustrated by the squabbling over drone funding that set the Air Force against Alles and Navy and Army officials, subcommittee chairman Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) blurted: "Who's in charge? Where is the authority?"

More than the prestige of the various military services was at stake then. It's a matter of money, lots of it. In 2013, the Pentagon is set to spend $5.78 billion for research and procurement of unmanned systems, while DHS is moving ahead with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with General Atomics and other drone manufacturers.

What was true then - about no part of the military or intelligence community being in charge of drone research, procurement, and strategy - remains true. At that time, a Government Accountability Office representative told Abercrombie (currently Hawaii's governor) that no one in the Pentagon was exercising effective control over the competing drone initiatives of the military services - even when these programs involved essentially the same type of drones and the same manufacturer.

"This is a longstanding problem in the acquisition process," observed Michael Sullivan, GAO's director of acquisition management issues. "It is the stovepipe nature of our services." 

Alles dismissed such concerns as being overly driven by efficiency benchmarks. Rather, the primary concern should be: "If we are not effective, then all of the money spent on us is a waste. So I think we have to look at it in those terms and whether in fact we are achieving the effectiveness we want, given that we attain some efficiency."

As critics of both DOD and DHS regularly observe, efficiency and mission effectiveness aren't fundamentally counterpoised, which Alles suggested in highly assertive congressional testimony in 2007. Today, both the efficiency and the effectiveness of the DHS border programs, especially its high-tech operations, are being increasingly questioned. As OAM chief, Alles may be obligated to reformulate his earlier argument for increased drone spending, despite questions about inefficiency and waste resulting from duplicative programs.

A highly critical May 2012 report by the GAO, titled "Border Security: Opportunities Exist for More Effective Use of DHS's Air and Marine Assets," took OAM to task for both its effectiveness and efficiency - as well as lambasting the agency for it egregious failure to have performance measures in place.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Predator Drone is Born and Bred

Standing next to a Predator Drone, Maj. Gen. Mike Kostelnik speaks with President George W. Bush and Secretary Michael Chertoff of Homeland Security during their tour Monday, April 9, 2007, of the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma, Ariz. Said the President, "It's the most sophisticated technology we have, and it's down here on the border to help Border Patrol agents do their job." White House photo by Eric Draper
Standing next to a Predator Drone, Maj. Gen. Mike Kostelnik speaks with President George W. Bush and Secretary Michael Chertoff of Homeland Security during their tour Monday, April 9, 2007, of the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma, Ariz. Said the President, "It's the most sophisticated technology we have, and it's down here on the border to help Border Patrol agents do their job." White House photo by Eric Draper

(Excerpted from Tom Barry, "Predators on the Rise at Home," Truthout, August 7, 2013, at:

Looking back at the Air Force's close relationship with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems sheds light on why the company received its first orders for nonweaponized drones from CBP. It may also help explain why CBP conceived its drone program as part of a military-like strategy to secure the border using the much-vaunted ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities of Predator drones. 

Missing from the official narrative about sole-source, no-bid contracts for its Predator drones is an accounting of the personal and institutional relations that have shaped the DHS program. 

The back-story of DHS drones is fascinating. It is also instructive, and helps explain why CBP was willing to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on drone operations that have proved spectacularly unsuccessful - whether measured either by number of terrorists caught (none) or by the relatively insignificant number of immigrants apprehended and pounds of illegal drugs seized, or by the logistical, technical, and management failures highlighted in the GAO and Inspector General reports.

Congressional pressure, industry lobbying and influence peddling, and the CIA's and the Air Force's enthusiasm for Predator drones all contributed to the CBP's decision to partner with General Atomics to launch its Predator drone program in 2005.

Not to be ignored, however, is the central role of Ret. Major General Michael Kostelnik, who was hired by CBP in 2005 to manage its newly unified air and maritime assets. Prior to becoming the CBP assistant commissioner in charge of OAM, Kostelnik played a major role in Air Force armament acquisitions, including a central role in the Air Force's development of the Predator.

For CBP, having a career military man direct its new air and marine division may have seemed entirely appropriate given the shift to a more militarized concept of border control after 9/11, with border policy shifting from border control  to border security.
Rather than keeping its air and maritime assets supervised separately by each Border Patrol sector chief, CBP had created one unit, and it needed a commander to direct national operations along the country's land and sea borders.

From the beginning of his tenure, Kostelnik served as the lead CBP official to promote and defend the drone program in the media, public forums, and congressional hearings.  Within the OAM, however, Kostelnik's enthusiasm for Predator drones wasn't well received by many traditional pilots, who have seen their flight time cut and the budgets for traditional aviation shrink.

When Kostelnik took control of OAM, he was a longtime supporter of the Air Force's program to prepare for drone warfare. As military acquisitions chief, Kostelnik, played a key role in promoting the UAV development program within the Air Force, especially supporting General Atomics in its work to weaponize its RQ-1 UAV.

Part of this inside story is set forth in a report written by Richard Whittle for the Mitchell Institute of the Air Force Association. Titled the "Predator's Big Safari," the report describes how the Air Force worked closely with General Atomics, first to produce the Predator as the premier intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drone, and then as a "hunter-killer" with a Hellfire missile payload aboard.

The Predator drone deployed by CBP to meet its post-9/11 "homeland security" and "border security" missions is a product of the military-industrial complex. General Atomics, a southern California military contractor, developed the Predator as part of a 1993 Pentagon initiative called the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program.

Kostelnik started following the development of the Predator in the mid-1990s in his positions as director of special programs in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology and as executive secretary to DOD's Special Access Program Oversight Committee.

In the late 1990s, during the onset and killing of the Balkan Wars, Kostelnik, who had become commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. As Air Armament Center commander, Kostelnik was a central figure in the General Atomics/Air Force project to "weaponize the Predator."

In 1995, Kostelnik watched a video streamed by General Atomics to the Pentagon from a test exercise of the Predator at Fort Huachuca, Arizona - where four CBP Predators are currently based. Soon afterward, Kostelnik visited the General Atomics development facility in southern California, where he met with the company's president, retired Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy, and personally observed a Predator test flight.

Fixated on developing UAVs as weapons, Kostelnik later called Cassidy, according to the Air Force history of the Predator's development:

"I've got an idea about using your aircraft," Kostelnik told Cassidy. "I think it can carry a small bomb. What do you think?"

"You'll hardly believe your good fortune," replied Cassidy, "We've already been working on it."

The Air Force deepened its interest in weaponizing the Predator following an Air Armament Summit that Kostelnik helped organize. The March 2000 summit, which included a presentation by Kostelnik's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Sullivan, brought together company presidents, directors of research, and other division chiefs to discuss the Air Force's armament plans.

Initially, Kostelnik and his deputy promoted the idea of arming the Predator with small smart bombs. The US military was at the time deploying unarmed Predators for ISR operations in the Balkans. Kostelnik, among others in the Air Force, pressured the Air Force to provide funding to General Atomics to arm the Predators - as they soon did, but with Hellfire missiles, not with smart bombs as originally proposed.

The relationship that had been consolidating between General Atomics and the Air Force since the early 1990s was mediated and facilitated in Congress by influential congressional representatives, led by southern Californian Republican Representative Jerry Lewis, a member of the House Appropriations Defense Committee and vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. 

Lewis, a favored recipient of General Atomics campaign contributions, used his appropriations influence to ensure that the Air Force gained full control of the UAV program by 1998. Lewis has received $10,000 every two years in campaign contributions from General Atomic's political action committee - $80,000 since 1998, according to the Open Secrets website. 

Under Kostelnik's direction, the Air Combat Command assumed management of the Predator development program. Since he took over CBP's aviation operations, Kostelnik has directed CBP to enter into sole-source contracts with General Atomics.  The OAM chief told the Defense Systems Journal that "he needed to look no farther than the Predator UAS - a system with which he had been involved from its earliest days as a classified program." That vastly reduced CBP's risk in procurement, said Kostelnik.

Aside from Kostelnik's usual (albeit highly dubious) assertions about the Predator's significant cost advantages over manned aircraft and "unique performance advantages" (including its capacity to perform "a very select group of high-risk mission sets"), the OAM chief touts the seamless interoperability with the DOD in the event of a national security emergency, noting that the CBP Predators and Guardians could easily be switched to DOD control.

Kostelnik repeatedly boasted that OAM created the world’s first and the largest nonmilitary drone fleet. "We're a law-enforcement air force," says Kostelnik, although "increasingly in our aviation and maritime capabilities . . . we're operating DOD-like equipment. But we're doing it not for defense missions; we're doing it in the homeland."

Kostelnik not only played a key role in the development of the armed Predator for global hunter-killer missions, he also became the DHS point person in the integration of the newly established homeland security operations with traditional national security missions.

Even when Kostelnik was still at OAM, CBP said that Kostelnik was unavailable for an interview, and the agency declined to comment on the OAM director's historical relationship with General Atomics.

DHS Attempts to "Secure the Border with Generals and General Atomics' Drones

General Atomic's Thomas Casssidy (left) presenting Guardian drone to
 US Coast Guard commander and Major General Kostelnik, chief of Office of Air and Marine.

In recent years, major military contractors have dominated DHS' top 25 contractors. In 2011, for example, the leading DHS contractors included (in descending order) Raytheon (ranking No. 1), Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, SAIC, European Aeronautical Defense and Space Company, SAFRAN, L-3 Communications, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, and Defense Support Services.

Other large military contractors among the top 25 DHS contractors include International Business Machine, Bollinger Shipyards, and Huntington Ingalls, as well as several Native Alaskan Corporations that serve as fronts for military contractors, including Kodiak Support Services, Chenega Corporation, and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

Since DHS began operations in 2003, Boeing - notorious in the border security context for being the prime contractor of the mightily flawed "virtual fence" - has been the single largest DHS contractor, with more than 800 DHS contracts amounting to a cumulative $86.4 billion in homeland security contractsBoeing follows Lockheed Martin as the top DOD contractor. 

Money is what fuels the military-industrial complex. Yet in probing DHS's close relationship with General Atomics and the department's persisting commitment to aerial surveillance by military-grade drones, more than dollars are at work.  
CBP's successive choices of two retired major generals to direct OAM point to DHS determination to reorient traditional border control operations into a strategic military framework.

What is more, the choice in 2005 of retired Air Force Major General Michael Kostelnik to direct the newly created Office of Air and Marine, followed by the choice of retired Marine Major General Randolph Alles to succeed Kostelnik in January 2013 signaled the CBP's conviction that UAVs should play a central role in continuing the post-9/11 missions of "homeland security" and "border security."   

Toward the end of their military careers, both Kostelnik and Alles played critical roles in drone development and contracting for the Air Force and the Marines.