Homeland security requires more interagency coordination and interoperability, said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, director of the Joint Staff-Texas Joint Force Headquarters, during a panel at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting on Tuesday.
“The problem on the southwest border is not new, and the DoD’s participation in securing that border is not new,” Hamilton said. “The thing that I think is the biggest challenge is interoperability.”
Collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security and the military has also helped to increase readiness of National Guard units and secure the border, said Laura Yeager, director of the Joint Staff-California Joint Force Headquarters.
“Nobody joins the service because they want to sit in briefings and watch PowerPoints, they want to know they’re doing a mission,” Yeager said.
That support for state and local law enforcement is beneficial to the National Guard, Hamilton said.
“The counter-drug operations we take part in doesn’t impact our readiness at all. In fact, I think they enhance it,” he said.
But increasing the ability of different agencies and units to coordinate is needed to better tackle border security, Hamilton said. Issues with different encryption codes, for instance, can inhibit National Guard forces from working with Border Patrol on secure lines of communication, he added.
Some of that interoperability has extended to foreign partners as well, said Richard Booth, director of the Domains Awareness Division at the Department of Homeland Security.
Data that Homeland Security collects from air and maritime surveillance are now being shared with Mexican authorities, Booth said. That not only helps them better perform their job but prevents corrupt individuals in their agencies from claiming ignorance, he added.
“All agencies in Mexico responsible for the counter-drug operations see the same thing,” Booth said. “You can’t hide behind things. ... It increases transparency from a corruption standpoint.”
Regardless, unity between the Department of Homeland Security and military can’t decrease, Hamilton said. The violence of drug cartels across the border is sometimes understated in America, he said.
“This problem has just evolved, and one of the biggest things we lose sight of sometimes is what the threat is and how extreme the threat is,” Hamilton said. “The ruthlessness of those organizations right across our border ... are a threat to our homeland, there’s no question about it.”
Increased drug use in the United States and the emergence of the potent synthetic opioid Fentanyl underscores the need for more interagency border security, Yeager said.
“Last year, over 60,000 Americans died from drug overdose. ... This is a really big threat,” Yeager said.
The support the National Guard provides with unmanned aerial reconnaissance and construction of roadways out to remote locations of the border has been a boon to expanding Border Patrol’s reach, said Chief Robert Boatright, director of the Border Patrol Special Coordinator Center.
“They get to use their equipment against a real, thinking and sometimes live-fire enemy,” Boatright said. “So, it’s really the best of both worlds.”
But the need for coordination between civil and defense authorities goes beyond border security, and that fact has been emphasized by the hurricane devastation in Texas and Puerto Rico this year, Boatright said.
“Whether it’s them supporting us, or us supporting them, it works really, really well in those environments,” Boatright said.