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DOD News Briefing with Gen. McKinley from the Pentagon

Presenters: Chief, National Guard Bureau Gen. Craig McKinley; Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Alan Bersin and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton
July 19, 2010

                 MODERATOR:  Good morning, and thank you for joining us this morning.

                 It was in May that the president made the decision for this department to provide some temporary support to Customs and Border Protection of up to 1,200 National Guard personnel, to serve as a bridge to longer-term enhancements in the border protection and law enforcement capabilities.

                 DOD has been working closely with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Southwest border states and the National Guard, obviously, on the details of this deployment, which we are here today to talk about.  

                 As the -- at the request of the Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard deployment will provide a one-year bridge to enable Customs and Border Patrol to hire approximately a thousand additional agents.  This is a tough challenge, and the Defense Department looks forward to this partnership.  

                 Today we have with us Alan Bersin, who is the commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection; John Morton, who is the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and General Craig McKinley, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau.  Each of them are going to provide some remarks and then take your questions.   

                 So, gentlemen, welcome to the Pentagon briefing room, and thank you for coming and briefing us today.

                 MR. BERSIN:  Thank you.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I'm Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security.  

                 Since 1993 this nation has been engaged in the latest chapters of bringing the Southwest border under control in terms of confronting all of the threats that we face there.  This morning, with my colleagues Director Morton and General McKinley, we address the next stage in this ongoing effort.  

                     Since Janet Napolitano took place -- took her place as the secretary of Homeland Security in the administration of President Obama, we have seen a building on past efforts but also a increase in the resources devoted to the southwest border in an unprecedented way. 

                 We've seen the addition in accordance with the elements of the strategy that we have consistently followed having to do with infrastructure, personnel, strategy and technology.  

                 Today, Secretary Napolitano announced the active deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops on the southwest border.  And that will begin on August 1st.  The efforts of the National Guard will be to support the personnel that DHS has increased and placed on the southwest border since 2009.  

                 In accordance with the deployment of the National Guard in August, Customs and Border Protection will see an increase of approximately 300 agents and CBP officers, together with an increase in the technology that will be made available there: the mobile surveillance systems that we've used with great effect, in detecting and facilitating the apprehension of illegal entry of both illegal aliens and drugs coming across our border.  

                 We will also deploy as of August 1st six additional aviation assets, A Star helicopters and other utility aircraft that assist -- along with the infrastructure, the agents and the technology that we have in place -- the protection of our border.  

                 The National Guardsmen that will deploy on August 1st -- although preparations have been under way to -- obviously to make that possible, and will continue to ramp up in ways that General McKinley will discuss -- will support DHS personnel that are present on the border.  They will provide entry-identification team work indications to our agents to permit our agents to react to the illegal entry across our border, be it of illegal immigration or of illegal narcotics trafficking.

                 What we see, then, is a continuation of efforts that have been under way, but also an intensification of that that will be followed over time with the president's supplemental appropriation for the southwest border that in the case of CBP would add 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents, additional CBP officers for our ports of entry, as well as the addition of two additional unmanned -- UAS unmanned aviation assets for deployment in the south -- on the southwest border.

                 The border is more resourced and more secure than it's ever been, but the work continues and the challenge remains.  What we've seen as a result of the efforts to date are actually a decrease in illegal alien entry amounting to 23 percent across the border, a -- an increase in the -- in the seizure and interdiction of drugs amounting to 15 percent and an increase in the -- in the seizure of illegal weapons amounting to 30 percent over last fiscal year.  

                 This indicates that the direction in which we are moving is the correct one.  It also acknowledges that we have additional work to do. With the announcement today, the deployment on August 1st, the president's supplemental budget and the additional efforts that we will be taking in concert with other partners in the U.S. government, including the National Guard, we expect to see this progress sustained.

                 MR. MORTON:  Good morning.  I'm John Morton, the assistant secretary for Homeland Security and the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Promoting border security is a central part of our mission at ICE.  

                 Our Office of Homeland Security Investigations is dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of organized criminals engaged in border smuggling, whether that be the smuggling of people, cash, firearms or drugs.  Our Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations works with our sister agency, CBP -- you just heard from Commissioner Bersin -- to ensure that criminal aliens and illegal border-crossers are apprehended and removed.  

                 Last year was a record year for ICE on that score.  We removed 387,000 people from the United States, 136,000 of whom were criminal aliens.  Both of those numbers were the highest in our nation's history.

                 Today we announce a further increase to ICE's efforts along the southwest border, efforts already at an all-time high.  As of June 1st of 2010, we have deployed an additional 300 ICE special agents, ICE enforcement and removal officers and ICE intelligence analysts along the four southwest border states and in Mexico.  We're also adding 68 National Guardsmen, who will serve as intelligence analysts in the four states along the border to help us focus on our cross-border smuggling investigations, namely in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

                 Today's announcement builds on the strong commitment to the southwest border that we have at ICE.  Indeed, roughly a quarter of all of our agents and officers are stationed along the southwest border in those four states.  We're placing a particular emphasis on the Tucson sector in Arizona, an area favored by smugglers and the principal point of illegal entry into the United States along the southwest border.

                 Here's how we're going to augment our efforts in Arizona.  We're going to do it by opening a new investigative office in Ajo, Arizona to focus exclusively on cross-border crime.  We're going to deploy a border enforcement security task force jump team of specially trained agents in Douglas, Arizona to bolster our investigations in southeast Arizona.  That's the part of the country where Mr. Krentz, the rancher, was murdered.  We're going to deploy additional ICE attorneys to the United States attorney's office to prosecute criminals who illegal -- illegally reenter the country after removal.  Indeed, we're presently prosecuting every single felon who reenters the country through the Tucson sector.  

                 By sending additional ICE agents to Mexico, we're going to be able to jointly investigate with Mexican authorities the smugglers who live and operate on the Mexican side.  With this deployment, we will have a total of 40 ICE employees in Mexico City, the largest we've ever had in Mexico City, and making it our largest office in the world.  And we have a -- quite a number of offices in the world, 63 offices in 44 different countries.

                 We're also adding enforcement and removal officers to focus on apprehending criminal offenders and recent border entrants side by side with CBP.

                 These enhancements build on some recent advances that we've had earlier this year and late last.  In April as many of you may know, we conducted Operation In Plain Sight, arresting 42 -- 47 people, excuse me, engaged in alien smuggling through Nogales, Tucson and Phoenix.  

                 This was the largest alien smuggling investigation of its kind. And we took out a network of five different transportation companies directly involved in illegal immigration.  

                 In March, we opened our state-of-the-art flight operations center in Phoenix for the removal of individuals in the country illegally by air.  This center has already in a short period of operations supported the removal of 12,000 aliens found to be living unlawfully in the United States.  

                 And in October, ICE and CBP jointly started a program with Mexican authorities, to prosecute Mexican drug smugglers apprehended on the U.S. side of the border, to prosecute them back in Mexico, in those instances in which prosecution wasn't possible in the United States.  

                 Since we began this program, almost 30 suspected smugglers have been presented for prosecution in Mexico, by Mexican federal prosecutors.  And several are now serving 10-year sentences.  

                 Thank you very much.  

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  Commissioner Bersin, Secretary Morton, it's a pleasure to be here representing the National Guard Bureau, 460,000 men and women making up your National Guard.  

                 I'm also working on behalf of the adjutants general of the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to say that we're very pleased to be in support of our interagency partners.  

                 The 1,200 members of the National Guard who will be assigned have already started in the preliminary planning stages of the effort.  

                 Our ramp-up, as the commissioner said, will be over time, and we'll make sure that all our soldiers and airmen are well qualified, well integrated and well briefed on the mission at hand.

                 We are pleased because along the Southwest border we have had an integration effort of counternarcotics for over two decades, with 300 of our National Guardsmen and women already working with our interagency partners.  And so this augmentation force will be one in which our department will fully coordinate and be in support of the lead agencies here.

                 So that concludes my brief opening statement, and I'd love to take your questions, along with the commissioner and the secretary.

                 MODERATOR:  I'd like to ask the commissioner and the director back to the podium with you, and then open it up for questions for all of you.

                 Yes.

                 Q     Suzanne Gamboa, from Associated Press.

                 There was a car-bombing across the border in Ciudad Juarez.  And you talk a lot -- talked a lot about the interdiction of illegal immigration and drugs and -- but I wonder how much this now has to sort of redirect its attention to the kind of violence that seems to be a little bit more escalated, moving up a bit, just right across the border.  I'm not talking about spillover, because I know that hasn't happened but -- in that case -- but how much do you have to redirect what you're doing?

                 MR. BERSIN:  Well, in fact, since 2006, when President Calderon took the historic decision in his country to confront organized crime, and most particularly in -- as shown by the summit between President Calderon and President Obama, we have been deeply involved and committed to assisting Mexico in dealing with the violence that's been generated by this confrontation with organized crime.

                 The incident in Juarez that you refer to is one of great concern to both governments, and we have been looking into it to ascertain exactly what kind of explosion -- explosive devices, if any, were involved in it.

                 So without -- I take your point that the violence which we've seen since 2006 and that has been increasing in the last two years is of great concern.  This latest incident is one in long string of violent incidents.  The precise nature of it is one that we need to work with our -- with our Mexican colleagues and counterparts, discover exactly what it was and what implications it may have.

                 Q     Are the National Guard that are being deployed in any way going to be helping in that sort of work and that intelligence or anything like that, that might help --

                 MR. BERSIN:  Not directly, but of course this effort to secure and render more safe the border involves confronting transnational criminal organizations that have been the subject of efforts on both sides of our shared border with Mexico.

                 To the -- to the extent that the National Guard will assist law enforcement on the border to detect entries, through the entry identification, and to analyze those with the analysts the general has indicated, yes, there is a connection to it, but not a direct connection to that particular incident.

                 Q     I have a question about the Guardsmen.  When will all 1,200 be deployed?  When will they all be there?  Can you tell us what kind of training they've received ahead of time?  And what can you tell us about their rules of engagement?  For example, when will they be allowed to use lethal force?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  The training is ongoing.  The planning for that training will take place over the next several weeks.  We believe that our criminal analysts will receive training in Texas and Arizona, and our entry identification teams in each of the respective states.  We believe that we'll be fully ready through the month of August as we ramp up. 

                 But surely by September we should have our full forces in the field working with our partners.  We want to make sure that each and every soldier -- or airman, because they could come from the Air National Guard or the Army National Guard -- has been fully trained.  The rules for the use of force, as you allude to, will be well coordinated.  And they're the same as our counternarcotics teams that are there now for self-preservation only, self-defense only.  And obviously the agents that we will be assisting will have lead in any type of -- any type of engagement.

                 So those are the general rules of engagement that we're passing out to the field.  And remember, too, that these guardsmen will be under the command and control of their governors and their adjutants general so that the states will retain control over their individual members of the National Guard.

                 Q     Commissioner, the White House had said before -- Fernando Pizarro from Univision -- had said before that the members of the National Guard would not have a direct contact with migrants.  Is this still the role of these particular National Guard members that are going to be, as you called it, bridging for a year until you hire more agents?  

                 And if you could, later on or now, if you could also give us a statement in Spanish, we would appreciate it.

                 MR. BERSIN:  The traditional relationship between law enforcement on the border and the National Guard, which is a long-standing one of at least two decades, will also prevail in this situation.  National Guard is there to support the efforts of law enforcement, not to have a direct law-enforcement role, not to confront unless confronted any particular threat.  So this is a question of supporting law enforcement.  The National Guard has done that extremely well in the past, and we trust will do so again on this -- on this occasion.

                 (Remarks in Spanish.)  

                 Q     Mr. Bersin, first question, a neo-Nazi border patrol group -- several newspapers or communications media say that a neo-Nazi border patrol is operating on the Arizona border.  And I was wondering, how is CBP dealing with the existence of this kind of group?  How do you regulate them?  

                 And also if I may, Mr. Morton, in another case, the blacklist on the Utah, I understand the Salt Lake City office received the Utah list on April.  So I was wondering, what happened with that list, if there is any – or if there were any investigations in ICE regarding that list, when your office -- Salt Lake City -- 

                 MR. MORTON:  I'll start with the last question.  And the commissioner can answer your first question.  

                 We're looking -- we're investigating the circumstances of how the list was received at ICE.  But at this point, there doesn't appear to be any indication that the list was used in any way to conduct an investigation or an enforcement action.  

                 We want to make sure of that, we want to cross the Ts and dot the Is.  But that's the initial assessment.  

                 MR. BERSIN:  Am I correct?  Your question dealt with the reports regarding a militia, the militia on the border.  

                 The -- I have seen those reports, but have not actually confirmed or been advised as to specific activities.

                 I will say that in the past -- while the rights of all Americans to express themselves, of course, is respected and guarded, that it's very critical to operations at the border that there be no interference with lawful activities of law enforcement there at the border; and that in the past there has always -- that's always been made very clear to those who would be present on the border, that they must comply with the law and they must not interfere with legitimate law-enforcement activities.  And I suspect that would be the guidance here as well.

                 Q     General McKinley, sir --

                 Q     I'm Carlos Hamann, with AFP.

                 General, I was hoping you could give us the details of the specialties that these National Guard personnel are bringing to the border, and why -- I mean, are they -- are they bringing specialties that cannot be obtained anywhere else?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  Well, we worked, as I said earlier, with our interagency partners extensively over two decades.  So that collaboration that we've had and that familiarity between the agents and us is well understood.

                 We are going to supply those things which the Department of Homeland Security has asked us to supply, and that are -- those are criminal analysts and Entry Identification Team specialists.  And we will do some work, as the secretary said, with intelligence analysis. So those are specifically the jobs that we've been asked to do -- very well within our “job jar” in the National Guard to do these kinds of things.  As most of you know who've covered this building for a long time, the National Guard has been involved not only here at home, but we've been overseas now almost nine years in our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

                 So these are efforts that I think will bring synergy and bring real teamwork together.  And I know our young men and women will do a great job when asked.

                 Q     President Bush did something similar to this a few years back with even more National Guardsmen on the border, yet the problem seems worse than ever.  So why did that fail?  And what's going to be different this time?  They -- the last time the National Guard was there to allow more agents to be hired, you know, why did that plan fail?  And what's different about this one?

                 MR. BERSIN:  Yeah.  This is a continuing -- continuation of an ongoing effort.  I mean, this is not a -- an end point.  It's a continuing strengthening of the border -- in fact, in unprecedented ways in terms of the resources -- as we move forward.  

                 The bridging to the additional ICE agents and CBP officers and Border Patrol agents that is requested in the president's supplemental continues to give us additional resources that we need to continue to assert control over the various corridors of the southwest border.

                 So I would suggest that we look at that as a process of continuing to strengthen the border rather than as some end point. What we have to do is continue under the president's direction to bring this border under control, to be able to deal with the transnational criminal organizations that, yes, continue to attempt and do smuggle narcotics and aliens and coming north, and take guns and money going south.

                 To this extent, the guard is a -- has been a tried and tested support to law enforcement on the border, and I'm confident will prove again this -- this instance.

                 Q     Just -- but just to follow up, I mean, will this now be a pattern where every few years you have to call in the Guard, whether it be a thousand or 4,000 supplement, problem goes on for a couple years, you call the Guard back every few years?

                 MR. BERSIN:  I think each case will have to be dealt with on the merits, as this one has been and I believe those in the past have been.  So it's a question of continuing to resource the border, to build on the efforts that have been made and to assess the progress in a variety of ways as to whether or not additional resources are called for.

                 Q     Mr. Bersin, recently we have seen an escalating violence in Mexico.  Now we are seeing that the cartels are using car bombs.  Are you specifically more concerned about this situation?  And is the U.S. government maybe about to provide better help, perhaps with the military, in order to apply some of the experience from Iraq and Afghanistan?

                 MR. BERSIN:  This -- as I indicated before, in response to a previous question, the nature of the explosive device that was contained in the car that led to the death of the federal officers in Mexico is still under investigation and needs to be identified.

                 The fact of the matter is that violence has been proceeding and escalating in Mexico as a result of the civil war among the cartels and the struggle between the government of Mexico and those -- and those cartels.  

                 So we see this as a -- as part of an ongoing threat that we've been cooperating deeply with the government of Mexico to confront.

                 This effort involves providing assistance, information sharing and certain technical assistance.  I don't have any information as to what specifically might be done in connection with this, but I'm sure it will be the subject of consultations.

                 Q     And if you tell us -- can you detail more the work of the UAVs along the border?  We understand now there is an agreement with Mexico in order to allow the UAVs to fly over some border cities from Mexico.

                 MR. BERSIN:  There is -- those discussions are ongoing and no agreement has been reached, and there have been no flights.  We have been, on the Southwest for a number of years, using UAV assets to provide situational awareness, and also to permit us to detect and respond to threats; as well as to monitor natural disasters, for example, be they floods on the northern border or hurricanes in the -- in the Gulf.  So this is a very important additional asset that's available for homeland security to provide situational awareness.  But there have been no agreements reached to date regarding the use of the UAV within Mexico for that purpose.

                 Q     Well, General, how about the units --

                 MR. MORTON:  Let's let somebody else get in.

                 Q     Katherine Peters, Government Executive.

                 Can you describe more fully the -- you said there will be six new aviation assets?  What -- (off mike)?

                 MR. BERSIN:  We have deployed along the Southwest border, as part of Customs and Border Protection's air capacity, a series of aviation assets:  A350 helicopters, the so-called Astars; we have Blackhawks; we have Dash 8s and a variety of fixed-wing and rotary operating aviation assets -- what Secretary Napolitano has ordered in connection with this effort and to support the ramp-up, particularly in the Tucson sector.  We will be moving in additional helicopters and aviation assets to increase the stock that's already there.

                 Q     And that's a temporary increase?  You'll be pulling --

                 MR. BERSIN:  This is a deployment that will last until the secretary has determined that it's no longer required in the -- in the Tucson sector.     

                 Q     Can you say where those will be coming -- being moved from?

                 MR. BERSIN:  From along -- I cannot identify specifically where they come from.  But when you deploy an asset like that, it is not -- you come and you stay—there is a constant motion among the sectors both with personnel and aviation assets. So it is not as though they come and depriving another sector of a particular asset for a specific kind of deployment.

                 Q     General, if I could ask, you've mentioned -- you talked about self-defense for the Guardsmen.  Does that imply that the Guardsmen are going to be armed?  Number two, does that mean that they will be -- actually be conducting patrols?  You talked about -- that they're going to be manning EIT teams, because that's what ICE is looking for.  What exactly does an EIT team do?  And where do they operate?  Do they actually patrol physically on the border, or are they far removed from the border?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  Sure.  Self-protection means just that, that if under some kind of danger, they are able to protect themselves, to extricate themselves from the situation.  They'll be taking the lead from the law-enforcement personnel who they will be assisting in that support role.  Entry Identification Teams will fill a variety of roles depending on the situation, but they certainly will be deployed on the United States side of the border following the rules of engagement as set forth by the lead agencies here.  So we have done this before. And it is common practice for our soldiers and airmen to follow the leads, to only take that action which is necessary to extricate themselves from the situation and not be provocative.

                 (Cross talk.)

                 MR. MORTON:  Just to -- just to clarify there, the EIT, the Entry Identification Teams, they're going to be assisting the commissioner and CBP.  The criminal intelligence analysts are the individuals who will be assisting ICE, and that's with investigations of the criminal networks that are bringing people across the border.

                 Q     But are those EIT teams actually there on the border physically?  I mean, what do they do?

                 MR. BERSIN:  They work with Border Patrol agents in this case to provide additional eyes and ears on the border so that they are at predetermined places along the border to be able to assist in identifying attempted entries and communicating to Border Patrol agents that would then take efforts at apprehension.

                 Q     Example would be what, the observation tower?  Or the radar --

                 MR. BERSIN:  In particular, given the terrain, you would -- you would have them at certain positions that, again, would have been predetermined by the Border Patrol leadership and expertise in the particular sector, and from that particular vantage point would be in a position to provide situational awareness over a particular portion of the border.

                 Q     It looks like -- (off mike) -- question.  They will be armed, the Guardsmen, right?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  They will.

                 MR. MORTON: Yeah.  Okay. 

                 Q     Question's actually for the general.  With the U.S. fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are you -- are you worried at all that the government's coming back, dipping back into the Guard constantly for this mission?  And is this having any effect at all on troop readiness or the number of troops that are going to be available for Guard for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  The National Guard supplies troops for overseas operations to the United States Air Force, United States Army.  We're at about 54,000 Guardsmen now currently serving in OIF or OEF.  I asked the question before I came down here of what the size of the National Guard forces in these four states.  In California you have 19,717 soldiers and airmen, Arizona 6,970, New Mexico 3,484, and Texas 20,288. 

                 So even though those states are providing forces to our efforts overseas, there's a sizable number of National Guardsmen and -women who are available to perform this duty.  

                 And so I rely on the adjutants general and the governors who are part of a Council of Governors that advises Secretary Gates and Secretary Napolitano to tell me, you know, where the need is.  And right now I cannot see a case where we would be over-extending the National Guard in this effort.

                 Q     As far as you know, were there any of these troops had to change a deployment for overseas?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  No.  None have had to change their deployments.

                 (Cross talk.)

                 MODERATOR:  Everybody, I think we've got time for one more question.

                 Q     Mr. Morton --

                 MR. MORTON:  The patient gentleman in the far back.

                 Q     Just to follow up on the -- General, that the governor in California announced 200-plus National Guard -- are they part of this 1,200 or they're separate?  (Off mike.)  

                 And for the secretary, you said Arizona is troubled by smugglers and drug smugglers.  On what basis this statement is made?

                 GEN. MCKINLEY:  I think Commissioner Bersin can answer the second question, but in terms of what the governors are requesting, they've made their requests to the president of the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security has identified those needs of those people in those specific states.  And so I don't want to go into specifics of which state got how many Guardsmen, but Governor Schwarzenegger certainly has the capability to put additional resources out there in state status.  But these are -- these are being supplied and paid for by the federal government.

                 Sir.  

                 MR.BERSIN:  Yeah.  Secretary Morton indicated what has become accepted knowledge based on the data that we've gathered regarding   seizures of narcotics, in which the evidence is that half of the marijuana seizures made at the U.S.-Mexican border are done at the Tucson sector.

                 And with regard to illegal immigration, half of the -- of the illegal migrants who have been apprehended this fiscal year have been apprehended in the Tucson sector.

                 While the number is down significantly from previous years, the fact of the matter is that still 171,000 people have been apprehended in that sector in this fiscal year, and that represents just under 50 percent of the total apprehensions along the entire border from Brownsville to San Diego.

                 Q     A follow-up?  Can I --

                 MODERATOR:  We'll try to follow up with you later.

                 Q     Okay.

                 MODERATOR:  Thank you.  

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