Radio Interview with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale on WTOP, Interviewer J. J. Green National Security Correspondent WTOP
Mr. Secretary, J.J. Green, national security correspondent, WTOP.
MR. MCHALE: Good morning, J.J. How are you?
MR. GREEN: Well, sir, Operation Jump Start is what I've been told is the subject of this interview this morning.
MR. MCHALE: My understanding as well.
MR. GREEN: Okay. So let's just start by getting you to explain what it is.
MR. MCHALE: The president made a decision approximately a month and a half ago that the Department of Defense could provide meaningful assistance to the Department of Homeland Security in achieving their mission to secure our nation's borders. And so the president directed us, for a limited period of time -- not to exceed two years -- to deploy up to 6,000 National Guardsmen in supporting roles to assist DHS so that we could use our Border Patrol agents for their primary purpose, which is law enforcement along the border.
So basically we are -- most of our force consists of National Guardsmen who will be observing various stretches of the border throughout the four-state area of the Southwest to detect, either visually or in some cases using sensors, illegal cross-border movement so we can give a heads-up at that point to the Border Patrol, they can go out and execute the law enforcement mission to interdict and detain and process those who have crossed the border illegally.
MR. GREEN: Mr. Secretary, what's the configuration -- active duty, reserve, or is this a mix?
MR. MCHALE: It's going to be all National Guard. I shouldn't say all; at this point, the vast majority of the force -- 99 percent -- will consist of National Guardsmen in what we call Title 32 status. The Department of Defense will pay for the mission, but the mission will be executed in support of the Border Patrol and ultimately will be commanded by the governors of the individual states. We are coordinating the movement of those forces through the Department of Defense, and in fact we are paying for the mission.
Now, I said 99 percent; if there are niche, usually technical skills that are needed from our active duty military force, those active duty military personnel, under the command of United States Northern Command and responsible to the Secretary of Defense, will augment and reinforce the National Guard capabilities. But bottom line, this is overwhelmingly a National Guard mission.
MR. GREEN: I met with General Inge not too long ago.
MR. MCHALE: Yeah.
MR. GREEN: He is actually from my hometown, and we kind of chatted -
MR. MCHALE: In Virginia.
MR. GREEN: Yes.
MR. MCHALE: Yes.
MR. GREEN: We kind of chatted about a few of those concerns. If your troops are -- active duty are needed, who would control -- or I guess the bigger question is, who controls this force, anyway? Is it -- do governors get to call them up, or who actually tells them what to do here?
MR. MCHALE: It's based on an agreement between the participating governors. These are called EMAC assistance agreements. And the governors will command the National Guard forces from whatever state if those forces operate within that governor's own state. So if we send forces from Connecticut, for instance, down to Texas, the adjutant general of the state of Texas, under command and control of the governor, will control the National Guard forces. For that very small percentage of the force that we might have to draw from the active duty forces, General Inge's boss, Admiral Tim Keating, would command those forces, and he in turn would be responsible to the Secretary of Defense.
MR. GREEN: Mr. Secretary, could you explain the difference between your border mission and that that DHS has going on? There's quite a bit of confusion, specifically as we've been hearing a lot about grants and money right now. Can you explain the difference?
MR. MCHALE: We are in a supporting role. The Department of Defense does not have the assigned responsibility to secure the land border either with Canada or with Mexico. By law that's assigned to the Department of Homeland Security, and they get the job done through the Border Patrol and also through ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We are providing assistance to law enforcement. We're in a supporting role.
And so we're going to send 6,000 soldiers down to the Southwest border. We've got about 3,500 down there today. And those soldiers will fill positions that in many cases in the past have been filled by Border Patrol agents; for instance, monitoring cross-border movement, monitoring cameras and other sensors that have been placed upon the border, flying aviation missions -- helicopter missions, typically -- to provide aerial surveillance.
We're going to be providing assistance to the primary mission of Border Patrol so that the law enforcement functions can be carried out exclusively by the Border Patrol. We're not going to engage in military activities that directly affect law enforcement. We're not police officers. We're not going to be stopping people with military forces as they come across the border. But we're going to be observing that border very carefully over significant distances. We're going to be putting up barriers along the border. We're going to be providing assistance to the lead mission that by law has been assigned to the Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol.
I think your question to the grant program has to do with DHS and how they identify and prioritize targets that terrorists might hit nationwide. We, for the most part, are not involved in that process. That's a DHS mission.
MR. GREEN: Any thoughts you'd like to share on it?
MR. MCHALE: Well, we obviously have concerns in those areas in that we have military installations at approximately 600 locations throughout the United States, and so we want to make sure that military installations are properly considered by the Department of Homeland Security when they identify threats and make grant allocations.
And for instance, Congresswoman Davis out of San Diego has raised that issue. She wants to make sure, I think quite correctly, that military installations are correctly included in the DHS calculations, and we're working with DHS to make that happen.
MR. GREEN: Sir, the barriers you talked about.
MR. MCHALE: Yeah.
MR. GREEN: Is this commensurate with fencing along the Southwest border?
MR. MCHALE: The answer is yes. Sometimes the barrier more closely resembles a wall. Typically the barrier is about 15 feet tall. Sometimes it looks like a wall; in certain areas it might be something a little less substantial, but still a very hefty barrier, such as reinforced fencing.
In addition, we have vehicle barriers, which are barriers that are put perpendicularly into the ground, embedded in cement, so that vehicles are unable to proceed beyond that point or they're stopped by the vehicle barriers. We're putting in improved roads so that when we detect illegal movement across the border, the Border Patrol, on a road that we in DOD might have built for them, can quickly deploy to the site and interdict those who have come across the border.
So the barriers typically involve vehicle barriers; what DHS calls virtual walls, where we have extensive TV cameras and other movement sensors that are placed along the border; and fencing that may well range from a reinforced fence of the type that we would all recognize to a wall that would be very a substantial and, unfortunately, very expensive barrier to pedestrian movement.
MR. GREEN: Now, a couple quick questions about that fencing.
MR. MCHALE: Yeah.
MR. GREEN: I just spent about a month with forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Africa, in Djibouti. Specifically, the fencing that I would see in Baghdad or in Balad -- Balad Air Base -
MR. MCHALE: Yeah.
MR. GREEN: -- is that the type of fencing you're talking about, or is this a different type?
MR. MCHALE: Let me go out on a limb a little bit. I think the answer is yes, but I've not been to those locations so I've not seen the specific fences that you have referenced.
But the kind of fencing that we're talking about is not the kind of fencing that you'd put up around your backyard. It's heavy fencing, reinforced, typically embedded in concrete, that is buried to a considerable depth into the ground. These barriers -- these fences typically go to a height of 15 feet, and at that point there's usually a portion of the fence that is angled in a particular direction to make it much tougher to get over the top.
If you go to the San Diego area, you take a look at the barrier that's been built there, that's a wall basically with reinforced panels attached to the wall so that it is a very substantial impediment.
But in any event, the kind of -- the kind of security fence that we're talking about goes well beyond both the structure and, unfortunately, the cost of what we think of as ordinary residential kind of fencing. This is security fencing.
MR. GREEN: And this is under way now, or going to get under way soon?
MR. MCHALE: It is under way. If you go down to the Southwest, you'll see that there is a very large project in Southern California, where many miles of this wall, barrier, have been constructed by military forces over a long period of time. In other areas, we're in the process of planning fencing that is appropriate to the terrain, to the topography in a given area.
For instance, it is very likely that along the southern border of the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, which is right on the Mexican border, that for that distance along the southern border of the air station we will have a very substantial fence in the not-too-distant future that will be under construction to impede not only vehicle traffic, but also pedestrian traffic.
MR. GREEN: Last question, sir.
MR. MCHALE: Yeah.
MR. GREEN: Concerns on both borders exist, Canada and the Southwest border. How do they differ?
MR. MCHALE: Along the Southwest border, we have, since 1989, used military forces very heavily with congressional authority to interdict the movement of narcotics across the Mexico-U.S. border. We also obviously, in addition to the counternarcotics role in the Southwest, have a concern, now reflected in our supporting role to the Border Patrol, with regard to massive numbers of cross-border movement of illegal aliens. And so on the Southwest border the challenge is really to illegal immigration and narcotics flow.
Along the Canadian border -- where we had a mission last year, for instance, Operation Winter Freeze -- while there is illegal cross-border movement related to narcotics and illegal immigration, the primary focus from a DOD standpoint along the northern border has been counterterrorism; our concern that terrorists would cross from Canada into the United States, bringing with them perhaps very substantial weapons. And so we have had DOD missions supporting the Border Patrol, coordinated with our Canadian friends, to improve our ability to identify and interdict terrorist movement.
So in the north there is a very heavy focus on counterterrorism activity. In the Southwest, the focus for many decades has been counternarcotics and now, the more recent mission assigned by the president, support to the Department of Homeland Security to help that department achieve its control of the border in terms of illegal immigration.
MR. GREEN: Anything you want to add, Mr. Secretary?
MR. MCHALE: No, I'd simply emphasize that we're not militarizing the border. We're working in close coordination with the Mexican government, trying to give them a full understanding of what it is that we're going to achieve. This mission as a military mission will not last more than two years. We have 6,000 soldiers; that's not an overwhelming number, but it will provide substantial support along the Southwest border. And in that period of time, DHS is going to train up 6,000 new Border Patrol agents, and when they are ready to move those agents back into position, having trained 6,000 more, we will pull the military forces out.
So this is a temporary measure in support of civilian law enforcement. It certainly is not our intent to militarize the border.
MR. GREEN: Sir, thank you very much for the opportunity. I appreciate the chance.
MR. MCHALE: You bet. Glad to be here.
MR. GREEN: And I look forward to talking to you again sometime.
MR. MCHALE: I look forward to it.
MR. GREEN: Thanks.
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