Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Border security gave DPS pretext for statewide intel gathering capacity

By the Legislative Budget Board's estimate, Texas spent $452 million on stand-alone border security expenses from fiscal years 2008 through 2013. See a nifty two-pager (pdf) published last year summarizing budgets and revenue streams, which includes this description of new statewide intelligence capacity being developed under the pretext of "border security":
The current state border initiative, Operation Border Star, was first funded with $110.3 million in General Revenue Fund-related and State Highway Funds by the Eightieth Legislature, Regular Session, 2007. Operation Border Star centers on the use of intelligence to increase the effectiveness of federal, state, local, and private law enforcement assets. Regional intelligence is collected by six Joint Operations Intelligence Centers (JOICs) in the border area. These JOICs send intelligence data to the Border Security Operations Center (BSOC) in Austin. Administered by Texas Rangers, the BSOC integrates regional intelligence to help determine a more efficient use of law enforcement assets in the larger border area. A major tool used by the BSOC is TxMAP. TxMAP merges intelligence from JOICs and other sources to provide a real-time display of criminal activity layered on a Texas map.
So, exactly what are "private law enforcement assets"? Rent-a-cops? Bounty hunters? Informants? Companies selling license-plate-reader data? Maybe Stratfor? (IMO more of a media outlet.) What does "private law enforcement assets" mean? Readers' thoughts?

Also one notices the intelligence folks are looking at a Texas map, which as we know, doesn't stop at the Willacy County line. Though this capacity has been developed on the pretext of "border security," the same methods and software are capable of being aimed anywhere in the state at anybody. And since crime on the border is much lower than in the state's big cities, it won't be long before the original justification will be viewed as a flash in the pan. Texas is a regional transportation and money laundering hub for illegal narcotics, so it will be easy enough for law enforcement to justify using their new toys tools elsewhere in the state, assuming they're ever even asked to explain it at all.

For the record, $452 million is enough to fund the state's prison system for a year. That's a lot of money with very little to show for it in terms of demonstrable improvements to security. The state has been shoveling border-security money down a bottomless pit, and under the watchful eye of supposed GOP budget hawks, to boot.

Every time I see poll numbers showing that border security and immigration rank highest among voter concerns, I think to myself, "these are rich people problems." Anyone actually judging the budget based on cost-benefit analysis can't possibly justify state border security spending at these levels.


Anonymous said...

the pretext of "border security"

Border security is a pretext all right.

Anonymous said...

The state is using border security as a red herring. The Texas DPS has quietly morphed itself into a data mining leviathon. It is just another way for the DPS to use and get more funds to spy on Texas citizens and share the data with others for profit. Also, the more data you have on people, the more you can leverage them if they happen to get into trouble later.