DPS installing new candid cameras at border

BY GIL POTTS

Texas Department of Public Safety director, Steve McCraw, announced last week that his agency is planning to add 4,000 additional surveillance cameras along the border with Mexico. 

McCraw said that installations of the new devices will stretch from El Paso to Brownsville, and will complement approximately 1,300 motion-sensitive cameras already in use along the border. The additional equipment will help law enforcement’s monitoring efforts as National Guard troops, assigned to several observation posts in the Rio Grande Valley are scheduled to depart in March.

In 2012, DPS launched a program with the Border Patrol and border county sheriffs called Operation Drawbridge. The objective was to curb human smuggling and narcotic trafficking. The new cameras will be installed as an expansion of that 24 hour-a-day program, which is responsible for apprehending as many as fifty thousand people and more than 170,000 pounds of illegal narcotics.

McCraw states the department is working as quickly as possible to set up the cameras in an effort to transition strategies from one of “deterrence” to one he labeled “interdiction.” The new strategy will also include the expansion of aircraft surveillance and overtime payments for officers across the state.

A repeat of the overwhelming surge of children illegally crossing the border last summer is not necessarily the primary concern of border officials. Nationwide, methamphetamine use is high, and people are increasingly turning to cheaper imported Mexican meth, rather than making their own. 

To meet the demand, Mexican cartels have increased their meth-making process, using an old recipe known as P2P that first appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. It uses an organic compound known as phenylacetone, which has been banned in the U.S., but is still obtainable in Mexico, according to the DEA — rather than pseudoephedrine.
Chemists working for cartels in Mexico have refined the process to the point where the meth is relatively inexpensive, but very potent.  In 2007, Mexican meth normally tested about 39 percent pure.

Today, it is consistently testing at 100 percent pure, according to Jim Shroba, special agent in charge for the DEA office in St. Louis, where the powerful drug is showing up in large quantities. Prices for the drug has fallen sharply on the streets as well.  Meth that used to cost more than $290 per gram can now be bought for about $100 per gram.

Those drugs, along with others, are being smuggled across the Texas border with destinations all across the country. Domestic meth lab busts and seizures are down 40 percent or more in states that traditionally have led the country in production, according to a major news source. Increased enforcement by local agencies may be partly responsible for the decrease in states side clandestine labs. 

The bigger problem now is the high grade meth coming from Mexican cartels, which is cheap in comparison to the domestically produced drug. The cartels, having become much more organized over time, have expanded their sales and distribution beyond the typically large metropolitan neighborhoods to rural areas and small towns. A great deal of that meth is smuggled over the Texas border and thus a concern for Texas officials.

There’s another issue along the border capturing the attention of state and federal agents. Cash. The drug trafficking isn’t just a one way border issue. For every load of drugs that enter the country, there is a relative amount of cash going south. 

Just before Thanksgiving, a 23 year old man was able to post a $5,000 cash bond after trying to smuggle $250,000 in cash at the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge.  Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested Hipolito Garcia Jr. after finding the hidden cash inside his 2007 Volkswagen.

Increasingly, drug cartels are using individuals to smuggle their illegal proceeds from the U.S. into Mexico. It’s become common to find multiple individuals bringing in large cash bundles at the border. Unfortunately for the young Mr. Garcia, and others like him, getting caught at the border becomes more than just a simple legal problem. He now may have to answer to someone who still wants their money. The consequences can be severe.  
Authorities also arrested an alleged associate of a Mexican cartel kingpin’s sons after the suspect traveled to San Antonio with his wife for a vacation.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that federal authorities have charged 37-year-old Jorge Torres of Guadalajara, Mexico, with money laundering conspiracy as part of a larger investigation in Chicago involving the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Last Thursday a federal judge declined to grant bond to Torres, who is being held in a federal facility in San Antonio. Authorities plan to transport him to Chicago where he will face charges, and up to 20 years in prison. The arrest of Torres follows the arrest in Mexico earlier this year of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in the resort city of Mazatlán. 

A greater concern came to light earlier this year when DPS issued an advisory about the possibility of terrorist activity along the Rio Grande. Federal authorities dismissed the concern as unfounded. 

Today, terrorists crossing our borders are a reality. Proof of these allegations surfaced in late August when four admitted terrorists  boarded an airliner in Istanbul, traveled to Paris, and then to Mexico City. They were met there by a Turkish-speaking man who arranged to stash them in a safe house. 
A payment of $8,000 each was all it took to get them into the U.S. on September 3 when they crossed the border into Texas. Luckily, they were captured by the Border Patrol.  

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson actually argued that they were part of a Kurdish resistance group fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, and not a threat.

Whether the men are linked to jihadists or not, they did admit to being part of a designated terrorist group, and proves an existing network in Mexico with the ability to bring terrorists over the border into Texas.

Hopes are that the installation of 4,000 new motion cameras will go a long way towards curtailing illegal cross border activity in both directions and hopefully make law enforcement along the border a more effective and a safer occupation.