Donald Trump – as presidential candidate
courted his fanatical campaign followers with absolute, unequivocal pledges to beef up border security and protect Americans from terror attacks.
For example, his campaign speech in Phoenix, Arizona in August of 2016. That campaign appearance was arranged for the purpose of erasing any confusion or doubt about what Trump’s intentions were concerning immigration, border protection and domestic security, including the threat of terrorism – particularly since Trump had been tacking away from his most aggressive rhetoric on the subject in months prior. At the Phoenix Convention Center, Trump touted that:
“In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced. Unlike this (Obama) administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement. And ICE and Border Patrol officers will be allowed to do their jobs the way their jobs are supposed to be done. Our enforcement priorities will include removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges. That is those relying on public welfare or straining the safety net along with millions of recent illegal arrivals and overstays who’ve come here under this current corrupt administration.”
In contradictory fashion, Donald Trump as president, is pulling the rug right out from under these opportunistic promises. As detailed in reports issued by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and released to the media by some of the panel members, Trump will support cuts to domestic security programs in fiscal budget year 2019.
Trump’s “America First” counterterrorism budget cuts
The reports, leaked to Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), from a Trump administration whistleblower, contained policy outlines that reflected data provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – and undermined Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requests for increased funding for internal security and counterterrorism operations. In the document it is projected that the Trump administration, “intends to seek $568 million in cuts to counterterrorism programs” from 2017 levels.
Among the programs that will be hit by these cuts will be port security, FEMA funding, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, investigation and surveillance of violent extremists and public transportation security. The port security program slated for elimination is the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, that, as defined by the report, are “are multidisciplinary groups of security officers deployed to various locations to prevent and deter acts of terrorism.”
The VIPR beat currently is tasked to prevent and if need be respond to terror attacks in a wide array of public modes of transportation including underground and above ground passenger rail, mass transit, bus terminals, ports, pipelines and even large scale events such as New Years Eve in NYC and during the Super Bowl.
Inviting rogue states and terror groups to exploit port vulnerabilities
In my personal experience as a private consultant to agencies providing homeland security protection (including the Coast Guard, also targeted for cuts) and having discovered first hand how few and random the inspections of inbound ocean cargo container ships are to begin with – reducing that effort is unthinkable in terms of the heightened risks.
Ironically, Donald Trump is engaging in verbal belligerence with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, while making the U.S. more vulnerable to the smuggling of nuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction in cargo containers.
Also to be shrunk is $27 million in funding for the Federal Air Marshals. Significantly, the report itself, questions the wisdom of another pay freeze for personnel at the DHS, stating:
“The absence of a pay increase for law enforcement personnel may not allow DHS to remain competitive with other law enforcement agencies with whom they compete for qualified applicants. This is especially true as DHS components have historically struggled to meet hiring mandates.”
Of the risks reducing counterterrorism funding, Senator McCaskill observes:
“I’m worried that the Office of Management and Budget is overriding what local, state, and national leaders have told me they most need to keep us safe. With recent terrorist attacks in our country and throughout the globe, counterterrorism programs shouldn’t be on the chopping block.”
One of the key pieces of technology that will face Trump’s axe, will be the array of video monitoring cameras scanning critical border locations during the daylight hours and employing infrared capability to view and interdict nocturnal smuggling and illegal crossings. The network of cameras, known as Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS) are targeted for a 50 percent reduction in funds.
Customs and Border Protection allowed to “do their job” with less resources
Also facing the cleaver are federal appropriations for aircraft, drones, helicopters, boats and other vehicles and equipment that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employ in their patrols of drug traffickers in low altitude planes and coastal smuggling vessels.
Of the cuts in the VIPR teams at passenger airports from 31 to a projected 8, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) describes them as:
“Penny wise and pound foolish – that’s really the only way to describe a budget that mortgages the security of the traveling public by slashing highly effective canine teams that help protect our airports and transit stations from terrorists.”
Reimbursement for state and local law enforcement perimeter security will also be cut by $45 million. Defending the administration’s plans to reduce counterterrorism resources, Chip Fulghum, the TSA’s acting undersecretary for management rendered this incredibly nonsensical statement. “We had to make tough choices in the budget. When we looked at the VIPR teams, and how they complemented state and local law enforcement, we felt that it was an acceptable risk to take.”
“Acceptable risk”? What are the priorities of this administration – massive tax breaks to the donor class or the safety of citizens? The Trump White House OMB budget directives answer that question without any shade of ambiguity.
The “Big, Beautiful”, Wasteful Wall
Trump is sacrificing effective security measures both at the border and interior in favor of the “big, beautiful wall” – a solution in search of a largely non existent problem – or at the very least, a problem that is eminently manageable without the implementation of an $18 billion boondoggle.
Illegal border crossings are down to levels not seen since the 1970s and regarding the concern for drug trafficking, the majority of smuggling occurs at official U.S. Ports of Entry, not the Sonora desert.
If existing safeguards against national domestic security threats are important to you, let Trump know you aren’t going to allow him to degrade the safety of our citizens, just to erect a foolish and wasteful monument to his ego.