Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Transforming Border Security: Prevention First

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Transforming Border Security: Prevention First

Article excerpt

Long before September 11, 2001 strategists recognized that prevention was a priority among concepts of national security. Military strategy had generally accepted "forward deployment" of assets and influence as core tactics to deter opponents from taking aggressive actions and quickly interrupting them once they began. Law enforcement strategy has developed more slowly in adopting a preventive approach. Still, at least by the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the presidential directives of both Republican and Democratic administrations had ordered law enforcement agencies to deploy resources abroad to intercept and disrupt threats as far from the U.S. border as feasible. Under those directives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), among other domestic law enforcement agencies, initiated overseas operations and deployments.

The events of 9/11 pushed prevention to new prominence in both military and civilian law enforcement strategies. Forward deployment became active preemption, including regime change, as military forces landed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Domestically, Congress rushed to create The USA PATRIOT Act, granting law enforcement authorities greater investigative powers to search and pre-empt a terrorist attack from within the United States. 1 The Bush Administration revised its national security and counterterrorism strategies explicitly to elevate prevention to the Nation's first priority. 2

Despite the significance that Congress and the president attached to the concept, however, prevention remains one of the least understood dimensions of the Nation's new security strategy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Nation's efforts to transform its approach to border security. Within two months of 9/11, the president issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive #2 (HSPD-2) seeking to strengthen and shift border security strategies. The president returned to the topic of border security in at least three subsequent Presidential Directives. Yet, the role of prevention in border security strategies remains elusive.

The purpose of this article is to examine several of the primary border security reforms taken since 9/11 to understand and gauge progress toward making prevention the top priority. Not surprisingly, the violation of border controls that made the 9/11 attacks possible caused the nation's leaders to accelerate existing border program reforms. The Presidential Directives served to a large extent to wrench current border projects that had stalled amidst the nation's polarization over immigration policies from previous bureaucratic and political entanglements. Still, few of these rescued border initiatives satisfied the compelling requirements that making prevention a national priority demanded.

The Challenge

Post-9/11 border security strategies suffer from a familiar policy tale. In recovering from a crisis, institutions try to correct mistakes that led to the earlier events, only to ignore the potential for future, somewhat different ones. With the exception of a few illustrative initiatives, recent border security policies have attempted to accelerate and fully implement programs designed before 9/11. Valuable in their own terms, when complete the projects may well help to solve problems with international travel, visa and immigration policy, and crossborder commerce. The question is whether they address the new risks and threats of the post-9/11 age of terror.

Given the nature of the 9/11 attack, and the weaknesses of border security that it exploited, moving first to close the obvious gaps in border security was entirely understandable. These early steps, however, reinforced an earlier reactive orientation in border security policies and competed against proposals for more prevention-oriented reforms. For example, HSPD-2, released on October 29, 2001, aimed at changing immigration policies by creating a capacity to deny entry, detain, prosecute and deport aliens associated with or suspected of engaging in terrorist activity. …

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