April 28, 2010
San Antonio Express-News
by Gary Martin
WASHINGTON — An unarmed reconnaissance drone soon will fly over Texas as drug violence continues to escalate on the U.S.-Mexico border, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate hearing Tuesday.
Texas is the last border state to receive a Predator drone, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that has hurt the intelligence capabilities of federal, state and local law enforcement.
“I'm concerned that some of the assets that could be deployed to help not only quell the violence but also keep our borders secure, are not being deployed because of unnecessary foot-dragging,” Cornyn said.
Napolitano said Texas was the last Southwest border state to receive a drone because its “airspace is more crowded.”
She said the timeline for placing a drone in Texas, which tentatively would be stored in Corpus Christi, remains a decision for the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The FAA now has to go in and carve out, as I understand it, space for the Predator,” she said.
Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held an oversight hearing into programs under the Homeland Security Department.
The secretary said that over the past 15 months, federal law enforcement initiatives have made the border more secure than at any other time.
Operation Stonegarden, which provides federal aid for local law enforcement assistance, provided $90 million to states, counties and cities for police and investigative efforts. Of that, 85 percent of the funds went to the Southwest border.
She said the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled to 20,000 in just five years, and 653.3 miles of border fence have been built.
Still, she said, more is being done to help secure the border, through partnerships with the Mexican government, which remains engaged in a battle with narcotics cartels.
Napolitano called the death of a Douglas, Ariz., rancher and the killing of people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez tragedies “that serve to remind us of how drug violence can directly affect Americans and our nation's interests.”
More than 23,000 people have died in Mexico because of the drug war since 2006, Cornyn said.
In Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, some 700 people have died in shootouts and drug-related violence this year.
Cornyn urged Napolitano to implement radar, sensors and other military hardware, currently used by the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan, to bolster U.S. efforts at the border.
He also wants a drone deployed in Texas as soon as possible.
Congress has approved $55 million since 2006 for Customs and Border Protection to test and deploy Predator drones. There are five in operation.
The drones have the capability to fly at altitudes used by commercial aircraft.
A recent analysis of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles found they were twice as likely to crash as manned aircraft, according to the Congressional Research Service.