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Managing Outbound Control on the U.S. & Mexican Border

The illegal exportation of weapons, ammo, technology and people from the U.S. is discussed in this interview with John Woods, Assistant Director at U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement. We also examine the limited controls in place and how it limits effectiveness. He also investigates the infrastructure in place for inbound peoples and goods and how outbound exports are managed without them.

What new technology and surveillance equipment developed for overseas conflict can be used to enforce border security at home? (ex., the automated tracking device initially meant to find roadside bombs), which can now be used to track down illegal border crossers?

We in investigations at Border Security use a tracking device initially meant for roadside bombs to identify illegal border crosses. It’s good for organizations like CBP in identifying and securing the border that way.

We in HSI look at the border a little differently. We look at it as an investigation. We look at the vulnerabilities at the border and establish and identify those transnational criminal organizations that use the border as a way to illicitly move their goods.

That being said, we look at technology such as the control of Big Data and how we can utilize it. Looking at declarations and inventories of things that are believed to be in the country and being able to look for anomalies in that would identify either packages or freight or some sort of trend that would identify illicit movement of goods or strategic technologies, so that we can identify those people and then target them for investigation or for outbound inspection. We look at the equipment or new technology a little differently. We look at more the examining of the Big Data.

Could you provide an example in which this was successful?

Take for example using, combining and putting in data from multiple databases into one analytical support program and then using and dumping algorithms that would look for the anomalies that we would identify for targeting. Another example would be identifying several packages that were being shipped under a false company out of Miami going to South America. We determined that they carried weapons in them and were able to stop the flow of the weapons through this process.

Because with the volume of commerce that goes in and out of the United States, we don’t have the resources to open every container and express package. So you have to be able to find out which ones that you want to target and then target them successfully.

Jumping ahead a little bit, what would be the weakest link currently in outbound control, since that’s your expertise, in the US?

Right now the problem in outbound control is mostly with the people at the land border. We recently went into an agreement with Canada at the land border where we have their entry system as our exit system. So as they identify people and bring them into Canada, we share that data with them so we can identify that the individual has left the United States. Unfortunately, the Mexican border control is not set up in a similar fashion to Canada or ourselves, so it’s not logical that we can use that land border data as an exit system.

So it’s very difficult right now, and the weakest link is probably trying to identify people that leave the United States so we can determine that they’ve left on time, and we’re not looking for people that maybe have overstayed their visa but have left at the land border of Mexico.

Is there a way that you could use the relationship that you have in Canada, in Mexico? Is that something that you’re looking at?

Yeah, unfortunately not because of the way the Mexican immigration is set up. Their checkpoints are further inland than in Canada, so the reliability of the data they collect wouldn’t be good. So they would have to build an infrastructure that would cost them lots and lots of money, to establish the same way we have an infrastructure at its ports of entry.

That being said, we do look at other technologies like license plate readers. The CBP is developing technologies that can be used at both the airport environment and the land border environment to identify people who leave the United States.

Border security, especially in Mexico, is a politically hot-button issue. So how have you been able to navigate the politics of what you do? Or is that not something that you face day-to-day?

Well it’s something that I would face day-to-day, because I’m here in Washington. So I have political ramifications of issues. You know, I have to go before congress and discuss the issues. And you’re right; it is a hot-button issue.

I’ve been in this game for 27 years, and it’s been a very political issue for all 27 years. I came in when they first established the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and they were going to stop the flow of illegal aliens into the country by getting rid of the magnet, which was employment. We were going to have employers verify people. Has that stopped the flow? No. Have other enactments such as terrorism acts, stopped the flow of aliens? No. Because the magnet is still here, this is still the best country in the world, and a lot of people want to come here and live here and make their lives better.

That being said, we did take an oath to enforce the laws, and one of the laws is that you should not come here illegally. So it’s based on the border patrol and our investigative abilities. That’s where our best bang for our buck is; to go after the smuggling organizations that facilitate the illegal alien entries and stop the flow that way. We use various technologies such as a metal chain-link fence or an electronic fence that has sensors in the ground to identify those illegal crosses and better use our resources to apprehend them and stop them from entering the United States.

So what is the biggest threat to U.S.? Is it economic or loss of intellectual property by the illegal exportation of our technology?

That, to me, is a big threat. I mean, I oversee the export enforcement role here in HSI, and I feel that our strategic technologies either being a.), stolen, or b.), just purchased and illegally exported without license, is a very huge threat to our national security.

We have advanced technologies that make us a great nation, that protect us from our enemies, and by allowing any of those materials to fall into enemy hands defeats our ability to have the upper hand. So we need to protect and ensure that those technologies that are licensable and eligible for export only go to the right hands, which would be our friends and people that we want to trade with. We want to make sure that those items also fall in the right hands and are not used against us. So it is a huge threat.

This article was originally published on

Blurred Lines: How Mexican Drug Cartels Breach Our Physical and Cyber Borders

Border Security Agents perusing the U.S./Mexican border.
Border Security Agents perusing the U.S./Mexican border.

Mexican drug cartels are creative. They’re creative with laundering their money across our physical borders and they’re creative with money laundering in cyber currency. Sylvia Longmire is a former Intelligence Analyst and USAF Special Agent. She is also the owner of Longmire Consulting and has extensive experience dealing with cartels and their money laundering.

Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your professional background?

I started my career in the U.S. Air Force, as an active duty officer and special agent and I did a lot of work in counter intelligence, counter terrorism and counter espionage. Toward the end of my eight years in the Air Force, I did some analysis on narcoterrorism groups in Columbia, Peru and Latin America and Peru, and others.

I was medically retired in 2005. But, my husband is in the military, so we ended up in Northern California and I worked for the State of California’s Office of Homeland Security at the state’s fusion center for four years as a senior border security analyst. Until 2009 I was focused almost exclusively on the cartels, on drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and human smuggling, etc. In 2009, we had to move and I started my consulting business, I started freelance writing and now I’m a contributing editor for Homeland Security Today Magazine; I’m the author of two published books Border Insecurity, among other publications. I do a lot of training for police in the realm of the cartels and border violence.

What are some of the creative methods used by Mexican drug cartels to launder their money through US-based banks and businesses? Have you come across any “Breaking Bad”-esque moments that were particularly sophisticated?

The great thing about the cartels, there’s not much that’s great about them, but it kind of makes you laugh at some of the techniques that they use, not just for money laundering, but for moving drugs across the border. That’s one of the reasons why drug cartels are so successful and have managed to stay one step ahead of us. We’re always kind of playing a game of catch up.

An example of money laundering is Jose Trevino Morales, who is the brother of the former head of the very violent Los Santos cartel in Mexico. For years he was running a very lucrative money laundering operation out of Dallas, Texas, and Oklahoma in the horse racing business. Where they were basically buying and selling horses and racing them at this track and making a lot of money through the winnings and breeding these horses in a ranch in Oklahoma. They would buy the horses for a relatively small amount of money and then they would sell them for a really large amount of money and they would launder the money that way and through the winnings. It took a long time for the authorities to bust up that laundering ring.

They’ve also recently gotten involved in the mining business. Most people know that Mexico is well known for its petroleum exports and also for its tourism industry, but mining is one of the largest industries in Mexico as far as exports. Now the cartels have gotten into that, particularly with iron ore. The La Familia and Knights Templar cartel are involved in selling iron ore directly to some Chinese organizations. They get involved with extracting these minerals, sometimes legally, but there are a lot of mines that are not legally operated, which is lucrative for them because they don’t have to worry about the permits or anything like that. But, it’s dangerous for the people working there.

So, they will extract these minerals or they will go to legal mining operations and pressure, threaten or extort the people who are running these mines. They will go and they will sell, they will invest, in these mining operations, ship the minerals across the world, and then when they sell the minerals. That’s when they launder their money because that exchange looks legal on papers. So those are just some of the examples and there are quite a bit more.

Cyber currency and money laundering have forced traditional border security forces to be on their toes. Have border security officials become more flexible? Are they equipped to deal with the fluidity of these criminal organizations?

Cyber currency has been on the radar for at least a few years now. The average American probably has not heard of bitcoin or some of these cyber currencies that are out there because they really only got their start relatively recently, but the Treasury Department and law enforcement agencies have become attuned to the fact that terrorists groups and drug trafficking organizations are now taking a look at these kinds of cyber currencies in these markets as a viable way to transfer money from one place to another.

Recently I was asking the Deputy Director of ICE if they have looked into cyber currency and how aware are they of what’s going on. They know what’s going on, they’re taking a look at it and they have active investigations into the cartels using cyber currency. Still, it’s really hard to detect because its so anonymous and it does take a certain degree of technical skill to get into what we call the dark web because you have to use a certain part of the internet that is not accessible to just everybody.

It’s a little like the stock market; it doesn’t have a set value so it’s very volatile, which can make it a little riskier for cartels to transfer money and use it to launder money. As far as how popular it is or how thoroughly it’s being used by cartels, it’s not an absolutely enormous trend right now, but it’s enough of a move towards using cyber currency that U.S. law enforcement agencies like ICE and the Treasury Department are taking a look at it and seeing where it goes in the coming years.

This interview was orginially published on IDGA.

Joining Networks: Joint and Coalition Tactics in Cyber Warfare

Lt. Col. Patrick King talks Mission Command.
Lt. Col. Patrick King talks Mission Command.

In this interview, Lt. Col. Patrick King, Assistant Director of Operations, Electronic Warfare, United States Air Force shares his tips for achieving necessary cyber defense tactics between joint and coalition networks as well as his best practices for establishing the security of a tactical network.

You were awarded the “Best in the Air Force” for “Info Operations Team of the Year” and “Electronic Warfare Team of the Year” in 2012. Could you shed some light into how your aviation and cyber warfare experience has equipped you with the skills to meet new challenges and exceed goals?

As the Air Force’s Information Operations Team Chief, in South Korea, my team was located within the Strategy Division of the 607th Air Operations Center. My responsibilities included managing the Electronic Warfare Cell, Influence Cell—or psychological warfare as it used to be called – and the Cyberspace Warfare Cell. Those three cells were responsible to not only getting our U.S. and Alliance messages disseminated out to the battle space during exercises, but also the planning effort against any adversary aggression on the peninsula. We were charged with attempting to influence—directly effect—enemy communications so that the adversary’s leadership could not hear, see or talk.

The aviation experience I have from flying the electronic attack (EA) COMPASS CALL aircraft really helped solidify my approach to Information Ops warfare; the EC-130 COMPASS CALL aircraft specializes in denying the enemy the ability to communicate, particularly in the Command & Control (C2) realm; i.e., leadership’s ability to talk with their forces and frontline troops’ ability to do their jobs.

Therefore, my background and understanding of the importance information, or lack of information getting to enemy forces and their leaders in this case, helped my team focus on the critical nodes of our potential adversaries’ modes of communication or ability to get information. We were able to shape cyber targeting in the Korean theater and played a pivotal role in the contingency planning in case of North Korean aggression towards the Republic of Korea.

What I felt made our team stand-out was the ability to use the latest nodal cyber analysis tools to vastly improve support to our U.S. and Alliance participants during exercises and military planning. For the first time we incorporated U.S. Cyber Command into our planning and exercise support, which drastically improved our ability to synchronize our information operations support to planning kinetic and non-kinetic strike packages. This new emphasis on cyber planning, using the most state-of-art capabilities available, as well as having U.S. Cyber Command’s involvement and expertise really allowed our efforts to meet new challenges and exceeded goals that many didn’t believe we’d be able to do—particularly in such a short period of time.

Could you share your daily duties as a crisis leader and on-site program manager of operations, projects and programs?

My daily duties include managing the flight operations of our EC-130H COMPASS CALL aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. This involves the wide-ranging program management of aircraft system upgrades and daily aircrew training of 157 flyers. The crisis manager duties I perform incorporate the emphasis on safe flight operations and handling of any in-flight emergencies of aircraft I’m flying or helping other aircrews aboard the COMPASS CALL that are currently up in the air flying, to recover safely with malfunctions.

Probably the biggest crisis management I perform is giving support to our EC-130H aircrews and maintenance personnel deployed down range in Afghanistan, supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Our electronic combat group of COMPASS CALL aircraft has been continuously deployed to Afghanistan for more than 10 years. Thus, we’re constantly rotating new flight crews and aircraft into that theater of operations to support the on-going commitment and flights. Our efforts there are vital to supporting and providing electronic warfare (EW) to U.S. and Coalition air, ground, naval and special operations forces.

Since cyber defense is a team effort, what are some of your tips for achieving tactical networking between joint and coalition networks?

Well, you’re 100% correct that cyber defense is a team effort. Everyone must work diligently to ensure safe COMSEC (communications security) practices while continuing to upgrade and install the latest computer protections for networks and systems. Our ability to network with our sister-services, particularly coordinate and information-share, has drastically improved in the past three to four years. We’re much more equipped to be able to email and communicate with others in a secure environment. I’d say that we still have some hurdles to cross in order to make networking with our coalition partners’ on-par with the communications we have with our sister-services. Part of that problem resides in the difficulty of getting the systems our coalition partners use to talk to our systems. But again, some strides have been made here too.

Additionally, I believe that in order to have good cyber defense it’s important to have an effective cyber offensive capability; therefore, any intrusions or alerts can be handled in a timely manner and mitigate risks and exposure. But the bottom line is that cyber defense takes everyone’s effort; good cyber defense and practices must be emphasized and understood that it’s imperative to being able to continue to do our jobs if the balloon goes up (hostilities). Lastly, it must continue to be stressed that a large part of cyber defense rests with keeping upgrades, or patches, up-to-date and monitored.

The public and private sectors both struggle with insecure web environments. What are your best practices for establishing the security of a tactical network?

The same struggles the public and private sectors have in securing websites, or emails, and even on-line operations (especially Wi-Fi) we have too in the tactical spectrum. Again, proper COMSEC and protocol on computers is the best security. Make sure your computer systems filter spam. Maximize encryption. Don’t trust unsolicited email. Be leery of every mail and attachment. Install antivirus software and make sure it’s kept up-to-date. Also, install a personal firewall and make sure that’s up-to-date, too. The same phishing and social engineering techniques that pose a serious concern to the public and private sectors—pose the same risks to our networks from malware and identity theft.

The younger generation is very good at not answering phone calls from people (and parents!) they do not know or recognize. Kids, for the most part it seems to me, let those calls go to voicemail. However, our society (especially kids) is very quick—perhaps too quick—to jump on text and email messages.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to make a moment and check whom the message (especially email) is from, before opening it. The same goes for attachments and links within emails. If a friend has emailed a joke as an attachment and they’ve included all their friends on the email, your computer is more at risk to malware or a Trojan horse virus.

It comes down to being vigilant and taking the time to look at the risk factors associated with the web environment you’re operating in. VPNs provide a better level of security. Smartphone security has not kept pace with traditional computer security on measures such as antivirus, encryption and firewalls. Smartphones are getting better, though, with features now such as the ability to wipe the device clean remotely, or delete known malicious applications remotely, and inclusion of authentication features now, such as device access passwords.

What does the future of Mission Command look like to you?

The Mission Command future looks very bright and will only continue to grow in importance as our society (and the world) increase dependence on technology. The use of technology in our lives–and our reliance on technology–is only going to get bigger and bigger. With that reliance is societies’ dependence on networks, computers to function, and thus, maintain order. Our banking and infrastructure are big targets. We have to make sure it’s protected. Intelligence protection—safeguarding personal information, business secrets, banking accounts, etc., is paramount. Leaders must continue to devise, plan and execute strategy that protects the networks as our technology gets more sophisticated. Mission Command’s ability to focus and network amongst intelligence, technology and strategy experts is key to ensuring that our civilian infrastructure and military power will be able to defend against, and defeat, any cyberspace attacks in the future.

This interview was orginially published on IDGA.