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Homeland Security launches border control project

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TUCSON, Ariz. - Homeland Security announced a border control project just five days after Tohono O'odham gathered at Indigenous Peoples Day in Phoenix and exposed the abuse of U.S. Border Patrol agents working with Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Special Agent Thomas DeRouchey, Cheyenne River Sioux, who was driving to the Homeland Security press conference in Tucson March 16, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head.

DeRouchey was involved in dismantling violent criminal operations involved with immigrant smuggling. The Homeland Security press conference proceeded with no mention of his death.

Speaking at Indigenous Peoples Day on March 11, Tohono O'odham said U.S. Border Patrol agents working with Homeland Security occupied their sacred Baboquivari Mountain while they were at the United Nations in New York pressing for protection of the sacred site.

Ernest Moristo and Dennis Manuel, Tohono O'odham, said their people have just learned that spy planes would be photographing their every move with aerial photography.

Homeland Security announced its Border Control Initiative in Tucson on March 16. Homeland Security made public the fact that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be used to increase border surveillance of southern Arizona, including Tohono O'odham tribal land. Homeland Security said additional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft would also be deployed in the area.

The Homeland Security press conference was held shortly after DeRouchey was found dead of a gunshot wound on Interstate 10 approaching Tucson.

DeRouchey, 45, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix, was on his way to the press conference at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. DeRouchey's career in federal law enforcement began in 1988 when he joined the U.S. Border Patrol Los Angeles.

In June, he was placed in charge of the Phoenix office of Immigration and Customs (ICE) and oversaw Operation ICE Storm in central and northern Arizona. Homeland Security created ICE after Sept. 11 to dismantle criminal smuggling organizations and to stem violence related to immigrant smuggling.

DeRouchey was interviewed by CNN on March 4 concerning violent shootouts on Interstate 10, which runs between Tucson, Phoenix and Los Angeles; violence which was the result of human trafficking and immigration smuggling.

ICE Spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the circumstances surrounding DeRouchey's death are under investigation.

The Marana Police Department, however, ruled his death a suicide. Marana Police Spokesman Sgt. Tim Bruenkant said witnesses reported DeRouchey's government-issued Chrysler Concord swerve out of control about 8:35 a.m. and slam into a median guardrail on Interstate 10 near Tangerine Road in Marana. A gun was found in the car.

In the 1970s, former CIA agents exposed aircraft operations in Marana, northwest of Tucson, as a center for the CIA's covert operations in foreign countries.

American Indian activist Fred Walking Badger was murdered in 1994, after protesting aerial crop spraying over Gila River tribal land. Walking Badger's protests drew attention to the air missions and landing fields in the Marana area.

Walking Badger, 42, and his friend Aaron Rivers, 26, disappeared on Gila River tribal land after preparing for a traditional sweat May 21, 1994. Their car was found burned. More than five years later, the remains of Walking Badger were found buried in the desert near Sacaton. Rivers is presumed dead. Walking Badger, Akimel O'otham/Zuni Pueblo, was the father of four.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security officials gathered with federal and state officials and proceeded with the press conference in Tucson March 16, with no mention of DeRouchey's death, to celebrate the success of Operation ICE Storm and launch the Border Control Initiative.

Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, unveiled the Arizona Border Control (ABC) Initiative. Congressman Jim Kolbe, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton and federal, state and local law enforcement officials and a delegation from the Government of Mexico attended the press conference.

However, Tohono O'odham tribal members in Arizona and Mexico said Homeland Security is seeking to control Tohono O'odham under the guise of the war on drugs, terrorism and undocumented border crossers.

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Tohono O'odham Jose Garcia said, in an interview, that it is the same tactic used in southern Mexico to invade, control and spy on indigenous peoples struggling for human rights and justice, under the guise of the war on drugs.

Homeland Security, however, claims the Border Control Initiative is a new effort to secure a safer and more secure Southwest border.

Homeland Security's Border Control Initiative involves law enforcement officers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, Department of the Interior, the Tohono O'odham Nation, the United States' Attorney Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Referred to as spy planes by Tohono O'odham tribal members, they said the aircraft surveillance violates their right to privacy and are an act of intimidation.

Homeland Security said the data-gathering aircraft are aimed at catching migrant smugglers. The Border Control project will use the two Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles, which cost about $2 million apiece.

However, the unmanned aircraft have an extremely high accident rate. Congress released a report revealing that the accident rate is 100 times higher than manned aircraft.

Tohono O'odham said their safety is already endangered by the high incidents of U.S. military crashes on tribal land, the result of military maneuvers and patrols.

Homeland Security said the use of the aircraft would enhance the capabilities of the more than 200 additionally deployed Border Patrol agents. The new agents bring the Tucson Sector to more than 2,000.

Further, Hutchinson said it would "break the cycle of death to migrants in these dangerous terrains where smugglers value profits more than human life."

The Border Control Initiative will cost in excess of $10 million this year. It follows Operation ICE Storm, where DeRouchey was assigned. Homeland Security described ICE Storm as an effort to prosecute human smugglers and dismantle smuggling organizations, with a focus in Arizona.

Tohono O'odham, however, say politics and profits have created a focus on Arizona, while the international borders of California and New Mexico and the lengthy stretch of border in Texas receive little attention.

In related stories, Homeland Security has become big business.

The venture capital management firm The Challenge Fund-Etgar is launching a new venture capital fund, specializing in investing in Homeland Security companies. The company plans to raise $100 million for the new fund.

Critics of Homeland Security said its projects and initiatives are vendor-driven, aimed at enriching corporations and violate rights to privacy.

Homeland Security and private industry are proposing cyber security guidelines, following the National Cybersecurity Summit last year. The Awareness for Home Users and Small Businesses task force plans to create early warning systems, secure software and bolster security in corporate governance.

Those involved are Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp., RSA Security Inc., Internet Security Systems Inc., government officials and security experts.

Industry watchdogs question the task force, including rights to privacy and whether the effort is aimed at padding industry pocketbooks.

Alan Paller, research director at The SANS Institute in Bethesda, Md. said, "Private industry isn't doing its part to fix the problems we have with software and processes. It's like telling drivers to drive safely and not fixing the bumpers and the seat belts."