Acting Defense Secretary: DoD Will Recommend Border Security Improvements to CBP

By Susan Jones | February 25, 2019 | 10:56 AM EST

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives at the Pentagon for the first time in his official capacity, on January 2, 2019. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

( - Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters that his Saturday visit to the El Paso border sector was "very insightful." And he said the current border security system "doesn't work the way it should."

Shanahan said he learned that Border Patrol agents are doing a "very, very difficult job," and that the Defense Department "can really help." He also learned from El Paso Sector Chief Aaron Hull that "barriers work."

"He (Hull) implored me the importance of being able to put barriers in place where illicit activity, people and drugs can vanish, and he -- he defined it as seconds to minutes. Any place where someone can cross the border and disappear within seconds or minutes, that's where you need barriers."

Shanahan indicated that the Defense Department can help CBP with "monitoring and detection," which would free up Border Patrol agents to do more patrolling and apprehending.

"So number one is: how do we quickly address productivity or effectiveness of the border patrol? So, can I supplement skills, the monitoring and detection mission?"

Shanahan also asked, "How do we erect barriers more quickly?"

He said he wants to be sure the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't encounter roadblocks, red tape, or bureaucratic obstacles as they erect barriers in places where people can easily cross the border and disappear.

A reporter asked the acting defense secretary for clarification: "You're thinking about a two- to three-year commitment by DoD to perform some of these missions like the detection/monitoring mission?"

"The question that came up to the Chairman (Dunford) and I, when we were standing there is, how long do we provide this support? Because we've -- we've really been responding right now to supplement DHS so now it's just paused, you know, and how long will we be -- right now we're literally supporting them for a task they asked us to do. And this -- now you step back and ask the question, how long should we be performing that task?

"And in the context of that -- performing that task, should we do it differently? Is there a way for us to be more effective? But we'll be working on that, you know, this week and next week as we put together the response, you know. We need -- we need a plan. Now that we're in the execution mode of our process, what is it we're going -- we're going to do?"

Shanahan repeated that the U.S. military is "in a support role to the Department of Homeland Security, and we're going to bring them solutions and recommendations that are really rooted in addressing, you know, this illicit activity. What is the most effective way to help them do their job? OK. I think that's, you know -- the short answer is help them be more productive, effective in addressing all this flow of people and drugs."

Shanahan noted that border security is a priority of President Trump; and he also noted that previous presidents have sent troops to the border in a support role.

He said the current border security effort has "some real systemic flaws...the system doesn't work the way it should."

"There are procedural gaps. There are legal loopholes. There are technical approaches of doing things better. We -- there's a wholesale redesign that has to occur. I'm hoping that we'll bring -- because we operate at this scale at the Department of Defense. I hope that we can bring a kind of broader approach to solving some of these problems. In the end, it really needs to be about stopping the illegal trafficking."

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