Tester pushes for use of military-grade radar to combat illegal northern border crossings

Senator leads bipartisan fight for smarter tool against drug smuggling, terrorist threats

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is leading an effort in the U.S. Senate to get federal law enforcement agents to use military-grade radar in the fight against illegal drug smuggling over the northern border.

Tester is pushing the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Defense to expand a pilot project which found that the use of small airplanes in cross-border drug smuggling is more widespread than previously thought.

“An investigation that I asked for revealed that Customs and Border Protection has control over just one percent of the northern border,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  “That’s not acceptable.  We need to use every effective and affordable tool to do better.  Folks on the ground in Montana understand the need bolster border security, to keep our communities safe from illegal drugs, illegal immigration and terrorism.”

Operation Outlook, a pilot project in the Border Patrol’s Spokane Sector—which includes western Montana—from 2005 to 2008, found advanced radar technology to be particularly effective at detecting and combating the use of small planes illegally crossing the border. 

Tester noted that the Montana National Guard has participated in similar operations in the past, and remains equipped to carry out such operations in the future.

Tester also pushed for the inclusion of radar in the comprehensive northern border drug-fighting plan currently being developed by federal law enforcement officials.

Tester is a longtime advocate for strengthening border security.  An investigation requested by Tester last year detailed strengths and weaknesses in security along the northern border.

Tester’s bipartisan letter to the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense appears below.


February 10, 2011

The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

The Honorable Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Gates,

As Senators from border states, we write today to ask your agencies to further cooperate in combating the increased rate of drug smuggling across our northern border by deploying any and all available military radar technology to uncover and combat the smuggling of drugs by low-flying aircraft.

According to a recent report by Hearst Newspapers, incidents of drug smuggling along our northern border are increasing, and current efforts to combat smugglers are simply inadequate to address this growing problem.  Specifically, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in November 2010 that “cross-border use of low-flying aircraft to smuggle drugs has been much higher than indicated by the number of drug seizures.”

Fortunately, a proven solution exists and can immediately be deployed along the northern border to combat drug smuggling from low-flying aircraft.   In previous years, DHS and DOD have cooperated—as part of Operation Outlook—to use sophisticated military radar technology along the Spokane sector of our northern border to catch low-flying aircraft that would otherwise not have been caught with the current technology used by DHS.  According to the Border Patrol, Operation Outlook “successfully identified air-related smuggling trends and patterns and organizations active in cross border criminal activities” along the Spokane sector. 

Operation Outlook, however, was only a temporary program deployed in just one sector of our northern border.   Given what is at stake in combating illegal cross-border activity, and given its past success, I write to ask your agencies to coordinate in determining whether there are any available military technological assets anywhere around the world that can be more effectively deployed along our northern border to combat drug smuggling—as was successfully done during Operation Outlook.  

Additionally, we ask that you work with the Office of National Drug Control Policy to include these radar technologies in their comprehensive plan to combat narcotics smuggling along the northern border.  The recently passed Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act requires ONDCP to develop such a plan.  

If there is any assistance you need from Congress in this regard, we stand ready to help with any legislation necessary to further this objective.   We thank you for your attention to this important matter, and look forward to working with you to assist you in your mission of protecting America.