Tag Archives: privatization

Blackwater leaves Potrero Plans in Dust, but Blackwaterization to Continue

The San Diego Union Tribune reports today that Blackwater has decided to pull its plans to set up a base camp in Potrero, near San Diego. News that Blackwater may not set up shop on this former chicken camp, does not mean Blackwater is not coming to the border. All it means is that Blackwater didn’t expect all the negative publicity and local resistance that awaited it in Potrero. Next time beware a much more clandestine operation.

Nothing has changed about Blackwater’s plan to expand its private security forces in the US. And nothing has changed about its plans to bring its private “war on terror” home to the U.S., and intertwine it with immigration control, five years after Paul Wolfowitz first positioned the “home-front” as the first defense against terrorism.

It still makes sense that the private war that followed the troops to Iraq is now establishing a paramilitary infrastructure on domestic turf. Author Jeremy Scahill notes that Blackwater is “looking for a lucrative domestic opportunity,” and San Diego Congressman Bob Filner’s recent comment to the Salon article that Blackwater is positioning itself to move into the border security business, remains on point. Keep in mind Jeremy Scahill found that Blackwater made an application in early 2005 “to serve as a force to deal with immigration and border security.”

Blackwater remains symbolic of a much larger immigration industrial complex, privatizing decades of border militarization and low intensity conflict that as author Tim Dunn has documented, has been waged against border crossers and residents since the 1970s. I would also contend that Blackwater remains part of a post-9/11 neo-liberal regime that is designed to re-territorialize and privatize the war on terror on the domestic front. The immigration industrial complex, with Blackwater quickly taking the lead, figures prominently in what Naomi Klein refers to as neo-liberal shock therapy, which is undemocratic to its core.

Accenture Distorts Reality about Real ID (revised)

In today’s Baltimore Sun (2/14/08), two letters to the editor appear which challenge my Sun column of 2/7/08, “Making Real ID Real.” Hey, I’m glad to see folks reading the column and I enjoy a lively debate But, the letters make misleading claims about an important issue dealing with immigrants and immigration control, so I respond below.

RE: the first letter, Accenture’s PR machine whipped off a quick letter to the editor to suggest my column was “factually inaccurate.” The pr machine’s response manipulates what the column says and is misleading (surprise!).

Here’s everything I wrote about Accenture…

“It is interesting to note who profits from the hype surrounding programs such as Real ID. Security management companies whose lobbyists are former Department of Homeland Security officials have a clear upper hand when it comes to getting contracts and lobbying the government for more outsourcing opportunities.

Such security management leaders as Accenture Ltd., Digimarc Corp., KPMG’s BearingPoint and Unisys have profited from the increasing “securitization” of immigration control and driver’s licenses. In 2004, Accenture received a $10 billion DHS contract for the US-VISIT program, a border control system, and the company is a leading contender for Real ID contracts to privatize state motor vehicle departments.

Accenture and the others have also profited from the “virtual fence” that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross. And according to Washington Technology, these companies “are tracking opportunities in state motor vehicle IT system upgrades worth about $500 million to $700 million in the next two years.”

This is the Accenture response,

“In his column “Making ‘Real ID’ real” (Opinion • Commentary, Feb. 7), Robert Koulish makes a reference to Accenture that merits correcting.
Mr. Koulish’s claim that “Accenture and the others have also profited from the ‘virtual fence’ that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross” is factually inaccurate.
Accenture has never been involved with any government program that tracks visitors after they enter the country.
However, by establishing minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, governments can help reduce counterfeiting and fraud.
This can help make driver’s licenses a more secure and trusted identity credential – an outcome that will benefit all Maryland and U.S. citizens.
Peter Soh Reston, Va. The writer is director of media relations for Accenture.”

Three important points here:

First point: According to Soh, “Mr. Koulish’s claim that Accenture and the others have also profited from the ‘virtual fence’ that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross” is factually inaccurate.”

So, do they profit? Yes. Big Time. Accenture has had banner years since contracting with DHS. They reported revenues of $19.7 billion in 2007, and according to Wikipedia, “is one of the largest computer services and software companies on the Fortune Global 500 list.”

Second, does the virtual fence socially control US border crossers long after they cross? Yes, conceptually and when operationing. Accenture is integral to the virtual fence, US-Visit and Real ID. These are integrated programs that are intended to be part of a more comprehensive immigration control industrial complex that socially control immigrants and citizens inside this country.

Third, is Accenture involved with any government program that tracks visitors after they enter the country?
Perhaps we can wordsmith over what Accenture is saying here, but I take it to mean that US-VISIT, the virtual fence and Real ID, all of which involves Accenture does not track visitors (tourists? temporary workers? students?), and this is flat out wrong. The linkages among these to-be integrated programs won’t function without tracking capabilities.

Given Accenture’s role, its efforts to deny that it is involved in tracking people are manipulative and misleading. Hey look at it this way. Accenture has everything to do with tracking. I just googled the words ‘accenture’ and ‘tracking’ and came up with 414,000 hits. Seems silly to deny their role.

Any validity at all to Accenture’s response? Only if accenture were to concede their own failure to implement US VISIT (see GAO Rpt 06-318T). Perhaps they have some work to do to be effective trackers and social controllers of immigrants and citizens, but their DHS contracts demand a good faith effort.

Consider that the virtual fence proposes to monitor people as they enter and as they exit. The point is to get to people who fail to exit (visa overstays), to find them, apprehend them and remove or fine them.

Next, Real ID will play an integral role in the virtual fence concept. It will create a national database that registers the immigration status and other personal info of every individual who applies for a drivers’ license. Given DHS Secry. Chertoff, has stated that this information will go to federal immigration authorities, it doesnt take much to assume the data Accenture will gather and control, will be enlisted in efforts to “socially control() U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross”

Also consider that Accenture has also been a leading advocate of the use of RFIDS, which by design, tracks and monitors people and products. In the commrcial sector, it does this to help advertisers keep close tabs on the likes and dislikes of consumers. When RFID technology is used to further public policy objectives, like working with the DHS and ICE, the result is the tracking and social control of people in this country. let me know if you can think of any other purpose?

Next, is a letter from Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License.

Zimmer says, “In his column “Making ‘Real ID’ real” (Opinion • Commentary, Feb. 7), Robert Koulish ignores the increased personal privacy protections incorporated in the Real ID regulations recently issued by the federal government.”

I believe Zimmer doesn’t take into account existing accounts of these new references to privacy. If he did, he would agree they are superficial and inadequate.

According to Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, of the final regs., “But the close, issue-by-issue analysis of the regulations we carried out for this scorecard reveals that Real ID’s problems remain unresolved.”

And,

Sophia Cope, staff attorney from the Center for American Progress, similarly says that the final regulations, “fail() to acknowledge that the REAL ID Act seriously threatens privacy and civil liberties on a national scale.”

“If run by a private organization, as is the current commercial driver’s license database, federal privacy and security laws may not apply, nor would the much-touted, though still weak, Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which only regulates how state motor vehicle departments disclose personal data to government agencies and commercial entities.”
Cope continues, “Thus no robust legal framework exists to protect the personal information that would be held in the centralized ID system envisioned by DHS from misuse by government and business. Allegedly, the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies already regularly access the privately managed commercial driver’s license database with virtually no oversight.”

So in closing here, a close analysis of the final regulations and a broader understanding of Real ID make a compelling case that privacy concerns remain a big worry for Real ID.

Making ‘Real ID’ real

by Robert Koulish
Februry 7, 2008

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s decision to cooperate with the Bush administration on Real ID is a mistake.

The decision turns clerks at Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration into immigration officers, forcing them to ask prospective drivers about their immigration status and then assess the validity of documents – a troublesome chore even for well-trained immigration officers.

Moreover, Real ID will push illegal immigrants further into the shadows, where they will be deterred from reporting crimes to police or using emergency rooms. Because those who drive will not have a license or liability insurance, the risk for all drivers will likely increase.

Although anyone who fails to carry a Real ID will find it difficult to function in society, most “suspects” under the program will be nonwhite. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, “There would be intense scrutiny of and discrimination against individuals who chose not to carry the national identification card and those who ‘look foreign.'”

Although the Bush administration labels opponents of Real ID as anti-security, the program likely will lessen security by making databases of personal information accessible to third parties and vulnerable to data theft. Further, the underfunded federal mandate of Real ID will force Maryland to divert millions of dollars from the state’s starved homeland security budget, diminishing homeland security preparedness.

It is interesting to note who profits from the hype surrounding programs such as Real ID. Security management companies whose lobbyists are former Department of Homeland Security officials have a clear upper hand when it comes to getting contracts and lobbying the government for more outsourcing opportunities.

Such security management leaders as Accenture Ltd., Digimarc Corp., KPMG’s BearingPoint and Unisys have profited from the increasing “securitization” of immigration control and driver’s licenses. In 2004, Accenture received a $10 billion DHS contract for the US-VISIT program, a border control system, and the company is a leading contender for Real ID contracts to privatize state motor vehicle departments.

Accenture and the others have also profited from the “virtual fence” that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross. And according to Washington Technology, these companies “are tracking opportunities in state motor vehicle IT system upgrades worth about $500 million to $700 million in the next two years.”

For each program, these companies would scan passports and visas into a massive database of information, which the Center for Digital Democracy reports would consist of Social Security numbers, phone numbers, residence addresses and even medical histories – all without privacy protections. The security management industry is not responsible for lost or inaccurate data, or information that ends up in the hands of unsavory third parties. It is not bound by the dictates of the Freedom of Information Act, and nothing in the law prevents it or the MVA from sharing personal data with other government agencies, private employers or insurance companies.

Further, Real ID reduces judicial authority to review important immigration-removal decisions. This unaccountable mess also violates the spirit of the Privacy Act of 1974, which requires that individuals must have control over their personal information. Regrettably, DHS’ final regulations for Real ID, issued Jan. 11, fail to make the Privacy Act binding on this program.

Once again, illegal immigrants are the scapegoats. They have been driven off the road this time to advance a neoliberal political agenda bent on hollowing out government services and advancing Orwellian strategies of surveillance and control by private means and without judicial scrutiny.

Mr. O’Malley’s progressive vision for the state on other matters will be severely compromised by this wrongheaded decision about Real ID.

Robert Koulish, a political scientist and France-Merrick professor of service learning at Goucher College, writes often about immigration. His e-mail is rkoulish@goucher.edu, and his blog is https://koulflo.wordpress.com.
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

A Corporate Takeover of American Borders

by Robert Koulish
first appeared in baltimore sun, aug. 2006

Borders are a key element of national identity. When borders are violated, the result is often crisis and war. Look no further than this summer’s conflict in the Middle East, set off by a cross-border kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants. Protection and defense of borders is, for most nations, a high priority.

Thus, it is troubling to see our government intent upon passing control over its borders to private companies.

Immigration control is a fundamental exercise of sovereignty, and sovereign powers are considered almost inviolable. As a legacy of its plenary powers over immigration, Congress has enacted some of this country’s most racist and arbitrary policies, which the Supreme Court has never struck down. Examples include Chinese exclusion, national origins restrictions and expedited removals.

Turning over immigration powers to private companies further endangers democracy. Immigration policy, programs and current proposals are replete with references to privatization – enforcement, detention, inspections and services – that would place the fate of potential immigrants in the hands of private mercenaries and military contractors.

The Customs and Border Protection’s Expedited Removal Program has contracted with Halliburton to oversee the expansion of the federal government’s capacity to detain immigrants. Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, has proposed deploying private “Ellis Island Centers” in foreign countries for the purpose of recruiting and managing guest workers.

Privatization, a neoliberal trend begun in the 1970s, means policy is driven by profit-seeking. During the early 1980s, the federal government began experimenting with incarcerating people for profit, using immigrant detention as its canary in the coal mine. In 1984, the Corrections Corporation of America, the private-incarceration leader, cut its first deal with the federal government to operate Immigration and Naturalization Service detention centers in Houston and Laredo, Texas. Since then, private incarceration has become a boom industry as well as a lightning rod for credible human-rights abuse litigation.

U.S.-Mexico border control is also being privatized. After more than a decade of border militarization with “Operation Gatekeeper” and “Operation Hold the Line,” the deployment of the National Guard and plans for 700 miles of fencing, in May the government solicited bids from military contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Ericsson and Northrop Grumman for a multibillion-dollar contract to build a “virtual fence” of unmanned aerial vehicles, ground surveillance satellites and motion-detection video equipment along the border. With final awarding of the Secure Border Initiative Network set for September, the arrival of military contractors at the border is imminent.

Add Blackwater Inc., a private security firm that has run mercenaries in Iraq and New Orleans, and is negotiating a contract to train U.S. Border Patrol officers, and you get a virtual fence that has guns for hire welcoming newcomers at ports of entry.

Military contractors and private mercenaries as immigration policymakers represent a foreboding prospect for any democracy.

Another issue is the use of technologies of power to help manage a cheap postindustrial labor force. Guest worker proposals are helping to frame immigration within a neoliberal trade context, which opens another door to privatized control.

For example, Mode 4 of the recent proposed General Agreement on Trade in Services, negotiated in the World Trade Organization, would accomplish what the North American Free Trade Agreement couldn’t achieve, reducing migrant workers to the status of commodities.

Mode 4 would hasten the demise of Human-rights protections for border crossers, while the Senate’s guest-worker provision would help make Mode 4 binding on domestic policy. As an outcome, guest-worker provisions would expedite the movement of temporary workers, secure private “bantustans” for border crossers in northern Mexico, and control guest-worker populations in this country while further marginalizing efforts by NGOs to hold the process accountable.

Finally, guest-worker policies would provide additional opportunities for the security-industrial complex at the border. With CCA, Blackwater, Lockheed Martin and others as gatekeepers, guest workers would come face to face with law-and-order activities twice removed from public scrutiny.

The looming presence of “virtual” technologies, mercenaries and military contractors as front-line defenders for U.S. sovereignty is cause for alarm well beyond the potential for individual human rights violations. It suggests this country’s “deciders” are less interested in physical border fences that would harm trade and impede the flow of cheap labor than in securing a system of “virtual fence” and paramilitary strategies that would facilitate wholesale control over migrants in the name of profit.

Robert Koulish is a political scientist and France-Merrick professor of service learning at Goucher College. His e-mail is rkoulish@goucher.edu.