Sprawling Drug-War Training Complex Planned for U.S-Mexico Border

Massive Facility Would Serve Law Enforcers, Military and Their Drones

A company fronted by a former Navy SEAL is only a few weeks away from potentially gaining approval to develop a nearly 1,000-acre military and law enforcement training camp near the U.S. border in Southern California, less than a 20-minute drone flight from the sister border cities of San Diego and Tijuana.

The camp, which would be developed in three phases at a cost of up to $100 million (some $15 million for Phase 1), is being billed by its developer as a privately operated, state-of-the-art training center that would employ up to 200 people and serve as economic boon to the small California border town of Ocotillo, located in Imperial County.

But there appears to be a deeper agenda in play with this project that has far more to do with profiting off the drug war — and assuring its escalation along the border — than it does with benefiting the community of Ocotillo.

The camp, proposed by a San Diego-based company called Wind Zero Group Inc., would be located on a 944-acre patch of desert land (which happens to be in a flood and earthquake zone) just south of a major Interstate Highway (8) and less than a dozen miles north of the Mexican border.

The facility would include numerous shooting ranges allowing for some 57,000 rounds of ammunition to be fired off daily; a mock-up of an urban neighborhood for practices assaults; a 6-mile dual-use race track for teaching defensive and offensive driving (and for private-pay recreational use); enough housing and RV camper space (along with a 100-room hotel) to accommodate a small battalion of warriors; a 50-foot high, 28,000-square-foot “administrative” building; an 80-foot high observation and control tower; at least two heliports and a 4,000-foot airstrip.

A number of individual in Ocotillo, home to some 300 souls, aided by activists from the Sierra Club, are actively opposing the proposed Wind Zero development, arguing it poses a great risk to the health of the environment as well as the safety of the surrounding community — in the event of a flood or earthquake.

However, Wind Zero has marshaled the support of numerous law enforcement agencies in the region that would be able to make use of the facility for training purposes, as well as the Imperial County planning commission — which this past August gave an unanimous thumbs-up for the project.

The County’s board of supervisors is scheduled to meet in early November to consider providing the final go-ahead for the development.

The Man In Front of The Curtain

The planned Wind Zero training center is not unlike a similar project proposed several years ago in southern California by the private paramilitary company Blackwater (since renamed Xe Services LLC — which also was founded by former Navy SEALs). Blackwater pulled the plug on that controversial project in early 2008 due to community opposition.

Opponents of the camp proposed for Ocotillo have speculated that Xe is somehow involved behind the scenes in the Wind Zero effort as well — though no solid evidence of that theory has materialized to date and Wind Zero officials contend that, in fact, they consider Xe to be a competitor.

The front man for the Wind Zero project is a former Navy SEAL sniper named Brandon Webb. He is listed as the registered agent on the company’s incorporation filing with the state of California and as an executive officer and director on a Form D Notice of Exempt Offering of Securities filing that Wind Zero lodged with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That SEC filing reveals the company has raised at least $1.4 million through a private debt offering involving 16 silent investors.

Webb, in a biography posted on a speakers bureau Web site sponsored by book publisher Penguin Group USA, is described as being an author, a “serial entrepreneur,” and a “retired Navy SEAL” who has been “involved in combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere” and who has worked in the past overseas for a “three-letter intelligence agency.”  His personal Web site claims he retired from the Navy in 2006 to “found The Wind Zero Group Inc.” because he “recognized southern California had a shortage of training areas.”

Webb did not return calls from Narco News seeking comment.

However, he does lay out part of his vision in seeking to set up a military and law enforcer training camp along the U.S. border in video available for viewing on YouTube. In that video, Webb justifies the need for his firm’s $100 million fortress training site by painting a Mad Max-like picture of the future, that includes a prophesy of an impending, sudden mass exodus of Mexican refugees into United States sparked by the corruption and violence of the drug war.

From Webb’s YouTube video:

Mexico is very close to civil war right now; it doesn’t take much to buy off somebody and next thing you know, the president is assassinated and then what? A civil war breaks out, and we have a million Mexican citizens crossing the border into the U.S., and it’s the same situation that you have in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You have all these refugees coming across and Pakistan’s like, “What do we do with this?”

It’s not outlandish for that scenario to happen. So how do you prepare for that? You got to train these guys, and that’s law enforcement and the military.

And it just so happens that training this future border force to repel or otherwise control desperate refugees can be a lucrative meal ticket, and it seems Webb has a seat at the table.

Droning On

Webb’s company has a comfortable contracting relationship with his former employer, the U.S. military. Since 2007, according to fedspending.org, Wind Zero Group (formerly known as Wind Zero Ranges Inc.) has received at least $437,000 worth of contracts from the U.S. Special Operations Command, including a nearly $200,000 contract from the Naval Special Warfare Command — which employed Webb as a Navy SEAL sniper.

That latter contract is described as follows in a press release issued in 2008:

The Wind Zero Group, Inc., announced it has secured a contract from the Naval Special Warfare Command to assist the NSW Seals in tactical training, deployment and field uses of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) training.

The initial contract term is for approximately one year with an estimated revenue value of over $198,735.00. This is the second time Wind Zero has been awarded the UAS contract due to its proven track record and satisfaction with their NSW program curriculum.

Brandon Webb, Chief Executive Officer, stated, "We are pleased to have been selected to participate in the United States' Navy Special Warfare (NSW) Command training program - our commitment is to continue providing support and education in areas where the NSW SEALs may need help specifically with the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)."

That contract, to provide Navy SEALs with training and assistance in deploying unmanned aircraft, or drones, is particularly interesting given that the proposed Wind Zero border camp seems particularly well suited for the operation of drones — and, in fact, will provide instruction in operating Unmanned Aerial Systems. The camp will come equipped with a long airstrip and multiple heliports; a control tower and operations center; a vast amount of airspace, including a 25,000-foot above-ground-level (AGL) air ceiling; and a location only 87 miles from a major border population center (San Diego/Tijuana) that is ground zero on the West Coast for the drug war.

And given drones are now precluded from operating, under normal conditions, over crowded urban areas, the rural location of the Wind Zero “camp” could prove to be particularly ideal as a staging site in the event an “emergency” might require their deployment quietly to the California coast in short order.

It is clear that a key element of the U.S. homeland security strategy is the expanded deployment of drones — which, like flying snipers, can read a license plate from 2 miles away, and, if necessary, deliver a 500-pound Hellfire missile to the that same “target” with pinpoint accuracy, or so we are led to believe. (That fiction is betrayed, however, by the recent drone-code scandal playing out in a Boston court — where the CIA is accused in legal pleadings of acquiring from a private company faulty, pirated computer software that is now being used to direct drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.)

Already, under the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency, about a half a dozen Predator B (Reaper) drones with deadly capabilities [though supposedly now being used only for surveillance] are providing a type of force field presence for the southern border and coastal regions of the U.S., from Florida through Eastern California. That force does not include drones being operated by the military, such as the Navy heli-drone that strayed off course in August, entering Washington, D.C.’s restricted air space, due to a suspected “software” malfunction.

The planned location of Wind Zero’s facility in Central California, only minutes from the West Coast as the drone flies, would seem to fill a critical gap in the border region force field — as would the camp’s dual purpose as a law enforcement and military training center focused on drone operation and deployment.

And it is likely no coincidence that Wind Zero’s encampment would be located an hour-and-a-half or so by truck from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego, which manufacturers both the Predator and Reaper drones used by DHS and the military.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times points out that “Southern California’s drone industry … employs an estimated 10,000 people … and is funded by Pentagon spending — at least $20 billion since 2001 — and billions more chipped in by the CIA and Congress.”

Prop 19

So Wind Zero’s close connection to that “drone industry” seems a critical calculation in any examination of why it is pushing forward with the development of a $100 million border camp in the midst of a grueling recession. It seems, at least in the drone sector, the economy is not so depressed, and fueling that business bonanza, in no small measure, are the billions of dollars now being expended by the U.S. government in fighting the so-called drug war along the border.

Arguably, any threat to the escalation of that drug war, and the continued militarization of the border, will not be good for those interest groups benefiting from the era of the drone. In that light, a ballot measure slated next month for a vote in California (Proposition 19, which would allow local jurisdictions to essentially legalize and tax marijuana sales) does not seem to be in the best interests of those seeking to ramp up police and military spending on the drug war — since legalized marijuana, according to proponents of the measure, will help to undermine the black market that fuels drug-war violence and corruption.

Given the billions of dollars at stake, it should not be a surprise that one pro-drug-war group, the RAND Corp., recently issued a white paper that seeks to undercut some of the major arguments of the proponents of Proposition 19.

RAND bills itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, but, in reality, it has a long history of close ties to the military and private-sector warfare complex.

For example, among the individuals serving on RAND’s board are, as chairman, a former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology (a Pentagon unit that also sponsors RAND’s National Defense Research Institute); the former U.S. secretaries of the Navy and Air Force; and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. In addition, RAND, which has total assets exceeding $380 million, according to its most recent IRS filing, operates three federally funded centers that are sponsored by the Pentagon — all three essentially serving as private-sector research and analysis arms for the Department of Defense.

And so, it should come as no surprise that former Navy Captain and RAND Senior Management Systems Analyst John Birkler serves as a director of Wind Zero, according to SEC filings. At RAND, Birkler, among other responsibilities, oversees research for the U.S. Navy as well as the U.S. Special Operations Command — under which is the Navy SEAL program. And, according to Rand’s Web site, among Birkler’s specific areas of expertise is “unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Birkler, like Webb, did not return calls from Narco News seeking comment for this story.

However, RAND media spokesman Warren Robak did provide the following comment via e-mail:

I checked with John Birkler and his involvement with Wind Zero is a private matter — it has nothing to do with RAND.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors in Southern California is slated to hold a public hearing in advance of a vote on the Wind Zero project on Nov. 8 at the Board Chambers, 940 Main Street, in El Central.

Stay tuned….

UPDATE 10/10/2010

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors has postponed the public hearing on the Wind Zero project until Dec. 13, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. [Pacific Time], according to an agenda notice posted online by the Board. A KXO Radio report indicates the meeting was continued to a later date because the Interim County Planning Director said "his department has been inundated by comments submitted" since the November meeting was put on the schedule in late September and "more time is needed to resolve the comments."

"The County assured Ocotillo residents opposed to the Wind Zero Project that everything legally possible would be done to notify those concerned of the continuation," the radio station reported.

Hopefully this update goes a small ways in helping to get that word out. A recent report on the planned Wind Zero camp in the popular Mexican publication La Jornada, which appears to have drawn heavily from Narco News' report above, also is likey to raise the heat in the debate over the proposed project.

And Mother Nature also seems to have chimed in on the matter by rocking the Southern California border town of Ocotillo with a 4.6-magnitude earthquake on Nov. 4 — not a good sign for Wind Zero, which would need to store munitions and other dangerous chemicals at its planned military/law enforcement training camp slated to be developed on the edge of Ocotillo.

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