$100 Million Drug-War Garrison Approved for U.S.-Mexican Border

Complex Will Prepare Soldiers, Law Enforcers to Cope with Mexican Civil War, Founder Says

A small county board in southern California has just ushered in the era of the paramilitarization of the U.S. border by approving plans for a private, $100 million, 1,000-acre military and law enforcement training camp spearheaded by a former Navy Seal sniper who also has done work for the U.S. intelligence community.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors earlier this week approved the project, to be developed near the small rural border town of Ocotillo, Calif., by a company called Wind Zero Group Inc. The supervisors, at a meeting held Tuesday, Dec. 21, voted 4-1 in favor of allowing the border garrison project to proceed toward construction, despite stiff community opposition, according to news reports.

The vote came after several postponements that pushed the final decision back to just days before the Christmas holiday, almost assuring scant press coverage of what is likely to become, absent effective organized opposition, the prototype for future private paramilitary-style training “camps” along the U.S.-Mexican border.

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.

However, among the backers of the Wind Zero project is former Navy Captain and RAND Senior Management Systems Analyst John Birkler , who serves as a director of Wind Zero, according to SEC filings.

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.

RAND media spokesman Warren Robak told Narco News previously that “John Birkler and his involvement with Wind Zero is a private matter — it has nothing to do with RAND.”

But Birkler has at least one thing in common with Wind Zero beyond the Navy background he shares with the company’s founder, the former Navy SEAL sniper, U.S. intelligence agency operative and author Brandon Webb. Birkler, Webb and Wind Zero have expertise in the emerging arena of drone warfare.

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.”

In the case of Wind Zero, it has secured past contract work from the Naval Special Warfare Command to “assist the NSW Seals in tactical training, deployment and field uses of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) training,” according to a past press release.

The planned 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 feature 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.

“The drone efforts that I envision will be principally military-intel led, although they do not have to fly from military reservations per se,” explains one military technology expert who provided some background insight to Narco News. “Entities such as Wind Zero do offer an interesting plausible deniability that could prove useful.”

The source adds: “If we place advanced UAVs over the Afghan theater airspace (which includes parts of Pakistan), we can put them over Mexican airspace.”

 

Drone Power

Currently, under the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency, about a half a dozen Predator B (Reaper) drones are now operating along the southern U.S. border and coastal regions of the U.S., from Florida through Eastern California.

And it seems the Mexican government itself is operating UAVs, or drones, over the U.S.-Mexican border. A recent news story revealed that a Mexican drone dropped out of the sky earlier this month and crashed onto an El Paso, Texas, street.

Diana Washington Valdez of the El Paso times reported:

In a statement, Jenny L. Burke, spokeswoman for the [U.S.] Department of Homeland Security, said, "We responded to a concerned citizen's call and recovered a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which belonged to the Government of Mexico (GOM).

The U.S. and Mexican governments are already operating joint military missions targeting so-called “kingpin” narco-traffickers. As evidence of that reality, the Washington Post recently reported on a State Department cable made public through WikiLeaks that supports facts reported by Narco News in June 2010.

From that Narco News story:

The U.S. unit, dubbed Task Force 7, since early 2009, according to the CIA operative, has ... cooperated with the Mexican Navy in hunting down a major narco-trafficker, Arturo Beltran Leyva -- who was killed by Mexican Navy special forces last December during a raid on a luxury apartment complex in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Would it be any surprise if the U.S. and Mexican governments, via private contractors and/or government operations, also are coordinating drone missions along the border?

Beyond its usefulness as a drone operations and training center, the planned Wind zero camp also will offer plenty of other features necessary for training special operations soldiers and/or paramilitary forces.

The camp, which would be developed in three phases at a cost of up to $100 million (some $15 million for Phase 1), also will 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); and enough housing and RV camper space (along with a 100-room hotel) to accommodate a small battalion of warriors.

 

Who Decides?

A number of individuals in Ocotillo, home to some 300 souls, aided by activists from the Sierra Club, actively opposed 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, both of which have plagued the area in the recent past.

However, Wind Zero marshaled the support of numerous law enforcement agencies in the region that would be able to make use of the facility for training purposes. Wind Zero, and its founder, Webb, also appear to have effectively hyped the project to local officials as a privately operated, state-of-the-art training center that will eventually employ up to 200 people and serve as economic boon to the small California border town of Ocotillo, located in Imperial County less than a dozen miles north of the Mexican border.

Barring litigation to halt the Wind Zero camp, it appears the project is poised to proceed toward construction, according to area media reports.

Given that reality, it’s worth noting what Wind Zero’s Webb has said previously in a YouTube video about the dynamics driving the escalation of the paramilitary era now rising along the U.S.-Mexican border.

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.

As dangerously delusional as those statements may sound to those who understand the deeper dynamics at play along the border, and the life-and-death stakes for millions of people, it’s worth remembering that Webb, and those promoting the paramilitarization of the border, don’t have to convince the majority of Americans of the saneness of their methods.

In the case of Wind Zero, for example, the only people they had to convince were four county supervisors in a recession-decimated rural stretch of southern California.

Happy holidays and stay tuned for the New Year ahead …..

User login

Navigation

Reporters' Notebooks

name) { $notebooks[] = l($row->name, 'blog/' . $row->uid); } } print theme('item_list', $notebooks); ?>

About Bill Conroy