Seeing Results on the Border

Seeing Results on the Border
Posted by FoM on January 23, 2000 at 09:01:50 PT
By Rene Romo Journal Staff Writer
Source: ABQjournal
The hunched figures of six Mexicans moved north from the border in the pitch 4 a.m. darkness in a desolate area about 18 miles west of Columbus, then dropped to the ground.   Within minutes, a sedan appeared from the west, then drove behind an earthen berm. The group rose from the ground, carrying bundles of marijuana on their shoulders, and hurried toward the car.
Little did the band of porters or the white sedan's driver know that their grainy, black-and-white images were being watched on a television screen 30 miles away in Deming, via infrared surveillance camera.   As the drug porters headed back into Mexico, the driver hurried east to N.M. 9 and on to Columbus, where he would try to head north on N.M. 11 to the U.S. interior.   But, because of the surveillance cameras, Border Patrol agents had been dispatched to lay spikes across the east-west, two-lane border highway.   The car was disabled, the rubber of its tires stripped from the wheels. When the driver came to a stop in Columbus, agents found 242 pounds of marijuana bundled in burlap sacks in the car's trunk and back seat. High-Tech Weapons:   "It's one of the best tools the Border Patrol has ever gotten," Deming station agent-in-charge Rick Moody said of the cameras.   The cameras are New Mexico-based Border Patrol agents' newest weapons in their efforts to deter illegal border crossings and drug trafficking. Surveillance cameras also are used in western El Paso and in Douglas and Nogales, Ariz.   From mid-May to mid-January, Border Patrol officers aided by surveillance cameras apprehended 5,763 immigrants and seized 126 vehicles and 7,110 pounds of marijuana.   "When you turn the camera on and you have 24-hour surveillance, you are immediately more aware of what is going on out there," Moody said. "It increases our effectiveness without increasing the number of agents."   On any given night, about a dozen agents cover a 53-mile-wide swath of the Mexican border around Columbus.   Four cameras are mounted on each of seven towers arrayed east and west of the Columbus port of entry. Two are daytime cameras that can zoom in on objects about 21/2 miles away, and two are heat-sensitive cameras that depict bodies as glowing figures on a black-and-white screen.   Each camera swivels 180 degrees, giving the Border Patrol agents and National Guardsmen who monitor the cameras a complete view of the flat terrain around each tower.   The towers, which cost about $2 million, provide about 20 miles of surveillance coverage.   In the past, agents relied on their eyes or on scores of sensors to detect illegal crossings. The sensors could detect motion or the ground-shaking of footsteps, but sensors did not reveal the number of crossers or their direction of travel.   That blind spot, Moody said, left the Border Patrol vulnerable to drug traffickers' tricks, such as sending decoy vehicles in one direction while the car carrying the drug load headed in another direction.   With the surveillance cameras, agents watching a bank of nearly two dozen cameras in a converted garage at Deming station headquarters can see the number of vehicles and crossers, if they are armed and what route they travel. Specks in a vast flat field come into focus as dogs, rabbits or human beings shuffling across the desert.   Some crossers and "coyotes," the smugglers hired by Mexicans to ensure passage to the north, are aware of the surveillance cameras. On a recent night, one man in a group of four huddled at the Palomas border fence appeared to mug for the camera. He waved both arms in the air and then ran north in an exaggeratedly sneaky fashion, hunched over, legs kicking high.   Most are unaware they are being watched, Border Patrol agents said. 'How did you know?'   Shortly after dark two weeks ago, two men were spotted walking slowly through desert bushes in the darkness. When two cars passed north of them on a dirt road, the two men crouched on the ground and hid behind bushes, unaware their every step was being watched.   "These two guys are heading northeast," said Border Patrol agent Leo Baez, who monitored their progress on an 18-inch television screen. "They're going to hit Sand Hill Road. It will be real easy to get them there."   When the cars drove away, the two men rose and continued their journey. Minutes later, several Border Patrol cars were dispatched to their location, pinpointed by such local landmarks as light poles and the surveillance tower. Baez, via radio, directed the field agents down the road to the location of the immigrants.   "I got them," said an agent radioing to Baez back from the field.   "These people are out in the middle of nowhere, hiding in the bushes, and an agent will drive up a quarter of a mile away and walk right up to them," Moody said. "And they (immigrants) will say, 'How did you know?' ''   James Johnson, whose family grows onions, chile and alfalfa on a 3,500-acre farm 14 miles west of Columbus, said two nearby surveillance towers have sharply reduced illegal crossings through the family property.   "We don't see any (immigrants or traffickers) anymore through our farms," Johnson said. "They've basically just put an end to it." Pushing Coyotes:   Tighter border enforcement has upped the price charged illegal crossers, watch commander Jaime Perez said.   The coyote's price for the trip from Palomas, Mexico, to Albuquerque was about $300 a person in 1985. Now, the same clandestine trip costs $800 to $1,000 a person, Perez said.   The surveillance cameras also appear to be pushing illegal crossings farther east and west of Columbus, Moody said.   Last fiscal year, 55,567 immigrants were caught on their way to the U.S. interior by New Mexico Border Patrol stations.   Of course, not all those spotted in the camera lenses are caught.   In addition to the nearly 6,000 illegal crossers caught in the past eight months with the aid of the surveillance cameras, 938 immigrants were spotted turning back and heading south.   Baez recently led agents via radio to a group of eight immigrants stopped about 800 yards north of the border.   But minutes later, camera watchers spotted an individual moving fast south across the desert. Baez tried to maneuver an agent toward the last immigrant.   "He's running hard. He's about 50 yards north of the border," Baez radioed to the field. "He's going to make it."   Then they watched the figure cross the barbed-wire fence marking the border.   "Safe," said a National Guardsman working with Baez, who turned to mark the escape -- "turnback" -- in a ledger. DEMINGPublished: January 23, 2000Copyright  1997 - 2000 Albuquerque JournalRelated Article:A Contest of Wits at U.S. Border - 1/18/2000
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Comment #1 posted by david shepard on September 07, 2001 at 16:04:56 PT:
Surveillance Balloon
Can you tell me if there is a surveillance balloon near the border under the air route from San Diego east along the border? Airline pilots have mentioned this and I believe I saw it out the window. If so, is it known what the altitude of the balloon is? And does it appear as an obstruction on charts for pilots? I can't seem to find information on this from search engines, but I had assumed this would be public information if mentioned by airline pilots.
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