The deployment of federal Customs and Border Patrol agents to "assist law enforcement" is far bigger than Portland, Chicago, or Albuquerque. It's nationwide, it involves thousands of agents and dozens of drones, and it's been going on for six weeks.
In a conspicuous show of force, armed Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers were recently seen in Portland carrying out surveillance and arrests. Agency director Mark Morgan has defended the deployment as measured and restrained. “I will not send any resource out anywhere to confront American citizens,” he told Time. But CBP’s support to local law enforcement has extended far beyond its controversial Portland deployment, and includes not just thousands of personnel, but drones and dozens of other aircraft, according to a CBP document obtained exclusively by The Nation.
The document, a draft of the agency’s answers to questions posed to them by Senator Kamala Harris on June 5, 2020, details the assets CBP deployed in response to requests for assistance from local law enforcement agencies across the country. So many local law enforcement agencies requested support that, according to the document, CBP was not aware of any state or local entities that explicitly declined assistance. The assistance includes a broad array of services like aerial surveillance, crowd control, unmarked vehicles, and plainclothes surveillance. Several requests involve specialized tactical units like CBP’s amphibious Riverine Force.
An index lists requests from various metropolitan police departments, including the NYPD, Chicago PD, Miami PD, Philadelphia PD, San Diego PD, and DC’s Metropolitan PD. Even federal agencies requested assistance, including several FBI field offices and the Drug Enforcement Agency. CBP aerial assets have been deployed to a variety of states including Illinois, New York, Ohio, Texas, Michigan, California, Florida, and Minnesota.
When Minneapolis erupted in protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd, CBP deployed a predator drone over the airspace. Several members of Congress sent CBP a letter demanding that the agency “cease any and all surveilling of Americans engaged in peaceful protests,” while CBP response to the protests also prompted Senator Harris to send the agency her list of questions. Director Morgan testified to the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on June 25, on the subject of “CBP Oversight.”
The document was provided to The Nation by a CBP official on condition of anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. It is unclear when CBP intends to provide the information to Senator Harris.
According to the document, between May 20 and June 10, these requests resulted in 326.4 hours of aviation assets deployments as well as 2,174 personnel. Aviation support—CBP’s Air and Marine Operations possesses hundreds of aircraft—totalled 326.4 flight hours and included 38 rotor wing, eight fixed wing, and two unmanned aircraft systems. Included in the deployment was one Bearcat, two ATVs, three “vessels,” 50 marked vehicles, and 52 unmarked vehicles. Federal law enforcement’s reported use of unmarked vehicles in Portland led to uproar after video surfaced on social media showing what appeared to be a demonstrator arrested by an unidentified federal agent who ushered him into an unmarked vehicle. Among these federal agents were BORTAC agents—CBP’s elite tactical unit.
Although the document states, “The policies require the use of identifiable agency uniforms with badging and name tapes on the outermost garment (e.g. jacket, body armor),” CBP has offered no explanation about its use of agents who did not carry such identification.
The document is often vague on the deployments, especially regarding the aircraft deployments, saying only that “the nature of these deployments were based on the requests.” But answers to questions about surveillance capabilities provide some clues about the measures taken.
“CBP’s aircrafts can be equipped with cameras, radar and/or other technologies to support CBP components in patrolling the border, conducting surveillance as part of a law enforcement investigation or tactical operations, and respond to other significant incidents as directed,” the document states.
Portland meanwhile remains the test run for Trump's brownshirt thugs, as Mayor Ken Wheeler was among those tear gassed by armed goons last night.
The mayor of Portland, Oregon was tear-gassed by U.S. government agents late Wednesday as he stood outside a federal courthouse during another night of protests against the presence of the agents dispatched by President Donald Trump to quell the city’s ongoing unrest.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, appeared slightly dazed and coughed and said it was the first time he’d been tear-gassed.
He put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water but did not leave his spot at the front and continued to take gas as the protest raged — with demonstrators lighting a large fire between the fence and the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse amid the pop-pop-pop sounds of the federal agents deploying tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the agents knew Wheeler was among those in crowd when they used the tear gas.
Earlier in the night, Wheeler was mostly jeered as he tried to rally demonstrators who have clashed nightly with federal agents but was briefly applauded when he shouted “Black Lives Matter” and pumped his fist in the air.
Wheeler has opposed federal agents’ presence in Oregon’s largest city, but has faced harsh criticism from many sides and his presence wasn’t welcomed by many demonstrators who yelled and swore at him.
Wheeler has his own sins to atone for when it comes to Portland's cops and Oregon's long history of white supremacist violence against Black Americans, but he stood up for the right thing last night.