Changing border tactics

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

SOLOMON MOORE: We've heard for a long time about tunnels going underneath the border fence. They've found dozens of those over the past few years, and most recently we've been seeing them vault the fence. They've taken these car trailers and they back them up against the fence and drive trucks over them full of marijuana.

WERMAN: And these are the kind of car trailers you might actually see on those car transport trucks. So they can actually drive up on the ramp and then down the other side?

MOORE: That's right.

WERMAN: And is all this cleverness related mostly to marijuana smuggling, or are we talking about harder drugs as well?

MOORE: Well, we're talking about harder drugs as well, but marijuana is really the big mover. I mean, that's the king crop for these cartels. It's easier to produce. It's easier really to transport because you're not bringing it in from a third country. They grow it in Mexico or they grow it here in the United States and bypass smuggling altogether.

WERMAN: Right. Talk about that, because it sounds like, sort of like, you know, if you can't fight City Hall, we'll just grow it in the United States. When did they come up with this idea?

MOORE: Well, they've been growing in the United States for a long time, mostly in state and national parks in remote areas. They use these parklands and state parks because they grow in hard to get places. In fact, I've been told by US drug interdiction officials that in fact they take helicopter rides in because they can't get to these places on foot.

WERMAN: Wow.

MOORE: But what we've seen lately is with the hardening of the Southwest border, with all the new border agents along the border and the fence being constructed there and all the surveillance that the United States government is doing, the cartels are shifting their strategy and they're actually growing more in the US. That's what I'm told by US Drug Enforcement agents.

WERMAN: New York Times correspondent Solomon Moore speaking to us from San Francisco. Thanks very much for your time.

MOORE: You're welcome.

WERMAN: If you want to see for yourself what's going on at the border, well, you don't have to physically go there. You can visit a website called blueservo.net. The site brings up images from live webcams installed along the Texas-Mexico border. Brandi Grissom has been writing about the project. She's a correspondent for the El Paso Times. She's been following this story and she joins us from Austin, Texas. So I've just clicked on to this website, blueservo.net, and we've got a link for our listeners on our website. And I chose a camera that is supposed to be looking at a high-crime area. It's not like I thought I'd see some suspicious activity; all I'm seeing right now, Brandi, is a bulldozer shoveling some dirt. Tell us what the basic idea here is in terms of border surveillance.

BRANDI GRISSOM: Well, it's an idea that Texas Governor Rick Perry talked to voters about in 2006 when he was running for re-election. And at that time, he said he wanted to line the border with hundreds of cameras and put the video feed from those cameras on the web so that anyone anywhere could help monitor the border and prevent some of the crime that we're seeing.

WERMAN: So the blueservo.net went public last November, and actually saw nearly 2 million hits in the first month. But you write that according to the six-month progress report, those hits did not translate into much law enforcement work; only resulted in six immigration violations. So what has it translated into?

GRISSOM: The idea, the Governor's staff says, is to let the bad guys know these cameras are out there watching them and so hopefully prevent them from carting across their drugs or trafficking humans.

WERMAN: The plan originally called for 200 cameras, the equivalent of one camera for every 6 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Is that going to happen?

GRISSOM: The spokesman for the Border Sheriff's Coalition, Don Ray, said that they probably won't have 200 cameras along the border. He said they're looking right now at a total of 15 cameras that will broadcast over the web. It will be online on that website that you're looking at.

WERMAN: Wait a minute. I'm seeing something happening on the screen. It's a dump truck now pulling away. Hang on.

GRISSOM: Does it look like it has drugs in it?

WERMAN: No, just a bunch of dirt. Did you speak to anybody who, you know, was online, saw something happening and called up the tip line or whatever it is and said, �I just saw something on blueservo.net�?

GRISSOM: When I reported on a test program in 2006 that they did of this online web program, I got about 50 emails from folks who had been watching the cameras online back then. And there were a variety of entertaining and sometimes salacious emails that came in. In fact, at that point, there were like 65 hits one time when a spider crawled across one of the screens. But there were also folks who, you know, emailed in suggestions. I recall one of the suggestions was to make the cameras into sort of like a video game where they would have like sirens and speakers attached to the cameras so that people could yell out at the folks who were crossing illegally.

WERMAN: Brandi Grissom is a reporter for the El Paso Times. She's been covering the Webcam Monitoring Program along the Texas-Mexico border. She joins us from Austin. Thank you very much, Brandi.

GRISSOM: Thank you.

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