Matthew Harwood interviews Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, CPP.
Lieutenant General Guy C. Swan III, CPP, assumed command of U.S. Army North (ARNORTH) (Fifth Army) in December 2009, following his assignment as chief of staff and director of operations for Multi-National Force—Iraq. Swan was commissioned as an armor officer from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1976. He commanded units at various levels at home and abroad, including the joint military task force in the National Capital Region. He was responsible for supporting civil agencies in disaster response, security operations, and emergency management. Later, he was the director of operations for U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Swan holds masters degrees from Georgetown University and the School of Advanced Military Studies and was a National Security Fellow at Harvard University. He is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and a member of ASIS International.
What is ARNORTH’s homeland security mission?
We have two parts. The first is called Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), which is a broad term that covers military support provided to law enforcement in connection with disaster response, border security, and a host of other homeland security tasks. The second mission is what we call “theater security cooperation” with the armies of Mexico and Canada.
Within the civil support piece, our tasks run the gamut from supporting border enforcement agencies to chemical,
biological, radiological, and nuclear response anywhere in the homeland as well as providing general military support capabilities to other federal agencies, which can be leveraged by states and localities. In disaster response, we work closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We’re preparing for this year’s hurricane season right alongside our FEMA partners with whom we are completely embedded. When called, ARNORTH provides a wide range of military support that may not be available through other agencies or jurisdictions, either at the state or local level or through a contractor.
What is an example of the kinds of support ARNORTH has provided in the past or is currently providing?
There is a lot of work that can be done in aerial assessment after a disaster with Predator or other manned or unmanned air platforms that the Department of Defense (DoD) owns that can help find stranded victims and assess the extent of the damage. In the border enforcement mission, there are not enough border patrol agents to cover our northern and southern borders. We help them cover the areas with our military units, often in a training mode. That way, agents can be freed up to conduct arrests or do investigations.
So members of the armed forces simply observe and report during these surveillance missions?
Yes, and in all cases the troops are accompanied by a border patrol agent or some other law enforcement official. This way they can train for their “go to war” mission by tracking smugglers or other criminals. Then they hand off targets to the border patrol for the actual arrest. Inside law enforcement command centers, military intelligence analysts assist in reviewing information that comes through law enforcement channels. They analyze it, then hand it off for further investigation to a law enforcement official in a process that has been thoroughly vetted through the Justice Department [to avoid any legal conflicts when the military can be used domestically]. While military personnel are doing this, border patrol agents or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents can be out doing their primary jobs. And our troops get great training out of it, so it’s a win-win.
In your observe-and-report training roles, have you been able to bring cutting-edge technologies to the border to enhance security?
Yes. One area is tunnel detection. Tunnels are a growing threat, primarily along the Southwest border. There have been great efforts within the DoD over the last 10 to 15 years to improve tunnel detection for Afghanistan, Korea, and other regions. Through a number of agreements with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), tunnel detection technology is being employed on the border.
Another is the use of aerial platforms, manned and unmanned. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine has its own fleet of Predator drones, but they also use DoD unmanned systems, which are integrated into their system. We’ve done a lot of good work assisting them in building a network behind those platforms.
It’s one thing to fly a Predator and see and be able to track smugglers or drug traffickers, but it’s how that information gets catalogued and into the hands of someone who can do something with it that’s important.
When people think of drones, they think of flying, killing robots. But that’s only one application. What do you think is the future of drones for homeland security and disaster preparedness and response?
During the 2007 California wild fires, I was amazed to see the California Emergency Management Agency and Cal Fire—the statewide fire service—put together a sophisticated unmanned aerial system network, using a variety of aircraft and techniques. From incorporating DoD’s Global Hawk high-flying UAV, to Civil Air Patrol single engine Cessna aircraft, California officials wove together a network that allowed fire chiefs to find out where the fire was going. They could determine where small fires were starting and get that information to on-the-ground incident commanders who could then adjust their forces. It was the most remarkable thing I’ve seen. I’ve seen our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and how the military uses many systems, including human intelligence on the ground as well as these high-tech aerial platforms, and it looked just like that in California.
What kind of threat do Mexican organized crime organizations present to the United States?
The first and foremost threat is just the ruthlessness and violence. Transnational criminal organizations are in business, and they will protect their illicit business any way they can. We’ve seen some very terrifying tactics being used by these groups. That’s the threat to the average citizen that really scares everyone. But the longer term threat is some kind of accommodation between these criminal organizations and other transnational terrorist groups. We have not seen a large-scale connection between those elements, largely because it’s currently perceived as “bad for business” for the cartels. But at the end of the day, there is no telling what they will do for the highest bidder.
There’s a lot of talk about American guns fueling Mexico’s drug war. Is that accurate?
It’s a complex issue. There is no doubt that there are some weapons coming from the United States. But I think what is equal to or greater than the threat of weapons from the U.S. getting into Mexico are weapons coming into Mexico that do not come from the United States. One source is Central and South America, where weapons from the guerilla wars remain plentiful. Governments have had a hard time controlling the weapons that were provided to them in the 1980s and 1990s. These criminal groups can buy anywhere, and they can buy in volume. We’ve seen recently huge caches of high-tech weapons that are not coming from the United States. These are military-grade weapons, not a shotgun coming from Texas or a handgun from Louisiana.
What has the United States learned from its security cooperation with Mexico?
The Mexican security forces have a very effective human intelligence network. Their ability to understand the threat they are facing is good. The challenge they have is doing something about it. They’ve done a good job within the limits of their domestic laws of building a pretty solid picture of these criminal groups. We’ve used some of their techniques to look at other terrorist groups around the world.
What’s one commonsense way to bring more security to the Southwest border?
It’s all about information sharing. Securing the border means using the tools available in a more efficient way. No one agency, department, or jurisdiction has the capacity to go it alone. As reluctant as we sometimes are to share information or equipment or technology, that’s the only way we can handle this. And it has to be balanced with our longstanding and strong economic ties with Mexico and Canada, two of America’s biggest trading partners. We have to balance security with civil liberties so that all elements of government are brought to bear. We need to do a better job of integrating the corporate sector, too. They are not just trying to sell us something; they have knowledge, they have skills. We have to find ways to get them in the fight too.