Israel at the U.S. Borderlands

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Journalist and author Todd Miller talks about the global push to commercialize national boundaries and test new technologies, often on the very people who are manufacturing them. @ThomasHedgesTRN

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Story Transcript

THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN PRODUCER: For years now, the Mexican-American border has been a place of experimentation, where United States military, security, and technology corporations have tested and refined many of their products in the effort to control immigration. In the past year, however, that market has opened up to foreign security companies, who are procuring new contracts from the U.S. government.

TODD MILLER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: But this is a rather new phenomenon, a new phenomenon in the terms of homeland security, the homeland security industry. The homeland security that’s kind of building or bolstering divisions between places and needing to build walls, to build surveillance towers, to put high-powered cameras, to put motion sensors, all of the kind of facets of the homeland security system, is a new thing. And Israel is the country, according to almost all experts, it’s the country that is leading the charge in this.

HEDGES: Todd Miller is a journalist and author who reports on border security. He published a piece on Tom Dispatch last week entitled Gaza and Arizona: how Israeli high-tech firms will up-armor the U.S.-Mexican border. He said while the University of Arizona’s Tech Parks research facility may be the nation’s largest security business incubator, it ranks second to Israel’s industry, which has built up its expertise on the developing the border with Gaza for decades.

MILLER: While they might have one of the bigger clusters in the United States, while they might have one of the bigger clusters in North America, they are far from the biggest cluster in the world, which is Israel. Thus the idea is to target Israel–and from the logic of the tech parks–to bring in that kind of Homeland Security model, that business incubator, which is developing homeland security companies in Israel at a rate that’s very high.

HEDGES: The Israeli-based company Elbit Systems, for example, secured a contract with the U.S. government last February, joining the effort to construct Arizona’s virtual wall of surveillance towers and motion detectors set back at some distance from the actual border. Miller anticipates many more of these contracts in an industry that’s projected to grow from $51 billion in 2012 to $81 billion in 2020, according to the market research firm HLS. The worldwide video surveillance market alone is expected to triple between 2012 and 2020, with 3.4 million years of footage said to be captured per year by the end of the decade, according to Miller’s own calculations.

MILLER: This is the kind of world we’re looking at, an increasingly surveilled world and a world in which the surveillance market is only getting bigger and bigger.

HEDGES: But in a cruel twist of irony, Miller says, the industry is being built by the laborers it’s meant to regulate. For example, the Offshore Group is a business advisory and housing firm in Arizona that helps foreign security businesses set up shop in Mexico, where the minimum wage is about $6 a day.

MILLER: And that’s per day–not per hour, per day. And so, using the kind of neoliberal economic framework or the capitalistic framework that has been identified with the North American Free Trade Agreement, you essentially have homeland security companies coming from distant places such as Israel that really have nothing to do with the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, setting up shop here, manufacturing their goods or their products in Mexico.

Ironically, the people who would be the line workers manufacturing the products might very well be the people who would then decide to make ends meet, because somebody working–a line worker in a maquila or a factory does not usually make that much. So in order to make ends meet, they might decide to go to the United States. But they themselves would be building the very same surveillance technological fortress that would be put in place to stop them from coming.

HEDGES: Many see borderlands like the ones in Arizona and Gaza as the testing grounds for the global security industry. That sentiment is reflected in a statement from Roei Elkabetz, a brigadier general for the Israeli Defense Forces, who in 2012 said that Gaza was, quote, a great laboratory.

MILLER: And that show case is kind of like a mall. It becomes a weird kind of militarized border mall that you can then show off to, say, another country, like Kyrgyzstan, that wants to build up its borders, or Guatemala, which is building up its borders.

HEDGES: Miller says that border development is maybe the most potent reflection of capitalism, where it’s easy to see that the philosophy of free trade only really applies to corporations and capital.

MILLER: The question why: is it the capital and corporations go over borders easier and more effortlessly all the time? There are certain barriers that might be in place, like the barriers that were in place for Mexico to develop its own industry have been eroded in this kind of idea that companies can move anywhere, companies don’t have border, borders’ capital flows over the borders without regulations. They can move anywhere. Yet, ironically, these companies that are coming and setting up shop in what we’re looking are the Homeland Security companies who are tasked with building boundaries.

HEDGES: Miller also argues that the current debate between the White House and Congress on immigration reform and Obama’s executive order is a sideshow to a much larger issue.

MILLER: There’s a part of the equation that is very rarely discussed, and this is the equation of business, this equation that, yeah, it is a showcase, it’s a mall. We’re showing things off. We’re not only suppressing the movements of people; it’s a place where profit is being made. And that has to be considered by the U.S. public if we’re going to pass a responsible, comprehensive immigration reform bill, as is being promised by the presidency and some people in Congress.

HEDGES: For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.

End

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