Biden Admin to Reduce Surveillance Crafts Used in Counting Migrant Got-Aways

LA JOYA, TX - AUGUST 18: A U.S. Border Patrol Aerostat hot air surveillance balloon flies
File Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden Administration announced this week it is reducing the number of tactical aerial surveillance crafts being used along the U.S.-Mexico Border. The vehicles are used to interdict human and drug smuggling and is also a source of data for migrant got-aways.

CBP officials distinguished between the Tethered Aerostat Radar Systems operated by CBP’s Air and Marine Operations vs. the tactical systems used by Border Patrol.

“On January 1, 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began reducing the number of Tactical Aerostats deployed along the southwest border. Although the number of aerostats will be reduced, CBP continues to leverage surveillance technology and explore new/emerging technology to increase persistent surveillance of the border region,” CBP officials said in a written statement. Officials said the Border Patrol began reducing the number of Tactical Aerostats on January 1.

“Although the Border Patrol’s number of aerostats will be reduced, the Border Patrol will continue to use aerostats throughout FY 2023 (which ends on September 30).”

Officials said the Border Patrol will continue to increase surveillance systems along the border including plans to install 80 Autonomous Surveillance Towers and 225 Remove Video Surveillance system upgrades.

A source within CBP, not authorized to speak to the media, told Breitbart Texas the aerostat systems, which are capable of low-level aerial surveillance up to 3,000 ft. in altitude require a support commitment from the Department of Defense. The source says the Department of Defense is no longer capable of providing the level of support necessary to continue to operate all aerostat sites.

Reports indicate that only four aerostats remain in Border Patrol operations. Those are said to be operating in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

Known as Persistent Ground Surveillance Systems, the helium-filled platforms have proven successful in the Border Patrol’s mission according to the source. The systems have been utilized as an early warning system for border incursions and to successfully interdict narcotics being smuggled across the border. In one four-month period alone in 2021 in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, the aerostat platforms were responsible for more than $1 million in narcotics seizures.

In July 2014, Breitbart Texas witnessed first-hand, the effectiveness of the aerostats in reducing migrant got-aways. During a ride along with Brooks County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Chief Deputy Daniel Walden, a group of about 20 migrants bailed out of a van after a short pursuit.

Walden rushed up to the vehicle and attempted to stop the people exiting the van. He was able to detain about five of the estimated 20-plus occupants. In a rare occurrence for this county, a back-up deputy, Elias Pompa, arrived within minutes. Normally the county has only one deputy on duty per shift covering about 1,000 square miles. At this point the group was located about thirty miles from Falfurrias.

It just so happened, the bailout occurred under the watchful eye of a U.S. Border Patrol aerostat blimp. At about four o’clock the next morning, we encountered a Border Patrol BORSTAR tactical team. They told Walden they had been dispatched to the location of our bailout incident. With the help of the aerostat, they were able to apprehend over 20 people who had fled from the scene.

Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham said the removal of the aerostats proves securing the border is not a priority for President Joe Biden.

In a tweet on Thursday, the commissioner said this action “endangers our Border Patrol agents by taking eyes out of the sky.”

National Border Patrol officials said, “Biden is intent on erasing our border,” in a tweet.

Breitbart Texas reached out to CBP officials for additional information on the system’s reduction and plans to fill the gaps in electronic border security.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX.

Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol.  Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.


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