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CBP awards no-bid contract for drone footage streaming, claiming it’s about “disaster” response

Did you know Customs Border Patrol's Office of Information and Technology (OIT), Border Enforcement and Management System Division (BEMSD) does "natural disaster" first responder work? Neither did I!

According to this sole-source, no-bid award justification posted on the government's federal business opportunities website, CBP's border enforcement division has just given private contractor Ashburn Consulting an extended contract to work on "network and video engineering services in support of [its] Full Motion Video network infrastructure." Ashburn had previously received a contract worth $5.2 million for similar work.

The new contract, which runs from April through October 2014, with an option of extension through April 2015, is for services related to drone surveillance technology. Specifically, the award appears to focus on beaming live drone and CCTV footage to people at agency installations on the ground, including DHS leadership. The award justification states:

The CBP Full Motion Video (FMV) project provides the capability to transmit live streaming video, data, and audio from various aerial and ground assets using satellite and wireless technologies. The system allows CBP and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership to view areas of interested in near real time and direct ground personnel and first responders to locations appropriate for incidents of national significance, such as natural disasters.

But does the Customs Border Patrol sub-agency of DHS actually deal in "natural disaster" response? According to its mission statement, it does not.

CBP's mission, according to its website, is the following:

We are the guardians of our nation's borders.
We are America's frontline.
We safeguard the American homeland at and beyond our borders.
We protect the American public against terrorists and the instruments of terror. [*]
We steadfastly enforce the laws of the United States while fostering our nation's economic security through lawful international trade and travel.
We serve the American public with vigilance, integrity and professionalism.

The website also states:

With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world's largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.

As the world's first full-service border entity, CBP takes a comprehensive approach to border management and control, combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive activity.

What does all of that have to do with natural disaster response? Nothing. Nonetheless, CBP is justifying a no-bid contract to provide drone and CCTV footage live-streaming services to DHS leadership on the basis that CBP responds to natural disasters. Sounds fishy!

*Note: CBP has never once caught a terrorist crossing the border. It has killed lots of Mexican citizens, however, and generally terrorizes thousands of people—both citizens and non—in the Southwest United States.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.