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Local Law Enforcement Supports Cantwell's Measure to Secure Northern Border with Unmanned Aircraft

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Date:
Location: Spokane, WA


Local Law Enforcement Supports Cantwell's Measure to Secure Northern Border with Unmanned Aircraft

Spokane County Sheriff and Okanogan County Commissioners Send Letters in Support of Cantwell's Efforts Senator working to make sure her provision becomes law; use of unmanned aircraft will curb drug trafficking, boost security along rugged, rural border

Wednesday, August 02,2006

SPOKANE, WA - Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Stevens County Commissioner Tony Delgado, and the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners have announced their full support of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) bid to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along America's northern border to curb drug smuggling and improve security. Last month, the Senate approved Cantwell's measure to begin a pilot program to test UAVs on the northern border as part of legislation to fund the Homeland Security Department during 2007. Now, with the help of local Washington state law enforcement, Cantwell is pushing House and Senate leaders to keep her provision in the final version of the bill.

"We need to give our local law enforcement all the tools they need to secure our border and keep our communities safe," said Cantwell, a member of the Northern Border Coalition. "Local law enforcement officers in our border communities know all too well that we cannot take security along our border lightly. These unmanned aircraft can provide a safe, cost-effective boost to extend the reach of border agents in stopping drug smugglers or even terrorists. We already know that terrorists have tried to cross Washington's border with Canada. We need to enhance our surveillance of the long stretches of rugged, forested land that lines our northern border."

In July, Cantwell joined Sheriff Knezovich and Stevens County Commissioner Tony Delgado in Spokane to discuss a letter she was sending to Congressional leaders who will soon meet to work out differences between House and Senate version of the homeland security funding legislation. Cantwell's UAV provision is included in the Senate version of the bill. Sheriff Knezovich and the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners have sent letters of support highlighting the benefits of the UAV provisions championed by Cantwell. Commissioner Delgado is also sending a letter of support.

"Recently there have been several cases in which large amounts of drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamines, have been seized coming across the Canadian border," Sheriff Knezovich wrote. "Although we have stopped some of these drug shipments from entering the country, it is estimated that we are only stopping 10 percent of these shipments. Having the capability to increase our surveillance ability along the border is key to increasing our chances of not only stopping these drug shipments, but also stopping possible terrorist activities as well."

"The northern border of Okanogan County is rugged, heavily wooded, and sparsely populated and the terrain poses distinctive challenges for border security," wrote the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners. "Illegal crossings as well as heavy marijuana and other drug trafficking stretches border security and local law enforcement beyond their capabilities, leaving us all vulnerable."

The letter continued, "We encourage your support for the UAVs pilot project as this may prove the most effective means to stand against those that would threaten the United States."

The bipartisan UAV proposal, sponsored by Senators Cantwell and Max Baucus (D-MT), was included last month in the Senate Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2007. A similar provision was included in the immigration reform bill approved by the Senate in May, but this legislation is now stalled.

UAVs have already been tested and used along America's southern border. Using UAVs along the northern border would expand the reach and effectiveness of border agents in a cost effective way, and could help law enforcement reduce drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other crimes. UAVs cost between a few thousand and millions of dollars and can fly for much longer periods of time before needing to refuel. They can also eliminate the possible loss of life associated with manned aircraft. The P-3 manned aircraft used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cost $36 million each. Blackhawk helicopters, which are frequently used on America's borders, including Washington state's border with Canada, cost $8.6 million each. However, the benefit of the Blackhawk's relative low cost is diminished by its lack of endurance. Blackhawks have a maximum endurance of just over two hours before needing to refuel.

UAVs can identify objects as small as a shoebox from 60,000 feet, and can provide precise real-time imagery to a ground control operator for prolonged periods of time over a wide area. Ground operators can then disseminate the information gathered so that informed decisions regarding the deployment of border patrol agents to intercept illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and other illegal activities can be made quickly.

[The letters of support from Sheriff Knezovich and the Okanogan Board of Commissioners follow below]

July 31, 2006

Dear Chairmen Gregg and Rogers and Ranking Members Byrd and Sabo:

We understand that the House and Senate will soon move to conference negotiations on Homeland Security Appropriations for FY2007. The Board of Okanogan County Commissioners would like to request that Section 551 of the Senate's version of this legislation remain in the compromise legislation that emerges from conference.

The language directs the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, to conduct a pilot project to assess the viability of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a part of our border security infrastructure along the northern border of the United States.

The northern border of Okanogan County is rugged, heavily wooded, and sparsely populated and the terrain poses distinctive challenges for border security. Illegal crossings as well as heavy marijuana and other drug trafficking stretches border security and local law enforcement beyond their capabilities, leaving us all vulnerable.

We encourage your support for the UAVs pilot project as this may prove the most effective means to stand against those that would threaten the United States.

Respectfully,

Board of County Commissioners Okanogan, Washington

Don (Bud) Hover, Chairman Andrew Lampe, Member Mary Lou Peterson, Member

Senator Maria Cantwell

July 27, 2006

Dear Honorable Judd Gregg:

As the House and Senate move to Conference negotiations on Homeland Security Appropriations for FY2007, I am writing to request that Section 551 of the Senate's version of this legislation remain in the compromise legislation that emerges from conference.

This bipartisan language directs the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, to conduct a pilot project to assess the viability of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a part of our border security infrastructure along the northern border of the United States.

Recently there have been several cases in which large amounts of drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamines, have been seized coming across the Canadian border. Although we have stopped some of these drug shipments from entering the country, it is estimated that we are only stopping 10 percent of these shipments. Having the capability to increase our surveillance ability along the border is key to increasing our chances of not only stopping these drug shipments, but also stopping possible terrorist activities as well.

Spokane County is the largest metropolitan area in eastern Washington with several high value terrorist targets, for example, Fairchild Air Force Base. It is vital that we use all possible methods to ensure that we control our borders.

The UAV project would give law enforcement the real time data that we need to help keep our country secure and stop the flow of illegal drugs into our communities. I respectfully request your assistance in obtaining this vital tool for the security of our great nation.

Sincerely,

Ozzie D. Knezovich, Sheriff Spokane County

http://cantwell.senate.gov/news/record.cfm?id=260460&&days=30&

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