Giffords’ Shooting Taking its Toll on Arizona

Jan 17th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Politics


Produced for KJZZ's Fronteras Desk. Click to listen. Last weekend's shooting in Tucson has been difficult on the community, including those tasked with keeping the rest of us safe. Since Saturday, the sheriff and the surgeons have kept the nation briefed on developments in the case, and given us a glimpse into their drive and humanity. KJZZ's Michel Marizco reports. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was just minutes into a press briefing when he started talking about his personal loss in Saturday killings. "Five people were killed. One of whom – two of whom – are personal friends of mine, including councilwoman Giffords. One being a federal judge, John Roll," he said. Dupnik, of course, meant Congresswoman Giffords. He’s an experienced lawman who suddenly found himself bound by professional duty on one hand, and grief on the other. Then, the anger crept in. "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he said, his voice rising. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry." Dupnik has since been slammed for these comments, criticized by Republican senators and AM Talk Radio deejays for confusing the personal with the professional. All across Tucson, the people of this tight-knit community they call the Old Pueblo have been grappling with the grief behind Saturday’s killings. All told, six people were murdered, another 14 were shot. Sheriff Dupnik’s reaction makes sense to Jake Jacobs, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona. He studies the affects of trauma on soldiers and emergency workers. "The sheriff? As he stepped outside of his role as the sheriff, and began to speak personally, we got more opinions. The anger came out, I think," Jacobs said. The 75-year-old sheriff wasn’t the only one expressing his personal feelings. The pressure of the past few days has even weighed on the doctors, including Dr. Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon who’s been at Giffords' bedside. He spoke to the press on Monday morning. “I was personally touched," he said during a press briefing, last week. "My wife brought my children by to the memorial and really the look on the childrens' faces said it all and it really spoke to the way the community has come together, the way it's healing and the way it's trying to heal.” Prof. Jacobs says the doctors are doing the most normal thing in the world, reaching out to the Tucson community. "If there's anything we know, it's connecting with others that helps in moments like these," Jacobs said. Then there's Dr. Peter Rhee, UMC’s chief trauma surgeon. Speaking about her condition, his experience as a battlefield surgeon comes through. "I think that she has a one hundred and one percent chance of surviving. She will not die. She does not have that permission from me," he said, confidently. Dr. Rhee says he’s seen much worse injuries in war. He was one of the first trauma surgeons deployed to Afghanistan, then started the first surgical unit in Ramadi, Iraq. If Giffords’ case is affecting him adversely, Rhee isn’t showing it. "That evening here in Tucson after mass casualty type of event, we had another person shot in the chest and died in our emergency room as well. This goes on all day long," Rhee said. Asked how it compares to war, Rhee smiles and says it doesn't. "This is a piece of cake."

Wikileaks and the Dark Alliance

Dec 7th, 2010 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Politics


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is about to find out what a journalist, now dead, found out ten years ago. The system, once pushed, will respond. In Assange's case, he and Wikileaks are finding themselves losing the resources for survival, one by one, more every day. First Amazon dumped Wikileaks, then PayPal, now Visa and Mastercard. Next up, the Justice Department with potential trafficking in stolen property charges, the New York Times reports. I noticed the editors of the Washington Post, perhaps smarting over Wikileaks' not sharing the cable-dump with them, started referring to Assange as pasty-faced in their news stories. It all reminds me of the persecution of a nearly-forgotten journalist in the 1990s, Gary Webb. Working for the San Jose Mercury-News, Webb wrote a series of articles claiming that Nicaraguans working for the CIA-supported Contras were running coke up to Los Angeles. The coke was being pushed on the streets as crack cocaine and the proceeds returning to the Contras. In effect, Webb argued, the CIA knew who was fueling the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The series was later published in a book, Dark Alliance. (Minor but crucial point: Webb never argues the CIA was moving the coke, only that they stepped aside as their Contras did so). It's not one of my favorite books, let me be upfront about that now. I felt Webb lacked the proof throughout the book. I've read it a few times now and each time, I walk away unconvinced that he had the solid proof. I can almost feel the desperation that drove him to finish it. That's not to say I disbelieve the idea, clearly he laid out the case for more work to be put forth on the matter. My problem with the book isn't the question, or even the accusation he makes of the CIA. You can sense it's there. But he didn't prove it. But my own dissatisfaction is irrelevant. Dark Alliance should have raised the curiosity of the press, particularly those charged with watchdogging the government, newspapers like the Washington Post, The Los Angeles and New York Times, hell, his own newspaper in San Jose (they retracted the story). Instead the constructs of the machine surrounded Webb. It was embarrassing how the newspapers reacted. Rather than take his story and press the Feds on the matter, the newspapers chose to vilify Webb. They attacked his reporting, his character and his news judgment. Not one of them, and mind you, one of those includes the Washington Post, the newspaper that helped bring down a president, invested the resources, time or the interest in following up on Webb's reporting. Instead, they quoted government officials who condemned his reporting. The newspapers chose not to listen because to do so would have required time and money – and ego. They would have had to acknowledge that they got smoked by a much smaller paper with far less resources than their own companies could muster. It raised uncomfortable truths about an austerity in genuine, critical and original reporting by the country's greatest newspapers. In the end, Webb was disgraced, his career finished. Never mind that even before he wrote his series, the Kerry Committee had already determined there were truths there that bore exploration. Those were ignored. Webb died in 2004, the official cause: suicide, from two gunshot wounds to the head. Secretos, tragedy, quien sabe. Now the machine closes on Assange. Here's Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen charging Assange with recklessness: "but Assange launched them into cyberspace anyway, not caring if American interests were damaged. In fact, that might have been the whole point." Really, Cohen? Did you forget (or even stop to consider) that Assange is Australian and thusly, may not have American interests at heart because he's not American? Madres. Assange may have committed a crime in receiving these classified dispatches. But he's not the problem. Clearly, someone within the U.S. government sees fit to purge government computers of thousands of megabytes of information and ship them to a meta-data website for mass publication. Clearly, someone isn't vetting U.S. government employees or security measures are not being taken to prevent their being lifted. We have a problem. But those are harder questions to have to answer, they are awkward and risk embarrassment and accountability – after the fact, after the information's already been leaked. Apparently, those in the news business now criticizing Assange also feel they are harder questions to ask. It's far easier, and far cheaper, to kill the messenger. And in Assange's case, the messengers are helping to kill.

Homeland Security May Disable its Virtual Fence

Nov 30th, 2010 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Immigration, Politics


This is a story I produced for the Fronteras Project that aired this morning on Arizona Public Media.

Please bookmark and visit our web site, FronterasDesk.org, for stories from all along the border region, from San Diego to San Antonio.

I interviewed Linda Thomas, a former program manager working within Dept. of Homeland Security's Strategic Border Initiative, or SBInet. It's the first time someone with an insider's understanding of the project has emerged to discuss their experiences. TUCSON, ARIZ. – The federal government’s electronic border fence has been plagued with problems from the beginning. Now, the program is nearly in tatters, and some security experts believe last week’s short renewal of the fence contract is the government buying itself time before backing out of the ambitious project. KJZZ’s Michel Marizco reports. The Homeland Security Department has renewed the Boeing Corporation’s contract to build a virtual border fence for another month. The agency has been tentatively extending the nearly one billion dollar contract one month at a time. It’s a hesitation that is widely expected to be the agency’s last act before either dumping the project altogether or keeping the technology but getting rid of the project. The project is called the Strategic Border Initiative or SBInet. And for more than four years, Boeing’s been unable to complete it. Linda Thomas was a high level manager working for a subcontractor Boeing hired to help build the project’s towers and ground sensors. She walked away from the project in disgust after seven months and says now that the federal government wasn’t keeping track of Boeing’s failures. She describes a field test she conducted in Playas, New Mexico. “We went out there and did a test of the microwave system and a colleague and I drove around in circles – for hours – so that the microwave could try and lock in on us and it just wasn’t successful,” Thomas said. She says she felt that Homeland Security has invested so much money into this program that it can’t back away now, or it stands to lose the last four years of work. “Then I attended various meetings with Boeing and – I guess – straw that broke the camel’s back was pretty much a meeting at the end that I went to with very high level people and everybody was, at least in the Boeing family, to me, was just sitting around joking about how we weren’t making progress and I just couldn’t handle it anymore and that’s when I resigned,” Thomas said. The system, once predicted to cover the entire Mexican border, now is only set up in two small stretches of southern Arizona. The idea of a border-to-border electronic wall appears to be over. Jim Carafano is a homeland security analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “What they’re trying to do is keep the technology without keeping SBInet because the word SBInet says, ‘Oh, that’s that wasteful evil program that Bush had,’ right? They don’t want that,” Carafano said. “So they want to figure out how they can fund this thing, at a lower level, more modest, and they’re trying to square that circle.” Homeland Security officials declined to be interviewed on the air for this story. In an email, they said that they are currently reviewing the: “independent, quantitative, science-based reassessment of the SBInet program.” In the meantime, Homeland is investing in other technologies, both new and old. Next year, its bringing in three more Predator B unmanned aircraft to fly the borders, creating a fleet of ten UAVs. Last month, the agency began another recruitment drive to hire 2,000 more agents for the southern border. Homeland Security has until December 18 to decide what it’s going to do with the program.

Que Piensan?

Oct 15th, 2010 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Politics


Legit? Or no?

Assassins Sent to “Take Out” Bandits in Vekol Valley

On May 13th, 2010 the Department of Homeland Security sent out an email to several law enforcement agencies regarding intelligence information they had developed. The information was not disseminated to the general public as it was deemed “law enforcement sensitive.” On October 14th, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by a local news entity that had the information contained in the email regarding “assassins being sent to take out bandits in Vekol Valley” which is located in western Pinal County. The news entity had confirmed the information through other law enforcement agencies both on a local and federal level. Below is the information we are sending out in an effort to inform the public about the dangers associated with the drug cartels operating in Pinal County. “We just received information from a proven credible confidential source who reported that last weekend, a meeting was held in Puerto Penasco in which every smuggling organization who utilized the Vekol Valley was told to attend. This included rival groups within the Guzman cartel. It was decided that the cartel would send a group of fifteen, very well equipped and armed sicarios complete with bullet proof vests, into the Vekol Valley. The Cartel has a map of where the most bandit activity has been occurring. The group will walk into the valley taking four days to get into LPOP positions and communicate back to Penasco. Penasco will then send groups of simulated backpackers carrying empty boxes covered with burlap into the Vekol Valley to draw out the bandits. Once the bandits have been identified, the sicarios will take out the bandits. Incidentally, the night of the Vekol Valley shooting, we received information from a source who reported that the scouts in the valley (the Cartel has 23 scout locations with rolling encryption) were reporting that bandits had shot two sheriff’s deputies and the area was covered with cops.” The above paragraph was referring to April 30th when Deputy Louie Puroll was ambushed in Vekol Valley by armed smugglers. Sheriff Paul Babeu stated, “This information came from Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano’s office. She knows exactly what the citizens of Arizona are faced with yet she continues to publicly state how much safer we all are. I once again ask her to please put politics aside and secure the border or give us the resources we need so that we can protect our Arizona families.”

El Desmadre de las Armas Preferidas

Sep 15th, 2010 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime, Politics


Readers of BorderReporter are no strangers to the stories that surface on a daily basis of clashes between Mexico's cartels and the state. But some of you may find certain elements of this report I co-authored on firearms trafficking to Mexico interesting. Funded by the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, my colleague, Colby Goodman and I set out to establish the parameters of the trafficking debate, since so often, the numbers are roughly generalized and given little context.

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