The Mexican Border: An Opportunity to Drive Value and Mitigate Risk

Butchko Inc. attended the U.S. – Mexico Border Security Summit on April 15 & 16 in
El Paso, Texas and in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, sponsored by the ASIS CSO Roundtable.

The following was the initial conference overview:

“Resilient assets, systems, and networks within the U.S. and Mexico are crucial to border security but also as critical is executive leadership from government and corporate senior security professionals who are willing to educate and shine light upon various border challenges. The Summit will cover these issues through panels such as “The Border Potential Threat” and “CSO Best Practices.”

We thought we would provide you our initial impressions from the conference.

Between 2009 and 2011, Ciudad de Juarez, Mexico was considered the most dangerous city in the world. Three years later, we were attending a security conference in the middle of the city. Juarez’ dubious reputation was the result of open warfare between the Juarez drug cartel and the Sinaloa drug cartel that played out on the streets of Juarez.

This not only threatened the lives of people but also the economic core of Mexico. It has been common practice since 1965 for the Mexican Government to set up free trade zones where factories import material and equipment on a duty-free and tariff free basis for assembly, processing, or manufacturing. Currently over 1 million Mexicans are employed by thousands of these ‘maquiladoras.’

However, maquiladores suffered as a result of the violence engendered by the cartels. At the same time, the United States was also suffering the pains of a ‘great recession’ as well as the threat to the maquiladores.

Since 2011, the violence has receded significantly. Despite this very positive trend, there is a distinct ‘hangover’ from the bad old days that affects business. The city is still considered a huge risk, and this might be increasingly undeserved.

Some key questions were posed for CSO’s and security professionals who work in these transitional environments:

  • How can they add value to their business by proactively measuring the degree and fluctuation of risk?
  • How can they take the initiative in reducing the acceleration of risk and its consequential impact?

We were able to take a number of tours of manufacturing facilities. During one such visit, a CSO noted that it was important to find ways to show corporate management that the security operation added value.

It just so happened that the production operations used video surveillance cameras to check on quality control as well as enforce access control of a ‘clean room’ manufacturing area. Security and Operations used these cameras to monitor both the outside of the facility and key areas inside the facility. In the newly-minted, spacious security operations center, only the security video were used. Some key questions:

  • Given that the production area and its processes represent a key asset of the company and the facility, what could be the benefits (or risks), to combining the production area video with security’s existing video?
  • What is the impact, benefit, and risk of combining the monitoring functions?

The VP for Global Security at Cummins Diesel outlined a management strategy that pushed a lot of key elements of security management to subordinates in the field. Some key questions:

  • In a security operation that oversees a global enterprise, where does the line need to be drawn between what Corporate Security Management is responsible for, and what the Regional or Facility security management must do?

The violence and risk in the Chihuahua state and Ciudad de Juarez have abated significantly and reduced the risks to the Maquiladores that operate in this sector. However, based on discussions of the overall threat picture in Mexico, there remains significant risk of violence in other states. In particular, in the state of Tamaulipas, the Zeta drug cartel and the Gulf drug cartel are locked in a bloody struggle for control of the ‘plazas’ or smuggling routes up through Tampico, Reynosa, and Matamoros.

  • How does this very real threat pose a risk to existing oil & gas operations in this area (home to the Burgos Basin), and a future risk to companies seeking to take advantage of Mexico’s recent opening of it’s energy sector to U.S., foreign operations, and investment?
  • Will it deter the oil & gas companies in the U.S. or not?

At the Ysleta (Zaragoza) crossing between the U.S. and Mexican border, U.S. Customs and Border patrol provided a briefing on the mechanisms and inspection regimes for truck traffic circulating between the Maquiladores in Mexico and warehousing facilities in El Paso. There is a focus on positive identification of contraband to include brand counterfeiting, smuggling of contraband goods, and of course, drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana. Ironically, there was little said about the inspection of tanker trucks carrying ’manifested‘ petroleum products into the U.S. (In a recent case, it was revealed that over $300 million USD was smuggled into the U.S. falsely manifested simply as ‘naphtha’ or ‘petroleum distillates.’)

  • How can CBP’s inspection regime be upgraded to identify falsely-manifested products?
  • Are there secondary checks that can be made by companies on the U.S. side of the border to ensure they do not accept stolen oil or gas from Mexico?

The threat that resulted in the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and its aftermath was not planned for in advance. This was made painfully clear in a presentation by William Rodriguez, who was a senior janitor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Rodriguez had the only ‘master key’, and led NYFD and NYPD up the stairs to help open doors, and guide people trapped in the building to safety following the attacks. He was also one of the last individuals out of the tower, as it collapsed. Rescuers dug him out from under the rubble. When CSO’s plan for a crisis or emergency:

  • What assumptions are taken into consideration?
  • When analyzing threat and threat scenarios, impact and consequences, how do you ensure that the ‘human factor’ (things like panic, fear, confusion, anger, denial), is taken appropriately into consideration?

In summary, our strategic consulting approach would take the entire ecosystem into consideration in developing an appropriate security master plan that integrated into the functional operation of the organizations that reside along this border. With a proper assessment focused on the business opportunity as well as the risk, security executives can provide demonstrable value to the mission of their organization.