Australia is already establishing a Pacific Fusion Centre. The United States must cooperate and work together rather than establishing our own separate and competing network. We must learn from our successes of the not-too-distant past.
On April 4th, 1970, I arrived at my first assignment at Clark Air Base, Philippines. That totally refocused my life which has been intertwined with the Pacific Basin for nearly a half-century now.
While on active duty in the United States Air Force, I was in the Philippines for nearly three years during two tours. I was also on Okinawa before it was reverted back to Japan for nearly a year.
Using my GI Bill benefits, I graduated from college in Southern California in 1978 with the hope of returning to the Philippines as a Christian Missionary. Hoping to study linguistics for Bible translation work, I came to Hawaii that year.
After being employed by the State of Hawaii for a year, I was hired by the U.S. Customs Service here in Honolulu. From 1979 until 2006, I served in uniform as a sworn federal officer with the U.S. Customs Service and then U.S. Customs and Border Protection with assignments in Hawaii, Southern California and Washington, DC.
USCS was born in 1789 and died in 2003 when President George W. Bush moved Customs inspections into the new Department of Homeland Security in a merger with immigration inspections under CBP. Intelligence was always a collateral duty during my entire career in uniform. It was then that I realized how I could make the best contribution to border security specifically and to national security overall.
From 2006 through 2014, I worked for the CBP Field Office in San Francisco with physical assignment here in Honolulu as a Field Analysis Specialist. For the last eight years of my federal career, I was able to provide situational awareness along with strategic and tactical targeting of potential smugglers.
Both official and open sources of information are necessary to develop comprehensive approaches to securing our national borders. Research, analysis, synthesis, articulation and dissemination all go into the development of an intelligence assessment tailored to the operational requirements of decision-makers.
FOCUS ON THE PACIFIC
Few there be that truly understand the geopolitics of the Pacific Basin. Of those who do, only a handful are Americans. This is not the exotic South Pacific of movie lore. This is a real world with small specks of land amidst an enormous amount of deep blue water.
I have previously discussed the ethno-linguistic regions of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia along with the multiple island nations and territories that comprise them. For our purposes in this current analysis, those who need to know the distinctions do know the distinctions.
U.S. Customs was an active participant in multinational information-sharing ventures in the Pacific Basin. From about 1989 until the late 1990s, the USA hosted the Project Cook database which tracked small vessels ~ yachts and some fishing vessels ~ throughout the Pacific to identify suspects. For about a decade after that, the Customs Asia-Pacific Enforcement Reporting System [CAPERS] expanded beyond vessel tracking to also provide training and communications access for small islands under the tutelage of America, Australia and New Zealand.
I was a very hands-on element of both programs in my official capacity with U.S. Customs. It’s not my purpose to go into detail about either program at this time. Rather, I am just pointing to the efficacy of how working together behooves my own country and all our neighbors in this part of the world.
ESTABLISHING A PACIFIC FUSION CENTRE
At this moment as you read these words, the Australian government and Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne are overseeing the establishment of a new Pacific Fusion Centre. The current administration of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is more actively engaged with Pacific partnerships than were recent predecessors.
The new Pacific Fusion Centre is already in existence in Canberra with the plan of establishing it permanently in a host country within the Pacific Basin. Two former U.S. Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands have been vying to become that location ~ Palau and Federated States of Micronesia. Both are in proximity to current U.S. territories of Guam and CNMI.
Meanwhile, half a world away inside the DC Beltway, our Senate Armed Services Committee has tasked the United States Indo-Pacific Command based in Hawaii to establish one or more such fusion centers in the Pacific. My contention here is that this would be an unnecessary duplication of effort and counterproductive toward the end goal of information-sharing with our friends in the Pacific.
As I can personally vouch, both Project Cook and CAPERS were tremendous assets to the United States because we worked hand-in-hand with our allies in the Pacific Theater. Both multinational platforms worked because they were based upon shared law enforcement concerns and not primarily military in nature.
Those familiar with Project Cook know when and where it was founded. Those who actually gathered and shared the pertinent information were primarily Customs Officers and some other local law enforcement.
It must be acknowledged that today there is one significant factor that weighs heavily in this United States initiative. Historically, the concerns have been interdiction of drug smuggling, fisheries enforcement and revenue collection. But today, counteracting Chinese hegemony also requires cooperation among our friends here in the Pacific.
In addition to Australia and New Zealand, we must seriously include Japan in this endeavor. As we assist small Islands in their development, we must be careful not to impose our own nationalistic template over their actual needs. All major friendly countries with a vested interest in the Pacific must be consulted and invited to participate.
We must not compete to see who can be first to establish this new Pacific Fusion Centre. I highly recommend that the United States at the very highest diplomatic levels talk to Australia and to Japan sooner rather than later about working together cooperatively in one Pacific Fusion Centre which we can all support.
It needs to be staffed with expert analysts from both large nations and small islands. We need the expertise and the resources of both to ensure success.
I also strongly stress that the United States military is not a perfect fit for this urgent information and intelligence sharing outpost far from our own shores. Rather, this should be a responsibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Despite my own personal background in Customs, recognizing that resources and priorities have changed in the nearly five years since I retired, I would look toward the U.S. Coast Guard as our forward-facing agency.
Just as USCG is being called upon to fulfill its dual role in augmenting the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, not falling directly under the Department of Defense would be an asset in our participation in the new Pacific Fusion Centre. The involvement of the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force West based in Hawaii should be considered.
We do not necessarily need or want either U.S. military members or civilian federal employees as the analysts at this new Pacific Fusion Centre. Oversight by DHS of America’s interests with the involvement of USCG and JIATF-W is appropriate.
But analysts should be recruited from the United States as well as other participating nations with a management structure at the new Pacific Fusion Centre. We are not there to dominate, but rather to participate.
Whether it is President Trump and Prime Minister Morrison, or Secretary of State Pompeo and Minister of Foreign Affairs Payne, the new Pacific Fusion Centre must be prioritized at the highest levels of government. But it has to go beyond heads of state and career diplomats.
LET’S GET THIS RIGHT
Having communicated with counterparts throughout the Pacific Basin and beyond on a daily basis for many years has instilled a frame of reference and a respect that can be achieved neither academically nor strictly by virtue of one’s official title. It requires a person whose life and whose heart are intertwined with this very special and precious environment.
You need to consider the views of analysts who have been there and done that. We might be able to give you a few pointers about what works and what doesn’t. The Pacific Basin is very unique. We need to re-engage, but we must do it practically rather than politically.
We would even advise you to let them spell it “Centre” and not insist upon the American spelling. That should be intuitive.