The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commands the largest police force in the country, with almost half of all federal agents under its umbrella, the majority of whom are focused on the policing, imprisonment, and deportation of immigrants.
The George W. Bush administration proposed the The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, with a Secretary of Homeland Security as a new cabinet level position. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 which created DHS has been called "the largest federal government reorganization since the Department of Defense was created via the National Security Act of 1947 (as amended in 1949)."
Among other changes, DHS merged many of the roles of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Customs Service into the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (later renamed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE), and placed the Border Patrol under the umbrella of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The reorganization of the US immigration regime under DHS explicitly connected immigrants with "terrorism" and immigration enforcement with "counterterrorism."
As the "war on terror" increasingly replaced and expanded the "war on drugs" (and the earlier fight against "communist subversion") as a catch-all for programs of mass surveillance and political repression, the Department of Homeland Security became a central federal agency coordinating intelligence gathering and sharing of information on political groups and oppressed communities inside the United States. A major focus of DHS was to further integrate existing police agencies on all levels, and more specifically to integrate federal agencies with state and local police forces. This centralization and coordination of surveillance and information sharing took place in parallel with other developments of the US police state: the passage of the Patriot Act (which further legalized secret surveillance and the use of secret evidence in political trials), the public normalization of torture, the expansion of the "extraordinary rendition" program, indefinite detention without trial, and mass imprisonment of groups because of their nationality or religion. (See also separate entry on ICE and the "Special Registration" program.)
As part of its coordination of federal and local police agencies, the Department of Homeland Security administers a grant program called the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), which funds "terrorism" preparedness for state and city police. Funded programs include intelligence fusion centers, of which DHS now lists 80 across the country, as well as training exercises such as Urban Shield. The Urban Shield exercises bring together domestic police forces with foreign counterparts, including Israeli police. Trainings are held in cities across the country, purportedly as preparation for "terrorist attacks" and major disasters. The exercises further militarize US police forces and train them for the repression of popular uprisings and for urban warfare.
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security contracted with Blackwater, a private military company infamous for atrocities in Iraq, to send heavily armed mercenaries into New Orleans, revealing DHS's actual priorities in the case of large scale disasters: providing security for wealth and power.
In 2005, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced the Secure Border Initiative. The plan included the use of fences, walls, towers, roads and high tech monitoring systems along the US-Mexico border. In 2006, DHS awarded contracts related to this initiative to the US weapons company Boeing and to the US subsidiary of Elbit Systems, the Israeli company centrally responsible for building the wall in Palestine created to strangle and imprison Palestinian communities and annex farmland and water resources. The initiative included "1,800 towers equipped with cameras and motion detectors stretched across the border."
According to a report by the Transnational Institute, between 2006 and 2019, US Customs and Border Protection (a sub-agency within DHS) alone made the following contracts with top weapons, security, and tech companies for the militarization of the border and surveillance of migrants: UNISYS, $2 billion (biometrics, license, passport detection); IBM, $1.7 billion (technological infrastructure); Boeing, $1.4 billion (land surveillance system); PAE, $1.2 billion (maintenance and refurbishing air vehicles); Lockheed Martin, $1 billion (surveillance planes, coastguard, cybersecurity); L3 technologies, $894 million (surveillance systems, cameras, sensor systems); G4S $653 million (transportation for arrested migrants); Northrop Grumman, $340 million (biometrics, border screening, radar surveillance); Accenture, $200 million (administrative support, hiring); Elbit Systems, $187 million (surveillance towers); General Dynamics, $167 million (surveillance towers); FLIR systems, $157 million (night vision, thermal cameras on mobile surveillance capability systems); Raytheon, $37 million (surveillance and radar systems for maritime drones).
Also in 2005, Chertoff launched "Operation Community Shield," employing ICE agents in anti-gang units in massive sweeps against immigrants across the country. The operation--still ongoing--features Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and National Gang Unit (NGU). This parallels a general development melding the propaganda and infrastructure created for policing racialized communities inside the US as "gangs" and "terrorists." (For more on this, see article on the Boston Police Department)
In 2008, Chertoff was involved in the First International Security Forum of Ministers of Interior and Homeland Security in Jerusalem, where he "signed an agreement with Israel to share technology and information on methods to improve homeland security." Chertoff publicly discussed introducing Israeli security measures at US airports that were supposedly based on behavioral profiling, including a new technology purported to "read thoughts."
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted by the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2016 have revealed communications between the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local police forces about protests against the systematic police murder of Black people, beginning with the uprising in Ferguson Missouri in 2014. As CCR summarizes,"The request followed the many instances over the previous two years of military and counterterror resources being used to surveil MBL [Movement for Black Lives] protests as well as first-hand accounts of surveillance of protests and activists." CCR further details: "Emails from DHS show staff sharing far right-wing tabloid conspiracy articles to agency email lists. One email shares an article regarding 'co-option' of anti-police brutality protests by ISIS and 'jihadists.' Another email chain between 'Regional Directors' contains the subject heading 'Muslims co-opt Ferguson demonstrations' with a link to a Fox News article."
In 2020, DHS sent heavily armed police to arrest activists protesting racist police violence in Portland Oregon. Dressed in camouflage and without badges or identifying insignia, these police officers snatched protesters off the street and forced them into unmarked SUVs, often holding them for prolonged periods without formal charges or explanation. Participating DHS agencies included the US Marshals Special Operations Group and US Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC).
There are two fusion centers in Massachusetts funded by the Department of Homeland Security: the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) operated by the Boston Police Department and the Commonwealth Fusion Center, operated by the Massachusetts State Police. As in other states across the country, these intelligence fusion centers have been used to gather and share intelligence on political activists. (See separate entries on BRIC and on the Massachusetts State Police)
Urban Shield exercises funded by DHS have been held in Boston and surrounding communities several times beginning in 2011. A press release from the Boston mayor's office announced the start of the program as follows:
"Approximately $1 million in grant funding from the Urban Area Security Initiative through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be appropriated for Urban Shield: Boston with the goal of providing a multi-layered training exercise to enhance the skills and abilities of regional first responders when addressing large-scale events. The exercises and overall competition will also test the command structure of the Unified Area Command (UAC) composed of top officials from each first responder agencies throughout the metropolitan region and supported by $2 million worth of new communications equipment immediately placing each agency on the same radio wavelength should there ever be a large scale crisis."
("Mayor Menino Announces First National Multi-Discipline Simulated 24-hour Safety Services Competition Urban Shield: Boston," US State News, May 20, 2011)
In 2004, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) established five "homeland security planning regions" to receive funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Metropolitan Area Planning Council manages DHS grants for four regional Homeland Security Advisory Councils: North East Homeland Security Advisory Council (NERAC); Central Region Homeland Security Council (CRHSAC); Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (WRHSAC); and Southeast Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council (SRAC). According the the NERAC website, these are "multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional advisory councils" tasked with "the development of regional homeland security plans and oversight of grant program expenditures." Public facing websites emphasize disaster preparedness, but documents obtained through a suit filed by the ACLU about the activities of NEMLEC show lists of NERAC funded military equipment for police SWAT teams. Allocations to NEMLEC for SWAT teams can also be found in NERAC meeting minutes.
Beginning at least as far back as 2006, Northeastern University has entered into contracts with the Department of Homeland Security, receiving tens of millions of dollars from multiple projects supporting DHS missions (listed below). In 2008, DHS partnered with Northeastern University in launching the Center for Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) as a designated "DHS Center of Excellence"--part of a nationwide project partnering with Universities to conduct research and develop technologies in support of DHS missions. Other local universities participating with the Center include Boston University and Tufts, and local industry partners of the Center include Massachusetts-based weapons developer Raytheon.
Northeastern University projects funded by DHS have included the following: $2,287,099, "wide area surveillance and suicide bomber detection at greater than 10 meters (BOMDETEC)" (2006-2010); $2,141,294, "exploratory methods mapping (EMM) process services for big data sets" (ICE contract, 2016-2018); $2,000,000, "novel technologies and processes to support interdiction of illicit materials task order ... (ALERT) Center of Excellence (COE) Northeastern University" (2020-2022); $1,945,000, "enhanced trace explosives detection under the Northeastern University Center of Excellence BOA" (2020-2022); $1,882,167, "launch Center for Resilience Studies Network (CRS-NET) to directly support DHS in informing and advancing the capacity for lifeline infrastructures to be better prepared for, to rapidly recover from, and to adapt to natural and man-made disasters" (2015-2018); $1,373,417, "the Explosives Center of Excellence (COE) at Northeastern University (ALERT) ... new task order is for advanced algorithm reconstruction research" (2012-2013); $1,234,221, "research and development of algorithms for improved image quality for checkpoint explosive detection systems" (2016-2018); $1,221,198, "explosives detection project: improved millimeter wave radar advanced imaging technology (AIT) characterization of concealed low-contrast body-bourne threats project activity: integrated passenger screening systems/ eye safe trace detection performer" (2015-2108); $1,203,041, "standardization of procedures and methodology to measure trace explosives sampling efficiency and baseline performance" (2015-2017); $1,140,000, "task order for advanced automatic threat recognition (ATR)" (2012-2015); $1,025,000, "advanced algorithms for explosives detection equipment project" (2010-2011); $690,000, "novel features and emerging technologies for opioid detection project" (2019-2021); $650,000, "comprehensive database of contact explosives sampling efficiency and baseline performance" (2019-2022); $198,754, "support services to assist in development of counter proliferations investigations fusion center" (2010-2012); $156,616, "investigate challenges and barriers that are disincentives for investing post-disaster recovery funds" (2014-2016).
Of particular note, in November 2021, Northeastern won a $36 million contract from DHS to build a surveillance system called SENTRY (Soft target Engineering to Neutralize the Threat RealitY). The system promises to turn schools, sporting events and city spaces into a panopticon that will "integrate elements such as crowd-scanning sensors mounted atop light poles, video feeds, cell phone traffic, aerial drone footage, and social media posts." Eleven other universities will be involved in the SENTRY project, including Boston University and Tufts University. MA-based weapons developer Raytheon as well as the MA-based military R&D lab Draper will be on the project's advisory board. SENTRY is being established as yet another DHS "Center of Excellence."
Department of Homeland Security spending records also show regular tuition grants for DHS personnel to attend Harvard Kennedy School seminars on Homeland Security through Harvard Kennedy's "Program in Crisis Leadership," such as the "General and Flag Officer Homeland Security Executive Seminar".
In 2017, US Department of Homeland Security leadership from New England participated in a “counterterrorism seminar” in Israel, as part of an all-expenses-paid delegation of US law enforcement to Israel sponsored by the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The New England Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sponsors annual all-expenses-paid delegations to Israel for high-ranking New England police, ICE, FBI, and other security officials, where these officials meet with Israeli military, police, and intelligence agencies, with whom they train and exchange tactics including surveillance, racial profiling, crowd control, and the containment of protests.