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Violence at Our Borders:Its Potential Effects on Homeland Security
By Todd W. Devoe, CHS-III

Today the Department of Homeland Security maintains its initiatives in keeping our country safe, but on the global stage there are still idealistic people numbering in the millions who despise the way of life of the westerner, and plan continuously for our demise. Opportunities, however, still exist which provide a means for the bad guys to create havoc and attempted destruction here in our country. There is still a question which still looms over our heads: even after ten years of planning and action to prevent more attacks here, how do we prevent access to our lands by our foes who want to attack us again?

This article will delve into the reasons that Mexico, especially along its northern border, has gone from a romantic and mystic get-away to a violent and evil domain of drug and human traffickers and domestic and international terrorists.

In Navy Admiral James Winnefeld's first newspaper interview following his assignment to NORTHCOM in Colorado Springs, CO, he wasted no time in outlining his concern over the Southern border of the United States (Gertz, 2010). His priorities have increased regarding the drug cartels in the area, and he speaks about the levels of drug violence in numerous places along the border, including several spots within the United States itself. Speaking of the drug problem existing in several different areas in both Mexico and the United States, he refers to them as "theaters." This is a big use of language in both descriptions of the problem as well as in setting a legal precedent by giving the problem a military centric tagline. It allows combined efforts by elements of both the United States and Mexico's military. Our military at the time of this article, however, is primarily oriented to the training and equipping of Mexico's military and aligned police organizations. The long-range intent is not just a training solution, but a long term coordinated effort to curtail the violence and hostilities.

The two nation-state militaries have begun a very good relationship. The Mexican government has requested help in the form of a joint intelligence center as a tool to move forward along a track of modern warfare intelligence resources including fusion centers, much like what we use today to coordinate intelligence sharing among different agencies within the United States. Regarding the conversation of drug cartels, Winnefeld includes his concern of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. At first look, these have the impression of being two separate issues, and in some ways this is true. Out of 919,000 illegal immigrants caught in 2005, over 119,000 of them were non-Mexicans. Some originated in countries known to have ties to recognized terrorist organizations accounting for 644 people apprehended in 2005 (Axlman, 2005). These statistics represent the numbers of persons caught. However, the biggest fear is from the numbers of illegal aliens from countries of interest that have not been caught. This is extremely important information to be aware of. The drug cartels have been smuggling their product to the north for quite some time and have developed a strong logistic network. These methods used to deliver drugs to the markets in the north provide a perfect vehicle for smuggling other contraband as well. This potentially includes materials and/or components for weapons of mass destruction. Although they primarily deal in drugs and human trafficking, criminal organizations have been known in the past to seek out other sources of revenue, and might very well take advantage of an offer they cannot refuse to move these weapons of mass destruction along their established supply lines.

Who are these known drug Cartels?

The BBC for many years has been a great source of global information, and maintains a unique perspective for its audience in that its censorship requirements are much more lax than United States journalism. In 2006, as a push to limit the existing drug cartels, Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown (BBC, 2011). In doing so, the retaliation of the cartels has resulted in thousands of people being killed: 34,612 between 2006 and January 2011 (BBC, 2011). These numbers include not only criminals and national security forces, but innocent bystanders too. During Mr. Calderon's presidency, it is estimated that over 40,000 people lost their lives in the battle (BBC, 2011).

The Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) is reported as being North America's most violent drug Cartel and operates in the western region of the Tijuana – San Diego, CA border (Public Broadcasting Station (PBS), 2011). Using "juniors" as recruited hit-men and runners, the AFO finds men of middle and upper class status on both sides of the border. They are enticed with romantic tales of the gangster life and wealth. They often torture their victims in ways similar to medieval practices, and they have gained a reputation of cruel and vicious treatment to people opposing their trade. They solicit help from informants in the police departments and high-tech communications systems. Recent arrests of the cartel members have spurred increased violence in Tijuana, and while arresting some of the AFO's key leadership, the Mexican government caused several setbacks in the organization just before a very controversial presidential election. These events appear to be making progress in a positive way, but, in reality, it is just a trade-off of violence, leaving American agency representatives wondering about their own safety south of the border.

Primarily operating within the South-Central Mexican state of Morelos, the Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS) is one of two factions derived from the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), now in competition with the other half remnants of BLO (Stratfor Global Intelligence, 2010). Early 2010 found a spike in violence in this region, and it continues to increase dramatically as time goes on. This faction is at a so called war with the remainder of the original BLO organization, and executions are quite common. As a public service, on April 16th of 2010, CPS members began a marketing campaign including radio announcements, social media messages, SMS notes, and various other banners and posters notifying local residents to stay indoors after 8:00 p.m. in order to not be confused with rival gang members and killed by mistake. One could argue that this might be a psychological operation intended to intimidate the opponent, or it could be just as it seems, a semi-ethical gang protecting the local citizenry from impending danger. Of course in Mexico, law and order seems to still be as it was in the United States Wild West period of the late 19th century. Even with this notification, local security efforts fell short, and the violence continues.

The Los Zetas organization is one of the international gangs with close ties in El Salvador (Stratfor Global Intelligence, 2010). Infamous in its transnational gangs, El Salvador experiences criminal control by gangs formed in the United States prison systems, but deported back to their home country after serving their sentences. Now spanning countries in both North and Central America including Guatemala and Honduras, they have commandeered weapons caches and enjoy combat experience from the El Salvador civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. Pushing deeper into Central America, Los Zetas intends to gain greater control over the drug supply line from South America. This supply line is closely aligned with human trafficking of immigrants headed for America.

The Reporters Without Borders organization has reported a very dangerous environment in Mexico. Since 2000, 80 journalists have been killed in conjunction with the reporting of violence in the country (Reporters Without Borders, 2011). While investigating the terror and violence in Mexico, these journalists have made their presence quite known by reporting on the events. The Cartels primarily terrorize the local regions they operate in, but when their exploits are detailed in media reports, their goals are threatened. Killing these professionals sends a strong signal to the international public that Mexico is run by the Cartels; stay out and leave us alone.

Masor Arbabsiar allegedly has ties with the Iranian government. He tried to hire Mexican nationals from a perceived drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States (Stratfor Global Intelligence, 2011). Fortunately, his dealings were actually with an undercover agent and not with whom he perceived them to be. This scenario raised numerous questions regarding Mexico as a staging point for terrorist activity targeted at the United States and its resources. Always in the forefront of American security concern is the lack of physical security, specifically at the southern borders of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Watchful eyes have been kept on the region for possible intrusion by hostile foreign elements.

What is the violence about?

The violence in Mexico is nothing short of international terrorism, and the primary root of the problem is drug trafficking from South America to Canada. International terrorism in this case, however, is centric to the drug trade explicitly and not at the overthrow of a government or the way of life of western citizens. When we hear about terrorism and terrorists today, we immediately think about Arab or Southwest Asian influences because of the state of the world. However, terror comes in many forms. The violence in Mexico is targeted toward two social groups: one is the rival cartels, and the other is the regional populace. This terrorism, though it spans across the United States border, is primarily focused toward rival gangs and the drug trade itself. Certain communities, however, are experiencing this terrorism first hand within their populace due to their close proximity to the trade. For instance, in Ciudad Juarez in October of 2010, gunmen walked into a birthday party for a 15-year-old killing 13 and wounding 20 (Julian, 2010). Ciudad Juarez is one of the most violent cities in the world, and this was the second attack at a children's party targeting security forces and other drug cartels.

Statistics are showing a growing relationship between Mexican cartels, trafficking of humans, and United States based and established gangs (House Committee on Homeland Security, 2006). The human smuggling trade, on the other hand, has to offer payment to the drug cartels in order to use sections of the established drug trade corridors. Though much higher for illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico, Mexicans quite often pay $1,200 to $2,500 to venture across the border. Foreign nationals are much more appealing to the cartels when they can demand $45,000 to $60,000 each. This is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in human trafficking each year for the cartels. These tremendous incentives are far more lucrative and often fetch more revenue than the drugs do, and the legal retribution for being caught smuggling human cargo is much lighter than the drug trade (House Committee on Homeland Security, 2006).

The established gangs in the United States act as a retail outlet for the drugs which move northward through the corridor. These gangs pull double duty by acting as the cartels enforcers in the north and have established a growing presence in cities across America.

Mexico has historically been known for its smuggling trades. Liquor was the prevalent trade in the 1920s: drugs and immigrants are the prevalent trade of today. Huge profits have been made from the flow of cocaine from South America since the 1980s. With evolving concerns for dangers in the South, the Pan American Games in Guadalajara proved to be a test of patience and trust by the world community in October, 2011, when 100,000 visitors traveled to the region to watch 5,500 athletes compete in the events (Stratfor, 2011).

Who is coming over the border?

A common misconception is that all illegal aliens are of Mexican origin. Though hands down the vast majority do fit this profile, there are a surprisingly large amount of people who come across the border that are not from Mexico, but from countries known to produce and train Islamic terrorists (Longely, 2010). In the past decades we have found numerous domestic terrorists raised here in our own backyard. International terrorists are historically from the Islamic faith, and many have vowed jihad on Western society. These types of terrorists are the threat to us today, and constitute a percentage of illegal aliens that come across the Mexican border. This often involves being within groups of Mexican immigrants coming to work as laborers and being known as other than Mexicans (OTMs).

"Based on U.S. Border Patrol statistics there were 30,147 OTMs apprehended in FY2003, 44,614 in FY2004, 165,178 in FY2005, and 108,025 in FY2006. Most of them were apprehended along the U.S. Southwest border. (Longely, 2010, p. 1)"

These OTMs come from many countries such as: Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Cuba, Brazil, Ecuador, China, Russia, Yemen, Albania, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. OTMs, or special interest groups, have shown an increased capture rate, upwards of 41%. In 2006, in Brownsville, Texas, seven Iraqis were discovered, and shortly later, a man from Afghanistan was discovered swimming across the Rio Grande River. Additionally, seven Chinese nationals were found in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas (Longely, 2010).

Profiling terrorism is rapidly becoming part of our fight against international violence and crime. Just because there are immigrants from countries recognized to produce terrorists does not mean that they are all terrorists. Many good people hail from these countries and could very well be coming to the United States in order to find a better life for themselves and their families. However, border patrol agents are routinely finding shocking evidence that supports immigrant's ties to terrorist activities. In Jim Hogg County, Texas, a Border Patrol agent came across a jacket with patches on it showing an airplane flying over a building and headed towards a tower, clearly in the form of a military badge. Additionally, some of the insignia included writings of 'martyr' and 'way to immortality' or 'eternal life' (Longely, 2010).

Neeran Zaia was arrested by Border Patrol agents and was found to have smuggled more than 200 Iraqi, Jordanian, and Syrian nationals into the United States. Mahmoud Youssef Kourani was an illegal alien who was smuggled into the United States and pled guilty to providing materiel support to Hezbollah. He was actually able to obtain a Visa from a Mexican official in Beirut, after bribing him in order to get into Mexico. Likewise, Salim Bughader Mucharrafille smuggled hundreds of people from Lebanon, most of which having had connections to Hezbollah. There is a trend showing in these three individuals with ties to Hezbollah, the terrorist arm of Iran which has recently developed a nuclear program. This program is believed to have capabilities for producing weapons grade nuclear material, which theoretically could be used in a nuclear device (Longely, 2010).

The connection to international terrorism

Recently Iran has been much more overt in its operations within the United States, and indication is that it will continue to do so. Historically, the Iranian government has been able to execute operations in countries that are well influenced by its activities. Countries like Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria have experienced these elite operations for some time. Using agents from within the United States is not that hard to understand, and we have seen evidence of this lately on a few occasions (Stewart, 2011). Now a citizen of the United States but originally from Iran, Mohammad Reza Sadeghnia was arrested in Los Angeles in 2009 after being recruited by the Iranian government to perform surveillance operations on Jamshid Sharmahad. Sharmahad was supporting the Iranian opposition group Tondor through his radio program and Reza Nourizadah while working in London for Voice of America.

Sadeghnia, a painter from Michigan, was not a professional covert operator, and his activities were very clumsy at best. However, when his story unfolded it showed his antics on two continents, surveilling two Iranian dissidents, and eventually led to his conviction of soliciting murder for hire. After being on supervised leave for a time, he found his way back to the Tehran (Stewart, 2011).

Sadeghnia's story is not an anomaly; it is indicative of a pattern forming within the United States when Iranian citizens obtain employment opportunities here, but are not very fruitful or are disappointing to the individuals when they quickly become unemployed again. For instance, Arbabsiar was an unemployed used car salesman and cousin to a senior Quds Force commander who traveled back and forth across the Mexican border numerous times while performing his surveillance duties for Tehran. These examples, among numerous others, support United States security concerns over the porousness of the southern borders and the opportunity this creates for individuals from countries with western hatred to move in and out at will (Stewart, 2011).

However, it is believed by some that the Mexican government, as well as the leadership within the cartel factions does not support this type of scenario. This is largely in part to the prospect of military retaliation by the United States (House Committee on Homeland Security, 2006). Because of this, support to international terrorists from Mexican elements of either the government or organized crime is considered unlikely to some. In one case, a $1.5 million fee was offered to the DEA informant who actually received $100,000 of the fee. The question is still asked, "what if the informant actually had been a cartel member and had taken the money for the service?" We see a very restricted capability of international terrorists to use Mexican resources in this way.

There is no empirical data to substantiate the fact that terrorists use the border as a primary means to enter the United States to do their dirty work, and most of the individuals in the recent years including Richard Reid the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, and many of the perpetrators of 9/11 have flown directly into the United States from their countries of origin. However, with the ease of movement across the border, maybe we are just not catching the people who come up from the south as easily.

Intelligence from Mexico is extremely plentiful and accurate through the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These agenicies are deeply embedded within the country and its culture. The United States is very concerned and reacts quickly to any Iranian presence within Latin America, with complete support from the Mexican authorities and no involvement to date from the drug cartels. Mexico has shown its loyalty to the United States with its intelligence sharing regarding our enemies and has also shown, in some cases, to be just as unfriendly to members of countries and organizations that oppose the United States. Mexican leadership is very wise on this point, and realizes that if Mexico or elements from within its borders were to support international terrorist programs, they would experience swift retaliation from the United States on many levels, including military action. As it stands now, the United States treats Mexico as a bad neighborhood with the typical crime that goes along with it. We would have no problem cleaning up this neighborhood if we felt it also contained international terrorists (House Committee on Homeland Security, 2006).

Even though most cartels deal with unwanted and illegal prospects for making money, in the long run they are business-based organizations with long-term goals for profits in which trans-border terrorism does not fit. Aiding a terrorist organization would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, most likely resulting in the termination of the cartel organization.

What can be done to safeguard United States citizens from terrorist attacks across the border?

In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security announced its Secure Border Initiative (SBI) (DHS, 2005). This plan was intended to span a few years, and the SBI included components to add more border patrol agents to enforce immigration laws that prevent unlawful movement across the borders. Eliminating catch and release programs now in force, it would expand detention and removal capabilities. Additionally, technological elements existed in the plans to beef up existing systems, while increasing air patrols of both manned aircraft as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The last point included increased efforts for immigration enforcement within our borders. This would be done primarily by increasing investigations and enforcement of workplace laws by providing an employer self-compliance program.

However, the SBI did not just include the southern border. The northern border with Canada was also included in this plan. In early 2005, President Bush signed an appropriations bill that increased our physical presence by adding over 1,000 new border patrol jobs and increasing the total number of border agents by over 3,000 between 2001 and 2005. Using stadium style lighting to deter movement across the border is one type of technological improvement. Another improvement is new layers of physical security, like new access roads and video sensors. Boeing won the big contract for SBI support and has teamed up with Centech Group, DRS Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Elbit Systems' Kollsman Division, L-3 Communications Government Services, L-3 Communication Systems, Lucent Technologies, Perot Systems, Unisys, and USIS (USBorderPatrol.com). This is a mixed basket of intention, however, because parts of it were to establish a new bureaucracy and parts were to build the new technology systems along with pieces of fence line to show progress.

Presidential candidates, even today, are getting into the act as well. In June of 2011, Herman Cain of the Godfathers Pizza chain stated in a news interview: "I just got back from China. Ever heard of the Great Wall of China? It looks pretty sturdy. And that sucker is real high. I think we can build one if we want to! We have put a man on the moon, we can build a fence! Now, my fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology...It will be a twenty foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top, and on this side of the fence, I'll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat! (King, 2011, p. 2)"

Moats with alligators might not be the right answer, but the American people are thrilled to hear anything that will limit illegal crossings, even this type of thinking outside of the box.


Assessing the information regarding the different cartels and how they go about their business, we see that they are part of a large logistic supply chain of drugs and human trafficking headed north. The violence noted recently is directly related to the different cartels trying to grab and maintain control over the different aspects of the drug enterprise. When looking at international logistic models, there are regulations, laws, and rules that govern the separate pieces of the operations. These rules in a legal enterprise help to regulate activity so the elements of the operation will run smoothly, and responsibilities are divided up fairly. However, since these operations are illegal in nature, there are no governing bodies to provide policy and legal guidance which protects interests and citizenry accordingly. The cartels, which unquestionably provide the biggest influence in the trade movement, control a portal and corridor originating in South America and moving into North America through the United States and eventually as far north as Canada. Picture a large river that flows for thousands of miles, something like the Mississippi, which transgresses many states within North America. This corridor can be compared in some ways to a river concept flowing northward from Latin America to Canada. As in any river, you can put a boat on it and sail to any destination along its path. This corridor, however, allows movement of drugs and human cargo. Again, like a river, the opportunity exists for terrorists to use it themselves in order move directly or to transport their interests.

Do the cartels move their product illegally across the border with little effort? Yes. This drug based logistic train from South America north to the United States moves illegal drugs rapidly and, for the most part, undetected. The system is very capable of moving terrorists from other parts of the world, along with contraband items or materials such as elements for nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Even though the cartels down south are not believed to support this type of venture, every man has his price. Do terrorists have these types of materials needed to produce a nuclear weapon? Yes. Iran has developed a nuclear program that can produce the type of material that can be used for the manufacture of a gun-type nuclear weapon like "Little Boy" that was dropped on Japan in 1945. Hezbollah is the recognized terrorist arm of Iran and could easily support this theory with manpower to move the material through the southern desert of the United States if the cartels decided to help them. Instances of recent Iranian influenced operations within the United States by individuals who have used Mexico and the uncontrolled border as a resource have been uncovered, and provide a testament to the opportunities the lax border control provides. Is this an ongoing problem for the United States? Yes, every day.

So, logically, the answer is to prevent illegal movement across the border for any reason. What can possibly be done to provide better security at the border? We can get the word out early that the United States will be completely shutting down the borders for illegal aliens with enough resources put into place. This will allow the existing illegal immigrants enough time to return on their own, and thereby head off an uncomfortable situation of forced deportation. Once these illegal aliens have been deported, only legal immigration can be allowed through the lawful process of coming to the United States as a legal immigrant. The United States has the resources to completely secure the border, if desired. There have been plans drafted and programs funded to do just this. With the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, these fiscal and military resources can now be diverted to support the firm closing of the United States borders. Private enterprise may also support this idea with technology advanced enough to patrol and record movement in areas too vast and desolate than a wall or fence is unfeasible. Our current economic state will also get a boost, while providing a capability in technology and other goods that will support the effort. This will include the creation of many needed jobs in the region. The new secured border should prevent most future illegal activity, or restrict it considerably. Doing the best job we can at keeping out other international terrorists set about to the destruction of our way of life will help to prevent the next catastrophic attack on our soil. The World Trade Center was arguably the most destructive terrorist attack in history. However, the opportunity for a terrorist to use a weapon of mass destruction during the next attack does exist, and it is not an inconceivable nightmare but a very realistic concern with Iran's newly developed nuclear program. Leadership in the United States must take this into consideration when determining how much of our country's resources should be used in protecting our citizens from the next and most likely devastating terrorist attack.


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About the Author

Todd W. DeVoe, CHS-III, was raised in Naperville, IL and entered the Navy in 1981, beginning his career in the shipboard nuclear weapons program and eventually retiring from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Special Operations community as a Master EOD Technician and Chief Warrant Officer after 26 years of service. He currently supports the Navy Medicine enterprise as a Camber Corporation contractor in the Emergency Preparedness Directorate, providing program management support to the Emergency Preparedness Training & Exercise programs. Todd is pursuing his Master's Degree in Homeland Security from the American Military University.


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