ABC News’ Devin Dwyer reports:
Arizona Sen. John McCain has never been a bashful critic of the Obama administration’s border security policy. But today he unleashed an unusually spirited attack on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whom he accused of deliberately failing to root out dozens of mountaintop “spotters” that help Mexican smugglers sneak into his state.
“There’s between 100 and 200 spotters sitting on mountains in southern Arizona, inside the borders of the Untied States of America, spotting for drug cartels who then get the drugs up to Phoenix,” said an agitated McCain during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing today. “We’re supposed to believe that the administration is serious about securing our borders? Well, I don’t think so.”
Napolitano strongly disputed McCain’s declaration as not factual.
“I’ve asked the Border Patrol myself, because I’ve been down there myself several times in the last few months, ‘where are the spotters that I keep hearing about?’” she said. “And the answer that I receive is that there are a couple of hundred tops from which a spotter could act, but there are not sitting there 200 drug spotters.”
McCain didn’t back down, accusing Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, of turning a blind eye to the impacts of illegal immigration along the border.
“Well, they are there, and everybody knows they’re there, and for you or your staff to deny that they’re there is sort of symptomatic to me of the lack of really recognition or appreciation of the problems that exist along our border,” McCain said.
“Senator, with respect,” Napolitano interjected, “there is no one who has spent more time working on this Arizona issue that I have over the past two years and we will continue -- ”
“There is no one who has spent more time on the issue that I have, Madam Secretary – long before you were governor and you were Secretary. I am told from the law enforcement people from the sheriffs up to the U.S. attorney that there are between 100 and 200 spotters sitting on mountains in Arizona,” shot back McCain. “And for you to dispute that is a big problem you have between yourself and them. And that should be clarified –“
“Yes, let’s clarify -- ” said Napolitano.
“For you to say it’s not true, that’s fine with me. But it happens to be true, and it happens to be a huge problem, and it also happens to be that Phoenix, Arizona, in their view and other experts’ view is the distribution center for drugs around this country,” McCain said.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, who spoke on condition of annonymity, told ABC News the agency “identifies and documents possible scouting locations in each border zone so we can monitor them and prevent their use by spotters and scouts.”
But the official said not all of the locations identified are actively occupied by Mexican drug cartel members.
Napolitano said today Department of Homeland Security has deployed a “historic level” of resources to the southwest border over the past two years, leading to “significant improvements” in security by many statistical measures.
That was at least one point on which McCain agreed.
“I agree there have been improvements, and I’m grateful for the improvements,” he said. But “I would hope that we could have some serious conversations…and see if we can’t sit down and take the necessary measures that are clearly there to ensure the citizens of our country that the border has a reasonable level of security.”