Skip to main content

Since 2003 the US Customs and Border Protection agency has become part of the Department of Homeland Security.  They have their own entertainment liaison office – the DHS Office of Public Affairs Multi-Media Division.  While the DHS are not very forthcoming about the productions they have worked on the CBP recently provided me with a list of projects they have assisted since 2003.  It may not be a complete list but it is further proof that virtually every arm of the US security state is involved in the entertainment industry.

What is on the Customs and Border Protection Film and TV list?

The list is brief and divides the assisted productions into Motion Pictures and Theatrical Documentaries, TV series and one or two-hour specials. While this is not a comprehensive list, all of the following productions have received help from the CBP since 2003 (when it became part of the DHS):

Films/Theatrical Documentaries: The Terminal (Dreamworks), The Fence (HBO), Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage), Blue Potato (Independent), Contraband (Universal), The Good Wife (CBS), Mom (CBS).

TV series: Border Wars (National Geographic), To Catch a Smuggler (National Geographic), America’s Port (National Geographic), Drugs, Inc. (National Geographic), MIA 24/7 (Travel Channel), Border Rico (Travel Channel), Homeland Security USA (ABC), Cops and Coyotes (Discovery), US Drug Wars (Discovery), Drug Wars (Fusion) COPS (Fox) Underworld, Inc. (National Geographic) Border Security, America’s Frontline (Canadian Network) Billy Connolly Tracks America (British TV).

One hour/two hour specials: Super Bowl Security (National Geographic), Seize and Destroy (National Geographic), Ariel America (Smithsonian), Hurricane Hunters (Weather Channel), World’s Busiest (Discovery), The Undocumented (PBS), Blue Collar Dogs (Animal Planet), Small Dogs, Big Jobs (Animal Planet), World’s Most Extreme (Discovery), Dangerous Rides (Speed Channel), Boneyard (Discovery), Extreme Smuggling (Discovery), Explorer Border War (National Geographic), Baggage Battles (Travel Channel), Storage Wars (A&E), Under Siege (Discovery), Crime Inc. Drugs (CNBC), Crime Inc. Counterfeit (CNBC), Crime at the Border (PBS Frontline), Picasso Documentary (French TV), Working Dogs at JFK (Animal Planet), Uncaged (The Sportsman Channel).

Border as War

What is noticeable, particularly about the TV shows, is the prevalence of words like ‘war’ ‘security’ ‘crime’ ‘hunters’ ‘siege’ ‘frontline’ – all evoking the sense that ‘beyond the US borders, chaos lies’.  Or even ‘at the border there is chaos’.  The notion of more heavily militarised borders is an increasingly popular and politically mainstream one not just in the US but across the Western world.  The physical reality, that if you have lengthy coastlines you cannot hope to physically stop smuggling, including people smuggling, seems to escape even those who remain steadfastly pro-immigration.

Perhaps more so in the US than in most European countries (though perhaps not), this sense of ‘beyond our own territory there is chaos and hordes’ is quite strong – I have talked to or otherwise corresponded with a lot of Americans in my life and something that comes up frequently is that they’ve never travelled beyond US borders.  Less common, but still common, is the perception that beyond the US the world is somehow ‘not safe’.  Indeed, in many cases this appears to be the main reason why around 2/3 of US citizens have never travelled abroad.  Though there is also the fact that the USA is a massive country that isn’t lacking in varied climate and landscape, so it has a lot to explore within itself.

However, the notion of the US being safe and the rest of the world being unsafe is deeply ironic, since an awful lot of people from outside the US look at that country and wonder how they tolerate so much violent crime and so many murders.  To be fair, most of the Americans that I would consider friends, especially good friends, are among the minority to have left the US at some point and realised the rest of the world is not that different after all.

What is NOT on the Customs and Border Protection Film and TV list?

The CBP have an IMDB page just like Chase Brandon, Phil Strub, the Department of Defense and its various branches, and other people and agencies in this realm.  However, none of the above productions are listed on that page (as far as I can see), and the CBP is listed as both a production company and a distributor of the films that are listed, which are mostly shorts.  Therefore, the films on the IMDB page are probably in-house shorts produced by the CBP themselves for training and PR purposes, though it’s curious that the page does not really acknowledge the role the CBP evidently has in the entertainment industry.

It is less strange that the list ignores these in-house videos because when I have submitted this same basic request to other institutions they too have responded either with a list like this, or with a request for me to clarify whether I mean Hollywood movies or self-made films.  The exception is the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, who simply provided me with a list of in-house videos.

While on nothing approaching the scale of the Pentagon’s involvement in the entertainment industry, the CBP nonetheless do have some involvement and one can only presume that they are happy with the warlike, crime-ridden depiction of their area of responsibility.  One could argue that it makes them look quite bad, that the situation is dire because they are so useless.  On the other hand, the CIA were never harmed by people thinking the world is full of terrorists.  The same ‘it’s a big bad world out there and someone’s got to do the dirty work’ philosophy that dominates many CIA-assisted productions, especially Homeland, the title of which evokes the exact same feelings.

Indeed, Homeland (and Burn Notice, another CIA-assisted TV series) are included in an article on the CBP’s website about their role in helping the MPAA fight video piracy.  Given that the MPAA are a private trade organisation, this relationship is quite dubious.  Does the entertainment industry reimburse the CBP for the time their agents spend helping the MPAA?  Even more ludicrous is that the article says ‘The U.S. entertainment industry loses millions annually to fraud’ and that websites that pirate films ‘can make millions or hundred of millions of dollars a year.’

I am unaware of any pirate website that could possibly be making that much money, but even if they are one could argue that committing a few million dollars in fraud in order to make hundreds of millions of dollars is actually very smart business and is contributing to the global economy.  Furthermore, a few million dollars in fraud is nothing to an entertainment industry which is so rich that, as the article mentions, ‘pays more than $16 billion in state and federal income taxes each year’.  In reality, video piracy is tiny drop in the massive ocean that the US entertainment behemoth.


US Customs and Border Protection Film and TV list (PDF)