Virtual Border Fence May be Dead, but Spending on Surveillance Continues

Sunday, January 30, 2011
Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on equipment that didn’t pan out, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is determined to use advanced technology to improve border monitoring between the U.S. and Mexico—even if it means duplicating the same failures.
Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano announced earlier this month that she was cancelling the
Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) after it ran over budget, fell behind schedule and encountered performance problems. So now Napolitano has asked companies for bids on ways to use some of the equipment already set up along the border, such as video surveillance towers, which need to be connected so officials can watch what’s going on out in the desert.
But linking the towers will require technology that’s prone to break down under the intense heat of the American Southwest.
“You’re not going to be able to solve border security problems in those extreme conditions both down South and up North using [that technology],” Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, director of the homeland security and counterterrorism program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Nextgov.
DHS is also planning to spend money on other technology in the hopes of catching smugglers and other threats trying to slip into the country. The Customs and Border Protection service has given a $100 million contract to FLIR Systems of Portland, Oregon, for new gear, including long-range thermal imaging cameras affixed to vehicle-mounted towers and capable of use day or night.
American Science and Engineering of Massachusetts will be selling dozens of vehicle X-ray scanners to the government, allowing border guards to peer inside cars and trucks.
Overall, Napolitano’s plans for improved surveillance and security just along Arizona’s portion of the border could cost upwards of $750 million.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Sbinet Is Dead, But Don't Expect an End to Costly Border Surveillance (by G.W. Schulz, Center for Investigative Reporting)


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