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Janet Napolitano halts funding for virtual border fence

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  • Steven Robinson
    Janet Napolitano halts funding for virtual border fence The virtual border fence was supposed to revolutionize US-Mexico border security. But delays and
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 17, 2010
      Janet Napolitano halts funding for virtual border fence

      The virtual border fence was supposed to revolutionize US-Mexico border
      security. But delays and glitches led Homeland Security Secretary Janet
      Napolitano to freeze its funding Wednesday.

      By Daniel B. Wood Staff writer
      The Christian Science Monitor
      March 17, 2010

      Los Angeles - In May 2006, President George W. Bush touted the SBInet
      project as "the most technologically advanced border security initiative in
      American history." The proposed "virtual border fence" along the US-Mexican
      border was to be a string of towers that would use cameras, radar, and
      ground sensors to see who was coming across in real time.

      Now the project, which spent $2.4 billion between 2005 and 2009, has hit so
      many snags that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is freezing its

      "Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a
      responsibility to do so in the most cost-effective way possible," wrote DHS
      Secretary Janet Napolitano in a press release Tuesday. "The system of
      sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been
      plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines."

      In early trials, technical problems and other snafus led to media reports
      that DHS and the Boeing Co., which held contracts to build two sections of
      the high-tech fence, might mothball the project.

      Problems included software glitches, camera images affected by wind and
      rain, and radar that had trouble distinguishing sagebrush from camping
      migrants or animals.

      Boeing officials admitted that the effort had been more challenging than
      they anticipated. The project, which was supposed to be handed over to the
      US Border Patrol in June 2007 was not accepted until December. At a
      congressional hearing, Richard Stana, Homeland Security and Justice Director
      for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the first phase of
      the project "did not fully meet the user needs." A shift in funding

      Now - reportedly two days before the release of a GAO report that was said
      to criticize the project - Ms. Napolitano says that DHS will shift the

      It will redeploy $50 million of Recovery Act funding originally allocated to
      "commercially available security technology along the Southwest border,
      including mobile surveillance, thermal imaging devices, ultra-light
      detection, backscatter units, mobile radios, cameras ,and laptops for
      pursuit vehicles, and remote video surveillance system enhancements,"
      Napolitano's statement said.

      Critics of the virtual border fence project have been quick to respond.

      "It's a good thing they have finally acknowledged the obvious, that SBInet
      is a failure, and they are going to evaluate it," says T.J. Bonner,
      president of the National Border Patrol Council, a professional labor union
      representing more than 17,000 US Border Patrol agents and support staff.

      Mr. Bonner thinks that DHS needs to examine the entire premise of using
      technology at the border.

      "We already detect more traffic of illegals than we can apprehend, so we
      feel the money is better spent putting more boots on the ground than in
      looking at more technology," he says. "With more personnel cutbacks planned
      for next year, doesn't this underline the need to rethink those?"

      "DHS could have been more vigilant in oversight," Rep. Bennie Thompson,
      D-Miss., chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security told NPR
      Wednesday, "but I can tell you there is no stomach or energy on this
      committee for this project continuing in its present form." Changes at the

      Other experts say that Napolitano's actions are related to recent incidents
      at the border.

      "Despite evidence of funding constraints at the DHS, Napolitano's actions
      signal a more deliberate effort by the agency to crack down on illegal
      immigration at the US-Mexican border in the wake of the shootings that took
      place in Ciudad Juarez on Saturday, leaving three individuals with ties to
      the US consulate dead," says Catherine Wilson, an assistant professor of
      political science at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, who studies

      On Wednesday, the State Department issued an advisory for US citizens
      traveling in Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, and
      Matamoros, and has authorized the departure of family members of US
      government personnel in these areas, she notes.

      The main question the public should be asking about a virtual border fence
      is whether the DHS is fully aware of the long-term performance of the
      security technologies involved, Dr. Wilson and others say.

      "Will they, in fact, be more cost-effective than those technologies used in
      the past?" she asks. "Is this a good use of Recovery Act funding?"


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