Pulling the Plug
DHS halts funding for failed electronic border surveillance system
Department of Homeland Security Secretary
Janet Napolitano has halted funding for
the Secure Border Initiative-Net, a system
of towers, cameras, radar and sensors initially hailed
as "the most comprehensive effort in the nation's history"
to assist northern and southern border agents
with curtailing illegal immigration.
SBInet was intended to replace other failed border
security initiatives—the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence
System, a system of remotely monitored day/night surveillance cameras and sensing systems, and
the America Shield Initiative, an integrated, national
web of border security with centralized command designed
to gain greater control of the borders.
Under the contract won by Boeing in 2006, SBInet's
goal was to deter, predict and detect illegal
immigration along the 6,000-mile borders; identify
the entrants; classify threat levels; track movements;
and help border officials to effectively and efficiently
respond to illegal entries and bring interdictions to
DHS hoped to avoid the management problems
plagued by the previous initiatives by having SBInet
managed by a single private contractor; however, Boeing
subcontracted many aspects of the design, development,
implementation and maintenance of the program
to other companies, including Centech Group,
DRS Technologies, Kollsman, L-3 Communications,
LGS, Perot Systems, Unisys Global Public Sector,
USIS and EOD Technology.
A False Start
The first phase of the project—a 28-mile section at the
Arizona-Mexico border estimated at $67 million—
was supposed to be operational by June 2007, but
was delayed until December 2007. The system was
officially accepted by DHS in February 2008.
That same month, the Government Accountability
Office reported that the system suffered from slow
radar transmissions, faulty analytics resulting in false
alarms from rain and other weather patterns, and
poor camera resolutions.
The Unfulfilled Goal
The completed initiative, estimated to cost between
$2 and $8 billion, called for 1,800 towers to be set up
along the borders, which would have included radar,
long-range cameras, broadband wireless access points,
thermal imaging capabilities and motion detectors. The
data would have fed into a command center and appeared
on a geospatial map for real-time monitoring,
allowing personnel to view an entry, assess the threat
remotely and dispatch border patrol agents as needed.
Border patrol agents also would have carried PDAs
with GPS capabilities and fingerprint identification
technology, to allow the command center to track
their location and identify an individual at the interdiction
site. The PDAs also would have had the ability
to view and control tower cameras. In addition,
border patrol cars would have been equipped with
laptops to provide agents with necessary information
prior to approaching a threat.
Finally, airborne sensors on unmanned aerial
vehicles would have monitored remote areas where
towers were impractical.
Enough is Enough
After numerous technical problems—such as malfunctioning
equipment, software problems and dissention
regarding the placement of equipment—led
to numerous missed deadlines, Napolitano decided to
shut down the failing system.
"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," Napolitano said. "The
system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest
border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost
overruns and missed deadlines. Effective immediately,
the Department of Homeland Security will redeploy
$50 million of Recovery Act funding originally allocated
for the SBInet Block 1 to other tested, 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.
Additionally, we are freezing all SBInet
funding beyond SBInet Block 1's initial deployment
to the Tucson and Ajo regions until the assessment I
ordered in January is completed."
Boeing also released a statement saying the
company is "fully committed to delivering bordersecurity
technology that successfully assists" federal
With the failure of yet another border security initiative,
finding a comprehensive, operational solution
for border security continues to elude our grasp.