Border Technology: It’s Going to Be Different This Time, Says CBP Official

By Stew Magnuson
As the Border Patrol this year embarks on its third major attempt to deploy a suite of technologies to help it apprehend smugglers and illegal migrants in the Southwest, a top Customs and Border Protection official said better funding and more boots on the ground will increase the chances for success.
David Aguilar, CBP deputy commission and former chief of the Border Patrol, said one of the main lessons learned from the recently canceled Secure Border Initiative virtual fence program is that “software integration is not an easy thing to do.”
The third iteration of border sensors will be proven, commercial off-the-shelf technologies, he said at a March 28 border security panel discussion organized by the National Journal. (The first attempt was the Clinton administration’s Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System, which was also deemed a failure by the Government Accountability Office.)
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, announced that it will hold an open competition for its next attempt at a network of cameras and sensors all tied into a communication network designed to give agents a view of what is occurring in remote locations. Boeing has been the incumbent contractor since 2005. Testimony at a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing indicated that Boeing’s work on SBInet, which is still functioning at two Arizona locations, will continue for one year with the possibility of a six-month extension.
Meanwhile, CBP released a request for information to ask contractors their ideas for a new system.
“It was difficult. There were cost overruns. There were time lapses. [It] was very frustrating,” Aguilar said of the now defunct SBInet program. It was an “incremental development.” The new program will be the “incremental application of existing technologies tailored to very specific areas of the border,” he added. Some elements of SBInet will survive and be integrated into the new system. Remote desert locations require different solutions than urban areas, he said.
The Obama administration has insisted that there is “unprecedented” security on the Southwest border. Aguilar repeated statistics that said apprehensions of illegal immigrants are down, and drug busts are up.
When asked if the lower apprehension numbers were simply a result of the poor economy and a severe downturn in the construction industry, he said, “we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking it has all been enforcement.”
However, the drop in apprehension began before the economic crisis. When the economy picks up, and the numbers of those seeking work in the United States increases, he said the stronger infrastructure and higher numbers of Border Patrol agents on the job will keep the numbers down. “When the economy comes back — and it will — it will be very difficult for these people to cross illegally,” he said. “We will be able to maintain the quality of life along the southern border and increase [security] as we progressively apply more technology,” he said.
One result of a stronger border might be an increase in traffic in the maritime realms, namely, the Pacific and Gulf Coast as illegal border crossers try to skirt the overland routes. “We are already starting to see that,” he said.
A March 25 statement by the National Border Patrol Council — Local 1613, the San Diego-based union representing agents, refuted recent Department of Homeland Security claims of a more secure border. “Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s recent remarks concerning border safety are wrong and give citizens a false sense of security,” the statement said. “The violence that has occurred along the border in recent years shows that crime indeed is spilling over from Mexico. Three Border Patrol agents have been murdered by the cartels in the last three years, ranchers and citizens have been gunned down in border communities, and the Phoenix area has risen to become a cartel related crime hotspot,” the statement said.

Topics: Homeland Security, Border Security

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