Monday, October 22, 2012



Note: some of us not buying the excuses. It does take a combination
of resources and technology to be successful.

Border agents relying on outdated surveillance equipment
A plan launched in 2011 to install new cameras and ground sensors has
been delayed, possibly endangering the lives of those who police the
border with Mexico.

A prototype of a tower for a "virtual" fence along the U.S.-Mexico
border. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection / October 19, 2012)
By Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau
October 19, 2012, 7:50 p.m.

WASHINGTON — An Obama administration plan to install new cameras and
improved ground sensors along the Southwest border has stalled,
potentially creating unnecessary dangers for agents there.

Officials say a false alarm from a ground sensor in southern Arizona
was to blame when several U.S. Border Patrol agents rushed to the
remote canyon on horseback Oct. 2, shortly after midnight. For
reasons still unclear, the agents opened fire on one another. One was
killed and another wounded.

The incident has raised concerns that a deteriorating network of more
than 12,800 ground sensors, as well as other outdated technology,
could endanger the lives of those who police the long border with

U.S. Customs and Border Protection "must replace outdated sensors
with more modern, effective technology that can assist the Border
Patrol in securing our borders while not sending agents into the
field unnecessarily," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the senior
Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

The initiative, called the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology
Plan, was launched in January 2011 and was projected to cost $1.5
billion over 10 years.

However, the Department of Homeland Security has spent little of
the $300 million set aside so far by Congress to buy new camera
towers, surveillance trucks and ground sensors, among other
equipment, according to current and former department officials.
Homeland Security officials did not return requests for comment.

"They are experiencing delays," said Ron Colburn, former deputy chief
of the U.S. Border Patrol. "It is taking longer than they had hoped."

The purchases have been stalled in the acquisitions office at U.S.
Customs and Border Protection, which is widely seen as understaffed
after a series of congressionally mandated cuts.

"We could do a lot more technologically on the border than we have
done, and it's a tragedy that we haven't done it," said Stewart
Baker, former head of policy for the Department of Homeland Security.
"We have let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said.

The problems with the existing sensors are not new. The sensors were
flagged to be replaced during an earlier federal effort called the
Secure Border Initiative. It was hoped that the sensors would enable
Border Patrol agents to be in position to apprehend 90% of border
incursions. But in 2005, the Homeland Security inspector general
reported that only 4% of the ground sensor alarms signaled confirmed
cases of smugglers or others trying to cross the border. Another 34%
were false alarms, and the final 62% could not be determined.

By the time the technology portion of the Secure Border Initiative
was shut down two years ago, the government had spent $1.1 billion
and the network of cameras and sensors covered only 72 miles of the
2,000-mile Southwestern border. Most of those same sensors are in the
ground today.

The inspector general has launched an investigation to evaluate how
the "functionality of these devices is affected by physical and
environmental challenges," among other aspects. The inquiry was
revealed in the inspector general's annual performance plan, which
was released Oct. 4.

The Government Accountability Office, a congressionally funded
watchdog, concluded in November 2011 that Customs and Border
Protection technology experts had not sufficiently defined why
certain technologies were needed under the new plan or how they would
benefit the work of Border Patrol agents. Some of the delays have
been caused as officials rewrote the requirements for the program.

"A measured approach is necessary and should be commended given the
management failures that have led to billions of taxpayer dollars
wasted," said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). But that doesn't justify
a 20-month delay, McCaul said. "This demonstrates that management
failures negatively impact the department's ability to carry out its
core mission of protecting the homeland," he said.

Ground sensors are placed near trails used by smugglers and are
particularly important in remote and rugged areas where cliffs or
tall trees block the view of cameras and scope sites. With the older
sensors, which are stored in a locked plastic case and sometimes
buried in the ground, agents often find that wires have been eaten
through by ants or the batteries corroded by rainwater.

A new generation of ground sensors deployed by the U.S. military in
Afghanistan uses a combination of seismometers, metal detectors,
microphones, radar and infrared cameras to accurately distinguish
between animals, people and vehicles. Some new sensors can record
which direction the person who triggered the alarm is heading.

The department asked companies in April 2011 to submit detailed
descriptions of their ground sensor systems that can perform in
"extreme temperatures, humidity, rain, snow, icing conditions,
corrosive soil environments, wind, lightening and electrical storms"
as well as transmit data like battery life, location, and a complete
digital log of all alerts and errors. The request also required that
sensors be able to distinguish between a person walking alone and a
group on foot, and sense a truck or motorcycle.

Ground sensors are an "integral" part of how Border Patrol agents do
their job, said Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border
Patrol Council, the union for the agents. But he is wary of the
department buying equipment that might sit on the shelf. "We want it
to be a proven technology, one that has a high probability of
success," he said.

Note: Need more?

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