Monday, February 25, 2008

Border Fence Going Virtual

Border Fence Going Virtual
By: Joe Murray, The Bulletin

The long-awaited and highly- controversial virtual security fence has received the green light and is ready to be implemented across a 28-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said on Friday.

Known as Project 28, the virtual fence will rely on cameras and radar in lieu of physical fencing to patrol the border.

It costs $20 million.

"I have personally witnessed the value of this system," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "I have spoken directly to the border patrol agents who are involved in operating that system over the last few months and who have seen it produce actual results in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who were illegally smuggling across the border."

The 28-mile virtual fence consists of 98-ft. unmanned surveillance towers equipped with radar technology, sensors and cameras the government asserted can distinguish people from cattle from a 10-mile distance. Officials claim the cameras are capable of determining group sizes and whether individuals are carrying backpacks that may contain dangerous weapons or drugs.

Project 28, however, was riddled with software glitches last summer. The government had already paid Boeing, the company providing the technology, $15 million of the $20 million owed before recognizing the system was not working properly. Mr. Chertoff now claims the system is operational.

"I don't think it's riddled with problems at this point. I think that the initial version that was completed in the summer was unsatisfactory, so we did not take additional acceptance," Mr. Chertoff explained. "We are trying to be tough customers but not unreasonable customers."

Despite the technological promises of the virtual fence, lawmakers are concerned DHS is using the virtual fence as cover for failing to build the 700 miles of a physical fence required by the Secure Fence Act of 2007. The act, which recognized the success of the double-barrier San Diego border fence, mandated that the government build a similar fence on the southern border, a mandate that has been largely ignored by Washington.

"The American people want our borders secured, yet the Department of Homeland Security, even when presented with a mandate from Congress to get the job done, has done little of what is actually required to achieve an enforceable border," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).

The decision of DHS to move away from constructing the double-barrier fence and toward a virtual fence has raised concerns among many immigration reform advocates.

"Washington is attempting to play smoke and mirrors with the American people by promising border security, pledging a fence, refusing to build physical fencing and then deploying faulty and overpriced technology that will only tell us if people or cows are illegally invading our country," said Chris Simcox, president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. Mr. Simcox believes the virtual fence is "virtually useless" and will fail to protect the border.

"While technology and manpower are an important part of this effort, the best and most effective method of preventing illegal foot and vehicle traffic from entering the United States is border security fencing," Mr. Hunter argued. Mr. Hunter has introduced the Reinstate the Secure Fence Act in the House as an effort to compel government officials to build the double-layer fenced.

Joe Murray can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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