WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday canceled the troubled “virtual fence” project meant to better guard stretches of the vast U.S. border with Mexico and will replace it with other security measures.
The project, begun in 2006 and run by Boeing Co, has cost about $1 billion and was designed to pull together video cameras, radar, sensors and other technologies to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers trying to cross the porous border.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said commercially available surveillance systems, unmanned aerial drones, thermal imaging and other equipment would be used instead, suggestions made by critics of the Boeing SBInet program.
Last year, Obama signed a $600 million bill to fund some 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and law enforcement officials along the border, as well as pay for two more unmanned drones.
Additionally, he ordered some 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border to help with security.
The SBInet project has faced setbacks, missed deadlines and cost overruns. The future of the project has been in doubt for some time after criticism by lawmakers and Napolitano.
Boeing said in a statement it was pleased the Department of Homeland Security planned to continue using surveillance towers already constructed and that it “remain committed to providing valuable solutions and supporting DHS.”
'FAR WISER APPROACH'
An assessment of the Boeing program released by DHS found that $1 billion was spent to cover just 53 miles in Arizona. The new approach should cost less than $750 million to cover the rest of Arizona’s border, some 323 miles, DHS said.
The market for hi-tech border solutions is worth billions of dollars and the competition is fierce.
Other firms in the market include defense and homeland security contractor Raytheon and Arizona-based ICx Technologies, which develop and market high-tech detection and surveillance systems with border security uses.
"There were things that (SBInet) did right, and things that it did wrong, but one of the concerns was always that this was more of a gimmick than substance. By pulling it, that tends to reinforce that impression," said Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies think tank.
The Boeing project had been on the chopping block for some time. Napolitano last year pulled $50 million of funding for it that was included in the economic stimulus package and she froze other funds for it pending a review.
She said in March the money would be used instead to buy existing technologies such as thermal imaging devices and ultra-light plane detection systems.
Boeing’s shares closed up 24 cents to $70.07 in regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
I feel shitty for not knowing how hi-tech the border was (I’ve never been anywhere near it) and for not knowing Boeing was doing this. But everyone, file this one away for next time you need to give someone a solid example of the role corporations play in militarism.