U.S. Gives up on Billion-Dollar Boeing Virtual Border Fence

Noel Brinkerhoff|AllGov

After spending more than $1 billion on an incomplete project, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to terminate SBInet, a plan to install a virtual border fence along the American Southwest. But the government is not giving up on the idea of using advanced technology to better control border crossings.

Boeing was paid $1.1 billion over four years to develop sensors, radar and other technology to allow the government to stem drug smuggling, illegal immigration and terrorist-related activity across U.S. land borders. However it was only able to cover 53 miles of the border in Arizona.

The project encountered cost overruns and fell behind schedule, causing Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano to kill the effort, and instead redirect the work towards a new strategy to monitor the border.

The new strategy is expected to utilize mobile surveillance units, unmanned aircraft, thermal imaging devices and remote video surveillance systems mounted on towers.

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Update: DHS Refutes AP


The Associated Press story on the virtual fence contains inaccuracies and omits important context. Foremost, the federal government is not “scrapping” the virtual fence.  With the demonstration project that was accepted in February, the department established that the virtual fence works.  It has been assisting the Border Patrol in detecting illegal activity for months, and we’ll use similar technologies elsewhere at the border in the future. The initial “virtual fence” demonstration project, known as P-28, was never intended or purported to be the perfect, end-state solution.  It is a prototype.  We anticipated a need for some changes to the prototype once the Border Patrol started using it.  That is why the towers were mobile rather than permanently fixed to the ground.  It would have made no sense to cement towers into the earth, if we knew there was a possibility they might need to be moved a few yards in another direction to maximize effectiveness.  We also recognized that we might learn, after using the system for a while, that the Border Patrol could conclude that they needed a radar system on a tower where there was a camera, or vice-versa.

Still, in this short time, the virtual fence has already led to roughly 3,000 apprehensions at the border. We are now at a stage where we can begin to permanently fix these towers to the ground.  As we predicted, some towers will be modified or replaced. But, it would be wrong to conclude that the federal government is scrapping the virtual fence.  Further, it is simply incorrect to assume that the first phase of the virtual fence exceeded roughly $20 million.  In fact, the virtual fence cost the tax payers less.  We actually received a credit back from the contractor for a few items that were found to be, at one time, underperforming.