Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Read of the Week: SBInet and Failed Border Technologies

by Shannon K. O'Neil
November 11, 2011

U.S. Border Patrol agent Celso Ramos (R) looks at surveillance camera video from cameras looking at the U.S. - Mexico border May 2, 2006. (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a detailed report last week that criticizes attempts to patrol the Arizona-Mexico border using high-cost technologies.

The report comes ten months after the cancellation of SBInet, Boeing’s “virtual” fence project that started in November 2005 and eventually cost the United States over one billion dollars. While the project in theory required less manpower and provided 24/7 patrols of the border using surveillance towers and software platforms, in practice the results were dismal. Criticism of SBInet ranged from outright technological failures, to poor oversight, to few measurable success metrics.

Although the Department of Homeland Security ended SBInet’s expansion, the GAO report makes clear that the broader emphasis on such technologies has hardly waned. The flawed SBInet system will actually continue to operate along 53 miles of Arizona’s 387-mile border with Mexico, and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) estimates spending $36 million dollars to continue that project through 2012. The successor to SBInet, the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan, will be a mixture of different surveillance technologies and platforms, with funding requests totaling $427 million over the next two years. The GAO report indicates that the new systems also lack quantifiable metrics or thorough cost-benefit analyses; some of the same problems that plagued SBInet.

To many, “virtual” fence technologies seem like an answer to immigration issues along the U.S.-Mexico border. But, like other attempts to wall-off Mexico from U.S. border states, they simply haven’t worked.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Arizona rancher

    This week the Tucson Station of the Tucson sector of the US Border Patrol held a meeting of the ranchers in their area. We learned SBI Net is anything but a failure. It had its issues early on, but has made a tremendous impact.

  • Posted by Desert Rat

    Pure nonsense ! SBI Net is actually working very well on 70 miles of the border. Because of a combination of federal incompetence and uncontrolled costs resulted in the SBI fiasco. Unless one has been in the command centers of the Border Patrol stations they could not fully appreciate how technology of various types is working in the Tucson Sector. This type of reporting does nothing but cause distractions from the work which is being done.

    Member of the Border Patrol Citizen’s Advisory board

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