- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

A “virtual fence” of high-tech sensors, cameras and other equipment along the busiest stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border is still being tested — three months after it was set to debut.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — who last year touted the $67 million program aimed at better detecting illegal aliens, drug smugglers and terrorists — said he will withhold further payment to the contractor until the pilot project is successful. About $15 million of the $20 million cost for the first 28 miles — known as “Project 28” — has been paid to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

“The systems individually work and they integrate with each other, but they have failed to integrate into a common operational procedure,” Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said. “The department is not going to take delivery of the system until it is fully operational.”

Mr. Knocke said Boeing has brought new people to work on the network and the necessary testing is expected to be conducted and completed soon.

The first phase of the virtual-fence project includes nine 98-foot towers near Sasabe, Ariz., equipped with radar, sensors and state-of-the-art cameras, designed to coordinate sensor and camera sightings and alert U.S. Border Patrol agents of illegal crossings. The towers are located in one of the nation’s most-popular alien and drug-smuggling corridors. The installations were completed in June.

Boeing spokeswoman Deborah Bosick said the company is “working with our customer to solve some remaining technical issues.”

Mr. Chertoff has vigorously voiced his support for the project, calling the fence “another key element in our border security strategy.”

The virtual fence is part of a Homeland Security program known as the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), to be deployed along the nation’s northern and southern borders. It is designed to give the agency the “best possible solution to detect, identify, classify, respond to and resolve illegal entry attempts at our land borders with Mexico and Canada,” according to department officials.

Announced last year, SBI is aimed at controlling the borders and stemming the flow of illegal immigration through an integrated mix of increased staffing, more robust interior enforcement, greater investment in detection technology and infrastructure, and enhanced coordination on federal, state, local and international levels.

A critical component of the SBI strategy is SBInet, a program focused on transforming border control through technology and infrastructure. Department officials said SBInet seeks to provide front-line personnel advantages in securing the nation’s land borders by fielding the most-effective mix of current and next generation technology, infrastructure, staffing and response platforms.

“SBInet will integrate the latest technology and infrastructure to interdict illegal immigration and stop threats attempting to cross borders,” Mr. Chertoff said in announcing the program. “This strategic partnership allows the department to exploit private sector ingenuity and expertise to quickly secure our nation’s borders.”

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