- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The government plans to approve a 28-mile virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday.

Last year, the government withheld partial payment to contractor Boeing Co. because the technology the company used in the test project near Tucson, Ariz., did not work properly. The department gave a conditional acceptance in December.

Mr. Chertoff saw the fence during a trip to Arizona last week.

“I think it looks good,” he told lawmakers. The department has not made the official acceptance.

The virtual fence is part of a national plan to secure the southwest border with physical barriers and technological detection capabilities intended to stop illegal aliens and drug smugglers. At the beginning of the month, 294 miles of fencing had been constructed, Mr. Chertoff said. Some of the technology used in the 28-mile stretch could be replicated along other parts of the border, he said.

The virtual fence includes 98-foot unmanned towers that are equipped with an array of sophisticated technology including radar, sensor devices and cameras capable of distinguishing people from cattle at a distance of about 10 miles.

The cameras are powerful enough to determine group sizes and whether people are carrying weapons and backpacks full of drugs.

Software glitches have kept the array from providing a common operating picture with global positioning information to Border Patrol command centers as well as to agents with laptops in their vehicles stationed in the area to intercept intruders.

The government paid Boeing $15 million of its initial $20 million contract before discovering glitches during the summer.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he is skeptical that the virtual fence works.

“A poorly structured contract that prevented the line Border Patrol agents from pointing out obvious flaws, combined with overreliance on contractors, has resulted in a system that has been described as providing at best ‘marginal’ functionality,” he said.

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