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DHS accepts buggy Eye-o-Sauron™ border scan towers

Chertoff to Boeing: 'You don't own this border'

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has accepted into service its first section of SBInet virtual border fence, but it clearly isn't very happy with the state of the new technology.

DHS chieftain Michael Chertoff reportedly said he was "satisfied for now" with the new kit. Border Patrol Assistant Commissioner Jay Ahern described it as "not perfect", according to Govexec.com.

SBInet, the technology part of the DHS' Secure Borders Initiative, is supposed to equip thousands of miles of US border with scanner towers mounting moving-target-indicator radar able to pick out individual humans. When a radar blip appears, telescopic thermal cameras swivel round Eye-of-Sauron style, allowing the system to work out what has been detected; a vehicle, people on foot, false alarm etc. The information is then plotted automatically on a networked digital map.

The idea is that Border Patrol agents would then be able to view the plot of huddled masses, terrorist hobbits etc - called the Common Operating Picture, or COP - in near real time on displays in their vehicles. It seems, however, that at the moment there are significant lags between detection and information becoming visible to field operatives. The radars are also prone to be triggered by rain.

The initial line of scanner towers on the Mexico-Arizona border is known as Project 28, and was to be supplied by Boeing for $20m. Some of this money has been withheld by DHS pending trials of the system by Border Patrol operators. The total price of SBInet - if fully implemented - is projected at $8bn, though the DHS inspector-general has said it could go to $30bn in the worst case.

Chertoff said that acceptance of Project 28 did not mean that DHS was willing to be saddled with a hugely expensive white elephant by Boeing.

"if we're not satisfied with something, we're going to tell them we're not satisfied with it," he said, according to Govexec.com.

"I told the head of Boeing some time back, 'Look, I'm not, you know, you don't have a lock on this entire border,'" he added. ®

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