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'Death knell' for Eye-o-Sauron™ US border stare-towers

Hobbit Huddled-mass detectors cop an axeing

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Plans to erect a chain of tall towers topped by all-seeing eyes along the US southern border - for the purpose of detecting inbound huddled masses, rather than troublesome hobbits - have perhaps been torpedoed at last, according to reports.

Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano announced on Tuesday that $50m of economic stimulus cash will be shifted out of the Secure Borders Initiative SBInet programme and into other areas.

"Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost-effective way possible," Napolitano said. "The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines."

SBInet was intended to mount a package of sensors atop tall towers so as to offer good line-of-sight coverage over a large area. Moving-target-indicator radars of the sort popular in modern reconnaissance aircraft would flag up any man-sized moving object; then thermal-imaging telescopic cameras would swivel round for a good stare, so hopefully separating out smugglers and illegal immigrants from cattle, tumbleweeds etc.

The towers would be netted-up, allowing intruders to be plotted on a cloud map accessible by Border Patrol agents and other users as required. This, it was thought, would let them intercept their quarry more easily.

But the initial nine-tower test segment in Arizona, built by lead contractor Boeing, has been dogged by technical glitches from the start and was said to still be having trouble when it was accepted by Napolitano's predecessor, Bush administration security honcho Michael Chertoff.

This week's announcement "signals a likely death knell" for SBInet, in the judgement of the Wall Street Journal. However the Obama administration stated that it was in favour of the plan on taking over, and still intends to fund the first phase of its rollout to the tune of $574m. ®

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