Administration giving up on full 'virtual fence' on border

By Jeremy Pelofsky
Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Obama administration canceled Friday the troubled, billion-dollar "virtual fence" project along the U.S. border with Mexico and said it will turn to other security measures to better guard the desert region.

The SBInet project, begun in 2006 and run by Boeing, was designed to pull together video cameras, radar, sensors and other technologies to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers trying to cross the porous border.

But it faced setbacks, missed deadlines and cost overruns. The Department of Homeland Security said the project spent $1 billion to cover just 53 miles in Arizona.

In its place, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, commercially available surveillance systems, unmanned aerial drones, thermal imaging and other equipment will be used. This new approach should cost less than $750 million to cover the rest of Arizona's border, some 323 miles, the department said.

"This new strategy is . . . a more effective balance between cost and capability," Napolitano said in a statement.

The Obama administration has been under pressure to beef up security to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and halt the smuggling of drugs and weapons.

Last year, President Obama signed a $600 million bill to fund 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and law enforcement officials along the border and to pay for two more unmanned drones.

Additionally, he ordered about 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border to help with security.

- Reuters

© 2011 The Washington Post Company