Magazine article National Defense

Sociologist's Book Documents DHS' Virtual Border Wall Failures

Magazine article National Defense

Sociologist's Book Documents DHS' Virtual Border Wall Failures

Article excerpt

As the Department of Homeland Security considers a third attempt to deploy technology on the Southwest border to stop illegal immigration and drugs, a sociology professor has released a book outlining the many mistaken of the past.

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Robert Lee Maril, who teaches at East Carolina University, has written, "The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border," one of the first book-length investigations of Customs and Border Protection's controversial Secure Border Initiative program, and its efforts to construct a so-called "virtual" wall in Arizona.

History repeated itself when the program kicked off in 2006, Maril points out in The Fence.

During the Clinton administration, the integrated Surveillance Intelligence System was conceived as a network of ground sensors and camera towers that would notify the Border Patrol when intruders crossed the international line.

Previous ground sensors were completely unreliable, had no way of determining the difference between a human and a cow, and their locations were well known to drug cartels and human smugglers, who possessed detailed maps of their locations.

The initial $2 million noncompetitive contract was given to International Microwave Corp., of East Norwalk, Conn., which was later acquired by L-3 Communications. It would go on to receive $239 million in noncompetitive contracts, Maril said.

"ISIS's reliance on high-tech solutions neglected or ignored the observations of agents over decades of patrolling the line. The planners and designers of ISIS, the L-3 engineers, grossly underestimated the motivation, talents, and relentlessness of those seeking illegal entry into this country," Maril wrote. Border crossers easily outwitted fixed camera towers.

By 2004, reports from government sources and sworn testimony to congressional subcommittees suggested that the ISIS program was a failure of grand proportions. Not only were its objectives never met, but also considerable federal funds had been squandered.

By the time the Secure Border Initiative came around two years later, institutional memory of ISIS was in short supply at the newly created DHS, Maril contends.

In rebranding the program and calling it the Secure Border Initiative, then DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff "grossly underestimated CBP's ability to manage efficiently" the program, Maril wrote.

Maril interviewed some 120 sources for The Fence, and relied on his deep contacts in the Border Patrol. In a two-year period just prior to 9/11, when teaching in southern Texas, he was given unfettered access to agents on the beat. He accompanied officers on 60 shifts lasting up to 10 hours each. That resulted in the book, "Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas."

In 2006, Maril was flown to Florida to consult with Honeywell engineers who were gearing up to bid on Project 28, CBP's 28-mile-long pilot program for SBInet that would eventually be constructed south of Tucson, Ariz. Before giving his PowerPoint presentation, he asked the roomful of engineers if any had actually been to the Southwest border. None raised their hands. Over the course of the next day, he observed as the engineers pondered which sensors originally designed to monitor Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile sites could be taken "off the shelf" to monitor the border. …

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