SBInet Suspended

 Here at Government Video, I knew SBInet was in trouble when someone from DHS called me for advice on low-latency wireless video transmission and control systems.
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Here at Government Video, I knew SBInet was in trouble when someone from DHS called me for advice on low-latency wireless video transmission and control systems.

The problem, he explained, was that the long-range zooms on cameras capture such a small arc of images--just a couple of degrees--that an illegal border crosser could step out of the picture by taking just a few steps. And the remote-controlled cameras just couldn't respond quickly enough to follow the folks. I referred the caller to a couple of companies that specialize in low-latency encoding and transmission, but it didn't exactly inspire confidence in the system of the folks implementing technology.

That was just one of many problems.

It was also after the official in charge of SBInet, Mark Borkowski, told a roomful of reporters that SBInet was like Microsoft Windows, with new versions periodically coming to replace the old ones.

And, he said, the system at best was only designed to gain intelligence on about 80 percent of people crossing the border. One in five, the plan was, would make it through the electronic gauntlet.

Along the way, the project has been criticized from the left for shoveling billions of dollars to a private company (Boeing) for to help militarize the border, as well as from spending watchdogs and anti-immigrant groups who complained that the system wasn't working.

Some problems, SBInet managed to fix. For example, cameras mounted on poles weren't stable enough so provide non-jittery images. So, the monopole arrangements were replaces with modular, stackable four-legged towers.

But enough problems and cost-overruns remain, and Tuesday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano put the brakes on the project, except for its initial "Block 1" deployment in Arizona.

Here's her complete statement:

“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. The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines. Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security will redeploy $50 million of Recovery Act funding originally allocated for the SBInet Block 1 to other tested, commercially available security technology along the Southwest border, including mobile surveillance, thermal imaging devices, ultra-light detection, backscatter units, mobile radios, cameras and laptops for pursuit vehicles, and remote video surveillance system enhancements. Additionally, we are freezing all SBInet funding beyond SBInet Block 1’s initial deployment to the Tucson and Ajo regions until the assessment I ordered in January is completed.”

Borkowski and others involved will try to explain themselves at a joint hearing of two subcommittees of the House Homeland Security Committee Thursday (March 18).

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