A Smart Border Wall VS Trump’s Third-Century “Dumb” Wall (#GotBitcoin?)
We have the technology to improve border security, and it would be much cheaper than a physical wall. Plus, it could be operational within a year. A Smart Border Wall VS Trump’s Third-Century “Dumb” Wall
We have driverless vehicles, we can use facial recognition software as payment for goods, and outer space is the next hot commercial travel destination. Yet we continue to debate the efficacy of a third century solution to secure our nation’s southern border.
The American people are frustrated and have every right to be. The federal government should have secured our borders by now. The tools to do so are available and have existed for some time in the private sector.
I used many of them when I worked for a private intelligence firm after nearly a decade of service in the CIA. I am continuously amazed by innovations in security and surveillance technology as a member of the House committees on both Homeland Security and Intelligence. We have access to existing sensor technology that can determine the difference between a jack rabbit and a human moving across the desert. We have drones that can track individuals anywhere on the planet. But when it comes to the border, we’ve allowed an outdated, physical barrier to dominate the national dialogue and stifle innovation.
The wall will be neither big nor beautiful: Ruben Navarrette
A one-size-fits-all approach will not solve our complex border problems. While a physical barrier can be effective in urban areas, each sector of the border faces unique geographical, cultural and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the Border Patrol agents on the ground with the resources they need.
Of the 650 miles of existing border fencing, hundreds of miles are in need of repair because criminal organizations have cut through, dug under or plowed over it repeatedly. The drug cartels are using more modern technology than we are to breach our border, so why would we double down on an outdated tool?
What we need is a “Smart Wall” to solve our 21st century border problems. A Smart Wall would use sensor, radar and surveillance technologies to detect and track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol, to perform the most difficult task — interdiction. Most of this process can be done with computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine-learning, allowing our Border Patrol agents to focus exclusively on stopping individuals and contraband from crossing our border illegally.
The recent horrific human smuggling tragedy in my hometown of San Antonio is a stark reminder that there are nine major criminal organizations operating in Mexico that have zero regard for human life. A physical wall would not have prevented the Zeta cartel from smuggling some of those people across the riveron rafts. On the other hand, a Smart Wall could have detected the crossing and followed the individuals until they were safely apprehended by agents.
For every move we make to defend ourselves, our adversaries will make a countermove. As the National Border Patrol Council agrees, true border security demands a flexible, defense-in-depth strategy that includes a mix of personnel, technology and changing tactics — all of which come at a lower price tag than a wall.
Based on this administration’s budget, each mile of physical border wall would cost $24.5 million. According to leading technology entrepreneurs, utilizing off-the-shelf technology to build a Smart Wall would bring the cost-per-mile down to less than $500,000. With proven tracking technology and state-of-the-art drones, we could have a more secure border at a fraction of the cost — and it could be fully operational within a year.
Based on these figures, we’d save more than $32 billion that could be used to pay down our national debt, hire more Border Patrol agents, or increase CIA and NSA operations pursuing criminal organizations in Mexico and Central America.
I introduced the Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology (SMART) Act to ensure that we adopt the most effective and fiscally responsible strategy to achieve situational awareness and operational control of our southern border. Under my bill, the Department of Homeland Security would be required to deploy the most practical and effective border security technologies available. And before constructing expensive physical barriers, the DHS secretary would have to justify the expense to Congress.
In the past decade, there have been failed attempts at technological solutions along the border. One program in particular, called SBInet, was put in place along 53 miles of Arizona-Mexico border at a cost of $1 billion, then suspended shortly afterward due to poor management. This attempt failed because of a lack of input by the people that would ultimately use the system — the Border Patrol agents.
Additionally, in the short time since this last attempt, sensor technology has gotten so inexpensive that the types of sensors needed along the border are essentially disposable, and advances in data processing will allow for easier integration of disparate data feeds into a single picture that can be beamed to a Border Patrol agent wherever he or she may be.
We can spend tens of billions of dollars on an outdated solution and years fighting eminent domain lawsuits against our fellow citizens, or we can be SMART and deal with this most pressing national security challenge faster, more efficiently and cost-effectively.
The Case For Technology Over Concrete
From a compact, portable shed on the outskirts of this border town, Jonathan Hoyt has an expansive field of vision. His computer is linked to cameras and surveillance equipment that allow him to see rubber rafts on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande nearly three miles away, simply by moving a tiny joystick.
Mr. Hoyt, a Border Patrol agent, is using equipment that the Defense Department brought back from Afghanistan, where it was used to track the Taliban. It is part of a potent arsenal that also includes towers, drones and aerostats — giant blimps attached to the ground that can hover as high as 5,000 feet. Helicopters using powerful infrared sensors and video cameras also patrol the skies.
Law enforcement officials say that deploying this array of technology has resulted in tens of thousands of arrests on a border that remains a primary transit point for drug smuggling and migrants crossing into the country illegally.
Despite President Trump’s calls for a massive wall to secure the border — which Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, ridiculed as a “14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem” — the fight against illegal immigration and drug trafficking on the United States-Mexico border has increasingly become high tech.
Mr. Trump has proposed an increase of $2.9 billion for border security, but nearly 60 percent of that increase would be for the border wall.
Predator drone aircraft, “aerostats and towers fill in existing gaps along the border where Border Patrol just doesn’t have the manpower,” said David Aguilar, a former acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection and now a principal at Global Security and Innovative Strategies, a consulting firm in Washington.
“It allows them a view of what is happening on the border,” Mr. Aguilar said, and to “deploy resources to respond to people crossing or drug smuggling.”
That can be easily seen from Mr. Hoyt’s desk. On a recent day, he moved his joystick and zoomed in on dozens of people on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. He relayed the information to agents near the river who quickly moved in to catch them on the United States side.
The equipment is provided to the Department of Homeland Security under the Defense Department program established to repurpose military equipment previously used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Department of Homeland Security also uses more than 12,000 sensors along the border, hundreds of license plate readers at ports of entry, and giant X-ray scanners for trains and trucks. The agency is planning to add smaller drones with facial recognition capabilities, and additional equipment that can capture biometric information.
The combined technology creates what some Homeland Security experts say is a virtual wall in some areas of the border that can be as effective as a physical one, at far lower cost.
Mr. Aguilar said acquiring new technology for border security should be the top priority for Homeland Security, above building a wall or other physical barriers and hiring more Border Patrol agents.
“Technology is definitively first,” he said. “These are things that can be used on any part of the border. There are places where you just can’t put a wall.”
While the technology makes it easier and faster to track smuggling and drugs, it also makes it easier to track innocent people.
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, said the buildup of technology on the border had turned once-sleepy towns where people moved freely across the border into mass-surveillance zones.
Every move of residents is documented and cataloged, she said, eroding the privacy of local residents.
Despite the concern of privacy rights supporters, Manuel Padilla Jr., the Border Patrol sector chief for the Rio Grande Valley, said the area actually needed more technology.
“If you look at the Rio Grande Valley right now, we do not have the situational awareness of knowing what is happening across the border because of the lack of technology,” Mr. Padilla said.
He said the additional technology, such as sensors that can penetrate dense foliage, was needed because Border Patrol agents could not reach many places along the river where there were no access roads.
“In the absence of being able to get in there, we need to be able to see what’s going on so we can catch drug trafficking and other activity” before those who are doing it reach cities in the region, he said.
The use of technology from the Defense Department “has made it possible for us to see some things we didn’t know existed before,” Mr. Padilla said. “But there is a need for more technology to deal with the unique challenges in the valley.”
The technology has also been deployed at ports of entry, where thousands of people cross the border every day. It is used for everything from detecting agricultural pests that pose a threat to the nation’s food supply to catching bulk cash and drug smugglers.
At the Hidalgo port of entry, just across the border from the Mexican city of Reynosa, the technology is on full display.
As vehicles approach checkpoints, stationary cameras take images of the front and rear license plates, an image of the driver and a color picture of the car. Those images are then run through a database to check for criminal records, immigration law violations or terrorist activities.
The cameras also store in a database the location of the vehicle and the date the image was taken — even if a search does not trigger an alert on passengers in the vehicles.
“This gives us a pretty good picture of who is moving across the border,” said Frank Longoria, a Customs officer who is assistant director of field operations for border security. “Ninety-nine percent of people who cross are doing so for good reason, but trying to catch that 1 percent that is doing something illegal is challenging.”
In a small building not far from the entry and exit lanes, a Customs officer, Eugene Jimenez, looked at an X-ray scanning system, which allows him to see anomalies in the frame of a vehicle. He said he was looking for spaces where there should be solid material, or obvious signs of tampering in the gas tanks, batteries or other areas.
A few days before, after a currency detection dog reacted to a white 2008 Volkswagen Passat traveling into Mexico, Mr. Jimenez noticed a space in the bumper when the car was pulled aside for a scan, he said.
When the bumper was removed, officers discovered more than $250,000 hidden inside. The driver was arrested.
“They can get pretty creative,” Mr. Jimenez said. “We’ve found crystal meth in gas tanks, marijuana made to look like watermelons and limes. You name it.”
Customs and Border Protection officers use larger versions of the scanning machines to examine buses and even trains for drugs and human smugglers.
But there are limits to using technology on the border. Predators and aerostats, for instance, cannot fly in thunderstorms or high winds.
The high-resolution cameras cannot see in the thick brush that grows along the Rio Grande, and wildlife or cattle can set off sensors, sending Border Patrol agents chasing false alarms.
And drug cartels are constantly adapting their methods and finding ways to bypass the technology. Over time, Homeland Security officials say, smugglers quickly learn how the systems work and adjust their strategy.
Mr. Longoria said the shift in tactics by cartels showed that the border technology was having the desired effect.
“The fact that they are trying to find more and more creative ways to get their drugs and smuggle people across shows that the layered system of technology and people is working,” he said. “We want to make it as difficult for them to operate as we can. The cameras, blimps and other equipment gives us the ability to do that.”Go back