Piecing together the SBInet puzzle

That has raised questions about how SBInet funds and technologies will be used. Much of the fiscal 2008 emergency funding may find its way into a new SBInet office that handles fencing and roads, Senior Border Patrol Agent David Bemiller explained in an exclusive briefing for HSToday.
The new office is part of a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reorganization of SBInet offices taking place in the first quarter of fiscal 2008, Bemiller explained.
“In October 2007, CBP established the Tactical Infrastructure Program,” he said. “Tactical infrastructure is a term used by CBP to describe the physical components—the roads, the lighting and fencing. The installation of tactical infrastructure has proven to be an effective tool to slow and restrict and deter illegal entries. The fences and the walls are not meant to stop them; they are meant to slow them down and give us more time to interdict,” he added.
Fencing them out
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to build 370 miles of pedestrian fence and 300 miles of vehicle barriers by the end of calendar year 2008. CBP is looking at a mix of perhaps 10 different kinds of fencing. The most popular style of fencing being installed is known as “post-on-rail,” which involves a vertical piece of steel usually made from surplus railroad steel. CBP contractors place posts three feet into the ground and seal them in with concrete. Then they weld steel horizontally across the posts.
The most popular vehicle barrier involves the use of bollards, similar to what might be found around federal buildings and the like. Bollards usually let people and animals pass, but contractors may combine them with pedestrian fences to keep people out, as well. Closely placed bollards also can block pedestrian traffic.
“Sometimes there’s a mixture of designs and how they are deployed,” Bemiller stated. “The pedestrian bollard design is good in areas with low-water crossings. You don’t want to put a solid structure across a riverbank because it will back up the water and build up silt and everything else. Those types of things are considered in the environmental assessments.”
Border Patrol tested vehicle barriers by taking sport utility vehicles and filling them up with 10,000 pounds of sandbags meant to replicate the weight of a truckload of marijuana. They then rammed the trucks into the barriers at 40 miles per hour to judge how well the barriers withstood the impact. Different designs produced different results.
Transportation program
While fencing is meant to slow down illegal immigrants or smugglers until Border Patrol agents can apprehend them, CBP has made more Border Patrol agents available for arrests by freeing them up from duties that do not involve law enforcement.
The SBInet Transportation Program relieves Border Patrol agents of a significant responsibility they once held—to transport arrestees to prison facilities where they await return to their home countries. The Transportation Program now does this through a contract with Wackenhut Corp., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., first awarded in August 2006. Last October, CBP renewed the contract through August 2008, funding it with $52.38 million for that period.
Wackenhut employs about 320 contract transportation officers to fulfill the contract and uses a subcontractor identified as Shuttle Bus Leasing of Riverside, Calif., for vehicles.
“In May 2007, CBP established the SBInet Program Management Office to oversee the detainee transportation system and the Wackenhut contract,” Bemiller said. “In fiscal 2007, they transported 580,000 detainees, which freed up over 600,000 agent hours. Border Patrol agents used to fulfill the roles of these contractors. They were actually out driving the vans and the buses and moving people around. Instead of being in the fieldand arresting people, they were performing non-law enforcement duties. That’s a tremendous amount of assets put back to the border.”
Many of those 580,000 detainees remained in the custody of Border Patrol at CBP holding facilities as they voluntarily returned to Mexico or other home countries. Any illegal alien with a criminal history or pending criminal charges is booked and transferred to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for holding during judicial proceedings.
Technology program
The third and final component of SBInet, which most captures the attention of the public and the press, is the SBInet Technology Program. As first reported by HSToday last month, the Boeing Co., Chicago, Ill., SBInet’s prime contractor, is working on a third task order under the Technology Program, known as the Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (C3I) task order, to upgrade the SBInet command centers.
The task order came out of the results of Project 28, the first leg of the SBInet Technology program that establishes surveillance towers along a 28-mile segment of the Arizona border with Mexico. The towers carry cameras that slew to targets tracked by radar. Operators in the command centers and agents in the field follow the camera images to intercept targets.
But the customization of SBInet command centers under the C3I task order is necessary because Boeing’s commercial, off-the-shelf solution did not meet Border Patrol’s needs.
“It wasn’t tailored to Border Patrol’s needs because Border Patrol had little or no input on the way this task order was designed,” Bemiller declared. “Boeing was asked to present a solution independent of input. Border Patrol has been doing this for quite some time and CBP was approaching this as an ‘out of the box’ idea. They said: ‘Let’s have somebody else come in and give us a prototype of what they feel might benefit the Border Patrol.’
“It was never intended to secure 28 miles of the border,” he continued. “It was intended and designed for us to use as a platform of design to learn what works and what doesn’t work. We have successfully done that. We know what works and we know what doesn’t work. You have to start somewhere.”
Effective integration of the SBInet system’s hardware and software proved to be a challenge, Bemiller acknowledged, but he declined to specify whether the Project 28 system required increased detection or tracking capabilities or less system downtime due to integration failures.
According to Bemiller, SBInet requires all of its pieces—infrastructure, transportation and technology—along with qualified Border Patrol agents to succeed. No one piece of the puzzle can successfully stop the flow of illegal people and goods into the United States.
The White House’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget request includes $442.4 million for the hiring, training and equipping of 2,200 additional Border Patrol agents that year, which would bring the total agent force to 20,000 by September 2009.
“None of this is going to be successful without the human components of Border Patrol agents,” Bemiller said. “And none of it by itself can accomplish as much as it could without melding it all together. Technology by itself is useless, and tactical infrastructure by itself is useless. Having Border Patrol agents alone in the field definitely has its challenges.”
He added: “It’s nice to see that it’s getting political attention, public attention and funding. There are a lot of very good people working on it in the Office of ?Border Patrol, CBP and SBI.”

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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