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DHS Increasing Surveillance Technology for Southern Border

New methods will include unmanned drones and thermal imaging.

The new strategy for securing the United States’ southern border will now depend on commercially available surveillance technology, including unmanned drones, thermal imaging and other equipment, says a published report.

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) halted work on its “virtual fence” project—known as the Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet)—DHS says it is pursuing a region-by-region approach, with different parts of the U.S. border protected in different ways as dictated by terrain and other area-specific conditions.

“SBInet cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border-security technology solution,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. As a result, DHS is developing region-by-region plans for improving security along the border with Mexico, and those plans will come later this year, she said.

SBInet was to be a high-tech surveillance barrier along the U.S.-Mexican border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, a project hailed by then-President George W. Bush as “the most technically advanced border security initiative” ever. However, SBInet only ever reached the “pilot” stage, deployed along 53 miles of Arizona’s 386-mile border with Mexico at a cost of $1 billion.

SBInet’s strategy depended heavily on the cameras placed on surveillance towers along the border. Those cameras were to pinpoint the locations of illegal border-crossers, but weather and terrain often made those cameras ineffective beyond a few hundred feet.

In contrast, DHS now says the rest of Arizona’s border can be made secure for $750 million. In surrendering SBInet’s “one-size-fits-all” plan offered by the virtual fence, DHS expects to use some of its proven components—such as drones, thermal imaging and other equipment—elsewhere. That technology will be tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability, Napolitano said.