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New Stuff for EBay

The BBC reports on the newest example of corporate welfare: US-Mexico ‘virtual fence’ ready

A high-technology system to control the US-Mexico border with cameras and radar instead of a physical fence has gained government approval, US officials say.

The $20m ‘virtual fence’ already covers 28 miles (48km) of the border between Arizona state and Mexico.

The system has already helped catch smugglers, and would be deployed elsewhere, said US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

But he said plans to complete 770 miles (1,130km) of physical fence remain.

For some reason when I think of security vendors the name Boeing doesn’t come to mind, but they got the contract and proceeded to go over budget on money and time while receiving payments early.

I realize that there are sections where a physical fence can’t be built because it would annoy wealthy Republican campaign donors, but this system is going to end up getting stolen and either protecting drug lords somewhere or showing up on EBay.

The first step should have been to hire and train more Border Patrol officers to keep this stuff from being stolen.

5 comments

1 Steve Bates { 02.23.08 at 11:22 am }

Bryan, you’re missing one point: if the equipment is stolen, more equipment will have to be purchased from Boeing (or whatever other crony contractor corporation)… until that equipment is stolen, at which time more equipment, etc. ad nauseam.

I admit that the Texans I know are not a representative sample. But I cannot find anyone among my frequent contacts who thinks a physical wall is a good idea. Your earlier remark about 40-foot walls generating a market for 41-foot ladders comes to mind. Perhaps the concept here is that people can be more easily sold on a high-tech virtual “wall,” thus keeping the “scary brown people” meme alive at least until the election.

IMHO, the entire enterprise is deplorable. The late great Molly Ivins used to say that Texans of whatever race loved “Mescans” even if they couldn’t pronounce the name right, and there’s great truth in that. Texas will soon be majority Hispanic. A great number of families span the Texas-Mexico border; I know some myself. The economic issues do need to be worked out, but the proposal for a wall… and the parts of the virtual wall already in place… have far more political than practical value.

2 Bryan { 02.23.08 at 12:11 pm }

There are reservations that straddle the border, and the tribes aren’t terribly interested in creating paperwork, besides, tribal affiliation is more important to them than “national” citizenship.

This will at least allow animals to have access to water without having to blow up the fence, but have they solved the power problems? I’m assuming solar power for the instruments, as the Air Force uses solar-powered alarm systems down here, and there is certainly no power grid for most of the border.

3 Badtux { 02.23.08 at 2:32 pm }

Bryan, as someone who is familiar with SCADA for remote areas like that, yeppers, it will all be solar power and use a low-power microwave radio to connect with its “base”. Means there’s also going to have to be either some towers constructed for the radios to talk to, or space leased on existing towers. Note that towers on the U.S. side of the border are generally diesel-powered, with weeks worth of fuel in tanks on-site, and are refueled on a regular basis by tanker trucks that come in on roads, because the amount of equipment on those communications towers is far more than can be handled by solar.

Vandalism is already a problem for communications towers in those remote areas, despite the bunker-like buildings and the surrounding razor-wire fences. Meth-heads in big pickup trucks back up to the gates, put a chain through them, and yank the gate right off its posts then go in and do the same thing to the door of the bunker, then loot whatever they can get into their pickup truck. I’ve seen communications towers stripped of every piece of copper wiring, which the meth-heads then haul off and sell to recyclers so they can buy more meth. To say that I think smaller less fortified “virtual fenceposts” will have a lifespan measured in hours is unnecessary. It is sad, but unfortunate, that most desert communities close to the border have an enormous meth problem and that they’ll strip anything down to the ground as soon as it is put up unless someone guards it 24 hours a day, in which case why bother with the “virtual fence”, just put the guards out there in the first place!

– Badtux the Desert Penguin

4 Bryan { 02.23.08 at 4:28 pm }

I don’t doubt they will also siphon off the diesel at today’s prices. Everything in the desert survives by scavenging, why would people be any different?

A larger Border Patrol has been the answer for years, but no one wants to pay for it. Everyone wants to find a magic solution, when the known solution would be better. People think that technology will solve all of their problems when people on horseback may be more efficient.

5 Time Flies — Why Now? { 02.28.08 at 9:45 pm }

[…] Last week the ‘virtual fence’ was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and was helping the Border Patrol scoop up scads of bad guys. […]