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Using Tripwires to Address the Border Security Threat

So much of the attention has been on the security threat posed by the porous U.S. border with Mexico and the building of the controversial wall that the great Northern border with Canada has gone largely unnoticed. To a great extent, even with the reports about the permeability of the border (see Security Lacking at the Canadian-U.S. Border ), most people have not listened to what is happening on our largely unprotected span of border with Canada (often referred to as the World’s longest unprotected border).

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security asked for responses from industry and public comment on the possible deployment of what they describe as “covert tripwire sensor systems” along the U.S.-Canadian border capable of detecting human beings crossing the international boundary line (and being able to differentiate between humans, animals, vehicles and wind blown materials). Apparently, the DHS is envisioning a system that could perform in unauthorized areas at distances ranging from 200 yards to several miles.” These sensors will be camouflaged or otherwise concealed from view and be powered with low-draw batteries or solar power.

"The tripwire sensor system is envisioned to contain classification capability that allows distinguishing a human that crosses the linear region from animals, vehicles, or wind blown material," said a sources sought notice published by the science and technology directorate of DHS on February 5. The department’s office of the chief procurement officer wants to hear by February 20 from prospective vendors that can supply such sensor systems.

Though it did not indicate specifically where and when these sensors would be deployed, DHS indicated that they would "operate in the environmental conditions typically encountered along the northwest and northeast border regions of the United States."

Now, while there is no way of knowing for sure, I’d expect that the DHS has a company and a technology already in mind and aired the public request to provide full disclosure.

At the same time, this statement of intent should probably be looked at in the context of the continuing “issues” being experienced by the first section of SBInet (the Secure Border Initiative) on the Mexican border. This program is also known as “Project 28,” reflecting the 28-mile stretch of the border that it is supposed to protect. As written in the February 5th edition of Federal Computer Week (dot com)

Following testing that was supposed to be final, the Homeland Security Department has determined that it needs to develop better software and perform additional tests on the initial 28-mile segment of the SBInet border surveillance system, a department spokeswoman said.

Yet, just a few hours ago, an AP report indicated that Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of the DHS said that the government intends to approve the first 28-mile segment of the fence on the Arizona-Mexican border. The questions about the software continue, and seem to focus on the difficulties in providing what is called a common operational picture (COPS) to Border Patrol centers and mobile units.

Both Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congressman Bennie Thompson have expressed concerns over the applicability and merits of the effort. Of course this reflects the nature of politics, especially when it comes to appointees of the opposite party running a federal agency.