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Virtual border fence project ended

Associated Press / January 15, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration yesterday ended a high-tech southern border fence scheme that cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion but did little to improve security. Congress ordered the fence in 2006 amid a clamor over the porous border, but the project yielded only 53 miles of protection.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the lesson of the multimillion-dollar program is there is no “one-size-fits-all’’ solution for border security.

Napolitano said the department’s new technology strategy for securing the border is to use existing, proven technology tailored to the distinct terrain and population density of each region of the nearly 2,000-mile US-Mexico border.

Although it has been well known that the virtual fence project would be dumped, Napolitano officially informed key members of Congress yesterday that an “independent, quantitative, science-based review made clear’’ the fence, known as SBInet, “cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution.’’

The fence, initiated in 2005, was to be a network of cameras, ground sensors, and radars that would be used to spot incursions or problems and decide where to deploy Border Patrol agents. It was supposed to be keeping watch over most of the southern border with Mexico by this year.

Instead, taxpayers ended up with about 53 miles of operational “virtual fence’’ in Arizona for a cost of at least $15 million a mile, according to testimony in previous congressional hearings.

The high-tech fence was developed as part of a Bush administration response to a demand for tighter border security that arose amid a heated immigration debate in Congress.

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