USA Today Op-ed: Keep SBInet

By Janice Kephart on January 26, 2011

From the USA Today, January 20, 2011

The Obama administration's unbelievable message that our border with Mexico is "as secure now as it has ever been" puts public safety and U.S. sovereignty increasingly at risk. Today's border is ravaged by violence spilling from Mexico that is already a U.S. national security emergency.

Texas' Department of Public Safety has declared war against the drug cartels, while Arizona has suffered kidnappings, murders, destruction of its wilderness, and warnings about danger posed by cartels and smugglers as far as 80 miles from the border.

So what should Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano be doing about this? In 2009 when she got the job, she should have issued an effective, end-to-end border strategy geared to deterring border threats and achieving border control. That would include three main elements:

•Enforcing immigration laws.

•Building appropriate fencing.

•Enhancing the Border Patrol's ability to operate successfully, safely and efficiently.

The last element seemed frustratingly out of reach in 2009. Technology was not available to enable the Border Patrol to know what was happening in real time along the border. All that changed, however, last year, with the deployment of a 53-mile network of towers, sensors, radars and other devices that communicated with a central control room.

That version of "SBInet" in Arizona's Tucson and Ajo sectors — areas trampled by smugglers— provided 80% visibility from a control room in places that patrols could previously only see in person. With the new technology, the agents gained "situational awareness," the ability to see illegal activity in real time and decide when and how to interdict. With it, the Border Patrol could cut the number of agents needed in the field at one time from 24 to just four.

Instead of embracing this new tool, Napolitano announced an end to the program last Friday.

For agents reeling from the recent, on-the-job murder of colleague Brian Terry just east of where SBInet ended, the technology provided unprecedented safety. Agents no longer feared being outnumbered by groups of smugglers or not knowing whether smugglers were carrying guns or drugs. Agents knew ahead of time and could plan accordingly. It is shameful that none of that seems to matter to this administration.

Note: Online version, linked above, includes rebuttal from USA Today's Editorial Board.