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  4. Written testimony of the CBP for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled "After SBInet - the Future of Technology on the Border"

Testimony of Office of Technology, Innovation, and Acquisition Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher, and Office of Air and Marine Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, Customs and Border Protection, Before the United States House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, "After SBInet - the Future of Technology on the Border"

Release Date: March 15, 2011

Cannon House Office Building

Chairwoman Miller, Ranking Member Cuellar, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, it is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) efforts to secure our nation's borders.

As America's frontline border agency, CBP is responsible for securing America's borders against threats, while facilitating legal travel and trade. To do this, CBP has deployed a multi-layered, risk-based approach to enhance the security of our borders while facilitating the flow of lawful people and goods entering the United States. This layered approach to security reduces our reliance on any single point or program that could be compromised. It also extends our zone of security outward, ensuring that our physical border is not the first or last line of defense, but one of many.

I'd like to begin by recognizing those at the Department who have given their lives in service to our mission. The loss of these brave agents is a stark reminder of the sacrifices made by the men and women of DHS every day. It also strengthens our resolve to continue to do everything in our power to protect against, mitigate and respond to threats and secure our border.

Overview of Border Security Efforts

Over the past two years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border. In March 2009, DHS launched the Southwest Border Initiative to bring unprecedented focus and intensity to Southwest border security, coupled with a smart and effective approach to enforcing immigration laws in the interior of our country. We increased the size of the Border Patrol to more than 20,700 agents today, more than double the size it was in 2004. DHS also quintupled deployments of Border Liaison Officers to work with their Mexican counterparts; and began screening southbound rail and vehicle traffic to look for illegal weapons and cash that, when smuggled across the border, help to fuel the cartel violence in Mexico.

With the aid of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Border Security Supplemental requested by the Administration and passed by Congress, we are continuing to add technology, manpower, and infrastructure to the Southwest border, including 1,000 new Border Patrol agents; 250 new CBP officers at our ports of entry; improving our tactical communications systems; and adding two new forward operating bases to improve coordination of border security activities. The Supplemental also provided CBP two new Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), further strengthening our UAS operations, which now covers the Southwest border from the El Centro Sector in California to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

We've also constructed 649 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles where Border Patrol field commanders determined it was operationally required, including 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence.

In addition, President Obama authorized the temporary use of up to 1,200 additional National Guard personnel to bridge to longer-term enhancements in border protection and law enforcement personnel from the Department of Homeland Security to target illicit networks' trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, money, and the violence associated with these illegal activities. That support has allowed us to bridge the gap and hire the additional agents to support the Southwest Border, as well as field additional technology and communications capabilities that Congress so generously provided. Secretary Gates and Secretary Napolitano agreed to equally fund this National Guard support and submitted two reprogramming requests to Congress to that end. Congress did not approve the reprogramming requests; therefore, the Department of Defense has been funding the full cost of this National Guard support.

Beyond these measures, in recent months we have taken additional steps to bring greater unity to our enforcement efforts, expand coordination with other agencies, and improve response times. In February, we announced the Arizona Joint Field Command (JFC)—an organizational realignment that brings together Border Patrol, Air and Marine, and Field Operations under a unified command structure to integrate CBP's border security, commercial enforcement, and trade facilitation missions to more effectively meet the unique challenges faced in the Arizona area of operations. We also are improving coordination with military forces on the Southwest border. In partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and with support from the Department of Defense, DHS is standing up the new Border Intelligence Fusion Section (BIFS) in the El Paso Intelligence Center, which will integrate and synthesize all available Southwest border intelligence from federal, state, local, and tribal partners to create a common intelligence picture to support border enforcement activities on the Southwest border. By disseminating real-time operational intelligence to our law enforcement partners in the region, BFIS will streamline and enhance coordinated federal, state, local, and tribal operations along the border. Additionally, we are continuing to work with Mexico to develop an interoperable, cross-border communications network that will improve our ability to coordinate law enforcement and public safety issues.

Moreover, CBP has increased partnerships with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, as well as with the public and private sectors, as coordination and cooperation among all entities that have a stake in our mission has been, and continues to be, paramount. CBP is working closely with federal, state, local, tribal, and international partners to increase intelligence and information sharing. A Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED) cell has been established at the Air and Marine Operations Centers (AMOC) in Riverside, CA and Grand Forks, ND to enable essential information to be provided to law enforcement across the nation—increasing understanding of evolving threats and providing the foundation for law enforcement entities to exercise targeted enforcement in the areas of greatest risk. This intelligence-driven approach prioritizes emerging threats, vulnerabilities and risks—greatly enhancing our border security efforts.

An example of our collaborative efforts along the Southwest border is the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT) in Arizona. ACTT is a collaborative enforcement effort, established in September 2009, that leverages the capabilities and resources of more than 60 federal, state, local, and tribal agencies in Arizona and the Government of Mexico to combat individuals and criminal organizations that pose a threat to communities on both sides of the border. Through ACTT, we work with our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to increase collaboration; enhance intelligence and information sharing; and develop coordinated operational plans that strategically leverage the unique missions, capabilities and jurisdictions of each participating agency. Since its inception, ACTT has resulted in the seizure of more than 1.6 million pounds of marijuana, 3,800 pounds of cocaine, and 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine; the seizure of more than $13 million in undeclared U.S. currency and 268 weapons; nearly 14,000 aliens denied entry to the U.S. at Arizona ports of entry due to criminal background or other disqualifying factors; and approximately 270,000 apprehensions between ports of entry.

While there is still work to be done, every key measure shows we are making significant progress along the Southwest border. Border Patrol apprehensions—an indicator of illegal immigration—have decreased 36 percent in the past two years, and are less than a third of what they were at their peak. We have matched these decreases in apprehensions with increases in seizures of cash, drugs, and weapons. Additionally, in FY 2010, CBP seized $147 million in currency (inbound and outbound) at and between the ports of entry (POEs), a 34% increase from the previous fiscal year. CBP also seized 4.1 million pounds of narcotics, including 870,000 pounds seized at POEs, 2.4 million pounds seized between POEs, and 831,000 pounds seized by Air and Marine Interdiction Agents. These numbers demonstrate the effectiveness of our layered approach to security. Violent crime in border communities has remained flat or fallen in the past decade, and some of the safest communities in America are at the border. In fact, violent crimes in Southwest border counties overall have dropped by more than 30 percent and are currently among the lowest in the Nation per capita, even as drug-related violence has significantly increased in Mexico.

Nonetheless, CBP still faces significant challenges. We remain concerned about the drug-cartel violence taking place in Mexico and continue to guard against spillover effects into the United States. We will continue to assess and support the investments in the manpower, technology and resources that have proven so effective over the past two years in order to keep our borders secure and the communities along it safe.

Technology and Border Security

The Border Patrol utilizes technology for detection and surveillance between ports of entry, enabling CBP to maximize its effectiveness in responding to and disrupting illicit activity. In other words, technology enhances situational awareness of the amount and types of illegal activity at the border, enabling agents to spend more time responding to incursions and less time detecting them.

Along the Southwest border, the primary technology system has been the Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS), a tower with a pair of day and night cameras, which are monitored by personnel in a given area. There are currently 250 of these systems deployed along the Southwest border. More recently, CBP has added other systems, including Mobile Surveillance Systems (MSSs), which are truck-mounted infrared cameras and radars displaying sensor information on an integrated display within the cab of the truck, and are considered one of the most technologically advanced ground-based systems. There are currently 38 MSSs deployed along the Southwest border. In addition, there are more than 130 aircraft (planes and helicopters) and 4 UASs deployed to the Southwest border. Among the aircraft deployed to the border are specialized, twin engine surveillance aircraft outfitted with a variety of sensors. Two additional Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in May. These aircraft will provide robust capabilities for surveillance and interdiction support over both the land border and the maritime approaches. To increase effectiveness and enhance situational awareness, these various aviation resources are tied together by information sharing tools.

SBInet Re-Assessment

The Secure Border Initiative-network (SBInet) program, as conceived in 2005, was intended to cover the entire Southwest border with a highly integrated set of fixed sensor towers. Since its inception, however, SBInet experienced repeated technical problems, cost overruns and schedule delays which raised serious questions about the system's ability to meet the needs for technology along the border. Given these issues, in 2009, Secretary Napolitano asked CBP for an analysis of the SBInet program. Based on this analysis, Secretary Napolitano froze funding for SBInet beyond the ongoing, initial deployments of Block 1 and ordered a Department-wide reassessment of the SBInet program that incorporated an independent, quantitative, science-based Analysis of Alternatives to determine if SBInet was the most efficient, effective and economical way to meet our nation's border security needs with respect to technology. The assessment focused on two fundamental questions: whether or not the SBInet system was technically viable; and if SBInet was viable, whether it was cost effective relative to other lower cost technologies and systems which could provide needed surveillance capabilities.

The issue of viability was evaluated within the context of the initial SBInet configuration, known as SBInet Block 1, which has been completed in two areas of the Arizona border—Tucson-1 (TUS-1) and AJO-1. Although it is too early to quantify the effectiveness of the SBInet Block 1 technology, the qualitative assessments from the Border Patrol suggest that select elements of the technology such as sensor towers, integrated together to observe localized areas, enhanced operational capabilities in some parts of the border. In the case of TUS-1, the Border Patrol experienced improved situational awareness and increased apprehensions of illegal entrants when they first started using the system despite no apparent increase in illegal traffic. Over time, the Border Patrol observed a decrease in activity, and consequently, realized a fewer number of apprehensions. It appears that the use of the TUS-1 system, combined with increased personnel and tactical infrastructure, contributed to decreasing the flow of illegal entrants and increasing the likelihood of apprehension.

To assess the cost-effectiveness of SBInet, DHS conducted an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA). In the AoA, DHS quantified relative effectiveness and relative costs of various technology solutions, and compared these measures for each option. The results of the AoA showed that the selection of technology for a given area of the border is highly dependent on the nature of that area (e.g., terrain, population density). Therefore, the SBInet concept of a "one size fits all" solution is not appropriate across the entire border. In fact, the AoA suggested that the optimal technology deployment strategy would involve a mix of technologies tailored to each area of the border and based on the operational judgment of the experienced Border Patrol agents deployed in that area.

New Technology Deployment Plan

After completion of the AoA, CBP used the results to develop a detailed technology deployment plan for different border regions across Arizona based on current and anticipated operational activity. Accordingly, the new plan incorporates both the quantitative analysis of science and engineering experts and the real-world operational assessment of agents on the ground and in the air.

The new border security technology plan will utilize existing, proven technology tailored to the distinct terrain and population density of each border region, including commercially available MSSs, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, thermal imaging devices, and tower-based RVSSs. Where appropriate, this technology plan will also include elements of the former SBInet program that have proven successful, such as stationary radar and infrared and optical sensor towers.

This new technology plan will provide better coverage of the border, a more effective balance between cost and capability tailored to each area of the border, faster deployment of technology, more continuous and extensive surveillance of the Southwest border, and better linkage between operations and technology. Through investments in portable technology, the new plan provides flexible capabilities that will enable the Border Patrol to move and adapt to evolving threats. As part of the Southwest Border supplemental, CBP is developing new Mobile Response Teams to provide surge capabilities to send Border Patrol into a particular area of the border. The Department recognizes that, as we tighten the security of one area, our adversaries will attempt to find new routes in other areas. A more mobile and flexible response capability will allow us to move with the changes in illegal activity.

Based on the Border Patrol's assessment of priority needs and the Department's 2011 and 2012 budget requests, the Department intends to initiate procurements for the Remote Video Surveillance Systems and cameras, thermal imaging systems, Agent-Portable Surveillance Systems, imaging sensors, Unattended Ground Sensors, and Mobile Video Surveillance Systems in fiscal year 2011, with deliveries scheduled between 2011 and 2012. The integrated fixed towers will follow starting with procurements in early fiscal year 2012.

The Department does not intend to use the existing Boeing contract for procurement of any of the technology systems included in the new Southwest border technology plan. Going forward, the Department will conduct full and open competition for all elements of the new technology plan.

Budgeting for the new Arizona Technology Plan

The budget for the Arizona technology investment plan will be managed by CBP as part of the existing Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology (BSFIT) account. The budget line item is called "alternative border technology," and comprises the projects identified in the Arizona technology plan (e.g., Integrated Fixed Towers, Remote Video Surveillance Systems, Agent Portable Surveillance Systems).

The original FY 2011 President's Budget request for BSFIT technology was largely centered on the former SBInet plan. Recently, the Department provided to Congress a report outlining the results of the AoA, the resulting Arizona Technology Plan, and the termination of further SBInet investment. CBP recommended to Congress a revised FY 2011 BSFIT spend plan that would re-allocate $185 million for procuring the proposed technology systems covering all of Arizona, except for the Integrated Fixed Towers. The FY 2012 President's Budget request will allow for the deployment of Integrated Fixed Towers to Nogales, Douglas, and Casa Grande Stations, and these new resources combined with the FY 2011 funding will allow CBP to fully complete three out of five border areas in Arizona.

Next Steps for Technology Deployment

The Department is in the process of conducting the same type of analysis along the entire Southwest border as was conducted on the Arizona border. The next three focus sectors are El Paso, San Diego, and Rio Grande Valley. The initial Analysis of Alternatives for these three sectors is complete, and the Border Patrol operational assessment is currently underway.

Following these three high-priority sectors, the Department will complete the same process for the remaining sectors along the Southwest border. This will result in an optimum technology deployment plan for the entire Southwest border.

Future Northern Border Technology Deployments

Over the past two years, we have made critical security improvements along the northern border – investing in additional law enforcement, technology, and infrastructure. Currently, we have more than 2,200 Border Patrol agents on the northern border - a 700 percent increase since 9/11- and nearly 3,800 CBP Officers managing the flow of people and goods across ports of entry and crossings. With Recovery Act funds, we are in the process of modernizing more than 35 land ports of entry along the northern border to meet our security and operational needs. We have also deployed new technology along the northern border, including thermal camera systems, Mobile Surveillance Systems, and Remote Video Surveillance System and recently completed the first long-range CBP Predator-B unmanned aircraft patrol that extends the range of our approved airspace along the northern border by nearly 900 miles.

We have also expanded our strong partnerships with federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as the Canadian government, in protecting our communities, borders and critical infrastructure from terrorism and transnational crime. CBP is working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to enhance coordination on port operations, conduct joint operations between POEs, and jointly deploy new technology. In conjunction with CBSA and RCMP, CBP recently announced the release of a joint border threat assessment, which provides U.S. and Canadian policymakers, resource planners, and other law enforcement officials with a strategic overview of significant threats— to include drug trafficking, illegal immigration, illicit movement of prohibited or controlled goods, agricultural hazards, and the spread of infectious disease—along the U.S.-Canadian border. To enhance cross-border security and increase the legitimate flow of people, goods, and services between the United States and Canada, last month President Obama and Prime Minister Harper of Canada jointly announced a new bi-lateral initiative, "Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness." By increasing collaboration with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, and by working in concert with the Government of Canada, we can streamline our operations and utilize our resources in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

To continue to bolster our northern border security efforts, our FY 2012 budget request includes $55 million to support investments in technology systems that address security needs for the northern border maritime and cold weather environment, as well as innovative technology pilots. It will also deploy proven, stand-alone technology that provides immediate operational benefits. These demonstrations and deployments explore how best to integrate various border security organizations and mission operations in order to enhance border security in this challenging environment.

In the coming year, CBP plans to continue to expand joint operations by forming a joint command with the U.S. Coast Guard in the Great Lakes Region. The Air and Marine Operations Center (AMOC), which includes representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other agencies, provides a comprehensive picture of the air environment in the United States. The AMOC can monitor violations of U.S. airspace, track potentially dangerous aircraft, and coordinate and direct an operational response. Our FY 2012 budget request continues to strengthen the AMOC by fully incorporating the U.S. Coast Guard into AMOC management and decision-making, and expanding AMOC's intelligence capability.


Chairwoman Miller, Ranking Member Cuellar, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify about the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP is committed to providing our frontline agents and officers with the tools they need to effectively achieve their primary mission of securing America's borders. We look forward to answering any questions you may have at this time.

Last Updated: 03/08/2022
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