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The Death of the US-Mexico Virtual Fence 467

Posted by Soulskill
from the virtual-fences-make-virtual-neighbors dept.
eldavojohn writes "A couple of years ago it was announced that the Boeing-built virtual fence at the US-Mexico border didn't work. Started in 2006, SBInet has been labeled a miserable failure and finally halted. A soon-to-be-released GAO report is expected to be overwhelmingly critical of SBInet, causing DHS Chief Janet Napolitano to announce yesterday that funding for the project has been frozen. It's sad that $1.4 billion had to be spent on the project before the discovery that this poorly conceived idea would not work."
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The Death of the US-Mexico Virtual Fence

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  • really? (Score:2, Funny)

    by big whiffer (906132)
    is it dead... or just virtually dead?
  • Awesome (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544)

    Now if we can just put an end to the asinine "war on drugs", we'll be in good shape. When the laws surrounding a substance are more harmful than the substance itself, there is a serious problem.

    As far as the fence is concerned, if we had just poured $1.4 billion into Mexico's economy instead of this cluster fuck of an idea, workers would have less of a reason to leave Mexico and try to sneak into our country. They come here for jobs, but if we help create jobs in their own country...

    We will never be able

    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cdrguru (88047) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @12:59PM (#31510712) Homepage

      There is no way to "create jobs" in Mexico without first staging a revolution. The problem is that the upper class owns just about everything and isn't interested in employing people and is very interested in keeping prices for things like food down. So the farmers get nothing for their crops and end up living as subsistance farmers. Understand that it is completely divided across racial lines in Mexico - the Mexican Indians are poor, the Castillians are the upper class. Why we in the US should help perpetuate this system is beyond me.

      How do you fix that? Well, building foreign-owned factories doesn't do it. Sure, it makes a slight difference in an area around Juarez, but nothing else. And because there is no foundation to build on, the people with jobs at the factory have no idea what to do with their different life.

      Today, if someone crosses the border from north to south into Mexico they will be met by the Mexican Army, arrested and likely confined, possibly for a long time. There is no possibility that someone is going to stay there unmolested - the people will turn the "invader" in if they manage to elude the Army and the police. This is the complete opposite of what happens to a border crosser going from south to north - which means pretty much we deserve exactly what we are getting.

      The only way that this will end is when the standard of living is equal between the two countries. Since raising the standard in Mexico is impossible because of the culture and financial system, it means that the US has to have the same standard of living as Mexico does today. With 25% real unemployment, very tight credit and a collapsed housing market we are well on our way there. When the amnesty is passed later this year we will likely see that there are 20-30 million people from Mexico in the US in a few years. This will pretty much put the finishing touches on the labor market.

      A strong border is simply not a priority with most people. Either they don't see the effects or they somehow believe that we "owe" it to Mexico to help the poor people so the upper class can continue to ignore them. Of course many businesses welcome the minimum-wage labor force that is supplied from Mexico. The work that cannot be outsourced can be done in the US by people to whom minimum wage for a week is 10 times what they could make in a year back home.

      Sure, we could have built a strong border - but without support of the citizens of the US it would never work. And we clearly do not have support of the citizens. Napolitano wanted to throw open the border when she was governer in Arizona, probably mostly for the benefit of the businesses here. The fact that it makes getting a entry-level low-skill job impossible meant nothing to her.

      We better build a really strong social safety net, because when we are at 30-40% unemployment we are all going to need it.

      • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vlm (69642) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @01:54PM (#31511946)

        The only way that this will end is when the standard of living is equal between the two countries. Since raising the standard in Mexico is impossible because of the culture and financial system, it means that the US has to have the same standard of living as Mexico does today.

        Actually its worse, since you're assuming Mexicos economy won't collapse faster than ours.

        Two huge sources of income to Mexico are currently collapsing (not collapsing in the future, I'm talking about right now)

        1) About half their govt budget came from selling oil... Their wells are now in permanent, fast decline. Once its all pumped out, its gone. That doesn't mean there is no production, just like the US has been in permanent oil production decline for 40 years but still produces a little oil. Higher tech means the extraction rate is higher so the decline is faster. And producers become importers at a much faster rate than total gross production decreases. Mexico is going to stop exporting oil pretty soon. Most of which, went to the USA. Ooops. So we're out of oil and they're out of cash. This won't turn out well.

        2) A substantial fraction of their GNP (like a third to a fifth, depending on whom you believe) was Mexicans in the US sending money back home, via WU or cash or whatever. Probably via drug trafficking too. As the US slides into great depression 2, that money flow to Mexico dries up.

        You may think that we're chasing down to them at the bottom. But they are falling faster than we are, if anything. Where we'll meet up, as you claim, is likely to be way the heck down there...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Solandri (704621)

          1) About half their govt budget came from selling oil... Their wells are now in permanent, fast decline. Once its all pumped out, its gone. That doesn't mean there is no production, just like the US has been in permanent oil production decline for 40 years but still produces a little oil. Higher tech means the extraction rate is higher so the decline is faster. And producers become importers at a much faster rate than total gross production decreases. Mexico is going to stop exporting oil pretty soon. Most

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by mrbene (1380531)

            In terms of historical oil production, google came up with this chart [wikimedia.org] which I was going to link to initially and shows a rather steep decline. But it contradicts the DOE's own chart [doe.gov] even though it cites the DOE as a source. So I'm guessing the wiki chart is wrong and uses figures massaged by a peak oil advocate.

            Nice assumption, but you know what they say about assumptions. The DOE chart shows "petro" values declining from a peak of 11M barrels in 1983-ish, while the Wikimedia chart shows a decline from about 9M barrels in 1985-ish. This should indicate to you that the DOE chart includes petrochemicals that are not oil - like LNG [wikipedia.org] and coal.

            Oh, and check the DOE's raw data [doe.gov] for a chart that is specific to crude oil, that lines up pretty much exactly with Wikimedia chart.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        The only way that this will end is when the standard of living is equal between the two countries. Since raising the standard in Mexico is impossible because of the culture and financial system, it means that the US has to have the same standard of living as Mexico does today.

        Once upon the time, people crossing the border any means possible was a problem for the East, not West, Germany. And once upon the time millions arriving into the country looking to work hard and make their fortune - just like the Mex

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        Today, if someone crosses the border from north to south into Mexico they will be met by the Mexican Army, arrested and likely confined, possibly for a long time. I've rafted down the Rio Grande and repeatedly crossed over into Mexico without going through customs. Never was there a militia there to greet me. Literally millions of Americans cross the border into Mexico legally each year - seems like it would be a little difficult to separate the legals from illegals. Likewise, if you ever drive around El Pa
      • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

        by StikyPad (445176) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:51PM (#31515924) Homepage

        Today, if someone crosses the border from north to south into Mexico they will be met by the Mexican Army, arrested and likely confined, possibly for a long time. There is no possibility that someone is going to stay there unmolested - the people will turn the "invader" in if they manage to elude the Army and the police. This is the complete opposite of what happens to a border crosser going from south to north - which means pretty much we deserve exactly what we are getting.

        Have you ever actually been to Mexico, or are you just reciting a joke you heard once at a Tea Party? Crossing into Mexico doesn't even require sneaking -- just walk right through the border crossing station. There *might* be a guard there, and in some rare cases he might actually be doing more than a cursory random inspection of bags. The reason you never see a line going south at any of the border crossings is *not* because there aren't just as many people crossing in that direction; it's because the "security" you cite is demonstrably absent.

        That's not to be confused with committing a crime in Mexico, which will likely result in the consequences you describe. But crossing the border is trivial, and gaining permanent residency is only slightly more involved. Most people are pleasant, though you may encounter implicit or overt hostility in some areas -- away from tourist towns in particular. But that's no different than a foreigner in *any* country.

        I agree that we're getting what we deserve -- but I heartily disagree that what we're getting is detrimental on the whole. Illegal immigration is a minor annoyance at worst, and beneficial to the economy at best. Even the idea that it takes away jobs is fallacious, because jobs are not a fixed value. Immigrants create added demand for existing goods and services, just like anyone else. People -- even Mexicans -- need to eat, so they buy food. They also procure other basic necessities such as water, shelter, transportation, and eventually fulfill higher level desires, all of which contributes to the demand for "legitimate" jobs; skilled or not. They are certainly less damaging than our mutual ancestors were, and their offspring are assimilated into our Borg collective more readily than immigration provocateurs would like to admit. Sure, many immigrants, legal or illegal, send money back to their relatives, and some may end up moving back at some point. The net result, however, is beneficial for everyone in the long run, because increased prosperity for our neighbor increases both our security and the market for our products.

        Complaining that you can't get a job as a consequence of immigration is like complaining that you can't get a girlfriend as a consequence of alternative suitors. It is the very sense of entitlement, of anti-free market sentiment, that those opposing illegal immigration so often decry in every other context. In a word, it's hypocritical.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumRiff (120817)

      I find it funny that the argument seems to be that we either help them not come here, or we make it easy for them to work in the US.

      That seems to be the two sides of the debate. I gotta say, someone has done an awesome job changing the debate..

      No where have I heard anyone say "Lets fine/arrest/throw in jail the people that Knowingly hire people that they are not allowed to."

      I have yet to see a farmer get fined/jail, whatever, for firing his workers, and then hiring undocumented workers.
      I have yet to see an

  • It was brillant... convinced the congress to pay them 1.4b for just snake oil.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by robot256 (1635039)
      Yeah. $1.4b of webcams and summer intern projects. What a great educational outreach program and subsidy for chinese electronics.
    • by Tiger4 (840741) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @01:35PM (#31511536)

      This thing has been shocking for years. At every major point in the development, Boeing basically said, "trust us" and the Government basically said, "OK".

      Where is the design and analysis, where is the small-scale working model, where is the prototype, where is the incremental build up, where are the TEST RESULTS?????

      I mean come on people! Committing to full scale production before you've seen a working model is foolish. Committing to it AGAIN, even when you've NEVER seen improvement in the original performance is just asinine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @12:42PM (#31510318)

    They say they can't compete without cheap labor, but it they'd have invested as much in robots as they have in lobbying for protection and special access to illegal immigrants, then they'd be competitive without having to load NAFTA with special protections just for them. (free trade. ha!)

    Now the restaurants and building industry are spraying malathion on the middle class suburbs. (just call your critics "xenophobes" and you WIN the argument. wtf? )

    Just fine the crap out of people that hire illegals and the problem goes away.

    but no. let's build a virtual fence and make sure it doesn't work.

    If picking lettuce and sweeping floors is scarce labor, how come wages have gone down in these industries? Why is average working Joe making less? Wouldn't wages have gone up if the labor was as scarce as some people whine about?

  • by Morris Thorpe (762715) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @12:44PM (#31510366)

    This project was about two things:
    1) Lining the pockets of a lot of people
    2) Making those who fear illegal immigration feel better

    Goal 1 was *very* successful. Goal 2, not as much but...there will be other mufti-million dollar projects coming up that will.

    Seriously, did anyone really think this would work? Of course not. Plain common sense would immediately tell you this was destined for failure. Government and corporations simply ignored that and moved forward, That's a difference between "them" and "us."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)

      Boeing built a 28-mile test section in the Southern Arizona desert. It didn't work. The company regrouped, redesigned and redeployed one set of towers near the first set. It is building another section right now. The entire border was supposed to be covered a year ago, but after three years -- and $1.4 billion -- the system is still full of bugs.

      They just need to try a couple more times. Use makes master - even prehistoric Britons knew what was up:

      When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said

    • "... there will be other mufti-million dollar projects coming up that will"

      Millions are soooooo 1990s, chump change is now measured in billions, and apparently, if you want people to even notice, you have to spend in trillions.
    • >>>Government and corporations simply ignored that and moved forward, That's a difference between "them" and "us."

      Actually corporations would have enough sense to realize, "This won't work," and cancel the project ahead of time to save themselves cash. But since it was government paying the bill, the corporation didn't give a frak about wasting gov't money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      The concept and goal is completely feasible. It has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with private companies that live within there own world where everyone is just as likely to stab someone else in the back as they are to actually try to progress a project.

      Had in been a government design, and implemented in a manner where companies bid for pieces to complete, instead of the whole thing, it could be successful.

      I mean it's not really needed and does nothing but pander to irrational fear, but

  • If they had just called it SkyNet (or even SyFyNet) we could all rest easier.
  • ...as a UK citizen I'm not paying for this, but my first thought was that for a product (potentially) of that scale, a $1.4bn write-off doesn't sound all *that* much. It's only a small fraction of the $12bn+ wasted on a disastrous IT project by the NHS in England.
  • This is a classic example of Top-Down Error. Government was approached or approached a few big-players and they all agreed that it would be just peachy. Reality has a way of spoiling the party often times however. If they had adopted a more open model such as a bazaar of ideas that could have completed with each other through criticism I'm sure that something else while it also may not have been 100% effective would have emerged that would have been at least just as good and cost far less. Government ha
  • of how large private companies only beholden to a few shareholders can not reliably build large complex systems.

  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @01:09PM (#31510922)

    It's sad that $1.5 billion had to be spent to try and protect honest God-fearing Americans from poor Mexicans who wanted to pick our fruit for minimum wage.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @01:10PM (#31510946) Homepage

    This was all about "sensing". It didn't actually do anything to stop border crossers.

    Multiple fences with a patrol road between them, plus a chain of towers to discourage people cutting the fence, might actually work. The sections with physical fences are doing their job now. There's solid fence from the Pacific Ocean to Yuma, AZ., which has pushed crossing attempts into Texas and the desert.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @02:24PM (#31512584) Homepage

    After reading through 100 comments on the politics of Mexican immigrant workers, I realized I'm reading a technology blog, and all I wanted to know was why the fence didn't work. The article doesn't really say. It says the "fence" is composed of towers with monitoring equipment. But it doesn't really say what that equipment was supposed to do, or what it failed to do.

    "Ninety to 100 percent of all illegal crossers, this camera system was going to identify and characterize this threat,"

    What does that mean? Was it supposed to magically know who was crossing illegally and who wasn't? Or identify Mexicans -vs- Americans? That's silly. Was it just supposed to detect people, or movement? Did it fail at doing that?

    "It's not a matter of, you know, do you look at the screen and see things?" Stana said. "Yes, you're going to see some things. The question is: Are you going to see things over time? Is it a quality image and is it a reliable image?"

    This is still very vague. It is supposed to "see things over time" - what things? Over what time? Was it supposed to identify behaviors somehow?

    This whole thing is really vague.

    • 60 Minutes did a story on this system a few months ago. As best I recollect:

      1) The initial plan was vague. If you don't have an actual plan, then you won't ever have to call call the project done. This is good for Boeing, bad for the people paying the bills.

      2) They finally decided that the plan would be that computers and cameras should surveil the area between towers, and, alert the people running the dispatch center of suspicious activity. "Suspicious activity" = people in the area. No person would be walking in these areas unless they were trying to cross the border illegally.

      3) Boeing designed and delivered the initial system. THEN sat down the dispatch people at the consoles. Who promptly said it sucked and was worthless. You heard that right: Boeing did NOT bother to bring in the users who would use the system during the design phase. Also, it was here that the 'discovery' was made that the optics and cameras were WAY more expensive than Boeing originally said (because a web-cam is one thing, and camera that can resolve a clear picture at two miles is another). Of course, better optics means (a lot) more data (which the networks couldn't handle), larger storage requirements for the DVR, etc.

      4) Re-work time.

      5) Finally the trial tests. Oops. The heat seeking portion doesn't work in the heat of a desert. The radar kept triggering on wind-blown bushes and the occasional Rocket J. Squirrel. The radar didn't work for people sized targets in the rain. If you are a group of bad guys and see that that the camera is swiveling toward you, freeze for a bit (drop to your hands and knees and pretend to be the authorized Bullwinkle J. Moose). The camera will move on. The electronics equipment couldn't handle the heat. The electronics equipment couldn't handle the dust. The dust clogged gear was on the wrong end of very tall / difficult to climb towers.

      6) In-truck computers. The Border Patrol was supposed to chase down people being guided by laptops hooked back to base. Except it is essentially impossible to drive around in the (extremely bumpy) desert AND work a computer at the same time.

      Did I mention that a single World-War One style trench subverts the whole thing?

      Nine towers and 28 miles in, the problems seem insurmountable. Boeing keeps saying they could deliver a system that works though. Just throw gobs more billion at it.... It's a 2,000 mile border.

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