James Carafano has been blogging on the Heritage Foundation’s “The Foundry” this week on his trip to our southern border. Carafano has been mighty impressed with all the potential benefits of increased border security. Specifically, Carafano believes it will protect the environment, even though Defenders of Wildlife has warned that the erection of a border fence will have “serious and lasting” effects on wildlife, clean water and clean air in the region. He’s also convinced it will reduce human fatalities, even though over 200 people die on the border each year, mostly from exposure, while the rate of illegal immigration remains steady.
But today’s post is a real humdinger. Titled “Virtual Fences Can Help Make Real Good Neighbors,” it praises the rollout of “Project 28,” part of the Department of Homeland Security’s initiative to create a “virtual fence” of video surveillance, motion sensors and other nifty gadgets along 28 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border. But as the Government Accountability Office and The Washington Post reported in February, Project 28 has been an utter fiasco. None of the technology has worked, and DHS decided to scrap the pilot project (they are now trying again with newer, fancier equipment).
However, even if the technology had worked, it’s not clear the program would have. Residents of Arivaca, Ariz., an unincorporated town nearby on of Project 28’s video surveillance towers, complained that while DHS reported the tower’s field of vision was only about 10 miles, the agency had placed it right next to the town, which happens to be 12 miles from the border. The potential for the federal government to spy on American citizens was real; the impact on border security, not so much.
But forget the fact that Project 28 is a complete boondoggle for a moment (Carafano admits that in addition to suffering from “bad publicity,” nobody at DHS bothered to ask the Border Patrol what they actually needed). The virtual fence is also one of the largest government gravy trains out there, and the main beneficiary has been Boeing Corp. Boeing got the original contract to install Project 28, and despite its failure to build something that works for more that $860 million in taxpayer dollars, DHS keeps offering the company new contracts. Just last month, it was announced that Boeing would be asked to build on its “experience” with Project 28 to construct two new sections of virtual fence in Arizona and Michigan.
Now to return to our friends at Heritage: Why would a think tank that advocates for limited government, free enterprise and strong national defense support a program that is massively expensive to taxpayers, invades the privacy of local residents, and amounts to a handout to a company that has repeatedly failed to secure our borders? A massive buildup of surveillance technology at the border is the kind of cash cow that fiscal conservatives and civil libertarians should be united in opposing. We’re eagerly waiting to welcome our friends at Heritage to the right side of the (virtual) fence.