The actual title of the hearing was "Border Security Gadgets, Gizmos, and Information: Using Technology to Increase Situational Awareness and Operational Control." I felt that was just too long for the title field. Provided via press release/email through an email subscription to DHS.gov, the testimony of "CBP Air and Marine Operations Executive Assistant Commissioner Randolph Alles, CBP Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski, and CBP U.S. Border Patrol Acting Chief Ronald Vitiello for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing" was held on May 24.
DHS seems to like long headlines, they also like long hearings (sans subtitles and footnotes it runs 4,000+ words) ... I'll spare you and try to provide a run-down.
At first there's a bit of background putting everyone on the same page. They remind that "the acquisition and deployment of border security technology, CBP ensures that investments are effective and that procurement processes are efficient, transparent, and compliant with Federal law and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy." Good. When they buy their gadgets and gizmos that they make sure the purchase is for a reason - one explained and understandable.
Later, it also explains that when they do make a purchase it's not because its the latest thing seen from a show floor. Like most of public safety I'm guessing budgets are tight and that flash-pan tech aren't assets considered best for the mission. Moreover, if something new comes their way, it's not enough to be innovative - doing more with less seems to be mandated for bring out the credit card. "Innovation is not simply the process of buying the newest technology; rather, it is the product of a collaborative culture that supports creativity, optimizes resource allocation and pursues the greatest return on investment and delivery of prioritized operational capabilities."
Tech needs to be adaptable. One example given is the failure of SBInet, cancelled early 2011 for being costly and not able to effectively cover every angle of border protection. In a moment where I hope the speaker looks up at the committee straight in the eyes they described the program "unnecessarily complex." Perhaps intuitive and simplicity
can should be rolled into the definition of innovative?
More on Surveillance Capabilities
They tell of the Integrated Fixed Tower and Remote Video Surveillance Systems. There are slight differences in each but basically they work exactly as one expects a surveillance system works – many cameras feeding into a center. (Makes sense.) On mobile surveillance, the combination of Mobile Surveillance Capability systems and Mobile Vehicle Surveillance Systems allow agents to drive to areas, use the mounted equipment and track items of interest. There’s a system that works similar but could be carried on foot, so tighten-up your boots and get walking. (Note: I used “could be”.)
Know what UGS are? No, not the ugly, mysteriously fashionable shoes people wear, but Unattended Ground Sensors. They “provide short-range persistent surveillance. These sensors support our capability to detect, and to a limited extent, track and identify subjects. Sensor capabilities include seismic, passive infrared, acoustic, contact closure, and magnetic.” Not every UGS has every capability though. Activated sensors trigger imagery back to the ops center.
Appropriately, the testimony then comes out and states why tech is vital to operations and any absence would be limiting. Force multiplication anyone?
But the gizmos don’t stop on the shore. The testimony tells of Coastal Interceptor Vessels for Air and Marine Operations purposes. These are high speed watercrafts “ that are specifically designed and engineered with the speed, maneuverability, integrity and endurance to intercept and engage a variety of suspect non-compliant vessels in offshore waters, as well as the Great Lakes on the Northern border.” There’s also explanation of the airborne efforts including multi-mode radar tech on the Multi-Role Enforcement Aircraft, the DHC-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, P-3 Long Range Trackers, and Airborne Early Warning Aircraft, and the AS-350 helicopter (with “tactical capability” upgrades), and high-tech UAS. Tack this up for your new thing to learn today: the P-3 system alone has a 42 MILLION square mile patrol area and in 2015 alone this led to seizure of $15.3 BILLION (estimated, street value) of cocaine.
To use a pun here, props. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Need an example of real-world interoperability? “Perhaps the most important advancements come in the area of data integration and exploitation. Downlink technology, paired with the BigPipe system, allows AMO to provide a video feed and situational awareness to its law enforcement partners in real-time.”
If $15 billion wasn’t impressive enough, border protection also utilizes Tethered Aerostat Radar System – eight of which (representing roughly 2% of the total radar systems available) accounted for 53% of all suspect target detections.
Going forward Moving on
If I understand correctly, border protection began realignment in its acquisition process. And if it turns out as planned it should “result in stronger management much earlier in the acquisition investment life cycle, increased oversight, as well as better integration of CBP personnel and operational expertise.” Testimony adds that they work with the DHS Science & Technology Directorate to improve, “tunnel detection and tunnel activity monitoring technology; tactical communication upgrades, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS); low-flying aircraft detection and tracking systems, land and maritime data integration/data fusion capabilities, and border surveillance tools…unattended ground sensors/tripwires, upgrades for mobile Surveillance Systems, slash camera poles, and wide-area surveillance."
It’s never over
The testimony concludes reminding the committee that the technology for border protection enhances abilities, as any appropriately used tech should. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that high tech purchase made last year was all for naught.
And while work is and will be never over – unless we suddenly move the U.S. population off planet – this testimony ends with notes of hope and visions of improvement.
when if someone in your community questions about all the tech on your person. If they doubt the use of it all. If there’s accusations of big brother …
Note the good your tech has done. Note how many recoveries police across the U.S. have been made using ALPR systems.
Note how smart surveillance is more concerned with preventing and solving criminal activity rather than keeping tabs on how often they buy coffee.
When used right … when used well … technology only is there to help, not hinder.
It’s more like enforcement-multiplication, not division.
Stay safe out there.
Editor's Note: The full testimony from May 24 can be found at https://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/05/24/written-testimony-cbp-house-homeland-security-subcommittee-border-and-maritime.