DHS starts Predator UAV flights in Texas
Department has $600M to spend on SW border security from new law
The Homeland Security Department has begun flying regularly scheduled, unmanned Predator aircraft surveillance flights from Corpus Christi, Texas, expanding the department’s total unmanned air surveillance capabilities to the entire Southwest land border.
The increase in borderwide surveillance will intensify under the Southwest Border Security law signed by President Barack Obama on Aug. 13. The law provides $600 million for personnel and technology at the border, including two new Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“The new, border-wide use of the Predator aircraft, comes on the heels of the recently passed Southwest border security supplemental legislation, which will provide two additional Unmanned Aerial Systems that will bolster these newly expanded operations,” a DHS news release said Aug. 30. The law provides $32 million for the two Predator UAVs.
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The law also provides $14 million for improved tactical communications systems, as well as $6 million to construct two forward-operating bases to improve coordination of border security activities. In addition, it also allocates $176 million for 1,000 border agents between points of entry and $68 million for agents at ports of entry, according to the news release.
Other technology purchases that may increase as a result of the recent law include l Z-Backscatter van units, mobile surveillance systems, remote video surveillance systems, thermal imaging systems, radiation portal monitors and license plate readers. Customs and Border Protection officials also expect to complete the final six miles of physical border fencing.
The news release does not specifically mention funding for the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), a combination of radars, cameras and other sensors linked with communications networks and has been in development since 2006. A 28-mile prototype system has been operating since February 2008 along the Arizona-Mexico border, and a 53-mile permanent segment is expected to be completed in Arizona this year.
In recent months, DHS officials and Congress have been re-evaluating SBInet and recently some officials have said it is likely to be scaled back and might be replaced by unmanned aerial systems.
Another goal is to deploy biometric technology under the Secure Communities program nationwide by 2013, the news release said. The biometric technology is used to take and compare fingerprints of suspected illegal aliens who are currently incarcerated under criminal charges. The Obama administration expanded the program from 14 to 567 locations, including all law enforcement jurisdictions along the border.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.