Remember the McNamara Line?

As the Homeland Security Department and Boeing plan to seed the U.S. border with a whole lot of high-tech sensors under the SBInet project, they might want to take a look at the last U.S. effort to use such technology: the electronic battlefield conceived by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War in 1968.

The sensor portion of the McNamara Line, code-named Igloo White, went operational in November 1967. It used acoustic sensors to track truck and troop movements down the Ho Chi Minh Trail with some limited success.

Its sensor data went into IBM mainframes at a secret U.S. facility in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. Analysts used the data collected by those computers to direct air attacks against trucks or troops identified by the sensors. The planes following the guidance dropped a lot of ordnance on trucks and — according to my favorite (and now deceased) CIA agent Sam Adams — some innocent water buffalo. The trucks, despite all these high-tech tricks, continued to roll.

The folks at Sandia National Labs developed even more exotic sensors for Igloo White, such as chemical “people sniffers” that detected human urine. But according to Sam, sometimes a water buffalo that had survived an air attack would relieve itself on the chemical sensors, confusing the IBM mainframes and analysts.

DHS and Congress, which want to physically wall off the entire country, might also take some time to remember the Berlin Wall. That edifice finally fell after decades of failing to contain captive people desperate for a better life.

Spending priorities: Billions for SBInet, $12K for military death benefits

At the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) conference in Albuquerque last week, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff extolled SBInet as a project that will bring the 21st century to U.S. borders. He zipped from the convention center before New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had a chance to speak.

A clearly miffed Richardson said that Chertoff should send him 2,000 more Border Patrol agents to relieve National Guards who patrol the border after long tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Richardson also highlighted the disparity between the value put on human life and megabillion-dollar high-tech projects: The death benefit for the family of a U.S. warfighter killed in the line of duty is a pitiful $12,000.

There is something jarringly wrong with this picture.

Richardson and the New Mexico legislature have boosted death benefits for all deployed troops from the state to $400,000, and Richardson said 36 other states have followed suit, but one wonders why the 535 members of Congress — all of whom profess to support the troops — can’t do this at the federal level.

What do you expect out of DHS in two years?

DHS launched the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), a program designed to coordinate counterterrorism responses with all 50 states, in February 2004. As recently as six months ago, it was little more than a log for storing records, Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Sullivan, chief of staff for the U.S. Northern Command, told the NGAUS conference.

HSIN has improved in the past six months, but it is still a work in progress and an evolving art form, Sullivan said. But now it includes force-tracking capabilities. Hey, maybe in another two years it will be able to track the bad guys.

One governor, two Cabinet secretaries and Pat Boone

When Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson introduced crooner Pat Boone to the NGAUS audience, it came as something of a shock to many — including me — who thought Boone had long since gone to white buck heaven.

Boone, whom Nicholson described as an old friend, debuted his new song, “For My Country: Ballad of the National Guard,” at the conference and said proceeds will go to the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Boone turns out to be quite high-tech himself. The song came complete with a sophisticated music video displayed on the big screens of the Albuquerque Convention Center. Boone also has his own Web site (

Boone’s appearance at the NGAUS conference was truly the most amazing event I have attended this year. I can hardly wait until next year’s NGAUS conference in Puerto Rico.

Anderson Cooper, the mole?

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper served a brief stint as host of the ABC reality show “The Mole,” and he was also in a brief apprenticeship at the CIA, according to the Radar On Line Web site,

Radar On Line reported that Cooper spent the summers of his sophomore and junior years at Yale University as a CIA intern, which a CNN spokeswoman confirmed.

I guess the relentlessly self-promoting Cooper quickly figured out that life as an anonymous spy was not a good fit for someone who loves the limelight and himself as much as he does.

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