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Dumb Sensors, Deadly Consequences

Michelle Malkin on

The circumstances of U.S. Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez's death this week remain murkier than the Rio Grande River.

Agent Martinez succumbed to critical head injuries early Sunday morning. An unnamed partner, who came to Martinez's aid after he radioed for help from a remote area of the Big Bend sector in Texas, also suffered serious wounds. Whether by deliberate ambush or accident, one of our border enforcers is dead and the other hospitalized.

This much is clear: Dumb sensors + depleted forces = deadly border disorder.

Agent Martinez had ventured out alone to check on a ground sensor to determine who or what had set it off. He confirmed to his colleagues that human activity had activated the alarm before he died.

Here's the scandal: Our federal government has been squandering billions of dollars on inferior border technology for years. It's a monumental waste of taxpayer funds and a dangerous redistribution of wealth to crony contractors, whose ineffective pet projects are putting our men and women on the front lines at risk.

Nearly 14,000 ground sensors have been littered along the southern border over the past several decades -- some dating back to the Vietnam War era. Untold numbers have simply been buried and lost by federal workers who failed to record where they put them. Twelve years ago, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general's report found that agents couldn't determine the cause of 62 percent of the sensor alerts because they were "unable to respond to the dispatch, or it took the agent too long to get to the sensor location."

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Compounding staff shortages are outdated sensors unable to distinguish between humans, vehicles and animals. They can't tell cows from criminals or wild boars from dirty bombers. Thirty-four percent of alerts were confirmed false alarms in the 2005 review. Only 2 percent resulted in apprehensions of immigrants in this country illegally, the feds admitted.

The Arizona Republic reported that "a possible false alarm from a ground sensor, and faulty radio communications, may have contributed to the death of Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie in a friendly-fire incident" in 2012. "(A)gents didn't detect anyone but each other when they arrived. Ivie, responding separately, apparently mistook the other agents for smugglers and opened fire. One of the agents shot and killed him."

A $1 billion integrated fixed tower project, fronted by Boeing, was supposed to remedy the flaws of the ground sensor system. A surveillance program along the southwest border in Arizona, the IFT systems "are fixed surveillance assets that provide long-range persistent surveillance" using radars that send pictures back to a central hub to monitor illegal crossings and criminal activity.

But the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general reported this summer that the towers had never been properly tested for suitability and operational effectiveness. Its successors haven't fared much better.

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