US border surveillance pours billions into Boeing… and still doesn’t work

Federal Computer Week reports that the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) designed to provide secure and highly surveilled border systems between the USA and Mexico, is in trouble again. There have been major technological failures, cost overruns, and more with the result that the system is way behind schedule. Half the reason seems to be a political economic one. In many ways this system is a giant pork barrel for the Boeing Corporation, which has been sucking up US state subsidies for years and is taking literally billions of US dollars for this project and in unrelated federal recession subsidies. No-one seems to have really checked whether Boeing could really do the job, and like so many large state security and surveillance projects, and most things that have been tried on the Mexico border, it just doesn’t really work.

The article reports the new Director of the SBI, Mark Borkowski as admitting that “the program was first conceived as a quick implementation of existing off-the-shelf technologies […] In retrospect, it would have functioned better if a customized technology solution was developed to meet the requirements […] Some of the things we put into place, in hindsight, were not effective […] What we bet on, which was probably not a good bet, was that this was like buying a new printer for your computer. …We started the wrong way, in my opinion.”

The cost breakdown for the Department of Homeland Security is reported by FCW as:

$1.1Bn to Boeing ($620M  for SBInet technology and $440M for border-vehicle barriers and fencing).

$2.4Bn on construction of fencing and vehicle barriers along the southwestern border

$6.5 Bn longer-term to maintain, monitor and repair the fences and structures.

Of course the ridiculous costs are bad enough, but the wider issues here are with the obsession with controlling migration in an economic climate in which the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has progressively stripped Mexico of any economic autonomy and made its (and by extension the whole of Central America’s) working class a reserve of cheap labour for US corporations and its relatively increasingly wealthy, a market for US consumer goods. It’s not surprising that the Mexicans regard it as more than a little unfair that they have been forced into a subservient position, yet are not welcome to come into the USA, and are subject to such harsh security and surveillance to prevent them from doing so. Added to this, as the Mexican President made clear last year, relaxed US laws on gun ownership have resulted in a massively increased flow of weapons into Mexico from the USA, which has exacerbated gang conflicts which thrive in the atmosphere of inequality and exploitation. And of course, the violence just adds to the reasons why people want to leave and find opportunities in the richer, safer USA…

In many ways, what richer nations are doing is not only prioritising their own security, but also simultaneously exporting their insecurity.