US border project cancelled… or is it just mutating?

Neoconopticon is reporting that the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) project is to be shelved and replaced with off-the shelf surveillance equipment (UAVs etc.).

The project which was based on contracts with Boeing and Raytheon, had been in trouble for some time. I reported back in 2009 how Boeing had basically wasted most of the money on the Mexican border projects on systems that didn’t work. Neoconopticon gives the figure of $3.7Bn for the project, but in fact estimated costs for the longer-term maintenance just of the Mexican fence component had spiralled to over $10Bn.

The original source for this news, Defence Industry Daily, has a good timeline.

I am left wondering however about whether this cancellation might have anything to do with the discussions that were recently revealed on the North American Perimeter project, which I blogged back in December last year. A complete North American perimeter might reduce the pressure to add further security to the US-Canadian border at least, and Canadian government funds and people could be leveraged by the US, as they were during the Cold War with the DEW Line and BMEWS. A summit on the issue between US President, Barack Obama, and Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, had been scheduled for January and was recently pushed back into February, which has given time for the decision on the cancellation of the SBI.

This could all be coincidence, but it is certainly interesting timing…

The New North American Perimeter

Canadians have been angered to discover recently that a deal to create a new US-Canada perimeter security initiative has been going on behind their backs. This plan has been some time in the making, as we uncovered during our current research on border security. In particular, alliances of major corporations and US and Canadian government organisations have been planning together in the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) – who back in 2007 produced a document, Building a Secure and Competitive North Anerica (pdf), that seems to prefigure exactly what this ‘new’ soon to be announced plan will contain.

And already the state public relations machines have rumbled into place to prevent dissent. The government clearly has nothing but contempt for the Canadian Charter rights that this deal will damage (most notably those around information and privacy). And there seems to be no doubt that this deal will further embed US security priorities in Canadian-US relations, and effectively add an inner core of security to the economic layer of NAFTA (excluding Mexico, of course… no doubt the perimeter will continue exclude them, even while we exploit their cheap labour and resources). Indeed the ‘success’ of NAFTA (read: the success of NAFTA for business elites) is one of the reasons given for supporting this so-far unseen plan by five former Canadian ambassadors to Washington in an Opinion piece in the Globe and Mail today.

This first volley from the big guns seems to have come straight from the Ottawa PR stategy. There are references to ‘common sense’ and the ‘reassertion of sovereignty’ and attacks on ‘bellyaching’ and ‘knee-jerk anti-Americanism’. Indeed it is worth quoting the final paragraph in full because it is a masterpiece of old-fashioned continentalist propaganda combined with post-9/11 fear-stoking:

“Knee-jerk anti-Americanism is an indulgence without purpose in today’s interconnected, interdependent world. Our future economic prosperity relies on an efficient border, and we should welcome any agreement that smoothes the way for jobs and growth while toughening up our borders to security threats against both our countries.”

In this worldview, asserting sovereignty means giving it up, ‘interconnected and interdependent’ means allied with the USA rather than all the other multiplicity of friendships Canada had carefully crafted around the world prior to the Harper era, and security threats to the USA are seen as one and the same as those to Canada. In other words, we should hitch our wagon more firmly to Washington and prevent any return to that ‘indulgent’ Canadian emphasis on global security, peace-building, human development and human rights – you know, the values that once gained Canada respect around the world.

It’s quite eye-opening in a way to see former representatives of the Canadian state to the USA openly acting as US assets in Canada, clearly trying to educate the Canadian public in how to think and how to behave towards their rulers (sorry, slip of the tongue, of course I meant ‘neighbours’), and trying to preempt and predefine reaction to a plan that we haven’t even seen yet not least because people like this seem to think that Canadians don’t deserve to have a say in something that amounts to nothing less than the future sovereignty of their country.

(thanks to Harrison Smith for the NACC document and David Lyon for pointing out the Opinion piece)

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.