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Friday
Jan142011

Homeland Security Axes Bush-Era 'Virtual Fence' Project

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Friday officially scrapped a Bush-era program designed to use radar technology to detect illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a DHS official and a congressional source.

The project, called "Virtual Fence," was rolled out under the Bush administration in 2006 with much fanfare about how technology could help secure the border. Illegal immigrants crossing the border would be detected by radar and picked up by remote cameras, which were monitored by border patrol agents.

But numerous internal and congressional reviews found consistent performance problems with the project's systems, which only spanned 53 miles of the vast U.S.-Mexico border. The cameras often provided blurry images, the radar system performed poorly in bad weather, and it often displayed false detections that were unable to distinguish between humans, cars and animals.

There were also cost overruns and the primary contractor, Boeing, repeatedly missed deadlines, officials said.

The system is estimated to cost about $1 billion. If the entire project had been accepted and rolled out, its cost would have exceeded $6 billion.

"We know that we cannot continue to put out millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer's money if we're not confident that it's really not going to work,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who ordered a review of the program upon taking office, said in October.

DHS officials say the program will not be a total loss and that Customs and Border Protection officers and border patrol agents will continue to use some of the systems that have been paid for.

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