WASHINGTON – A much-touted, high-tech system being tested along the United States’ southern frontier with Mexico failed to meet expectations and is being reworked, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday. Still, he said, border security has improved dramatically.
Chertoff said that SBInet, which integrates cameras, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the border, did not satisfy his department during initial tests and that he has asked Boeing, the contractor, to make improvements.
The remarks came during a wide-ranging and occasionally contentious hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security to discuss the department’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
There were questions on such topics as the safety of government-provided trailers used by Hurricane Katrina victims and terrorism – specifically programs to track foreign students and screen air cargo – a reflection of the agency’s broad mandate. Lawmakers also asked Chertoff a personal question: Would he leave the Department of Homeland Security to take the helm at the Justice Department, replacing outgoing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales?
Chertoff’s non-answer: “I’m happy to continue to do this job until the very last day of the administration.”
Some exchanges were more barbed, with Democratic lawmakers complaining about what they described as DHS’ lack of transparency and its reluctance to cooperate with congressional oversight.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., grilled Chertoff on the agency’s handling of air cargo inspections, denouncing the program as a “shambles.”
Holding up a redacted report by the DHS inspector general, Markey said it was a “blistering, scalding indictment of the department’s handling … of cargo inspection on passenger planes.”
Congress recently passed a law requiring 100 percent screening of the cargo placed on passenger aircraft.