Tucson (AZ), Jan 12 (EFE News) .- In addition to the fence on the border with Mexico, the Trump Administration has in recent years reinforced security in the region with surveillance towers, radars, infrared cameras and drones, a “Virtual wall” that will become more relevant when Joe Biden paralyzes the construction of his predecessor’s wall.
While the construction of a border wall 30 feet (nine meters) high under the Trump Administration, who this Tuesday is visiting the region to witness the progress of the work, has attracted national and international attention, in the In recent years Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has worked to expand and strengthen a virtual wall along the border.
This barrier is made up of a series of Autonomous Surveillance Towers (AST), which together with sensors and the strategic use of drones help to monitor the border 365 days a year. The towers have radars and infrared cameras to try to achieve the most accurate report possible.
According to CBP figures provided to Efe, there are 81 ASTs installed along the more than 3,000-kilometer border at strategic points. These towers operate mainly with rechargeable solar batteries and have an advanced system that allows them to quickly identify “objects of interest” such as people and vehicles.
The cameras also allow the system to identify any “threat”, including groups of people trying to cross the border illegally or drug traffickers. The system immediately sends an alert to border agents with the exact information about the group’s location and how many people are in it.
“The AST system alerts agents by signaling an application. This is a great advantage since the agents do not have to be sitting in a room looking at multiple screens or monitors, but rather it keeps them free to continue with their routine surveillance operations, “CBP said in statements to Efe.
For his part, Jason Denno, director of the Center for Cyber Intelligence at the University of Arizona, told Efe that the use of cutting-edge technology is a fundamental part of the federal government’s national security plan.
Denno has worked closely with CBP in the development and installation of other surveillance structures known as Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT). These towers were first tested in remote areas of the Arizona desert as part of the virtual wall that assists agents in policing the border.
“The physical wall is just one component; the other is the agents and yet another is the use of technology. One without the other just can’t work, ”Denno said.
The federal government is committed to continuing to strengthen this network of “cyber sentinels” along the border with Mexico.
Last February, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told a Senate committee that CBP was seeking an increase of $ 28 million for the Autonomous Watch Towers program. And last summer, CBP established a contract with the Anduril company for the development of 100 additional towers during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
CBP indicated that, depending on funding, the goal for now is to have a network of 200 AST towers.
This is not the first time that the Government has opted for a virtual wall to monitor the border. In 2005 the administration of then President George W. Bush launched SBInet, a virtual surveillance system that from the beginning was plagued with problems.
The program only covered 50 miles (80 kilometers) on the Arizona border at a cost of more than $ 1 billion.
Denno is convinced that several of the failures that led to SBInet’s failure have been overcome. “Now each tower can watch for miles at a distance. A region that could take hours to travel by car is now protected 24 hours a day, ”he said.
He recognized that although technology has its advantages, it also has its limitations. At the moment the towers do not have a facial recognition system.
AIR DEFENSE WITH DRONES
CBP is not only betting on a virtual surveillance network on the border but also on an air defense line through drones. Two types of drones are currently used: vertical take-off and landing drones, known by their acronym as VTOL, and fixed-wing or FW.
Due to their compact size, these devices can be carried in the trucks of the border agents and deployed in a matter of minutes to help in the detection of groups of migrants or drug traffickers.
Drones allow agents to have an aerial view of the exact location of the group of people and to know their number.
According to CBP, in fiscal year 2019 drones were used 700 times assisting in the arrest of 1,000 undocumented immigrants and the confiscation of 300 pounds (137 kilos) of marijuana at the border.
In fiscal year 2020 the use of drones increased 1,500% compared to 2019. During the year they were used 11,000 times and at the beginning of fiscal year 2021, 3,000 departures have already been made.
The use of cutting-edge technology to protect the border is not without controversy, and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have harshly criticized this resource, considering that it increases the militarization of the border.