WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said Tuesday he supports temporarily stationing National Guard troops at the southwest border to help secure the area against an ever escalating level of violence among Mexican drug cartels and between the cartels and the Mexican government.
“This is a homeland security problem,” he said. “I don’t want to come back a year from now and hear from witnesses who I trust that things have gotten worse.”
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., said: “The violence along our southern border is increasing and impeding everyday life and the peace of mind of our citizens in the border region. Some believe that they are living in a lawless land where there is little or no consequence for the violation of their land, property and well-being. The federal government must do all it can within its power to curb this violence and protect its citizens from criminals coming across the border from Mexico. Americans living anywhere, but especially along the border, must feel safe and secure in their homes and on their property.”
The Senators’ statements came at a hearing on the troubled SBInet program – the network of cameras and sensors that was intended to help secure the southwest border.
Originally planned to traverse the entire 2,000-mile-long southern border by 2009, SBInet, at a direct cost of $770 million, now only covers a 23-mile test area.
“By any measure, SBInet, has been a failure – a classic example of a program that was grossly oversold and has badly under delivered,” Lieberman said. “This program needs to be shaken up. It should be brought to the point where it works or we should scrap it.”
Tuesday’s hearing was the third the Committee has held to review America’s border security programs fueled by the smuggling of drugs and people northbound and guns and money southbound by ruthless Mexican drug cartels. The violence continues to grow. Since 2006, more than 22,700 people have been murdered in Mexico by narco-terrorists in the ongoing war among the cartels and between the cartels and the Mexican government. The 9,635 murders in 2009 were an increase of 50 percent from the already unprecedented level in 2008 and three times the 2,837 killed in 2007.
Although the southern border violence has yet to spill over significantly into the U.S., that possibility exists, Lieberman said, which is why he supports temporarily stationing National Guard troops at the border to support Customs and Border Protection operations.
In the past month, three separate incidents have raised Congressional concern and anger: A pregnant U.S. Consulate employee, her husband, and the Mexican husband of another consulate employee were all gunned down in Juarez; the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo was attacked with an Improvised Explosives Device; and a well-known and Arizona rancher was murdered on his own property. This follows the murder of an on-duty Border Patrol Agent last year.
SBInet was launched in 2006 by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and is being built by a sole contractor: Boeing.
“Without clear goals and expectations, both CBP and Boeing underestimated the complexity of building the system,” Lieberman said. “And the Border Patrol agents themselves – the people who would be implementing and relying on the system everyday – initially were not consulted on what their actual needs were.
“I am also troubled that the program office responsible for SBInet is heavily dependent on contractors, weakening CBP's own organic capability to manage the program and ensure capability. And, of course, the structure of the SBInet contract -- one overarching contract to a single contractor -- means that CBP does not get the benefit of competition for individual tasks undertaken for the SBInet program.
“From the very beginning of SBInet, CBP’s reports to Congress read like a quest to find that mystical point where parallel lines finally meet – it’s always just over the horizon but you never actually get there… I, for one, don't think members of this Committee will believe it until we actually get there.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is conducting a review of the viability of the SBInet program, which Senator Lieberman noted he “wholeheartedly supports.”