Technology

Homeland Insecurity


The Homeland Security Dept.'s overreliance on outside contractors and insufficient management of them could leave the U.S. vulnerable

(Editor's note: This is the first of three stories on the challenges and opportunities faced by the Homeland Security Dept. as it develops technology aimed at keeping the U.S. safe.)

It was a game of "catch me if you can" with the U.S. Border Patrol—and the guards couldn't win. Just over a year ago, a man traveled by car along a stretch of Canadian road so close to the U.S. he could cross the border by hopping a roadside ditch. He stopped at what looked like an unmonitored area, left the car, and crossed over carrying simulated radioactive material in a red duffel bag. He walked several hundred feet into the U.S., returned to the Canadian side and waited 15 minutes for a response from law enforcement. None came.

The illegal crossing, carried out on Dec. 5, 2006, is one of three instances late last year when government investigators passed undetected into the U.S. from Canada, each time carrying packages that could have been, though weren't, contraband. All were part of a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation into security vulnerabilities in unmonitored areas of the American border.

The Homeland Security Dept. is responsible for keeping the country safe from such breaches, and it has been spending billions of dollars on information technology to accomplish that mission. But the department's investments have come up well short of the country's needs, according to a growing chorus of critics.


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