THE MAGAZINE

North By Northwest

By Matthew Harwood

While drone surveillance has led to arrests, Priddy couldn’t discuss specifics because many of the cases are active.

The CBP is now trying to extend its operational area east over the Great Lakes, which would allow it to provide situational awareness to U.S. Coast Guard partners. Going forward, Priddy says, the goal is to continue doing what they do on a small scale, but extend it farther across the northern border. That desire, however, depends on budget and whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates the national airspace, believes the Predators can safely fly over certain areas.

Integration center. Possibly the CBP’s most ambitious attempt to boost situational awareness on the northern border is the Operational Integration Center (OIC), which opened in March at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, a joint Department of Defense and DHS installation about 35 miles north of Detroit. The OIC’s goal is to bring together border security stakeholders, give them access to the latest technology, and “let nature take its course,” says Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski of the CBP Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition.

The Detroit sector was chosen for the OIC for two main reasons. First was the sector’s responsibility for the Great Lakes region, which according to a CBP press release, “presents unique border enforcement challenges due to heavy use by recreational boaters in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter, and extensive commercial and transportation infrastructure vulnerable to exploitation.”

A second reason, says Keith Arrington, border patrol liaison to the CBP Office of Public Affairs, was the existing presence of remote video surveillance systems (RVSS) along the sector’s border that the OIC could tap into.

Currently the OIC boasts representatives from all CBP components; the Coast Guard; other DHS agencies; and federal, state, local and Canadian law enforcement agencies. Functioning as one unit, the partners then use a powerful array of technologies to bolster situational awareness around the Detroit sector, principally the areas along the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.

Empowering this partnership is a wide array of off-the-shelf, integrated technology. The OIC brings together information feeds, including radar and camera feeds; databases; and remote sensor inputs. Also included are RVSS; and mobile surveillance systems feeds; and video from various POE, tunnel, and local traffic cameras, CBP’s Kostelnik told a House Homeland Security subcommittee in July.

The OIC can also receive video feeds from the agency’s Predator drones, although the UAVs have not been granted the FAA clearance necessary to fly within the OIC’s coverage area yet. “The idea for us,” says Borkowski, “is let’s find a feed for every piece of information we can put in there.”

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