THE MAGAZINE

North By Northwest

By Matthew Harwood

The OIC was built to achieve “a technology baseline that’s effective, but not overkill,” he says. CBP considers the command center a laboratory for security innovation. Technologies and feeds not valued by operators will be downgraded or discarded; those that prove effective may be used in other sectors.

The OIC’s role in making more informed technology decisions is at least partly a response to the failure of the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), a CBP program aimed at developing and integrating cutting-edge border surveillance technologies to detect breaches along the Southwest border. Last January, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano canceled the virtual-fence program, a failure that cost taxpayers approximately $1 billion. In that case, there was a broad commitment to unproven technology.

“That’s what we mean by a laboratory,” he says. “[The OIC] will allow the operators to gain experience and tell me what they really want, rather than me trying to guess.”

And finding the appropriate technology for the northern border isn’t an easy task, says former CBP Commissioner Basham. “We know that ground sensors that are deployed on the southern border are challenged on the northern border,” he said, adding that it’s incredibly difficult to find cameras and communications systems that can withstand the northern border’s extreme environments.

But for all the talk of the OIC’s technology, the command center is primarily about cooperation. “And by cooperation, we mean actually getting together, sharing the same information about what’s going on in a particular area, and then working in an integrated way to allocate the totality of the resources that are available, whether those resources belong to Canadians, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP, the Coast Guard, or the local sheriff,” says Borkowski.

Borkowski expects much from this facility in the future. Five years from now, he foresees a hive of activity at the OIC, where technology allows the OIC to push out threat information to law enforcement partners in the area, even if they don’t have a representative in the OIC.

But the real goal is creating the culture of resource sharing, where the distinction between federal, state, local, and Canadian assets dissolves into one law enforcement community. This will happen, he says, when the OIC’s law enforcement representatives cooperatively plan each day together and allocate combined resources like “one big pot of resources.”

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