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Homeland Security

Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS)

The Office of Border Patrol (OBP), within the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is the primary federal law enforcement organization responsible for detecting and preventing illegal aliens, terrorists, and contraband from entering the United States between official ports of entry (POEs). To help accomplish its mission, OBP uses technology, including cameras and sensors, to detect and identify illegal border intrusions. Cameras - both daylight and thermalinfrared, installed on poles and other structures along high volume illegal alien traffic areas of the border - constitute the Remote Video Surveillance (RVS) system. Sensors are also used along high volume illegal alien traffic areas of the border.

Remote surveillance technology is managed by OBP under the auspices of the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS) program, which was subsumed under America's Shield Initiative (ASI) in 2005. The ISIS program and ASI have received funding annually since Fiscal Year (FY) 1997 -- more than $429 million by 2005. Several limitations of border surveillance and remote assessment and monitoring technology as well as significant delays and cost overruns in the procurement of the RVS system have impeded the success of ISIS.

Through the ISIS, DHS will join together the surveillance capability of Border Patrol headquarters, remote video surveillance cameras, and a variety of physical sensors. Remote video surveillance (RVS) systems, sensors (seismic, magnetic, and thermal detection), and Integrated Computer Assisted Detection (ICAD) are components of the congressionally funded Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS), which was originally developed in 1998. The RVS component utilizes cameras, mounting poles, radio and microwave transmitters, and related equipment to maintain 24-hour surveillance of selected portions of the U.S. international border. Underground sensors installed along the U.S. border detect various types of activity and relay that information to a receiver/decoder located at a Sector Headquarters.

In 1998, INS formally established the ISIS program. ISIS equipment was intended to provide continuous monitoring of the borders in all weather conditions. When fully deployed, ISIS was to establish a fully integrated network combining sensor detections with camera video identification capability.

Sensors, primarily seismic and magnetic, buried in the ground, provide remote detection capability. When a sensor detects activity, alerts are sent via radio transmission to an OBP sector or station communications center. This alert is registered in ICAD and displayed on workstation terminals monitored by Law Enforcement Communication Assistants (LECAs). According to OBP, there are more than 11,000 sensors along the northern and southwest borders.

RVS systems provide the primary remote identification capability. RVS components include cameras, mounting poles, radio, and equipment, such as cabling and equipment enclosures. The RVS system includes both color (day) and thermal-infrared (night) cameras, which are mounted on sixty or eighty-foot poles or other structures. RVS camera signals are transmitted to the OBP sector or station communications center via a wireless system such as microwave signal, or, in one sector, via fiber optic cable. Personnel at designated communications centers can control most RVS cameras remotely using toggling keyboards. There are 255 operational RVS camera sites along the northern and southwest borders.

The ICAD system provides OBP with a resource tracking and response coordination capability. ICAD is integrated with sensors so that when a sensor is triggered, an alert is registered in ICAD. The alert creates an event record, or ticket, that is used to record data pertaining to the alert and eventually the result of an OBP agent's investigation. ICAD aids LECAs in tracking OBP agent activities and provides OBP with a means to generate activity reports.

The ICAD component is an alarm and dispatch support system with a data capture and reporting capability. The seismic, magnetic, and thermal detection sensors are used in conjunction with RVS and ICAD. When a sensor is tripped, an alarm is sent to a central control room. Personnel monitoring control room screens use the ICAD system to manually position RVS cameras in the direction from which the sensor alarm is tripped. Control room personnel alert field agents and coordinate an appropriate response to the situation. The ISIS Program supports the U.S. Border Patrol both tactically and strategically.

At the tactical level on-scene agents are provided with real-time information on attempted border crossings by illegal aliens, terrorists, or smugglers. Strategically, the installation of RVS camera systems enables the Border Patrol to monitor expanses of the border. When ISIS is fully deployed, the USBP will be able to fully monitor the border in areas of deployment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Through FY 2003, 286 RVS structures have been installed along the Southern and Northern Borders with the additional 16 structures along the Northern and Southern Borders during the first five months of FY 2004. In the future, DHS expected this system to integrate data from the UAVs and be interoperable with other law enforcement agencies. The Science and Technology Directorate will continue to identify the best products to refresh these technologies and increase the areas covered by the deployments.

DHS is spending $239 million on the Integrated Surveillance and Intelligence System, a no-bid contract to provide thousands of cameras and sensors to monitor activity on the Mexican and Canadian borders. Auditors found that the contractor, International Microwave Corp., billed for work it never did and charged for equipment it never provided, creating a potential for overpayments of almost $13 million. Moreover, the border monitoring system reportedly does not work.

ISIS components are not fully integrated, e.g., when a sensor is activated, a camera does not automatically pan in the direction of the activated sensor. In addition, RVS cameras do not have detection capability regardless of whether they are used in conjunction with sensors. To complicate matters further, because current sensors cannot differentiate between illegal alien activity and incidental activations, caused by animals, seismic activity, or weather, OBP agents are often dispatched to false alarms.

The ISIS program was initiated while the Border Patrol was part of the Department of Justice's Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Within INS, the Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM) was the principal manager of the ISIS program. In April 2001, a memorandum of understanding was established between OIRM and Border Patrol that transferred the RVS system and sensor program to Border Patrol and left the Integrated Computer Assisted Detection (ICAD) component of ISIS with OIRM. When Border Patrol was brought under DHS in March 2003, all ISIS elements transferred to the Border Patrol.

OBP was unable to quantify force-multiplication benefits of remote surveillance technology. Further, data entered into OBP's primary source of ISIS information, the ICAD system, is incomplete and not consistently recorded by OBP sectors. Based on an analysis of sample ICAD data, ISIS remote surveillance technology yielded few apprehensions as a percentage of detection, resulted in needless investigations of legitimate activity, and consumed valuable staff time to perform video analysis or investigate sensor alerts.

Sensors are part of the first line of a layered border security strategy. Sensor technology is the most used as well as the easiest and least expensive to install and maintain. The sensor sensitivity level can be adjusted to help filter false alerts. When activity or movement near a sensor meets sensitivity parameters, a radio signal is transmitted and the alert is registered in the ICAD system. When sensors are placed in a pattern, or "sensor string," experienced OBP personnel can estimate the direction and rate of travel and the possible number of intruders based on the sequencing of the alerts, the time lapse between alerts, and the number of alerts transmitted. Although effective in detecting activity or movement, sensors cannot differentiate between illegal activity and legitimate events. Consequently, nearly all sensor activations must be investigated. The general exceptions are when certain events occur such as earthquakes, area blasting, or severe weather, which could reasonably explain why multiple sensors within a certain area are triggered at approximately the same time.

Moisture, insects, and intentional or accidental physical damage can affect the operation of a sensor. Sensors are susceptible to physical damage from vehicles, machinery, or vandals. Insects penetrating sensors and shortingout components or corrosion caused by moisture can cause sensors not to function properly. To mitigate the effects of insects, OBP agents apply various chemicals or repellents on or around the sensors.

Since its introduction, the ISIS program has had varying expectations. However, it is clear that sensors and RVS cameras were intended to work in conjunction with one another, leveraging the detection capabilities of sensors with the visual identification capabilities of RVS cameras. Sensors are automatically integrated with the ICAD system, as a sensor alert automatically creates a ticket in ICAD. However, neither sensors nor ICAD are automatically integrated with RVS cameras. OBP tested hardware and software design modifications internal and external to ICAD that would have automated the integration between sensors and RVS cameras. These modifications were "successfully demonstrated," but never deployed because solutions did not meet functional requirements.

Without automated integration between sensors and RVS cameras, LECAs must manually point cameras to areas where sensors have been triggered. The manual integration of sensors and RVS cameras is only possible where sensors and RVS cameras are installed in close proximity. Also, LECAs are required to manually integrate ISIS components by notifying OBP agents of sensor activations or questionable activity detected while monitoring camera video.

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