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Billion Dollar Balloons

Even POGO was shocked by the statement of Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Jackson when he was inviting the largest defense contractors to bid on a multi-billion dollar high-tech border security system. �We�re asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business.�  Isn�t it the government�s job to decide what it needs? It turns out that Jackson is a former Lockheed executive.  This is a hell of a situation.

These same contractors have already been selling these same technologies to the Pentagon, which has been attempting to close Iraq�s borders with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.  So far, the technologies have met with little success.  It�s interesting to note that there has been no contact by DHS with the Pentagon group that deals with such technologies. For example, Lockheed-Martin�s Tethered Aerostat Radar System hangs radars from anchored balloons.  According to Pentagon sources, it is a perfectly good system but only if there is adequate personnel for effective and timely response. Moreover, these radar systems only cover an area of 10-miles.  We�re talking about monitoring a 2,600-mile border here!  The system costs $4-5 million each, fully equipped.   That�s about 260 balloons costing about $1.3 billion (not including spares, maintenance, etc.). 

You don�t buy this stuff until you know what you are dealing with -- including the experience of other government agencies.  Another problem is that a growing number of government policy makers are former executives of major defense contractors who stand to make billions on the security technologies.  Who is left in the government to make independent decisions that are not only in the interest of the contractors?

By: Peter Stockton
Sr. Investigator, POGO

Peter Stockton, Sr. Investigator Peter Stockton is a senior investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Peter's investigations include security and safety issues at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and nuclear power plants.

Authors: Peter Stockton

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