CBP exposes contractor trade secrets in surveillance project

Customs and Border Protection took down documents included in a solicitation for the "virtual border fence" project that may have included proprietary contractor information.

Customs and Border Protection blocked access to a contracting Web page, and later moved its location, after it had inadvertently posted documents containing commercial trade secrets as part of a solicitation for a video surveillance project on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

In addition to blocking further access to the documents, CBP is asking anyone who downloaded the two documents in question to delete or destroy them, according to a notice posted to FedBizOps.

The website where the documents were posted is a password-protected site for authorized users, so CBP has a list of anyone who has accessed, viewed or downloaded the documents. CBP’s notice said it would directly contact those individuals, asking them to delete their copies and to confirm in writing that they’ve gotten rid of them.

The documents, which CBP said “may contain information considered to be commercial/trade secret information,” were posted to a Virtual Reading Room as part of a new solicitation for a remote video surveillance system for the Southwestern border of the U.S. The solicitation was posted in February.

The documents were titled "80' Monopole Dwgs.pdf and "80 Foot Monopole Spec's V1.0.pdf," CBP said. The agency temporarily blocked access to the site while it removed the documents and later moved the location of the Virtual Reading Room.

The previous effort to build a “virtual fence” along the 2,000-mile border, the Secure Border Initiative Network, or SBInet, was abandoned in January 2011 after five years and a cost of $1 billion, because of technical problems, schedule delays and cost overruns.

The Homeland Security Department subsequently announced a new initiative that would use electronic surveillance equipment similar to that attempted with SBINet. 

The new plan called for spending $242 million in fiscal 2012 on a variety of technology, including fixed and remote video surveillance systems, along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

At the time SBI was canceled, it had completed a system covering 53 miles. Officials said the new initiative, which would use mobile surveillance systems and unmanned aerial vehicles in addition to some fixed systems, is expected to cost $750 million for the remaining 323 miles of Arizona’s border. CBP also requested an addition $800 million over a 10-year period for operations and maintenance.

A Government Accountability Office report released in November 2011 criticized the project, saying that that CBP lacked the information it needed to build the system in accordance with DHS and Office of Management and Budget guidance.

GAO said the agency had not documented its reasons for choosing specific technologies and had failed to adequately define the benefits of the project. CBP also had not done a review of SBInet to gain lessons that could help with implementing the new system and making it work with the existing elements of SBInet.


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