As easy to use as a Playstation but much more expensive — how much more is anyone's guess
An elite U.S. Border Patrol unit that has played a role in the robotic detection of drug-smuggling tunnels from Tijuana into San Diego has been hit with a critical audit by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general’s office.
Known as the Special Operations Group, the high-tech division was reportedly responsible for the deployment of an earth-bound drone called the Micro Tactical Ground Robot to crawl tunnels under the Otay Mesa border between Mexico and the U.S.
Built under Pentagon contract by Roboteam, based in Tel Aviv, the Israeli-designed device is said to "sell for about half the industry average," according to a December account by Bloomberg News.
"Roboteam says its bots are as easy to operate as a PlayStation and cheaper to maintain than a military or police dog."
The company was founded in 2009 by Israeli special-forces officer Yosi Wolf and a fellow army intelligence veteran, according to Bloomberg. "Wolf, who previously ran the robotics division at an intelligence-gathering company, started Roboteam with a few hundred thousand shekels in an apartment belonging to his partner’s grandmother."
But the January 29 Homeland Security audit concludes that the Border Patrol isn't counting shekels when it comes to running its special-operations group.
Costs to taxpayers and effectiveness of the group are unknown because the Customs and Border Patrol division of Homeland Security "does not have formal performance measures" for the program and "does not track... total program cost."
Says the audit, "In 2007, the U.S. Border Patrol created its Special Operations Group to provide a centralized chain of command for its specialty teams and improve BP’s ability to react to actionable intelligence, terrorist-related incidents, natural disasters, high-risk operations, and search and rescue missions."
Based in El Paso, Texas, the Special Operations Group includes an "intelligence unit" and the Border Patrol's Tactical Unit, according to the document, but their spending, including for aerial surveillance, is anyone's guess.
"The incomplete records of SOG and other components...that support SOG limited the determination of the SOG program’s total cost," auditors reported, adding, "SOG program efficiency and effectiveness cannot be accurately determined without total program costs or formal performance measures.”
According to the auditors, "The total cost of air support...to the SOG program during any fiscal year in our scope of FYs 2010–14 was unavailable because of incomplete records."
The report says that Border Patrol officials have agreed with its findings and say they will to do better.
Regarding the problem of undocumented air-support expenses, a January 15 response to the audit's findings says, "The Department's Aviation Governance Board has chartered a flight hour working group to develop the common approach for Department-level oversight of U. S. Coast Guard and [Customs and Border Patrol] flying hour cost reporting."