Border Monitoring and Surveillance

This section of the database focuses on the main companies that support the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border through the supply of surveillance and monitoring technologies, tools or services.

The U.S. Border Patrol monitors the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border using a host of border security technologies. These include 32 permanent checkpoints and 182 tactical deployable checkpoints, about 8,000 cameras, 12,000 underground sensors, fixed towers, mobile surveillance systems, remote video surveillance systems, thermal imaging systems, radiation portal monitors, ground sensors and license plate readers. In addition to fixed surveillance systems, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deploys a fleet of about 260 surveillance vehicles, 300 vessels, 240 aircraft, including 9 Predator B unmanned aerial drones.

Over the last two decades, a series of federal projects have dramatically increased the militarization of the border, installing ever-more surveillance technologies and increasing the number of Border Patrol agents from about 5,000 to almost 20,000. As of 2017, about 16,605 agents are stationed in the Southwest border region, almost twice as many than in 2000. Over the same years, Congress quadrupled the Border Patrol’s budget, from about $1 billion to nearly $3.8 billion.

The U.S.-Mexico border is militarized through the use of military weapons and surveillance systems as well as military training and tactics to Border Patrol personnel. Both have a direct effect on their treatment of the civilian population on both sides of the border. Reports of dehumanization and abuses of human rights and civil rights have increased over the last few years. These include sexual and physical assaults of migrants, denial of basic rights to medical care and water, and a long history of separating families, a practice that peaked with the 2018 Trump administration’s zero tolerance policies.

The main companies involved in this sector are:
Accenture plc, of Dublin, Ireland (NYSE: ACN)
AeroVironment Inc, of Monrovia, CA (NASDAQ: AVAV)
Boeing Co, of Chicago, IL (NYSE: BA)
Elbit Systems Ltd, of Haifa, Israel (NASDAQ: ESLT)
FLIR Systems Inc, of Wilsonville, OR (NASDAQ: FLIR)
General Dynamics, of West Falls Church, VA (NYSE: GD)
Griffon Corporation, of New York City, NY (NYSE: GFF)
IBM, of Armonk, NY (NYSE: IBM)
L3Harris Technologies, of Melbourne, FL (NYSE: LHX)
Leidos Holdings Inc, of Reston, VA (NYSE: LDOS)
Lockheed Martin, of Bethesda, MD (NYSE: LMT)
Northrop Grumman, of Falls Church, VA (NYSE: NOC)
OSI Systems, of Hawthorne, CA (NASDAQ: OSIS)
PAE Inc, of Falls Church, VA (NASDAQ: PAE)
Raytheon Company, of Waltham, MA (NYSE: RTN)
Smiths Group plc, of London, UK (LON: SMIN)
Unisys Corporation, of Blue Bell, PA (NYSE: UIS)
General Atomics, of San Diego, CA
Physical Sciences Inc, of Andover, MA

Increasing the Number of Border Patrol Agents

In January 2017, President Trump has issued an executive order mandating the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents. The presidential budget request for 2018 included $100 million for 500 new Border Patrol agents, but Congress did not approve this request. Meanwhile, CBP has been struggling to hire agents to fill the estimated 2,000 unfilled agent positions for its required active duty presence of 21,370. Some reasons stated for this shortage included low pay and distant posts as well as the reduced need for more agents at a time of lower border crossings. Despite that, the president’s budget request for 2019 includes 750 additional border patrol agents.

In 2017, Accenture Federal Services, a subsidiary of the Irish multinational Accenture (NYSE: ACN), was contracted to help with hiring and awarded a contract for $297 million and up to $603 million for five years. The same year, the company was awarded over $42 million as a minimum guarantee for hiring for the CBP and in 2018 it was paid $700,000 for “applicant care.”

Attempts to Build a Virtual Surveillance Fence

There have been several unsuccessful and costly attempts to create a comprehensive border surveillance system to monitor movement across the U.S.-Mexico border, starting as early as in the 1940s. In 1997, an L-3 Communications subsidiary was contracted to give the Border Patrol “digital eyes and ears” by creating the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS). The program was stopped due to inefficiencies of the remote surveillance systems, delays, and cost overruns. In 2004, what was left of the project was morphed and incorporated into the next “virtual fence” program: America’s Shield Initiative (ASI). ASI attempted to create a virtual fence using radar, sensors, and cameras. It was canceled less than a year later after a review board found that ASI failed to integrate into the larger strategy of border control. Separate reviews showed how the remote video surveillance system (RVS) did not work and program office positions were never defined. By 2005, the canceled ISIS and ASI programs wound up costing taxpayers approximately $340 million.

The next attempt at a virtual fence, titled the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), was launched by CBP in 2005 to secure all U.S. borders. Its virtual fence component, SBInet, was planned as a combination of surveillance technologies relying primarily on radar and camera towers along the entire length of the border. In 2006, Boeing was awarded the contract for the project estimated at $2.5 billion, promising to detect 95 percent of illegal border crossings. Almost immediately, the project fell behind schedule and went over budget. Worse, it barely worked—sensors confused raindrops or leaves blown in the wind for people, an official from the U.S. Government Accountability Office told 60 Minutes. In 2010, after spending almost $1 billion over four years, Boeing deployed the first segment of SBInet along 53 miles of Arizona’s 387-mile border with Mexico, a mere 2.5 percent of the entire border. In January 2011, in response to concerns regarding the performance, cost, and schedule for implementing the systems, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced the cancellation of any further procurement of SBInet systems, and of the SBI project altogether.

That same month, CBP introduced the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (ATP) for deploying commercially available, off the shelf technologies, along the Arizona-Mexico border. The technologies included a mix of various fixed and mobile systems, chosen according to the type of terrain in different areas. In June 2014, ATP was expanded to include the remainder of the Southwest border - and titled the Border Surveillance System (BSS).
The BSS is planned to continue until 2020. It combines and builds on the previous surveillance iterations, including:Everything built for SBInet, Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT), Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS), Intelligent Computer-Assisted Detection (ICAD), Law Enforcement Technical Collection (LETC), Mobile Video Surveillance Systems (MVSS), Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC), Agent Portable Surveillance System (APSS), Ultra-Light Aircraft Detection  (ULAD), and Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS).

A November 2017 GAO report has determined that CBP had completed the deployment of these technologies to Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico. For example, in Arizona, Border Patrol deployed all planned Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS) and Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC) systems, and 15 of 53 planned Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) systems. All planned MSC systems were deployed to Texas, California, and New Mexico and CBP completed contract negotiations to deploy RVSS to Texas. The report still saw discrepancies in collecting and reporting information. For example, stations in the Rio Grande Valley sector recorded assists from IFTs in about 500 instances from June through December 2016 despite the fact the IFTs were not built in the State of Texas.

The Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS or Drones)

The Office of Air and Marine (OAM) of the CBP operates hundreds of aircraft and marine vessels along the U.S. borders. As part of the ISIS virtual border plan, it operated a drone pilot program in 2004, using a Hermes 450 drone made by Elbit Systems. In 2005-6, the OAM has purchased a fleet of 9 MQ-9 Predator B and Guardian drones, operated from four different states.

An attempt to expand the program has been blocked in 2015 by a damning DHS Inspector General report stating that the drone operation was six times more expensive than estimated, only 22% of the allocated hours were used, and that drones assisted in less than 2% of apprehensions of border crossers. The Inspector general concluded that “we see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border.”

In 2017, the DHS has issued a call for commercial-grade small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) with identifying capabilities such as facial recognition, to be launched and operated by agents on the ground and collect data to intersect with DHS databases. Three systems were chosen for a year-long pilot test in three areas: Tucson, Rio Grande Valley, and Swanton. The models chosen were Puma and Raven by AeroVironment and InstantEye Quadcopter by PSI Tactical.

Starting in 2017, dozens of federal grants ranging from $750,000 to $1 million were extended to developers who proposed ways to enhance remote surveillance and monitoring technologies, including developing more autonomous drone systems using artificial intelligence.

The use of surveillance drones along the border has created concerns for privacy and civil liberties. CBP has wide authority to stop and search vehicles within 100 miles of any external boundary of the United States. Within 25 miles of a boundary, CBP officials may enter private property without a warrant as long as the property isn’t a dwelling. According to the ACLU that includes coasts, and nearly two-thirds of American adults live in this zone.

Additionally, the Predator B drones, underutilized for border patrols, are often lent to local and state law enforcement, without a warrant. CBP offers its drones for air support missions to other federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, and sheriff departments. The drones can provide the location of vehicles or individuals or direct video feed and recording of a scene during an enforcement operation or as part of an investigation. Similarly, the newly commissioned small drones could expand the reach of largely-unregulated law-enforcement networks using facial recognition and other biometrics. In 2016 it was estimated that more than 117 million U.S. adults were included in such databases.  

Major Suppliers in Ongoing Projects

The 2018 spending bill allocated $1.6 billion for border security. Of it, $960 million will be allocated to border surveillance technology and repairing existing infrastructure.

Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) include radars, day/night cameras, and command and control software to associate detected movement with picture and identification. Originally, covering the length of the Arizona border with such towers was estimated at $750 million. Boeing subcontracted Kollsman, a subsidiary of the Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems as an integrator to build the towers in March 2014. After SBInet was terminated, Elbit Systems was hired to continue the work on the towers. In February 2018, the company announced the deployment of its third IFT area along the border, in Douglas, Nogales and Sonoita, Arizona, with over 43 towers erected in Arizona so far.

Elbit Systems has further proposed expanding its services to make use of its experience with underground and fence detection and Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In 2017, the company was also contracted to install a new air defense radar system along the Texas border.

CSRA was contracted in 2016-2019 to support CBP in choosing technologies for the project. In April 2018, the company was purchased by General Dynamics for $9.7 billion. General Dynamics was also separately contracted, in July 2013, to upgrade the Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS) capabilities along the border. CBP announced in April 2017 that the General Dynamics RVSS solution had achieved a ‘Full Operating Capability’ designation. As of 2018, General Dynamics has tested, installed and deployed the RVSS system across 68 sites in Arizona. In February 2018, the company has announced a successful pilot for its Relocatable-RVSS and an agreement with Parsons Government Services Inc. to support CBP with the deployment of six such relocatable systems in Laredo and McAllen, Texas. CBP plans to expand the deployment across the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas in 2018.

The Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC) consists of vehicles equipped with surveillance sensors and the software to integrate data received. Such vehicles were provided to CBP by FLIR Systems (a system called MVSS) and by Telephonics Corporation, a subsidiary of Griffon Corporation.

Several companies have provided CBP with monitoring technologies devised for ports of entry and border crossings. Northrop Grumman Corporation was contracted to provide security surveillance for all land ports. Unisys is a long-time partner of the Department of Homeland Security and of CBP, with a series of contracts to support the Department IT. Between 2010 and 2018, it has contracts to develop, integrate, operate, and maintain systems that identify people, vehicles, and cargo passing through border crossings, using anything from facial recognition, license plate readers, RFID, biometrics and big data. In May 2018, it was contracted to add a risk assessment system for individuals and cargo. ManTech International was contracted to provide business intelligence to the CBP to support predictive terrorism risk assessment.

American Science Engineering, Inc., a subsidiary of OSI Systems, provides CBP with vehicle and cargo scanners, their maintenance and support. Leidos has supplied x-ray and imaging technology. Smiths Detection has provided a mobile x-ray scanner for cargo.

The Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) includes eight sites along the border with surveillance systems launched on a balloon for long-range intelligence gathering and aircraft detection. The system is operated by the Air and Marine Operations division of CBP. The major contractor for the system in 2014 was the Harris Corporation. The balloons were manufactured by ILC Dover, with system integrator TCOM.

More Information about Publicly-Traded Companies

An Irish management, consulting, and outsourcing firm that provides technical and planning support to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

A military contractor that makes small drones used to surveil the US-Mexico border.


A Dutch multinational aerospace corporation that designs commercial and military aircraft. Its helicopters are used to monitor the US-Mexico border.


A US telecommunications company that provides communications services to US immigration authorities


A software company that provides US immigration authorities with software that collects and manages biometric data.

A US manufacturer of tasers, body and car cameras, drones, and accompanying software that provides these products to US immigration authorities, prisons, and law enforcement agencies

One of the largest military companies in the world. Makes fighter jets and missile systems used by the Israeli air force against Palestinian civilians. Designed a system to surveil and monitor the US-Mexico border.

A government contractor that provides computer and IT services to US immigration authorities and other federal agencies

An Israeli digital intelligence firm that supplies law enforcement agencies, prison authorities, border security agencies, and repressive regimes around the world with hacking technologies.

A US-based manufacturer of agricultural and construction machinery, which provides all-terrain vehicles to US Border Patrol

Israel's largest weapon company. Makes killer drones, large weapon systems, and ammunition used against civilians. Monitors walls and borders in Palestine and the US-Mexico border.

One of the largest military contractors in the world. Provides weapons and munitions used by the Israeli air force against Palestinian civilians. Involved in monitoring the US-Mexico border and surveilling immigrant communities inside the United States.

A US management and holding company. Its subsidiary Telephonics Corporation provides mobile surveillance vehicles for the US-Mexico border.

A Japanese vehicle manufacturer, which provides US Border Patrol with all-terrain vehicles

One of the world's largest IT companies. A major contractor for U.S. immigration authorities. Runs the discriminatory Israeli population registry and provides technologies to the Israeli military.

One of the world’s largest military contractors. Supplies equipment for military checkpoints in occupied Palestine and for surveillance of the US-Mexico border and immigrant communities in the US.

A US military IT company. Provides biometric systems and imaging technologies to US immigration authorities for monitoring and surveillance of US borders.

A US defense and aerospace company that makes fighter jets, attack helicopters, and missile systems used by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians. Its reconnaissance aircrafts monitor the US-Mexico border.

A US-based military contractor that provides surveillance and information technologies used to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border

A US-based communications and surveillance company. Leading supplier of license plate recognition software. Sells surveillance products for use at US prisons, at the US-Mexico Border, and by US police agencies. Its equipment is installed in illegal settlements and in the separation wall in the West Bank and is used by the Israeli military, police, and prison service.

One of the largest military companies in the world. Develops missile systems consistently used by the Israeli air force against Palestinian civilians; provides drones and radars used to monitor the US-Mexico border; and develops databases and systems for Homeland Security to profile, surveil and monitor immigrant communities.

A US manufacturer of security and inspection systems. Its X-ray machines and metal detectors are used in military checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian Territory and on the US-Mexico border.


A U.S. military and government contractor that provides maintenance to the aircraft fleet used to monitor the US borders and beyond

One of the largest military companies in the world and the largest producer of guided missiles. Makes missile systems and munitions used against civilians in Palestine and Yemen. Its equipment is used to monitor the US-Mexico border.

A US cloud computing and AI company whose systems power the US Unified Immigration Portal

A British engineering company. Provides x-ray and surveillance technologies to US CBP and ICE for monitoring US borders.

A US engineering and IT government contractor. Its subsidiary FLIR Systems provides mobile surveillance systems to monitor the US-Mexico border.

A US-based military contractor known for its Bell, Beechcraft, Cessna, and Hawker aircraft brands, some of which are used to monitor the US-Mexico border

A US pharmaceutical and biotech company that provides Rapid DNA testing to US immigration and law enforcement authorities

A US information technology company. Provides phone services to prisons and data collection systems to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

A Japanese vehicle manufacturer that provides all-terrain vehicles and watercraft to US Border Patrol

This page was last updated on
25 September 2018