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Government Report Shows Border Wall Designs Can Be Broken

September 18, 2018 1:46 p.m.

Government Report Shows Border Wall Designs Can Be Broken

Jean Guerrero, investigative reporter, KPBS News

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Related Story: Government Report Shows Border Wall Designs Can Be Broken


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on Midday edition the designs for the border wall prototypes built in San Diego included some specific requirements which include a person shouldn't be able to climb to the top unassisted. The designs should prevent tunneling for at least six feet beneath the wall and hand-held tools shouldn't be able to produce a hole larger than a foot in under an hour. Now a U.S. Customs and Border Protection report obtained by PBS through a Freedom of Information Act request reveals all eight border wall prototypes were found vulnerable to at least one breaching technique. Joining me is Jane Guerrero PBS border reporter and Jeanne welcome hammering great to be here. Tell us about the document from Customs and Border Protection. It apparently wasn't made public. So how did you acquire it.

I filed a Freedom of Information Act request in January. And the reason I did that was because they were doing these these tests on the border wall prototypes and mockups and they weren't releasing any information. But within weeks of the testing being concluded we saw officials anonymously telling reporters that the testing had had gone great. We saw headlines like virtually indestructible nearly impassable. And I really wanted to get my hands on those documents to figure out if this was really the case.

So as you say CPB tested the mockups of the eight border wall prototypes to see if they could be breached. But what do they mean by mockups.

Right okay. So it's important to make a distinction. We also have the eight prototypes that were unveiled in Otay Mesa. The big 30 foot tall structures they decided to make ten foot mockups so essentially replicas of the lowest 10 feet of those prototypes to test for breaching. And the reason they did that is because they wanted to keep the breeching test away from public view. At least that's what they told me that they wanted to make sure smugglers couldn't watch and get any ideas for how to breach these these structures. So that's why they made the 10 foot mockups to to test for breaching and what they found was that they were all every single one of them was deemed vulnerable to collapse from a known breaching technique. We don't know which technique that is because of the heavy redactions but we do know that it took testing teams completely by surprise testing. One of the mockups for one of the Beeching techniques and found that the structural integrity was so compromised that they had to stop and they had to put that breeching technique at the end of each test for the rest of the mockups.

So you say we don't know what the breeching technique was. Do we know what the vulnerabilities were that CPB was testing for.

So we were testing how easy it was to to breach with things like plasma cutters and quick saws. We don't know which we don't know specifics about most of the tools that were used because of the redactions but the existing fencing is breached on a daily basis with things like axes torches battery operated cutting tools. So that's the kind of thing they were testing for. And one of these breeching techniques which may have included a combination of tools was so effective that they had to put it at the end of each test and separately from that one Mockup that was being tested with a breeching technique. We don't know if it's the same one because of the reductions. But one of the mockups was so thoroughly damaged that it began to threaten the safety of the testing teams and they just had to stop that breaching technique altogether.

What does the report say about tunneling under the different wall prototypes.

It doesn't say anything about the tunneling which is really interesting to me because one of the requirements for the prototype project and the request for proposals was that these structures be capable of resisting tunneling for at least six feet under the nearest adjacent grade. And we don't see any evidence in this document that they were tested for that. And as we know here in San Diego sometimes these tunnels can be as far deep as 90 feet underground so it is interesting that they didn't test for this capability.

What about scaling the the probability of being able to scale that prototype.

So the documents go over how well they resist scaling but that entire section almost the entire section was redacted. So it's impossible to draw conclusions from it. But we do know that President Trump while visiting the prototypes said that some of the prototypes were scalable so we do know that some of them can be climbed over.

Now there is a popular belief that the Trump administration plan to choose one of the prototypes for use in the proposed border wall was that really ever the plan.

No. So there there was a lot of confusing contradictory information released. But we what Customs and Border Protection says now is that and they said this in response to my request for comment on these documents. They say that it was never the plan to just choose one of the prototypes that they want to mix and match that they want to combine different features of these prototypes to create a wall and then the other thing that they said was that the wall was never meant to be impenetrable that it's just supposed to help officials help slow down smugglers so that agents can can respond. So that was their response. But there are a number of other questions that we have because of the documents for example a 30 foot tall structure is much more likely to fall down as a result of lateral forces than a 10 foot structure. That's that's the conclusion that the engineers came to from looking at these documents so they raise the question why would the government test ten foot mockups for how well a 30 foot wall might resist breaching.

I've been speaking with previous reporter Jane Guerrero. Jeanne thanks.

Thank you.