Predator Drones Come Home

I’ve written a lot about drones (see here and here). Recently, I’ve also written about what I see as the creeping threat of the militarization of law enforcement (see here and here). Well, I have another update for you. It looks like an unarmed Predator B drone took off from a North Dakota U.S. Air Force base to help local police’s surveillance efforts. You can read about it here in a story by The L.A. Times.

A local sheriff went looking for six cows that had wondered onto the Brossart family farm. Having been tasered during an earlier arrest, three members of the Brossart family brandished weapons at the sheriff. The sheriff retreated and called in “reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.” Armed with a warrant, he also received assistance from the Predator drone. The drone’s thermal imaging was able to show that the Brossarts were unarmed, allowing law enforcement to proceed with the arrests.

The drone was loaned to the law enforcement officers from the Customs and Border Patrol (CPB). According to the article, CPB sites “broad authority to work with police from budget requests to Congress that cite ‘interior law enforcement support’ as part of their mission.” Read that sentence again. CPB is claiming broad surveillance powers based not on some law, rule, or regulation, but a budget request! The article goes on to say the the Predator drones have been flown “at least two dozen surveillance flights since June. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have used Predators for other domestic investigations, officials said.”

Glenn Greenwald of Slate posted a lengthy discussion of this article on his site. Whatever you may feel about Greenwald, and despite the length of the post, I would highly recommend reading it. Greenwald examines how the use of drones in a local law enforcement setting is a scary prospect. The sensors, flight time, and stealthy nature of drones goes well beyond the capabilities of police helicopters. Moreover, as Greenwald writes, and as I wrote about here, law enforcement agencies are already arming their drones (granted, not with Hellfire missiles, but still). Think about that–we’re talking constant surveillance of entire towns, with the capability for law enforcement officers to remotely activate weapons on U.S. citizens?

Greenwald paints a very interesting picture about the future of domestic surveillance. Note that right now, American youth (16-24) unemployment is surging, as is wealth disparity. Traditionally, this leads to unrest, if not violence among a nation’s citizenry. We’ve already witnessed law enforcement’s responses to the Occupy Wall Street protests. What if the police officers had access to weaponized drones? What would their response look like then?

I try to remain skeptical about most things, and not get carried away. I know this post may sound a little paranoid or strident, but the use of drones domestically is increasing. When the power to use them is not justified by law or regulation (or even debated in Congress), when most media outlets do not highlight these stories or explore their implications, and when most people blindly accept these new procedures in the name of “fighting the War on Terror,” I get concerned. How does it make you feel? What is your response to this story? Comment below and let me know.