Once again, the federal government is trying to sell us on the fact that the multitudes of drone aircraft they’ve ordered are for your own protection. Drones in and of themselves aren’t new, but they are most certainly new to the American people in that they are a technology we invented to be used mostly on someone else. In yet another bizarre case in which a wartime technology is being turned upon the American people, drones are becoming more and more widespread right here in America.
Not all drones look like the classic Predator and Reaper style drones – large, plane-like aircraft that are essentially as big as a single-seat jet aircraft. While the Predators and Reapers are in use here already (our friends at the Department of Homeland Security have at least ten Predators that we know of), most drones are smaller and have varying capabilities, depending on the model. The drones that are being rolled out against the American people vary from small, hand-launched models that at first resemble model airplanes, all the way to multi-rotor helicopter-style drones that can loiter for hours over a location – plus everything in between.
These drones aren’t just limited to government use either – the Department of Homeland Security has a grant program in place so that police departments can also participate in drone usage against Americans. Recently, Texas based Montgomery County police force was given a $300,000 grant to purchase a helicopter-like drone that could not only be used for surveillance purposes, but could also be armed with weapons.
What Are They Doing With Them Anyway?
The disturbing part about drones isn’t so much what they were purchased for; it’s what can be done with them. In order to receive the funding to purchase these high tech gizmos, agencies must obtain approval from Congress, and in obtaining that approval, they need to have a plan in place for what exactly they need these expensive flying robots for in the first place. The only problem is, once they receive the hardware, they use them for things quite unintended when they were first purchased. Customs and Border Patrol, for example, bought ten Predators for a cool $18 million each, presumably for the job they do – Border Patrol. Instead, in 2011, records show that the CBP used the drones for such things as providing FEMA with video of flooding, helping NOAA obtain video of flooded dams and bridges, providing radar mapping to the National Guard of a flooded area, and conducting joint missions with the U.S. Army. It all sounds very humanitarian, except for the fact that the CBP is not a humanitarian agency, and is now using its hardware to perform missions that CBP has not been tasked with. Sure, they’re using them to help now, but what else can they do with them? Could this lead to something more sinister?
In essence, it’s going in that direction as the capabilities of drones leap forward by an order of magnitude. But wait – there’s more – not content with its current fleet of Predators, DHS has signed on to buy more. A $443 million deal signed in November of 2012 will supply the DHS with another fourteen drones, expanding their capabilities further. Originally planned for such plain vanilla missions as “patrolling the vast and porous Mexican border,” these drones have recently been equipped for much, much more. In a recently leaked capability document, DHS has specifically asked for the drones to be capable of identifying persons who are carrying guns, as well as being able to intercept their cell phone signals. This is a peculiar expansion of the original mission and could easily be used in other areas of the country, far, far away from any border. These capabilities are increasingly being used upon Americans right now, as the CBP drones are zealously offered to other federal agencies and even local police departments. For example, the SWAT team in sleepy Grand Forks, North Dakota, called in a Predator drone graciously loaned by CBP to conduct surveillance on a farmer who refused to return six of his neighbor’s cows that had wandered onto his land.
While thus far the vast majority of drones are unarmed, there is no reason they need to stay that way – at any time, the federal government could easily arm these monsters. The Predators and Reapers are already armed for use in the Middle East and have racked up an impressive body count. Arming these things isn’t a stretch of the imagination,\; it’s a capability they already have (as if the creepy, silent, anonymous surveillance wasn’t bad enough).
America is headed off in a direction completely unforeseen by its Founding Fathers: a place where its technology, military might, and financial power is used against its own citizens on its own soil. As we draw down our foreign wars, we bring back that same equipment – armored vehicles, drones, and weapons of war, and use it on ourselves in a most unconstitutional manner.