The danger posed by domestic use of drones is real, growing by the day, and can no longer be ignored
By End the Lie
Recently the Los Angeles Times reported on an incident in North Dakota in which an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), specifically a Predator B, was launched from an Air Force Base to help police locate suspects in a rural area.
The Predator was rolled out after three men with rifles chased Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke, who was searching for six missing cows, off of the Brossert family farm in late June.
In response, Janke called in a massive amount of reinforcements from the North Dakota Highway Patrol, a SWAT team, a bomb squad, deputy sheriffs from three nearby counties and ambulances, along with, of course, an Air Force Predator B drone.
The next morning the Predator flew two miles above the Brossert farm and detected the three unarmed suspects who were quickly arrested.
Since June, local police said that they have used two Predators out of Grand Forks Air Force base in at least 24 surveillance missions.
The head of the Grand Forks SWAT team, Bill Macki, attempted to minimize the role of these high-flying weapons and surveillance platforms in saying “We don’t use [drones] on every call out. If we have something in town like an apartment complex, we don’t call them.”
Macki’s statement is hardly reassuring and is so obvious that it begs the question, “Why is that even something that needs to be said? Are we really so far gone that we might think police would call a Predator drone to assist in a call to an apartment complex?”
Unfortunately, I think we are indeed far enough down the path towards a total totalitarian police state that it is something that needs to be said.
The drones utilized by this police department technically belong to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a child agency of the Department of Homeland Security, although they fly out of a military installation, clearly conflicting with the Posse Comitatus Act.
The Los Angeles Times claims, “Congress first authorized Customs and Border Protection to buy unarmed Predators in 2005. Officials in charge of the fleet cite broad authority to work with police from budget requests to Congress that cite ‘interior law enforcement support’ as part of their mission,” although they fail to point out that this language was stealthily inserted and many Representatives had no idea what they were authorizing.
Glenn Greenwald cites Jane Harman, the Congresswoman who sat as the Chair of the Homeland Security Sub-Committee at the time of the approval of purchases of Predator drones who claims that, “no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.”
As Greenwald points out, “the importation of drones to U.S. soil for law enforcement purposes was authorized not by a new law or regulatory scheme, nor pursuant to Congressional hearings or debates, but all because they inserted the phrase “interior law enforcement support” into their budget request — such a trivial mention that even the Chair of the Homeland Security sub-committee says she didn’t even realize this was being approved.”
So-called officials have exploited this as justification for their broad authority to utilize this military technology in domestic law enforcement matters.
As I have documented in the past with the Pentagon’s 1033 program, the militarization of our domestic police forces is a steady trend that has absolutely no positive effects whatsoever.
Even Jane Harman now seems some danger in what she previously supported, telling the Los Angeles Times that it was a mistake to use Predators for routine law enforcement activities without any public debate or even clear legal authority to do so.
“There is no question that this could become something that people will regret,” Harman said, although I would argue that we are far beyond that point.
The threat posed by drones being used on American soil is not just due to the fact that they can be weaponized and used to assassinate Americans without charge or trial, but also due to the pervasive surveillance capabilitiesthat wipe out what small vestiges of privacy we have left.
There is also the quite worrying “threat assessment” technology which is designed to detect malicious intent from an extreme distance and create a report based on physiological markers which supposedly show the intent to do harm.
They are also developing highly complex facial recognition algorithms which allow individuals to be tracked through crowds and in situations where only minute portions of their face are visible to the drone’s sensors.
This has the clear danger of being used to criminalize Americans before they have even done anything wrong, all based on the findings of a computer algorithm’s analysis of data captured by a drone.
This is exactly what was portrayed in the short story and later film adaptation of “Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick, and for those who have seen the movie or read the story, it is clear that this is not something that we should be actively working toward making reality.
Instead of focusing on the blatant breach of Posse Comitatus that is embodied in the usage of military drones in routine police business, some supposedly alternative news websites are emphasizing the alleged involvement of the Brossart family in the so-called “Sovereign Citizen” movement.
For instance, Raw Story, which is often a decent source of information, seems to be parroting the ludicrous government line that sovereign citizens are a threat.
The senior editor of Raw Story, Stephen C. Webster, cites the case of the two individuals who identified themselves as sovereign citizens (when they were in fact conmen and scam artists) and happened to kill two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas.
Webster points to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report on sovereign citizens which paints them as “anti-government extremists” and an example of domestic terrorism, as if it is remotely credible or legitimate.
I’m not sure if Webster is ignorant or willfully promulgating the government fear mongering that paints anyone who stands up to a corrupt government as a dangerous extremist, but either way he totally missed the mark with his article on this incident.
I have previously covered the demonization of so-called sovereign citizens and the fallacious conflation of literally everyone who identifies themselves as a sovereign citizen with a few criminals and sociopaths, positing that they might be put forth as the new al Qaeda boogeyman.
I believe that this assertion still holds true as we’re seeing the counterterrorism apparatus turn back towards the United States and thus American citizens as embodied by the NDAA, which has essentially already passed as iteffectively doesn’t matter if Obama vetoes it (which is itself highly unlikely).
As Glenn Greenwald has aptly shown in his recent articles here and here, the threats posed by the domestic drone program are limitless and unless something is done to start separating the military, federal government, state governments, and local governments as they rightfully should be, we will only see these dangers grow.
Under Section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012, the military would have so much more power to operate on American soil that much of the already laughably lax restrictions on drone usage would be removed.
We have to remember that the homeland security business is a highly profitable one, just like rest of the cancerous war profiteering industry, which will be exploited and milked as much as possible, despite the erosion of liberties and the death and suffering the industry causes.
So long as corporations like General Atomics and their subsidiary General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., which produces the Predator and is the leading manufacturer of large drones, have lobbying expenditures which exceeded $2.7 million in 2009 and $1.6 million in 2011, we can expect to see more of the same.
Furthermore, it is only natural for powerful corporations like General Atomics and AeroVironment, Inc. (AV), which is the leading producer of small attack and surveillance drones, to continue to expand into every new market they can.
Seeing as our so-called Representatives, which prove themselves to be enemies of the American people on a regular basis, have left the door open for corporations like these to take over the domestic law enforcement market; it is only logical to assume that they would do just that.
For instance, on page 11 of AV’s Corporate Overview 2011 (which is actually page 14 of the PDF) we read,
“As we explore opportunities to develop new markets for our small UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System], such as border surveillance, law enforcement, first response and infrastructure monitoring, we expect further growth through the introduction of UAS technology to non-military applications once rules are established for their safe and effective operation in each country’s national airspace.”
This passage leaves no doubt that AV and other corporations are going to exploit the market and further militarize our skies with their remotely controlled attack drones.
Keep in mind that AV is also behind what they call the “Switchblade” which is a short-range, lightweight, low-altitude, single-use, tube-fired UAV which is carried and deployed by individual troops.
The Switchblade is piloted just like the larger drones and can wait to be detonated at the perfect moment, exploding with a shotgun-like blast designed to assault soft targets and murder individual people in the field with precision.
While this is likely not going to be used on American soil – at least not at first – the typical gradualism that has presented itself over the years in the United States and other nations making the descent into a hellish police state shows its ugly face in the case of drones as well.
I doubt that the Switchblade will be blowing up in anyone’s face in the United States any time in the immediate future, Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said in late October that in the future their drones “could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun.”
It begins with surveillance operations, as we have seen in the North Dakota case, then we will see equipment like the Air Force’s Gorgon drone rolled out which can store and record images to determine “what the patterns of life in a village are” or the application of threat assessment algorithms and advanced surveillance platforms which can monitor and record an individuals’ movements and who they associate with.
It is only logical to assume that the trend will continue escalating until weaponized drone platforms are being utilized in the United States, and under the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the military could be doing this with impunity.
We are witnessing the escalating erosion of our most essential liberties and the separation between law enforcement and the military is growing increasingly slim.
Along with this we are seeing the fusion of local, state, and federal government, despite the many warnings our forefathers issued on this precise topic.
These are truly historic times which have the possibility of becoming the darkest era in American history or a new era of justice and prosperity for all in the United States.
It is truly up to us, that is to say, those of us who are aware of these issues and the grim implications they carry, to spread this information far and wide and make sure that we make as many people as possible realize that we are heading in a direction that is in no way positive.
Without doing this, we will watch the once-free United States become a society the likes of which even our worst nightmares can’t compare to, with constant airborne surveillance; electronic monitoring and so-called malintent detection technology; citizen spies; indefinite military detention without charge or trial; collection and storage of all biometric information; and the extrajudicial execution of American citizens, among countless other horrors.