A July 3 article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that the Customs & Border Protection (CPB) “has sharply increased the number of missions its 10 Predator drones have flown on behalf of state, local and non-CPB federal agencies” and also “considered equipping its predators with ‘non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize‘ targets of interest.”
The EFF obtained government documents through the Freedom of Information Act that describe the drone plan, including the following information of page 69, where it states that “Additional payload upgrades could include expendables or non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOis [Targets of Interest].”
The EFF also reported the following:
CBP also released to EFF a 2010 “Concept of Operations” report for its drone program. This document provides significant detail about CBP’s program, including the three major operational locations in which the agency flies its drones, the Predators’ on-board surveillance technologies, and CBP’s “far-term” goals for the program.
The report notes that CBP’s Predators have highly sophisticated, high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), color video, and electron optical (EO) and infrared (IR) cameras, and are capable of performing Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Targeting and Acquisition (“RSTA”) on and tracking of multiple moving and stationary targets of interest in both clear and adverse weather. CBP hopes to improve its surveillance capabilities in the future so that its sensor “point target resolution” increases to “well below one foot.”
The report also notes that CBP plans to make its drones and the data gathered through its drone surveillance even more widely available to outside agencies. For example, CBP plans to share data on a near real-time basis, possibly “via DOD’s Global Information Grid (GIG)/Defense Information Systems Network.” CBP also plans that “joint DHS and OGA [other government agency] combined operations will become the norm at successively lower organizational hierarchical levels[,]” which will, presumably, reduce the already limited oversight for CBP’s drone-loan program.
Jennifer Lynch, the EFF attorney who wrote the story, spoke with The Atlantic Wire this week:
The FOIA request stems from a lawsuit filed by Lynch after a 2011 Los Angeles Times article that indicated the agency was sharing its aircraft with other agencies at all level of government. Among the ones she identified off the top of her head: the Coast Guard, the FBI, the U.S. Marshalls, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety. The drone’s surveillance capability “is what we’re actually focused on,” Lynch said, but the possibility of using weapons stood out. “This is the first I’ve seen any mention of any plans to weaponize any drones that fly domestically,” she said. “I haven’t seen this anywhere else.”
In addition, the CBP issued the following statement yesterday:
CBP has no plans to arm its unmanned aircraft systems with non-lethal weapons or weapons of any kind. CBP’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) support CBP’s border security mission and provide an important surveillance and reconnaissance capability for interdiction agents on the ground and on the waterways. Current UAS were designed with the ability to add new surveillance capabilities, accommodate technological developments, and ensure that our systems are equipped with the most advanced resources available.
You can read the entire CBP report here: