Friday, March 22, 2013

Mission Creep in Homeland Security Drone Program

(Excerpted from a new investigative report published by CounterPunch magazine, March 2013).

Tom Barry

Drones are proliferating—in overseas military operations, CIA clandestine missions, border security surveillance, domestic law enforcement, natural emergency responses, and overseas drug-interdiction. As drones proliferate, the lines that once constitutionally and legally separated national security, drug control, and domestic law enforcement are fading.

Technological advances require change and adaptations. As a type of new technological species that has suddenly appeared in our midst, it’s no surprise that society and government are playing catch up. Different drone breeds and hybrids are spreading around the globe and at home.

Meanwhile, citizen advocates, rights groups, and political leaders hurry behind, frantically calling for new regularly frameworks to gain a measure of control over drone proliferation.

Drones are proliferating so rapidly that there is still no commonly accepted formal name for the new species—which are formally classified, variously, as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Unmanned Aerial Systems (US, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), or simply Unmanned Systems.

Whether they are aerial, ground, or aquatic robotic systems, drones mark the latest species in a continuum in development of weapons and spying systems.

The model names given by their military contractors reflect their threat to other species, notably humans. Looking down on us and sometimes striking are Predators, Global Hawks, Hunters, and Scan Eagles. In contrast, the names of other smaller breeds—Killer Bees, Dragon Flies, Wasps,
Moths, Tarantulas, etc.—indicate how close and pesky other drone species can be.

Not all drones are baptized with the names from the natural world. Some bear more traditionally militaristic and mythical tags, like the Reapers, Avengers, Hunters, Dragon Eyes, Guardians, and Sentinels.

Seeking to communicate their new high-tech power
and possibilities, drone manufacturers and their government buyers reach to myths and the gods for their handles: Hermes, Pegasus, Gorgon Stare, and Vampire.

The main distinctive feature of the drone species is that they are unmanned craft. Yet drones are often armed and dangerous—some with Hellfire or the lighter-weight Griffin missiles, while others that specialize in law enforcement can zoom in with Tasers. In conflict zones, they prey on targets, searching, hunting, and destroying. Other predator drone species, like those that patrol our borders, are also on the hunt—for immigrants and drugs.

The military and intelligence sectors of Israel and the United States have—in close collaboration with military contractors—been the leading drone breeders, although scores of other major and small powers are also breeding and deploying drones. Historically, drones have been deployed primarily on national security missions—both in direct war-fighting as “hunter-killers,” or on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The declaration by President George W. Bush on 20 September 2001 of a global “crusade” in the form of a “war on terrorism” set off drone proliferation, although the US Air Force and intelligence sector had been developing Predator drones for ISR missions since the early 1990s and for targeted killings since the late 1990s.

Following closely behind the government-sponsored development of Predator drones for military missions has been the use of Predators and Predator variants for homeland security missions. Soon after the opening of the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, General Atomics began collaborating with the DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to deploy unarmed Predators for Border Security.

Immediately following ten days in October 2003 of demonstration flights in Arizona, CBP signed its first in a series of sole-source contracts with General Atomics.

Drone strikes and ISR operations were part of what the Pentagon and CIA called the “Global War on Terror.” President Obama called an end to that war in March 2009, but the drone strikes and other clandestine operations march on as part of what this administration calls “Overseas Contingency Operations.”

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