Border Patrol Loaning Predator Drones to Military, State, and Local Police

Think state and local law enforcement aren’t watching you with high-tech federally-owned drones? Think again.

In a new post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)reports that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, released an updated list of “times the agency has flown its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies — 500 flights in total over a three-year period.”

Some of the more interesting revelations contained in the report — obtained by EFF as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit — include the fact that CBP drones flew more than 100 missions on behalf of the Department of Justice.

As the EFF story indicates, this level of cooperation between CBP and the Department of Justice “is in direct contradiction to a recently released DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report (pdf) that stated DHS had flown its drones on only two occasions for DOJ law enforcement components.”

Although many of the agencies borrowing CBP drones were revealed in earlier lists, there are a few new entries: “Grand Forks SWAT, the North Dakota Narcotics Task Force, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Minnesota Drug Task Force, and several branches of the military.”

Read that again: “Several branches of the military” are flying drone missions above the United States. For what lawful purpose could the armed forces be conducting such operations domestically? Furthermore, the likelihood is high that such activities run afoul of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the U.S. military from performing domestic law-enforcement duties.

In addition to the military and its fellow federal agencies, the CBP admitted that it is lending its drone fleet to “several county sheriff’s departments.” In the document provided to EFF, the CBP refused, however, to identify the names of the local law-enforcement departments borrowing these aircraft. CBP claims that to disclose the identity of the police departments or sheriff’s offices using its drones would “reveal that CBP is aware of the illegal activities taking place in a particular location.”

Seemingly, CBP believes (or claims to believe) that if it were to list these lenders, the criminals in those regions would be tipped off to the surveillance and would thus escape arrest.

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