Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homeland Security increasingly lending drones to local police

From:  The Washington Times 

COMMENT - The article illustrates the fact that military drones are already being used against civilians in the U. S.   No one involved in calling it in considered the fact such use violates the Constitution because none of them considers the document relevant to their choices.  Now, why is that?  Could it be it has ceased to referenced as limiting what actions they can legally take?   Looks like it. 
  And the same people are freely  spending tax money so hard up local law enforcement can have drones, despite concerns, about the cost, expressed by Congress.  They seem to have missed, during their search for policy, the fact there is an official policy. The Constitution,  forbids the use of military on U. S. soil.  States and counties, which have legal standing under the Constitution, should take note. 

There is a wild and free-with-our-money as they ignore the law feel about these agencies, which are, themselves, not provided for under the Constitution.  

This is a rogue government, armed by Green Hills Software, and friends.  


By Kimberly Dvorak-Washington Guardian

Monday, December 10, 2012
Far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, a Predator drone was summoned into action last year to spy on a North Dakota farmer who allegedly refused to return a half dozen of his neighbor’s cows that had strayed onto his pastures.
The farmer had become engaged in a standoff with the Grand Forks police SWAT team and the sheriff’s department. So the local authorities decided to call on their friends at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deploy a multimillion dollar, unarmed drone to surveil the farmer and his family.

The little-noticed August 2011 incident at the Lakota, N.D., ranch, which ended peacefully, was a watershed moment for Americans: it was one of the first known times an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) owned by the U.S. government was used against civilians for local police work.

Since then, the Washington Guardian has confirmed, DHS and its Customs and Border Protection agency have deployed drones — originally bought to guard America’s borders — to assist local law enforcement and other federal agencies on several occasions.

The practice is raising questions inside and outside government about whether federal officials may be creating an ad-hoc, loan-a-drone program without formal rules for engagement, privacy protection or taxpayer reimbursements. The drones used by CPB can cost between $15 million and $34 million each to buy, and have hourly operational costs as well.

In addition, DHS recently began distributing $4 million in grants to help local law enforcement buy its own, smaller versions of drones, opening a new market for politically connected drone makers as the wars overseas shrink.

The double-barreled lending and purchasing have some concerned that federal taxpayers may be subsidizing the militarization of local police forces and creating new threats to average Americans’ privacy.

“We’ve seen bits and pieces of information on CBP’s Predator drones, but Americans deserve the full story,” said Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that studies privacy issues and has sought information on drone use in the United States. “Drones are a powerful surveillance tool that can be used to gather extensive data about you and your activities. The public needs to know more about how and why these Predator drones are being used to watch U.S. citizens.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), another privacy advocate which is pursuing litigation to force the disclosure of more information from DHS on drones, says it has found that the government has no official policies for how the drones can be used by local police, does not seek compensation from local law enforcement to recoup taxpayers’ expenses and claims it doesn’t keep records on how many times its drones have been deployed for local use.

CBP’s drone program is shrouded in secrecy and legal ambiguity. Despite a specific mission to protect the border from illegal immigration and drug smuggling, CBP continues to let other federal agencies and local law enforcement bureaus use (its drones) for unrelated purposes,” said Amie Stepanvich, Associate Litigation Counsel for EPIC.

Indeed, when the Washington Guardian inquired about how many times DHS or CPB lent drones to local authorities, officials responded they didn’t have a formal loan-a-drone program but did on occasion lend the UAVs to help local police. But they declined to provide an exact number or a list of localities.

“While CBP does not have a ‘loan a drone’ program, we do work with national and sometimes state and local agencies for assistance,” said Ian Phillips, a spokesman for Customs Border and Protection.

Such answers aren’t satisfying to members of Congress worried about the costs to taxpayers and the implications of letting machines built for war to potentially impact privacy inside the United States in the name of security.

“We should not run from our basic constitutional principles because we have fear. That’s the best way I know for us to lose liberty.  And you eventually give up your liberty if fear is your No. 1 guide,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an influential voice on the federal budget.

Local police departments, stretching from the Canadian border in the Midwest to the Mexican border in Texas, confirmed to the Washington Guardian they have summoned CPB drones to help in local police matters ranging from the service of arrest warrants to armed standoffs.

Local SWAT commanders, in fact, said DHS and CPB encouraged the use of the drones to give its unmanned pilots training opportunities. And they argue the collaborations and deployments have helped saved lives.

CBP reached out to us for training. We have developed a relationship with them, and we can call them when we feel we need their help,” explained Sgt. Bill Macki, the leader of the Grand Forks, N.D., SWAT team that summoned the drone back in August 2011 at the North Dakota ranch during the farmer standoff.

Macki said his department has asked to use CPB drones three times –inclement weather prevented one of those deployments — and he personally knows of other local departments in the Dakotas that have also used the unmanned aerial vehicles in the last year.

“The Predator drone helps us pull back and (gives us) the ability to control the perimeter and de-escalate the scene significantly,” Macki explained. “The (drones) have been a tremendous asset to our high-risk operations.”

An added bonus for law enforcement is that so far federal officials haven’t asked the local cops to repay the costs. “We have not been charged by CBP for the use of the Predator drone,” Macki said.

While ad hoc deployments continue, in May the Department of Homeland Security launched its “Air-based Technologies Program” to hand out grants to help underwrite local law enforcement purchases of their own drones, said John Appleby of DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s division.

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