Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Big Brother is Spying from Drones Overhead

Unmanned Drones are already flying for Law Enforcement

The killing of terrorist and insurgents by heavily armed drones, controlled by operators thousands of miles away has prompted criticism that the technology is too impersonal and results in too much collateral damage, but most critics have been silent considering the many pilots that have been spared.

While drones are in heavy use in the wars abroad, their use in the States is rare, because of federal restrictions on air space. Commercial use is virtually forbidden, and less than 300 certificates of authorization have been issued to government entities to take drones for a whirl. The Federal Aviation Association, though, has announced that it plans to revisit its restrictions in the spring of 2012. That means it could be much easier to fly drones in the U.S. as soon as 2013 or 2014. What will that mean? Who will use them?

The technology has attracted not only military, but also intelligence and law enforcement customers.

Drones are already in use by British police, there is a discussion about equipping domestic drones with weapons in the US, and Australian police have started to show interest in acquiring them.

The thought of drones in civilian spaces—especially drones operated by law enforcement—makes many American civil libertarians suspicious. The same is true in the United Kingdom. Several companies that want the U.K. to adopt surveillance drones are trying to combat the machines’ “spy in the sky” stigma.

Recently, the L.A. published a rather disturbing story about the use of Predator drones by local law enforcement officials in the United States. The article reported a recent example where a sheriff in South Dakota called in a Predator B drone to perform surveillance on a family farm!

The article recounts an incident which occurred over the summer in Nelson County, South Dakota. The local sheriff, Kelly Janke, went looking for six missing cows at a farm owned by the Brossart family. Coincidentally, the family allegedly belongs to an anti-government group called the Sovereign Citizen Movement and has had repeated run-ins with local police in Nelson County.

The cows had supposedly crossed into the Brossart's farm, which was reason enough apparently for the sheriff to get a search warrant and pay them a visit. I suppose that in South Dakota it's normal to obtain search warrants to search for missing cows. When the sheriff arrived at the farm he was confronted by three men with rifles who ordered him to get off of their property.

This being South Dakota, the sheriff naturally called for reinforcements from from three different county sheriffs departments, the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, the bomb squad, ambulances and of course, a Predator drone! What the hell is happening in America?

Sheriff Janke found out about the drones last spring when attending a briefing on how two Customs and Border Protection drones based at a nearby air base could help local law enforcement. When Janke called for backup, one of the drones patrolling the Canadian border over North Dakota and Montana was called in to assist at the Brossart farm.

Officers were able to watch live video from the drone as it circled at 10,000 feet, providing a feed of thermal imaging streamed down to a handheld device, showing the Brossarts moving around their property with rifles in hand. Sheriff Janke and his army decided to retreat until the following day.

The following morning, the Predator was back above the Brossart farm providing images to the sheriff, showing that the Brossarts were no longer armed. Janke and the SWAT team were able to arrest Rodney Brossart, his daughter and three sons and find the missing cows.

Unbelievable! The use of drones for retrieving some cows! This is hardly an isolated incident, as Predator drones are being used for surveillance purposes by Federal, state, and local agencies all across the country. It appears as if this is becoming a common practice and without any public acknowledgement or debate. Like a lot of things outrageous, unnecessary and controversial, our leaders manage to keep these types of things out of mainstream media.

For example, though North Dakota has used the Grand Forks' Predators to fly at least two dozen surveillance flights since June, Michael C. Kostelnik, a retired Air Force general who heads the office that supervises the drones said, Predators are flown "in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement and emergency responders in times of crisis."

Good to know! Good to know how our tax money is being flown around.

Drone purchases for the Customs and Border Protection agencies were first authorized by Congress in 2005. According to the Times, these Federal agencies own eight of the unmanned spy planes.

Furthermore, there use in state and local matters is apparently justified by Federal officials who cite "broad authority to work with police from budget requests to Congress that cite 'interior law enforcement support' as part of their mission," according to Bennett's article.

The reason that such controversial and scary tactics have been under the mainstream "radar" is because U.S. courts have allowed law enforcement to conduct aerial surveillance in the absence of a warrant. Predator drones can not be seen or heard and are operated remotely, falling under the same legal guidelines as police helicopters or aircraft.

This means that Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are using U.S. air space to conduct surveillance on American citizens in missions that resemble those being carried out against Al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other foreign countries.

Does anybody other than myself see a problem with this?

Written By: Tom Retterbush

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