US to Employ Surveillance Drones

Salt Lake Tribune | June 26 2004

Comment: I post this in the big brother section because in past programs of this nature, the drones 'accidentally' strayed and started spying on US citizens. This has nothing to do with border control, since Bush's proposal of blanket amnesty, illegal immigrants attempting to cross has increased 15%.

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- The Border Patrol launched an unmanned drone Friday that uses thermal and night-vision equipment to help agents spot undocumented immigrants trying to cross the desert into the United States.

The stepped-up surveillance is part of a mission that officials hope will stem the tide of undocumented immigrants who have made Arizona the busiest illegal entry point along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

The two drones used in the project can detect movement from 15 miles up, read a license plate, view a vehicle's occupants and even detect weapons, officials said.

The drones weigh almost 1,000 pounds, have a 35-foot wingspan and can fly faster than 100 mph. They will patrol at 12,000 to 15,000 feet. They can stay aloft for 20 hours.

The overall cost of the mission is $10 million. The government spent about $4 million on the drones.

Pilots on the ground will remotely control them unless the flight is preprogrammed. Another agent interprets the images and uses global positioning to send agents to respond to what the drones detect.

The aircraft are a key element of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to achieve "operational control" of the border in Arizona. The drones' mission ends Sept. 30, when it will be assessed to determine the future of drones with the Border Patrol.

Border Patrol agents catch hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants trying to cross Arizona's sprawling, cactus-covered deserts each year. The agency had recorded more than 330,000 apprehensions since Oct. 1 in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which covers most of the Arizona border.

The Hermes 450s, which Israel uses to patrol its frontiers, join a number of unmanned aerial vehicles used in the United States.

Remote-controlled planes help gather data for environmental studies and patrol Western skies on wildfire watch. In Alaska, the Coast Guard is also testing a drone this summer for fisheries patrols and other uses.

Drones called Predators have also been successful in U.S. military and CIA operations. Missiles fired from Predators have killed al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan and Yemen.


Informant: m macleod


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