|Photo: Gerald Nino|
|U.S. Customs and Border Protection unmanned drone: Big Brother is watching you.|
The U.S. Homeland Security Department is expanding its use of unmanned drone aircraft, widely used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war zones, beyond the Mexican and Canadian borders to the Caribbean and possibly elsewhere.
The department already owns five of the aircraft, reports Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times. The drones, known as Predator B craft, already operate along the Mexican border from a installation in Arizona and along the Canadian border from a base in North Dakota.
Homeland Security assures us that these drones, unlike those used by the military, do not carry weapons and are purely for surveillance.
The new drones unveiled on Monday are loaded with radar, cameras and sensors and cost $13.5 million apiece. Their wide-range radar gives a more panoramic view of the ocean than any manned aircraft, the Times reports.
The new drones will be the first to operate over the sea; one will start flying in January off favorite smuggler destination Florida. Another is scheduled to start surveillance in the Gulf of Mexico by summer.
Both will eventually be used to also patrol the coasts of Central America and Mexico, hotbeds of cocaine smuggling from South America.
Officials wouldn’t say if the drones will be used in Southern California or off its coast. While there is a lively drug smuggling scene there, congested airspace from airports and military bases could make use of the drones “difficult” (translation: possibility of civilian casualties).
|CBP officers remotely control unmanned drones. These craft provides surveillance information concerning “illegal activities.” Feel safer yet?|
A Customs drug surveillance drone crashed into an Arizona hillside close to a house in 2006, but no injuries or property damage was reported. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the crash was due to error on the part of the person who controlled the drone from a remote location.
The NTSB made several safety recommendations as a result of the crash, but according to the Times, not all of those were adopted by Customs and Border Protection.
The union for Border Patrol agents has said the drones are costly and inefficient. The Border Patrol suggests that the money spent on the drones should be spent instead on adding workers and equipment on the ground.
“Unmanned aircraft serve a very useful role in military combat situations, but are not economical or efficient in civilian law enforcement applications,” said T.J. Bonner, president of the Border Patrol union.