WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology — all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.
The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.
Aerial surveillance represents a changing frontier for law enforcement, providing what the government maintains is an important tool in criminal, terrorism or intelligence probes. But the program raises questions about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies pose intrusive opportunities for government spying. Continue reading
DHS decided – with virtually no reviews or evaluations – to purchase unarmed versions of the Predator drones used abroad for “signature strikes” (targeted drone killing). The department, whose mission includes “border security,” has also relied on military bases along the land border and coastal waters to host its own drone fleet.Since DHS began acquiring Predators, along with Predator variants called Guardians, from General Atomics nine years ago, this domestic drone program has proved an abysmal failure – whether measured by its effectiveness in immigration enforcement, drug control, or counterterrorism. A series of reports by the General Accountability Office, Congressional Review Service, and the DHS Inspector General’s Office have documented the paltry achievements, the alarming strategic confusion, and near-systemic logistical and technical shortcomings of the DHS drone program.
These government reports pointed to the complete absence of any cost-benefit evaluations and efficiency assessments of the DHS drone program.
Yet these official reviews failed to shed any light on the department’s controversial decision to deploy only the hugely expensive military-grade Predator drones and to enter into sole-source contracts with General Atomics to provide, maintain, and even operate the federal government’s domestic drone fleet. Continue reading