DHS Pumping Money into Drones for Domestic Surveillance, Hunting Immigrants and Seizing Pot
Continued from previous page
Instead, it has poured steadily increasing budgets for border security into all three of its defined instruments of border control, what it calls the “three pillars of border security,” namely personnel or “boots on the ground,” tactical infrastructure (border fence and other physical barriers) and technology including the “virtual fence” of ground-based electronic surveillance and aerial surveillance.
In CBP-think, all three pillars are equally important and all components of these border-security pillars are equally fundamental to protecting homeland security.
Since 2005 the Border Patrol has seized 13.5 million pounds of cannabis. This does not include the border marijuana seizures by CBP agents working at the POEs or by other federal and local law enforcement officials.
Yet OAM, which first deployed in 2005, reports that drone surveillance has led to the seizure of a mere 46,600 pounds of marijuana. Drones, then, played a role in seizing less than one percent of the Border Patrol’s total marijuana in the past six years – to be exact only 0.003 percent.
On the “dangerous people” front, CBP reports that in the six years of the UAV program, drones have contributed to the apprehension of 7,500 suspected criminals detained. That’s small potatoes when compared to CBP’s overall number of detentions since 2005 – 5.7 million immigrants, including the 327,000 detained in 2011. Expressed as a percentage, amounts to only 0.001 percent.
Just as DHS eschews cost-benefit analysis, it also doesn’t apply risk analysis. All illegal border crossers and all contraband fall into the broad post-9/11 mission of protecting the homeland against “dangerous people and goods.” If all are dangerous, then DHS argues that all are targets, and the UAV numbers, while small, still demonstrate that these agencies are on target and on mission.
Typically, CBP frames its UAVs as a fundamental instrument in combatting terrorism, even though no terrorists have ever been spotted or captured.
CBP says that the Predators play a “lead role in CBP's critical anti-terrorism mission.”
Two Predators also patrol the northern border, and Candice Miller, the Republican from Michigan who chairs the House Subcommittee on Border and Marine Security, complains that CBP is slighting northern border security.
The northern border Predators, however, haven’t led to a single interception of an illegal border crosser in the past two years.
Yet another problem with OAM is that its declared numbers are carelessly formulated by the agency. What is more, it’s unclear whether the number of apprehensions and seizures CBP/OAM does disseminate are entirely attributable to UAV surveillance. CBP and OAM officials have been ambiguous about this. Most agency media releases say that Predator surveillance “has led” to the reported drug seizures and immigrant apprehensions.
Yet other media releases and CBP statements to congressional oversight committees fudge the role of the drones, saying only that drones “contributed to” or were “involved” in the actions that led to the seizures and arrests.
Second, CBP is careless in providing its numbers of arrests, seizures, and flight hours, raising questions about the veracity of the numbers.
The Dec. 27 media release refers to the seizures and arrests during so many drone flight hours – 12,000 hours of drone flight-time since 2005.
But CBP/OAM has over the past year given the media, Congress, and this writer the same arrest and seizure numbers (46,600 pounds of narcotics and 7,500 apprehensions) for varying numbers of reported hours flight-time – for 10,000, 11,500, and mostly recently 12,000 hours of drone air time.
CBP/OAM’s numbers game also includes variations of the numbers of arrests and seizures for the same number of flight hours. Celebrating reaching 10,000 hours of drone air time in June 2011, CBP/OAM released a press statement asserting that 10,000 hours of “UAS Predator operations have resulted in the apprehension of 4,865 undocumented aliens and 238 smugglers; the seizure of 33,773 pounds of contraband.”