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The Droning of America

The growing menace of domestic drones

A look inside the drone industry reveals the dangers and the reasons for their rapid U.S. expansion

By Glenn Greenwald

Last week, I wrote about the rapidly growing domestic drone industry and the largely undiscussed dangers it poses. The Los Angeles Times yesterday reported that local police in North Dakota used a Predator B drone — the most common unmanned aircraft employed by the U.S. military to attack and kill “insurgents” in the Muslim world — to apprehend three men. The suspects had refused to turn over six cows which had wandered onto their land (the laws governing open-range ownership are in dispute and the farm owners claimed they are entitled to keep the cows); after being tasered in an earlier incident on their land for allegedly resisting arrest, they brandished weapons at the officers who came to seize the cows. The police, armed with a warrant, then called in a Predator drone to fly over their land, locate them, and transmit video images to the police; when the drone revealed the suspects were unarmed, the police entered their property and arrested them.

These Predator drones are based at Grand Forks Air Force Base and are owned by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Although the FBI, DEA and other federal agencies have used Predator drones on U.S. soil for years for surveillance purposes, and although local police have used other types of drones, this is the first time Predators have been used by law enforcement to apprehend suspects….

There is always a large segment of the population that reflexively supports the use of greater government and police power — it’s usually the same segment that has little objection to Endless War — and it’s grounded in a mix of standard authoritarianism (I side with authority over those they accused of being Bad and want authorities increasingly empowered to stop the Bad people) along with naiveté (I don’t really worry that new weapons and powers will be abused by those in power, especially when — like now — those in power are Good). This mindset manifests in the domestic drone context specifically by dismissing their use as nothing more than the functional equivalent of police helicopters. This is a view grounded in pure ignorance.

The unique dangers of domestic drones, which I documented last week, exist completely independent of their weaponization potential, but weaponization nonetheless must be considered. Police officials are already speaking openly about their desire to weaponize their drones with “nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun.” Anyone who doubts that this is going to happen should just consider what the drone manufacturing industry itself is saying. They continuously emphasize to investors and others that a major source of business growth for their drone products will be domestic, non-military use.

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