Report: Texas DPS Now Flying Federal Drones for Border Surveillance

Report: Texas DPS Now Flying Federal Drones for Border Surveillance

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) joined with other agencies across the nation to borrow Predator drones from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). This information was disclosed in a recent report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) compiled after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The agencies revealed include the FBI, ICE, the U.S. Marshals, U.S. Coast Guard, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, the North Dakota Army National Guard and many others.

The records uncovered by EFF also reveal a striking increase in the number of flights.  It was originally reported as being around five hundred when subsequent investigation revealed the number to be closer to seven hundred. The Customs and Border Patrol Agency logged an eight-fold increase in the number of drone surveillance flights it conducted for other agencies. The Texas DPS has borrowed the Predator drones a total of twenty-two times in 2011 and 2012 according to the report.

BreitbartTexas border security expert, Sylvia Longmire, said, “I wrote about this very issue in my new book. CBP got hit hard by the Inspector General in 2012 for not flying sufficient hours, not having the proper maintenance and support resources on the ground to back the missions they did conduct, and also for not having an organized system of prioritizing its flights.”

“In other words,” Longmire continued, “any agency could call CBP and ask for flight time, and there would be no formal, standardized process for prioritizing that request. It actually appeared like an agency like FEMA could just call up CBP on the phone, ask to borrow a UAV, and CBP would do a cursory check of anyone else needing their drones. If not, CBP would say, sure, okay!”

While she concluded the missions appear to be above board and in the national interest, they also appear to not be utilizing the equipment for its intended purpose of securing the border.  “It’s dumb to let the UAVs sit idle in a hangar when they can be used for a good purpose. However, there seems to be plenty of work for them to do along the southwest border where you’d think they wouldn’t be available for outside agency use.”

“I think the problems with CBP disuse or misuse of the UAVs on the southwest border has more to do with mismanagement than it does with any shady interagency behavior,” Longmire concluded.

The report by the EFF also reveals other CBP equipment and technology intended for border surveillance being loaned to other agencies:

The newly-released records reveal other surprising facts, including that CBP was using its sophisticated VADER surveillance system much more frequently than previously thought and was using it for other agencies. This sensor, also known as Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar, was initially developed for use in the Afghanistan War and can detect the presence of people from as high as 25,000 feet. CBP has used this sensor in its surveillance operations since 2011 and used it at least 30 times for other agencies in 2012. The records CBP previously released to EFF contained no specific mention of VADER technology. As noted by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the system has several limitations–not the least of which is that “it can’t tell the difference between a U.S. citizen and noncitizen.”

The EFF report says CBP claims, in a privacy impact statement, we shouldn’t be concerned about privacy implications regarding the loaning of these border security drones and other advanced technology.

The EFF report cites a number of official documents and logs for source material.