Mar 20

* Charleston man surprised when he found one while camping with daughter

Last month, Herman Jacob took his daughter and her friend camping in the Francis Marion National Forest. While poking around for some firewood, Jacob noticed a wire. He pulled on it and followed it to a video camera and antenna.

The camera didn’t have any markings identifying its owner, so Jacob took it home and called law enforcement agencies to find out if it was theirs, all the while wondering why someone would station a video camera in an isolated clearing in the woods.

He eventually received a call from Mark Heitzman of the U.S. Forest Service.

In a stiff voice, Heitzman ordered Jacob to turn it back over to his agency, explaining that it had been set up to monitor “illicit activities.” Jacob returned the camera but felt uneasy.

Why, he wondered, would the Forest Service have secret cameras in a relatively remote camping area? What do they do with photos of bystanders? Continue reading »

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Apr 02

U.S. FOREST SERVICE FIELDING FLEET OF DRONES – Law Enforcement Wants “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” Hovering Above Forests

Washington, DC – The U.S. Forest Service has purchased pilot-less aircraft to provide day and night photo reconnaissance for its law enforcement program, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The two “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones, may represent the beginnings of wider conversion of military robotic technology for civilian uses.

The two “Sky Seers” were obtained by the Forest Service on December 10, 2007 at a cost of $100,000 from Chang Industries, Inc. of La Verne, California. The package includes one “day version” and one “night version” of the drone, together with a “Pan/tilt thermal camera” to record heat signatures at night.

A March 12, 2007 purchase request from the Forest Service Law Enforcement & Investigations (LE&I) program states it “has been monitoring and evaluating UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] intermittently since 1997, when their use was considered in support of Operation Linebacker, a border enforcement initiative.” While this “Sole Source Request” details desired equipment specifications, the Forest Service could produce no documents spelling out what they want to use drones for or why pilot-less craft are preferred, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from PEER.

The drones purchase took place shortly after Forest Service LE&I spent $600,000 buying tasers for its entire enforcement staff, without any guidelines or training program. The tasers are still sitting in storage cartons. After PEER revealed the taser fiasco, LE&I staff told PEER about the drones and suggested a records request in order to validate staff concerns that the purchase – Continue reading »

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