Homeland Security’s specifications say drones must be able to detect whether a civilian is armed. Also specified: “signals interception” and “direction finding” for electronic surveillance.
Homeland Security required that this Predator drone, built by General Atomics, be capable of detecting whether a standing human at night is “armed or not.” (Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.
The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department’s unmanned Predator B drones, which are primarily used to patrol the United States’ northern and southern borders but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.
Homeland Security’s specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, say they “shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not,” meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify “signals interception” technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and “direction finding” technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.
WASHINGTON — U.S. commanders in Iraq have ordered an unprecedented number of airstrikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents in urban combat and to limit their ability to launch rockets at American forces, military records show.
The 11 attacks by Predators — nearly double the previous high for one month — were conducted as the Pentagon has intensified efforts to increase the use of drones, which play an increasingly vital role for gathering intelligence and launching attacks in Iraq. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates prodded the Air Force to do more to rush drones to the war zone.
An AGM-114 Hellfire missile is unloaded from an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle after a mission in May at Balad Air Base, Iraq in this undated image.
The increase in Predator attacks coincided with a spike in fighting in Baghdad’s slum of Sadr City and in the city of Basra, where the Iraqi government mounted an offensive to root out militias there.
Commanders are expected to rely more on unmanned systems as 30,000 U.S. troops sent last year are withdrawn. The military has dozens of Predators in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all it operates 5,000 drones, 25 times more than it had in 2001.
“The Predator teams have just been doing unbelievable work down there (in Basra) and in Baghdad as well,” Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, said in a statement last week.Continue reading »
How bad do they need drones in Iraq and Afghanistan? So bad, the Air Force is yanking pilots out of old-school planes, and sticking them on drone duty, instead.
For the past several years, there’s been a “300% annual increase” in battlefield commanders’ request in video from robot aircraft. Drone-makers – and military paper-pushers – are struggling to keep up with the demand. Defense Secretary Gates has ordered that the Air Force send all available Predator unmanned aerial vehicles into action. Air Force officials whined about the non-stop 13-hour days their pilots were clocking (in Nevada, not Iraq). But ultimately, the number of Predator flights was doubled.Continue reading »