Border Agency “Discovered” That It Lent Predator Drones Almost 200 More Times Than Previously Disclosed

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The Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) claims that it recently “discovered” that it in three year period, it lent out predator drones to other agencies for domestic use on nearly 200 more occasions than it previously acknowledged.

The CBP didn't divulge this surprising information unprovoked. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been slowly wrangling data out of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the CBP, through a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) lawsuit since 2012.

When the agency made its initial release in September 2013, the content was alarming enough. The documents revealed that federal, state, and local agencies borrowed drones 498 times from 2010 through 2012. Various military branches, the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Dakota Narcotics Task Force, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, and numerous unnamed county sheriff's offices were among the recipients. The FOIA document also contradicted information the federal government made available to the public. The Department of Justice issued a report that, as of May 2013, it only utilized CBP drones twice. The EFF reports that the “CBP flew its drones over 100 times just for Department of Justice components including FBI, DEA and US Marshals.”

Conveniently, the agency forgot about an enormous chunk of data until “the eve of the pivotal court hearing on those motions in December 2013,” the EFF explains. The CBP actually lent drones a total of 687 times, not 498. Also, a wide range of agencies have been added to the list of recipients. This includes the Federal Aviation Administration, Arizona Department of Public Safety, and a mysteriously titled “Local PD Officer.” The EFF notes that the CBP's latest announcement “reveal[s] a sharp increase in the number of flights for certain federal agencies like ICE (53 more flights than previously revealed) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (20 more flights).”

On top of the red flags of the CBP's tricky behavior, the lack of consistent information reported across agencies, and the militarization of domestic police forces, the FOIA data highlights another problem with the drone borrowing program. As Tim Cushing of Techdirt points out “borrowing a drone indicates the agency likely doesn't already have one -- which also indicates it doesn't have anything in place to govern its use or disposal of unneeded or incidental data.” This lack of institutional checks opens up the real possibility that these various government outfits could continue to abuse their ability to collect and access data, not just on people near the southern border, but virtually anywhere in the country.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    In their defense, local law enforcement would sometimes go into CPB's garage and borrow them without asking.

  • fish||

    ...local law enforcement would sometimes go into CPB's garage and borrow them without asking.

    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has its own drones?

    Well fuck them during their next pledge drive!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Local law enforcement are sometimes dyslexic.

  • Agammamon||

    Look, they're getting desperate. They've got to get you to pledge *somehow*.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "Lent?" Can I borrow a drone from my local library then? Just how does this work?

  • Hugh Akston||

    I can't wait to see what consequences the CBP suffers for blatantly releasing false information.

  • BigT||

    It'll be medieval torture, you can count on that. The CPB might even have their acronym misspelled by the commentariat.

  • Rotbard||

    Were the predator drones armed? Not to nitpick, but an armed predator drone vs. an unarmed one is the difference between an eagle and a chicken.

  • BigT||

    WTF, neither chickens or eagles have arms.

    And no one could add a little popgun to that chicken-drone, could they.

  • Rotbard||

    Point being, an unarmed predator drone is no longer a predator. It's just a drone.

  • jester||

    No, they have wings.

  • jester||

    Do they at least bring them back with a full tank of gas?

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