Military Makes Extensive Domestic Use of Drones, FAA Documents Reveal


Hummingbird drone

You can find out the most fascinating things from government documents, especially from those that officials didn't really want to release. In particular, Federal Aviation Administration records pried from federal clutches by that legalistic jaws-of-life known as a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal that the military is sending previously unknown flocks of drones into the American skies. While the main purpose of domestic flights appears to be testing and training, these drones do have sophisticated surveillance capabilities that could be deployed right here at home — and have been, if only for the purposes of operator practice and amusement.

This informational bonanza comes courtesy of requirements that the military get FAA permission to fly drones outside of restricted airspace, in the skies over almost the entire country. That the records exist means, therefore, that the military does exactly that. The data dump revealed flights by the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Says EFF:

The records show that the Air Force has been testing out a bunch of different drone types, from the smaller, hand-launched Raven, Puma and Wasp drones designed by Aerovironment in Southern California, to the much larger Predator and Reaper drones responsible for civilian and foreign military deaths abroad. The Marine Corps is also testing drones, though it chose to redact so much of the text from its records that we still don't know much about its programs.

Presumably, these aren't armed drones flying over our heads, but they do have impressive surveillance capabilities.

Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nevada and in areas of California and Utah. This drone uses "Gorgon Stare" technology, which Wikipedia defines as "a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone . . . capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city." This imagery "can then be analyzed by humans or an artificial intelligence, such as the Mind's Eye project" being developed by DARPA. If true, this technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.

EFF references a New York Times report from last summer that drone operators hone their skills by tracking random civilians who come within range. From a throw-away passage in the "paper of record's" piece:

It took a few seconds to figure out exactly what we were looking at. A white S.U.V. traveling along a highway adjacent to the base came into the cross hairs in the center of the screen and was tracked as it headed south along the desert road. When the S.U.V. drove out of the picture, the drone began following another car.

"Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?" a reporter asked. One Air Force officer responded that this was only a training mission, and then the group was quickly hustled out of the room.

Great. So, now we get intrusive scrutiny as an almost accidental byproduct.

NEXT: "Revenge Porn" Site Sued for Privacy Invasions

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  1. If you have nothing to hide…

  2. This informational bonanza comes courtesy of requirements that the military get FAA permission to fly drones outside of restricted airspace…

    If people keep abusing those FOIA requests, then the FAA requirement is just going to have to be done away with.

    1. More likely much more airspace will become restricted, and the concept of general aviation will finally wither and die.

  3. “This imagery “can then be analyzed by humans or an artificial intelligence, such as the Mind’s Eye project” being developed by DARPA.”

    There’s a sequel to “The Men Who Stare at Goats” in there somewhere.

    Every once in a while, I’ll read a statement from a government source that makes the conspiracy theorists look perfectly sane.

    1. I’ve been watching a lot of The X-Files lately so I’m just going to assume the “Mind’s Eye Project” is based on alien technology and the people who filed the FOIA request will soon be murdered.

  4. Look, SCORPION STARE is for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN and you’ll be glad it’s in place when the Sleeper in the Pyramid on the Dead Plateau awakens.

    1. Beat me to it, Epi.

  5. Okay I get it….the political class is really worried about domestic activities….that threat that truly scares them. Since so much of this is automated, both the collection and analysis of the “intelligence” when can we begin gutting the more traditional military structure comprised of soldiers and their dependents?

  6. It’s just practice. Had these been actual civil rights violations the results would have been classified.

  7. “Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?”

    In grade school I toured an operational Aegis destroyer. The ship was sitting in a river beneath one of the local airport’s approaches. In the command center we saw sailors targeting the missile radar on passing passenger planes. I think about that every time I fly into San Diego.

    I’m guessing this sort of thing is far more common than the shocked reporter realizes…

  8. If you get caught by the Gorgon Stare, just toggle the L button back and forth and you should break free before you turn to stone.

  9. Wow that really looks cool man.


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