Homeland Security Considering Arming Border Drones With ‘Non-Lethal Weapons’

from StratRisks.com: Attacks by U.S. unmanned drones in the Middle East and Africa are
commonplace, but it would be unheard of to see these aerial military
weapons appearing over the U.S.-Mexico border.

Yet it’s a possible scenario, according to a newly-unearthed document
from the country’s leading federal border agency, U.S. Customs and
Border Protection.

According to a Customs and Border Protection report obtained
by the Electronic Frontier Foundation through a Freedom of Information
Act lawsuit, the agency has considered adding weapons to its Predator
drones that currently serve as the agency’s eyes in the sky on the
lookout for undocumented immigrants and drug trafficking coming across
the border.

A section of the heavily redacted 107-page report that deals with the
equipment mounted on the drones states that “Additional payload
upgrades could include expendables or non-lethal weapons designed to
immobilize [targets of interest].”

The use of drones along the U.S.’s borders with Canada and Mexico is
nothing new as CBP currently has eight Predators in the skies along the
northern and southern border with an additional two drones patrolling
for drug traffickers in the Caribbean.
The drones are currently unarmed
and used only for surveillance purposes, but statistics show the drones
only highlighting the number of people who get away and not aiding in
the apprehension of criminals or migrants.

The federal border agency downplayed the report, saying it has no
plans as of now to arm its drones, adding that current missions focus
solely on surveillance and reporting illegal activity.

“CBP has no plans to arm its unmanned aircraft systems with
non-lethal weapons or weapons of any kind,” the agency said in a
statement to Fox News Latino. “CBP’s unmanned aircraft systems
(UAS) support CBP’s border security mission and provide an important
surveillance and reconnaissance capability for interdiction agents on
the ground and on the waterways.”

But the statement left the door open for a possible policy change,
noting the drones have the capability to be armed: “Current UAS were
designed with the ability to add new surveillance capabilities,
accommodate technological developments, and ensure that our systems are
equipped with the most advanced resources available.”

While the CBP report does not go into any specifics on what type of
“non-lethal weapons” could be equipped on the Predators or the
likelihood that they will be eventually weaponized, the mere option in
and of itself raised eyebrows.

The discovery angered anti-drone activists who worry about mishaps
like those in Pakistan and Yemen. A number of drone strikes in those
areas have accidentally killed innocent people or mistaken their
targets, leading to an uproar from the government in Islamabad and
religious leaders in Sana’a.

“This is all too reminiscent of drone use overseas, it’s covert, it
leads down the slippery slope toward lethal use,” Madea Benjamin, the
founder of Global Drones Watch and the author of Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control, told Fox News Latino in an interview.

“If we start down this path we could be led down a path of innocent
people being killed by drones along the border.” Benjamin added.

The use of drones along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico began
several years ago. CBP currently has eight Predators in the skies along
the northern and southern borders with an additional two drones
patrolling the Caribbean.

The drones don’t currently have weapons, just high-tech cameras used
only for surveillance purposes. 

But critics of the use of drones for
border security have used agency statistics to show the machines are not
cost-effective because they lead to a relatively small number of
migrant arrests and drug seizures.

Whether or not the government is seriously considering arming drones,
some analysts questioned the motive for such a move. There may be some
logic to it, analysts said, but it surely would come loaded with

“It seems pretty awful, the idea of armed drones on the border,” said
Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Washington-based think tank the
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“On the other hand, the Border Patrol is an armed agency and there
have been a number of incidents of violence between agents and people
along the border, so non-lethal weapons might not be such a bad idea,”
Wilson added.

But the anti-drone activists are not buying it.

Benjamin argued that there have been many incidents when “non-lethal
weapons” such as rubber bullets have turned deadly, including in
Northern Ireland and between Israeli and Palestinian forces. 

report, however, does not specify what type of weaponry could be mounted
on the Predator drones.

“Any of these things can be deadly,” Benjamin said. “This is
something we have to look at and discuss before anything can be allowed
to be put on these drones.”

It remains to be seen what the government actually does — sometimes
ideas in reports stay as just words on a page, while other times it
might get the attention of an influential lawmaker that takes it on as a
personal cause célèbre.

“Lawmakers think up a lot of ideas. Few of them make it to paper and even fewer of them are implemented,” Wilson said.

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