Thousands of pages of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documents released under the Freedom Of Information Act highlight that the military is extensively flying surveillance drones in non-restricted skies throughout the country.
The records, released by The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), reveal that three branches of the military are operating drones within civillian airspace. Those branches are the Air Force, the Marine Corps, and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
According to EFF, The documents show that the air force is testing all manner of UAVs, from small hand launched drones all the way up to the Predator and Reaper drones, the kind that routinely conduct missile strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
EFF notes that the use of drones capable of extensive surveillance in public airspace is concerning, especially since recent reports have revealed that Air Force’s drone operators have been conducting practice spying missions by tracking civilian cars along highways adjacent to military bases.
In addition, a recently uncovered Air Force document also raised alarms over military use of spy drones in US skies. The document outlines how to circumvent privacy laws, and clears the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.
EFF notes that the latest FAA documents indicate that the Marine Corps is also flying drones in US skies, but that “it chose to redact so much of the text from its records that we still don’t know much about its programs.”
Perhaps most disturbingly, DARPA, according to the documents, is flying full sized Reaper drones in areas of Nevada, California and Utah that are able to use technology that can capture motion imagery of entire cities. The technology, known as “Gorgon Stare” uses an array of nine to twelve cameras attached to the drone to take concurrent footage from multiple different angles.
Feeds from those drones can be fed into artificial-intelligence software developed by DARPA known as the “Mind’s Eye project”, which can analyze all the data at once, meaning that essentially a machine can keep watch over everything happening in an entire city.
Once again, this is being used INSIDE the US, by the military, in public airspace.
More advanced programs are being built by DARPA that could soon incorporate hundreds of cameras on a drone.
As we previously reported, the FAA has been working extensively with the military and the government in the ongoing mass expansion of the use of drones in US skies.
This summer it was revealed that the FAA has officially established eight blocks of restricted airspace in North Dakota, in order that the Air National Guard can fly unmanned Predator aircraft and have them aim lasers at ground targets. The airspace will be from 500 to 9,999 feet above sea level and commercial aircraft will be prohibited from using it.
Despite widespread objections from local pilots and concerned citizens, officials have indicated that North Dakota could become the nation’s centre for all military drone training activity, owing to its relatively sparsely-populated skies.
The Department of Defense has been less than forthcoming with information on its use of drones over the US.
Indeed, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), part of the DoD, recently denied operating surveillance drones in two different states, issuing statements that have since been proven to be completely false.
Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, USSOCOM is the Unified Combatant Command charged with overseeing the various Special Operations Commands of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
As reported by the open information advocacy group Public Intelligence:
Following our publication of a map of current and proposed Department of Defense drone activities within the U.S., several journalists with local publications around the country wrote articles regarding drone activities that were listed in their area. David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph wrote about the listing of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington as the site of a USSOCOM drone activity involving small unmanned aerial vehicles including the Raven and Wasp. Corey Pein of the Willamette Week wrote about a planned USSOCOM drone activity in Portland that was listed as utilizing the same types of drones.
Public Intelligence notes that when the reporters contacted USSOCOM for clarification and further details, they were told that the information on the map was inaccurate and that USSOCOM does not operate drone bases in either area.
However, further investigation revealed that activities and exercises using surveillance drones in both areas were indeed carried out under the authority of USSOCOM in 2010 and 2009 respectively.
Furthermore, the use and storage of drones was confirmed by the offices of Senators in both states:
In New Hampshire, a local newspaper has now confirmed with the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte that in 2010, Navy Special Operations Forces utilized areas around Mt. Washington to conduct training operations using Wasp and Raven drones. David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph was further able to confirm via Army Lt. Col. James Gregorythat similar exercises were also conducted in 2009 using the same types of drones.
In Oregon, the Willamette Week was able to confirm with the office of Sen. Ron Wydenthat drones are currently stored in Portland for several military units in the area.
“If the military wishes to counter controversy from the increasing integration of drones into domestic airspace, then it may help to not make statements to press that are inaccurate or disproved by publicly available congressional reports.” the group notes, adding that USSOCOM “denied or misrepresented” its involvement in domestic drone activities and actively sought to shut down any exchange of information on the matter.