Drones Join the War Against Drugs

Technicians stand next to a Heron drone to be used in a surveillance demonstration related to El Salvador's anti-drug operations, at the second military air base in Comalapa. (Photo: Luis Romero / AP)Technicians stand next to a Heron drone to be used in a surveillance demonstration related to El Salvador’s anti-drug operations, at the second military air base in Comalapa. (Photo: Luis Romero / AP)For weeks, U.S. and Salvadoran counternarcotics officials had been watching a boat they suspected was ferrying drugs to and from El Salvador’s Pacific coast. But to be sure, they needed a plane that could stay aloft over the ocean, undetected, long enough to get detailed surveillance imaging. So last month the Defense Department’s Southern Command (Southcom) suggested this would be a good opportunity to help determine whether an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) being tested at El Salvador’s Comalapa Air Base might be the future of drug interdiction.

The results were encouraging. The UAV, or drone — a wide-winged, blue-gray plane aptly called the Heron, which can stay quietly airborne for more than 20 hours and stream high-fidelity, real-time video from as high as 15,000 ft. — provided officials back at Comalapa with enough information to confirm that the boat was indeed a narco-ship (which will probably be busted soon). “This was a historic first,” says Navy commander Kevin Quarderer of Southcom’s Innovation Program, “using a UAV for maritime counterdrug operations in a real-world setting with actual targets.” (Read about how drones are used in Pakistan.)

Indeed, with drones playing an increasing role in U.S. military operations — some 7,000 are in use today, up from just around 100 in the year 2000 — it only stands to reason that drug drones will soon join America’s growing stealth arsenal. That’s especially true at a time when many in Congress are questioning the cost-effectiveness of a drug war (which has poured more than $5 billion in U.S. aid to Colombia alone this decade) that intercepts tons of narcotics each year but rarely seems to put appreciable dents in eradicating crops like coca, the raw material of cocaine, or reducing the flow of marijuana, coke, heroin and methamphetamine into the U.S. If battlefield drones like the Predator can scan and bomb Taliban targets in the mountains of Afghanistan, the logic goes, a similar drone like the Heron should be able to find the “go fast” boats and submarines used by drug cartels in the waters of this hemisphere. (See pictures inside Mexico’s drug tunnels.)

Or, for that matter, clandestine drug-processing labs on land. Drug drones have recently become a more popular idea, thanks in part to the five-year-long drama of three U.S. military contractors who were taken hostage by Marxist guerrillas when their drug surveillance Cessna crashed over the Colombian jungle in 2003. (The three were rescued along with 12 other hostages in a Colombian operation last year.) Using drones could put far fewer agents in that kind of danger.

But for now, the military is focusing on maritime drug drones. A preliminary Southcom report to U.S. legislators like Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, who led a push to get $3 million for Heron testing this year, suggests the drone is ready to take on actual interdiction work, which could result in major savings in drug-surveillance outlays for the Federal Government (though Southcom says it hasn’t calculated them yet). Cochran, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, is convinced the Heron has “operational readiness and potential to provide more persistent and cost-effective intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” says the Senator’s spokeswoman, Margaret McPhillips. (See pictures from the front lines of Mexico’s drug war.)

The program, not coincidentally, could also mean hundreds of new jobs in Cochran’s state: Stark Aerospace, the U.S. subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), which makes the Heron, is based in Mississippi. (Massachusetts-based Raytheon is also involved in the Southcom project.) But Southcom believes the drone, each of which costs about $6.5 million, is a good fit for today’s counterdrug needs.

A key reason is endurance. Manned counterdrug aircraft like the E-2 Hawkeye can stay up only about one-third as long as a drone can. And with drug cartels using harder-to-detect shipment methods like semisubmersibles (jury-rigged submarines), it’s critical to have surveillance craft that can “perch and stare” for longer periods, says P.W. Singer, author of Wired For War and director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. “Drones are best for the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs, so this is a smart move,” says Singer. “We can’t ask counterdrug crews to keep their eyes open for 20 hours over oceans and mangroves.”

Officers like Quarderer also note that the Heron carries a more sophisticated “sensor package” than many conventionally manned aircraft. “The radar package is more capable of detecting low-profile targets like the semisubmersibles,” he says. Or as Singer puts it, “You save the drug war a lot of time and money if you can discern more quickly between speedboats that are full of drug runners or drunk college students.”

The hemisphere’s current political climate also makes drones an especially appealing option. This summer, for example, the U.S. military has to leave the Manta air base in Ecuador — for decades a prime strategic launching pad for drug-surveillance flights — because the county’s left-wing, anti-U.S. government has refused to renew the lease. Comalapa might be a replacement. But the situation has reminded Southcom that it can no longer take Latin American roosts like Manta for granted — and that long-range drones are one of the best ways of making up for their loss. Officers like Quarderer, moreover, insist that the UAVs’ greater ease of use allows the U.S. to work more closely with counterdrug partners like El Salvador.

Still, the Heron isn’t without problems. The Turkish military complained last month about mishaps with the drones it had bought from IAI for counterterrorism surveillance, such as their too often not responding to commands from their human operators on the ground. (IAI rejected the claims but has promised to “rectify” any problems.) U.S. Customs & Border Protection has used Predator drones in recent years to detect illegal immigration, but a series of crashes in recent years has clouded the program.

Quarderer insists that the Heron used in the recent testing project — dubbed Monitoreo, Spanish for monitoring — was virtually problem-free and sported the kind of GPS and automatic-takeoff and -landing technology that enhances safety by minimizing the potential for human error. The only question now seems to be whether Congress will authorize a larger drug-drone fleet, either purchased and operated by the military or leased and contracted out to the aircraft’s makers. (Boeing’s A160 Hummingbird, a helicopter-like drone, is also being considered for overland counterdrug ops.) In the end, the cost savings Washington has found with drones in real war will be hard to resist in the drug war.

– Article from TIME Magazine on June 8, 2009.

Comments

3 Comments

  1. Tom Hamilton on

    I’d give an arm and a leg for any amount of drug traffickers to be captured and arrested. Not only does implementing machines like these help fight the war on drugs, but using them brings about better technological advances. Your extreme douche-baggy liberalism is sick in believing that they’re fascist-capitalists that don’t give a “dman” about us or our kids. I AM a kid and I am fighting for my fellow kids so America isn’t stuffed with lazy piece of shit good for nothings like yourself. Thanks.

  2. Patti on

    Mary, I made some changes where there were capitalizations and also changed a few of the words and added other protections against seed patent and ownership, please add the adjusted copy to your site…we have to be careful with this…this is a legal document we want to make sure the right one gets sent in and all is protected.

    LETTER OF INTENT TO SECEDE

    from
    The Sovereign Nation State of “The State of Conscious Beings” the native state, to which we were born” as we come “United” as the “Marijuana Nation” that we are, As we, Marijuana Nation, were recently Internationally recognized and documented as such, by “NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC” and the VIEWING WORLD.
    http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/explorer/3821/Overview

    to the
    UNITED NATIONS
    and the
    UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION
    PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
    ALL STATE GOVERNORS WITHIN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

    We the People being the Citizens that comprise the government of the Sovereign Nation State of Conscious Beings of the Marijuana Nation hereby submit this Letter of Intent to secede from Statehood in the union of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION..

    Preamble –

    As Conscious Beings and Marijuana Nation, we do not wish break the relationship of Statehood with the union between itself and the 50 Sovereign Nation States under the Constitution for the united States of America..

    Let this be abundantly clear; As Conscious Beings our Intent to Secede is based on the usurpations of power and infringements of Rights, and the putting upon the Citizens of the State of Conscious Beings “legislation and Acts”, “mandates”, “rules”, “regulations”, debt and taxation that are not granted to the Federal Government by the States..

    Letter of Intent to Secede from the UNITED STATE OF AMERICA, CORPORATION

    Be it known to all the several Sovereign Nation States in union with and partial to the Constitution for the united States of America, that the State of Conscious Beings who are United as the Marijuana Nation we are , does herewith issue this Letter of Intent to Secede from participating with or supporting in any way whatsoever the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION..

    WHEREAS, the Ninth Amendment states that ”The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”; and

    WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”; and

    WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution for the united States and no more; and

    WHEREAS, the scope of power defined by the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states; and

    WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment assures that we, the native people and state citizens of the united States of America and each sovereign state in the union of States, now have, and have always had, rights the federal government may not usurp; and

    WHEREAS, the Constitution of the United States, having delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies, and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations, slavery, and no other crimes whatsoever; and

    WHEREAS, all acts of Congress which assume to create, define, or punish crimes, other than those so enumerated in the Constitution are altogether void, and of no force; and that the power to create, define, and punish such other crimes is reserved, and, of right, appertains solely and exclusively to the respective States, each within its own territory; and

    WHEREAS, many federal laws are directly in violation of The Bill or Rights and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, specifically; and

    WHEREAS, Article IV, Section 4 says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”, and

    WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in New York v. United States, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992), that Congress may not commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states; and

    WHEREAS, a number of proposals from previous administrations and some now pending from the present administration and from Congress may further violate the Constitution of the United States; and

    WHEREAS, the General Government has made “laws” and/or may further make “laws” that violate pre-existing Laws and in contradiction of the Constitution; and

    WHEREAS, today, in 2009, the states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government; and

    WHEREAS, the General Government has made Treaties and/or may further make Treaties that violate the Constitution of the united States; and

    WHEREAS, all acts of Congress of the United States which do abridge the Sovereign States’ Rights and/or freedom of the State’s Citizens of the States, are not law, but are altogether void, and of no force; and

    WHEREAS, any Act by the Congress of the United States, Executive Order of the President of the United States of America or Judicial Order by the Judicatories of the United States of America which assumes a power not delegated to the government in the Constitution for the united States of America and/or which serves to diminish the liberty of any of the several States or their State Citizens constitutes a breach-of-contract of Statehood..

    And,

    Acts which would cause such a nullification of the General Government’s authority over any State include, but are not limited to:

    I. Establishing martial law or a state of emergency within one of the States comprising the United States of America without the consent of the legislature of that State.

    II. Requiring involuntary servitude, or governmental service other than a draft during a declared war.

    III. Surrendering any power delegated or not delegated to any corporation or foreign government.

    IV. Any act regarding religion; further limitations on freedom of political speech; or further limitations on freedom of the press.

    V. Further infringements on the right to keep and bear arms including prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition; and

    VI. Should any such act of Congress become law or Executive Order or Judicial Order be put into force, all powers previously delegated to the United States of America by the Constitution for the United States shall revert to the several States individually.

    VII. Allocating the coining of currency or setting the value thereof to any entity other than the US Congress.

    VIII. Restricting the free travel of any State’s Citizen of any State within or between any of the States.

    IX. Restricting tariff/tax free exchange of commerce for any commodity or goods between any of the States.

    NOW THEREFORE, be it known that:

    We the State Citizens (the government) of the “State of Conscious Beings” who have “United” as “Marijuana Nation” , are already recognized and documented as, have the right, and fiduciary duty, and moral obligation to secede from the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION.. We are a Sovereign Nation State of Beings in voluntary union with the 50 States, and have no obligation to abide by the past or continuing acts of treason by the US Congress in sending our State Guard troops to undeclared wars, pay illegal income tax on wages, or abide by or enforce any of the other “legislation” in violation of the Constitution, or the terms of Statehood in the union of the united States of America, and/or in violation with the Constitutions of the 50 States..

    We the State Citizens (government) of the “State of Conscious Beings” find the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION to be in breach-of-contract with the Sovereign Nation States of the united States.
    and,
    We the States Citizens (government) of the “State of Conscious Beings” find, the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION to be in violation of the Constitution for the united States of America, and the powers granted to it by the States;
    and,
    We the States Citizens (government) of the Sovereign Nation State of Conscious Beings demand that the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION be dissolved and return to, Government according to the Constitution for the united States of America, immediately..

    And,

    THAT the State of Conscious Beings of the Internationally Recognized and Documented Marijuana Nation does hereby claim sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.

    THAT this serve as Notice and Demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.

    THAT all compulsory federal legislation which directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding be prohibited or repealed, including but not
    limited to removal or resending of:

    – the Patriot Act. (It is an infringement of the Bill of Rights..}

    – the Victory Act. (It too is an infringement of the Bill of Rights.}

    – the Military Commissions Act of 2006. (It infringes on our right to a fair trial.)

    – the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007. (It federalized the national guard

    – it is unConstitutional to use US military forces against US Citizens, and it is illegal to send our State Guard to duty on foreign soil.)
    We demand the return of the National State Guard in its entirety, immediately..

    – the War on Terrorism, including ALL undeclared Wars. (War can not waged on terrorism – it is a tactic, and all undeclared wars are illegal.)

    – the War on Drugs. {A poorly disguised marketing plan for the Big Pharma and Private and/or Corporate owned Slave Masters, also known as, the Bureau of Prisons Industry and it’s system; it is unConstitutional and illegal; therefor it is only right that our Nations people be freed}

    – any and all requirements of any kind that restrict or attempt to own or control, through genetic patent, any States Citizen or Marijuana Nation citizen, from farming, harvesting, manufacturing or storing their own seed, vegetation or crops for food, substenance and medicine, that could be used to infringe on the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in any manner whatsoever.

    – any and all requirements for International, National, State, or Local ID of any kind that could be used to infringe on the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in any manner whatsoever.

    – income tax on wages of any States Citizen working within any of the 50 States. (It is unConstitutional.)

    – the privately owned Federal Reserve. (It is illegal. Only the Congress can coin, print, and set the value of US currency.)

    And,

    – There is a “preponderance of evidence” that serves as grounds for removal of the President Obama from Office. (Former Vice-President Cheney broke the law by not allowing challenges to the electoral vote and his eligibility; Congress acted illegally by confirming the non-vetted electoral college vote; and the Supreme Court is derelict in not hearing the considerable evidence concerning his ineligibility to be President..

    Therefore, We the State Citizens (government) of the State of Conscious Beings who are “United” as the Sovereign Marijuana Nation that we are, do hereby serve this Letter of Intent to Secede upon cause of breach-of-contract for Statehood, and unconstitutional, unwanted and unwarranted duress and acts of war on a peaceful people, from and due the illegal actions of the Congress and Administration(s) of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CORPORATION, without further notice, or obligation.

    THAT a copy of this resolution be distributed to the President of the United States, the President of the United States Senate, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate of each state’s legislature of the United States of America, and each member of the Congressional Delegation.

    Signed this date: _______________________ on behalf of the State Citizens of the “Sovereign State of Conscious Beings” of the “Sovereign Marijuana Nation” that we are.

    Signed ________________________________
    State Citizen of the “Sovereign State of Conscious Beings” that comprise the government of the “Sovereign Marijuana Nation”

    by:___ Rev. Mary Thomas-Spears___
    State Citizen of the “Sovereign State of Conscious Beings” that comprise the government of the “Sovereign Marijuana Nation”

    by: Patricia Webber
    State Citizen of the Sovereign State of Conscious Beings that comprise the government of the Sovereign Marijuana Nation

  3. indijo on

    All they needed was a good enough excuse to rationalize this and now that they have it we’ll be seeing these robots in the air everywhere. The people that own and operate these things are fascist-capitalists of the very worst kind. They don’t give a dman about people (or your kids) or the effects of drugs on scciety, all they care about is getting a huge government contract that will make them fat for the rest of the ugly greedy lives.