Last week's mission was just another night out for a Predator program that is playing a larger role in border security as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection adds to its force of unmanned aircraft. The agency received its second Predator B aircraft in Texas last month and will add its sixth overall on the Southwest border when another is based in Arizona by the end of the year.
The aircraft are credited with apprehending more than 7,500 people since they were deployed six years ago. They bring the latest in military technology to one of the oldest cat-and-mouse pursuits in the country. But on the border, even sophisticated devices struggle with the weather and conditions — just as humans do. ...
The Predators, which are being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were introduced on the border in 2005, the year before Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on his country's drug gangs and violence along the border exploded. Since then, the aircraft have logged more than 10,000 flight hours and aided in intercepting 46,600 pounds (21,100 kilograms) of illegal drugs.
"It's like any other law enforcement platform," said Lothar Eckardt, director of the Office of Air and Marine's Predator operation housed at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. "No different than a helicopter." [Emphasis added]
I attributed part of my discomfort to the fact that I wasn't aware that the drones were being used for so long. I doubt there was any cover-up, especially since several congress critters from states along the border have been working hard to get additional Predators assigned to their states and the Mexican government has gone along with their use, even over Mexican territory. I suppose I just missed the import of the news that what we have come to see as a battlefield tool is now flying over the US and Mexico.
And that leads to another source of uneasiness: the use of a weapon developed by the Pentagon for use in war. I've never been happy with the term "War on Drugs" for what I consider to be a foolish policy. The euphemism has led and continues to lead to an expensive and mostly failed attempt to control the use of "illegal" drugs in this country. It also serves to excuse blatant incursions on civil liberties. That said, however, I also admit that the violent Mexican drug cartels are wreaking havoc on both sides of the border. It's just that our military's involvement in the program is worrisome.
There is no indication that the drones being used along the border have been loaded with missiles, but they could be. That would be the next logical step. And that takes the program beyond just another Defense Department initiative that benefits the civilian population. This is not at all like the internet (originally designed for the Pentagon), nor even the GPS satellites which run our smart phones and our on-board driving directions systems.
And, of course, a drone is not "just like a helicopter." It is a lot more expensive, even without the missile. Surely there are better uses for the millions now being spent on these fancy "eyes."
But nobody appears to mind, especially given the amount of marijuana and cocaine, not to mention "illegals", being captured. I suppose that outrage won't come until a drone is loaded with weaponry and takes out a couple of people breaching our sanctified border to look for work, if then.
I'm still uneasy.
Labels: Drug War