from the introducing-the-military's-new-domestic-routes... dept
It's amazing how much stuff government agencies "take seriously" and claim they're handling in accordance to all sorts of secret, but presumably strict, guidelines… once their actions have been exposed.
The Pentagon has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade, but the flights have been rare and lawful, according to a new report.The thing is, the report says there's actually no existing laws that specifically govern military drone flights over US territory.
The report by a Pentagon inspector general, made public under a Freedom of Information Act request, said spy drones on non-military missions have occurred fewer than 20 times between 2006 and 2015 and always in compliance with existing law.
There are various controlling federal statutes that define what the DoD is authorized to provide to domestic civil authorities. They include Title 10, Title 32, Title 42, and Title 50. There are no federal statutes that specifically address the employment of the capability provided by a DoD UAS if requested by domestic civil authorities.So, while the Defense Department's Inspector General found it to be compliant with all "laws, regulations and national policies" in deploying its drones domestically, its agencies are really mostly following their own internal guidelines when they do so.
Therefore, DoD and the Military Services have developed a policy framework for the domestic use of the UAS capability in accordance with the authorities granted for generic defense support. The framework also covers executive level policies that were developed to protect fully the legal rights of all United States persons, including freedoms, civil liberties, and privacy rights guaranteed by Federal law.The report also says drone usage is governed by Executive Order 12333, which is basically like saying the Pentagon is free to cash in its blank domestic surveillance check from the administration whenever it sees fit.
On the plus side, the CIA's drones are only being deployed about twice a year. This indicates it does take its internal restrictions seriously -- far more seriously than other government entities.
"A U.S. Marine Corp UAS unit told us that once each month their wing hosts a community leadership program where local politicians are invited to view and learn about the capabilities of the various aircraft on base," says the report, which comes from the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office. "During one such event, a local mayor requested UAS support to look for potholes in the area.”That's the problem with giving the local boys an eyeful of military technology. Their eyes go all pinwheely and they start envisioning the most mundane uses for billions of dollars of warfighting equipment. This mayor sees the DoD providing logistical support for the city's pothole patrol. Law enforcement agencies see armored vehicles and assault rifles as being the crucial elements missing from their warrant service duties.
Fortunately, the Marine Corp. -- which owned this particular drone -- found the request did not make "operational sense." One assumes the report was written with eyes perpetually rolling, something that had been restrained with great difficulty ever since the mayor popped the question.
On the other hand, DoD elements do have a legitimate issue with the restrictions -- internal and otherwise -- imposed on domestic drone usage. How are operators supposed to train if they're not allowed to do so on American soil?
Multiple units told us that as forces using UAS capabilities continue to draw down overseas, opportunities for UAS realistic training and use have decreased. UAS unit commanders explained that providing UAS support to civil authorities could yield more realistic training opportunities and increase operational readiness. However, multiple commanders also stated that as a result of the restrictive approval processes for domestic UAS use, policy confusion, and Internal Service hesitations, potential training opportunities are missed.Live combat zones in foreign nations are probably not the best place for on-the-job training. Every other aspect of military training is largely performed on US military bases. Not so with the DoD's drones, according to the OIG's report. Unfortunately, the office has no idea what to do about it other than recommend the DoD "address the concerns" in the future.
Each component is operating under its own internal guidelines according to the report, which means the DoD has yet to craft a universal policy for domestic drone deployment. This is also listed under the suggested fixes by the OIG. But overall, the Inspector General feels confident the DoD and its components are doing their best to limit use of drones to those clearly aligned with existing laws and policies -- basically following the same rules governing the use of manned military aircraft for domestic surveillance.