Unlike distant Predator strikes that take place in the hinterland of our geographies real and imagined, there is something that unnerves the majority of people in the U.S. when it comes to the usage of unmanned planes by law enforcement.
But the drones are no doubt coming home, and 2015 will be a watershed year in the U.S. as FAA regulation comes in to force, opening up the skies to drones and the drone “market”. Indeed, the atmosphere is set to be as securitized as much as it is marketized by behemoth defense contractors.
Tom Barry, author of Border Wars, has written this article on the usage of UAVs by police and Custom and Border Patrol agents. What is particularly interesting about his story is the mechanism by which the police are able to procure drone assets. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides grants through its “Urban Areas Security Initiative” (UASI), a program established through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The monies have allowed police and sheriff departments to launch their own drone programs.
According to DHS, UASI “provides funding to address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.”
In 2011 a DHS UASI grant of $258,000 enabled the Montgomery County Sheriffs Office in Texas to purchase a ShadowHawk drone from Vanguard Defense Industries. These grants also enabled the city of Arlington in Texas to purchase two smaller drones. Likewise, Miama relied on DHS funding to purchase its UAV.
Moreover, the DHS is not alone in providing the federal funds for drone deployment in the homeland. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) “criminal-justice assistance grants” have played a key role. Through its National Institute of Justice, the DOJ has been working closely with industry and law enforcement to “develop and evaluate low-cost unmanned aircraft systems.”
In essence, then, federal monies for broad-based, counter-terrorism funding are being used by local law-enforcement agencies for the procurement of unmanned assets. The “intermediaries” here are the massive defense contractors that seek to reap the rewards of eyes in the sky. And a strong “drone caucus” in Congress, provides the political imperative for a perfect storm between capital, technology, and law enforcement – a techno-political tsunami that will likely sweep all opposition in its path.
While the U.S. certainly leads the pack in promoting what Tom Engelhardt calls a “Terminator Planet”, it is by no means alone on the international stage.