I mean, come on. You knew it had to happen, didn’t you? In a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, wrested from the bowels of the secrecy/surveillance state (thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation), the Customs and Border Protection agency suggests arming their small fleet of surveillance drones. The purpose: to “immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest, along the U.S.-Mexican border. Those arms would, of course, be “non-lethal” in nature. It’s all so civilized. Kinda like the Star Trek folks putting their phasers on “stun,” not kill. And count on it, sooner or later it will happen. And then, of course, the lethal weapons will follow. Otherwise, how in the world could we track and eliminate terrorists in “the homeland” efficiently?
All of this comes under the heading of self-fulfilling prophecy. You create and take to your battle zones a wonder weapon that, according to the promotional materials, will make the targeting of human beings so surgically precise it might even end the war on terror as we know it. (Forget the fact that, in the field, drones turn out, according to the latest military study of Afghanistan, to be far less precise than manned aircraft if you’re measuring by how many civilians are knocked off, how much “collateral damage” is done.) Anyway, you use that weapon ever more profligately on distant battlefields in distant wars. You come to rely on it, even if it doesn’t exactly work as advertised. And then, like the soldiers you sent into the same war zones (who didn’t exactly work as advertised either), the weaponry begins to come home.
Drones? You can rant about them, write about them, organize against them, try to stop them from flying over your hometown. And still, like the implacable Terminators of film fame, they will arrive in “the homeland.” Will? Have. As FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently, the Bureau is already using them. In a coda meant to relieve us all of drone anxiety, however, he pointed out that it’s employing them “in a very, very minimal way and very seldom… we have very few.” And, oh yes, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are testing drones for similar use. Also undoubtedly very minimally and very few, so don’t fret (for now). As for police departments wielding armed drones, count on that, too, sooner or later.
In the meantime, those Border Patrol types, according to the New York Times, have been oh-so-happy to lend their military-grade Predator B drones to, among others, the North Dakota Army National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Forest Service. In 2012, they loaned their robotic planes out 250 times.
And these days, drones are the least of it. Lots of stuff is “coming home.” As Todd Miller, who covers the U.S. borderlands for TomDispatch, makes clear, sometimes you just have to change the label on the package to suddenly find reality staring you in the face. Call it “immigration reform” and it looks like you’re dealing with enormous numbers of human beings in this country illegally. Think of it as “surveillance reform” and you’ll see that, as Miller points out, we’re using our borderlands and those undocumented migrants as an excuse to build, experiment with, and test out a new kind of surveillance state, drones included. And count on it, too: one of these days, maybe tomorrow, some version of that surveillance state will make it to your hometown, no matter how far you are from any border. Tom
Creating a Military-Industrial-Immigration Complex
How to Turn the U.S.-Mexican Border into a War Zone
By Todd Miller
The first thing I did at the Border Security Expo in Phoenix this March was climb the brown “explosion-resistant” tower, 30 feet high and 10 feet wide, directly in the center of the spacious room that holds this annual trade show. From a platform where, assumedly, a border guard would stand, you could take in the constellation of small booths offering the surveillance industry’s finest products, including a staggering multitude of ways to monitor, chase, capture, or even kill people, thanks to modernistic arrays of cameras and sensors, up-armored jeeps, the latest in guns, and even surveillance balloons.
Although at the time, headlines in the Southwest emphasized potential cuts to future border-security budgets thanks to Congress’s “sequester,” the vast Phoenix Convention Center hall — where the defense and security industries strut their stuff for law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — told quite a different story. Clearly, the expanding global industry of border security wasn’t about to go anywhere. It was as if the milling crowds of business people, government officials, and Border Patrol agents sensed that they were about to be truly in the money thanks to “immigration reform,” no matter what version of it did or didn’t pass Congress. And it looks like they were absolutely right.
All around me in that tower were poster-sized fiery photos demonstrating ways it could help thwart massive attacks and fireball-style explosions. A border like the one just over 100 miles away between the United States and Mexico, it seemed to say, was not so much a place that divided people in situations of unprecedented global inequality, but a site of constant war-like danger.