For most this would not come as a surprise that the report by the Pentagon inspector general has been made public under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report reveals that military drones have conducted missions over United States soil fewer than 20 times over the past decade. According to the report, all flights between 2006 and 2015 have been lawful.
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones as they are most commonly known, are built for spying — among other things. They can fly at high or slow speeds, and are able to operate for extended periods of time, and are used by almost all military across the world.
The report itself did not provide any details on the domestic missions. However, Pentagon has publicly posted a partial list of the drone missions in non-military airspace, and also explains the use of the aircraft. The partial list has nine missions that were flown between 2011 and 2016, and were largely assisting with search and rescue, floods, fires or National Guard exercises.
A senior policy analyst for the ACLU, Jay Stanley, told them that it was good news there were no legal violations found, however, the technology is so advanced that it’s possible the laws may require revision.
“Sometimes, new technology changes so rapidly that existing law no longer fits what people think is appropriate,” Stanley said. “It’s important to remember that the American people do find this to be a very, very sensitive topic.”
This report may give some insight into how the military uses their UAS’s; however other federal agencies also own and operate drones. The use of these drones on U.S. soil only surfaced when the then FBI director, Robert Mueller, had testified in front of Congress in 2013, admitting that the bureau had employed spy drones to aid investigations, but in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom.”
Watch a report by USA TODAY:
The Department of Defense (DoD) website states:
“Since 2006, DoD has had very specific and stringent guidance on the domestic use of UAS. On rare occasions, DoD operates UAS domestically in support of a request from Federal or State civilian authorities. DoD only conducts these operations with the approval of the Secretary of Defense.
“This policy direction is set out in the Deputy Secretary of Defense Policy Memorandum 15-002, Guidance for the Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This guidance also states that armed DOD UAS may not be used in the United States except for training, exercises, and testing purposes.”
The report by the inspector general also quoted a military law review article, that said:
“The appetite to use them (spy drones) in the domestic environment to collect airborne imagery continues to grow, as does Congressional and media interest in their deployment.”
Watch RT America report on the inspector general report:
The report also mentions that military units who operate drones had told the inspector general that they would like more opportunities to fly on domestic missions; if for no other reason than to give pilots more experience helping them to improve their skills.
“Multiple units told us that as forces using the UAS capabilities continue to draw down overseas, opportunities for UAS realistic training and use have decreased.”
What is a little troubling is that just before the inspector general report was completed a year ago, Pentagon had issued a new policy governing the use of the spy drones. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, released the memo on the new rules, which governs how the military can use drones in support of local authorities, like police or rescue efforts.
In the new policy, it now requires the defense secretary to approve all domestic spy drone operations. It also includes that unless it is permitted by law and approved by the secretary, drones “may not conduct surveillance on U.S. persons.” It also bans the use of armed drones over the United States for anything other than training and testing.