RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Ackerman reports: "As long as the Air Force pinky-swears it didn't mean to, its drone fleet can keep tabs on the movements of Americans, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. And it can hold data on them for 90 days - studying it to see if the people it accidentally spied upon are actually legitimate targets of domestic surveillance."

This drone may have collected data on you. (photo: US Air Force)
This drone may have collected data on you. (photo: US Air Force)

Air Force Drones Can Now (Accidentally) Spy on You

By Spencer Ackerman, Wired

12 May 12


s long as the Air Force pinky-swears it didn't mean to, its drone fleet can keep tabs on the movements of Americans, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. And it can hold data on them for 90 days - studying it to see if the people it accidentally spied upon are actually legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.

The Air Force, like the rest of the military and the CIA, isn't supposed to conduct "nonconsensual surveillance" on Americans domestically, according to an Apr. 23 instruction from the flying service. But should the drones taking off over American soil accidentally keep their cameras rolling and their sensors engaged, well … that's a different story.

"Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent," reads the instruction (.pdf), unearthed by the secrecy scholar Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. That kind of "incidental" spying won't be immediately purged, however. The Air Force has "a period not to exceed 90 days" to get rid of it - while it determines "whether that information may be collected under the provisions" of a Pentagon directive that authorizes limited domestic spying.

In other words, if an Air Force drone accidentally spies on an American citizen, the Air Force will have three months to figure out if it was legally allowed to put that person under surveillance in the first place.

Not all domestic drone surveillance is that ominous. "Air Force components may, at times, require newly collected or archived domestic imagery to perform certain missions," the Air Force concluded. Acceptable surveillance includes flying drones over natural disasters; studying environmental changes; or keeping tabs above a domestic military base. Even those missions, however, raise "policy and legal concerns that require careful consideration, analysis and coordination with legal counsel."

The potential trouble with those local intelligence missions is once the drones' powerful sensors and cameras sweep up imagery and other data from Americans nearby, the Air Force won't simply erase the tapes. It'll start analyzing whether the people it's recorded are, among other things, "persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage, in international terrorist or international narcotics activities." Suddenly, accidental spying provides an entrance point into deliberate investigations, all done without a warrant.

And it doesn't stop with the Air Force. "U.S. person information in the possession of an Air Force intelligence component may be disseminated pursuant to law, a court order," or the Pentagon directive that governs acceptable domestic surveillance. So what begins as a drone flight over, say, a national park to spot forest fires could end up with a dossier on campers getting passed on to law enforcement.

All this is sure to spark a greater debate about the use of drones and other military surveillance migrating from the warzones of Iraq and Afghanistan back home. The Department of Homeland Security - which is lukewarm on its fleet of spy drones - is expanding its use of powerful, military-grade camera systems. And police departments across the country are beginning to buy and fly drones from the military. Now the Air Force's powerful spy tools could creep into your backyard in a different way.

There's an irony here. The directive is actually designed to make sure that Air Force personnel involved in surveillance don't start spying on their fellow citizens. It instructs that "Questionable Intelligence Activities … that may violate the law, any executive order or Presidential directive" have to be reported immediately up the chain of command. But what's most questionable might be the kind of local spying the Air Force considers legit. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+4 # phantomww 2012-05-12 09:53
Now how can this be under Obama's term? After all, doesn't he support the 99%? Didn't he roll back the Patriot Act? (NO)
Didnt he close GITMO like he promised? (NO). Did he kill americans without due process? (YES). Oh wait, HE is due process, how could I forget. And progressives just keep lining up to support him and his dictates er I meant to say executive order.
+6 # RMDC 2012-05-12 16:08
Obama has nothing to do with the military or CIA. There must have been some ultimatum delivered to him along the lines of "boy, if you think you have any thing to say about military or CIA operations we will kill you. Remember JFK."

Obama just goes along with whatever the Pentagon does. He never questions them, he never even bothers to notice what they do.

The US is a military dictatorship. Most of the time we don't notice it because Americans are so compliant and docile. But we all know if we tried to challenge the Pentagon, we'd be crushed in a hail of bullets and bombs.
+1 # Majikman 2012-05-12 20:58
RMDC, you are so spot on. The only hope of containment is to shut off their funds. Fat chance of that happening with the human garbage in congress.
+3 # John Locke 2012-05-13 09:45
RMDC: Really? I thought Obama was in control of all government agencies! Are you saying that The CIA and Military complex are not overseen by Obama?

In that case we have a serious issue of Democracy... and why does the CIA and pentagon report to him?
-3 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-12 11:56
What this si the first time we are apied on?
We are spied on every day by the Paranoid schizo unless you have something to hide do you really care? Nope

spy away and remember you are also spied on by more paranoiac people..enjoy that thought

Oh bitch all you want OB is not in a Dictator role....Congres s and Senate, Military have a lot to do with what goes on including the Corporations... would I love him to shut DC down sure I hope one day to see it. But this crap has been going on for longer than that man has been on this earth....want change do something except your whinnnnnning
+2 # John Locke 2012-05-13 09:49
KittatinyHawk: Maybe you don't believe in the Constitution, But I DO! and unless there is a Search warrent the government has no right to spy on me...Oh I forgot Obama did away with the 4th Amendment with NDAA....this thinking is a perfect example of NAZI thinking... you were born too late to be a good Nazi...
0 # Annakha 2012-05-12 14:28
This has nothing to do with Obama. It is standing policy that has existed for decades. It is governed by NSA USSID 18:

DoD 5240.1-R, Procedures Governing the Activities of DoD Intelligence Components That Affect United States Persons:

And Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Foreign Intelligence Collection and Foreign Counterintellig ence Investigations:

It covers inadvertent or incidental collection against US Persons. When a valid target is being collected on sometimes a US Person may be in the area. The collecting agency has 90 days to figure out what is valid intelligence of the collected target and what is invalid US Person information. If the collecting agency violates the 90 day limit they get in shit tons of trouble.

Again this has nothing to do with Obama or the patriot act. This is our constitutional rights being protected.
+6 # Doubter 2012-05-12 18:46
Damn it! I gave you a plus before I read your last paragraph - I can only hope you were being facetious or ironic.
+2 # John Locke 2012-05-13 09:53
Annakha: I understand, according to you we have a right to be spied on!

I disagree, and this is NO accident!

This government has become so paranoid about a revolution, we are spied on from our own satellites!
+3 # Stephanie Remington 2012-05-13 19:02
The "accidental" spying will be followed by "accidentally" neglecting to purge the files after 90 days.
0 # jayjay 2012-05-13 21:54
First of all, it seems the CIA is running foreign policy more and more. Secondly, while the CIA is banned from surveilling U.S. citizens inside the U.S., it is not banned from surveiling foreigners in our country. So beware since if you happen to be a citizen but "in the way," then it's open season for the CIA. It;s sort of like you become "collateral damage" in your own country.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.