According to a new report released via Freedom of Information Act requests, the Pentagon admits to deploying military spy drones over the U.S..
Issued by Deputy Inspector General for Intelligence and Special Program Assessments, Anthony C. Thomas, the report concedes that unmanned MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones have made non-military flights no more than 20 times in the country between 2006 and 2015.
The report says the Pentagon takes use of military drones on American soil “very seriously” and asserts that the deployments have always been made in compliance with existing laws.
Not outlined in the report are details about the flights but the Pentagon has released a partial list of the missions that have flown in non-military airspace over the country.
The list only includes nine missions flown between 2011 and 2016 – flights used primarily to assist with search and rescue, floods, fires or National Guard exercises.
This leaves privacy and civil liberties advocates to speculate that the omitted flights may have been used by the government for nefarious purposes – like conducting covert surveillance operations to spy on the American people.
The report assures however that “no evidence [has been found] that any DoD entity using [drones]… in support of domestic civil authorities to date has violated or is not in compliance with all statutory, policy or intelligence oversight requirements.”
“Great care is taken by DoD personnel to protect the American public’s civil liberties and privacy rights,” the report says and adds that the drones were not used “any differently from manned platforms with similar capabilities.”
One discrepancy in the report however, is in reference to the Pentagon complying with 2006 guidance established to govern when and whether unmanned aircraft can be used domestically.
The policy allows spy drones to be used for homeland defense purposes in the U.S. and to assist civil authorities, but states that any use of military drones for civil authorities has to be approved by the Secretary of Defense or someone delegated by the secretary to undertake the responsibility.
The report found that defense secretaries have never delegated that power and raises further questions about compliance with the Posse Comitatus Act – which restricts the powers of the federal government to use federal military personnel to enforce domestic policies in the country.
“Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both,” the law says, which was last modified in 1994.