06/20/2009

Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief10-43: Be Advised...
with Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief

U.S. to increase Predator flights over Canadian border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it will temporarily deploy a Predator B unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to patrol the border along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, “where cigarette and drug smuggling have been a continuing problem,” according to reports.

The aircraft, manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, has been a mainstay of the CIA and U.S. Air Force in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly a decade, and in recent years has also been added to the inventories of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army. In Autumn of 2005, Predator was selected by the Department of Homeland Security as the platform from which border patrol and drug interdiction surveillance above the borders of the United States would be conducted.

Predator had been deployed to Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. in early February 2009 — word of its planned use along the northern border first surfaced several months prior.

The notion of UAVs patrolling American skies is directly referenced in the 9/11 Commission Report, which recommended the use of a wide array of high-tech equipment such as video cameras and ground sensors that detect heat, motion, and metal, to prevent illegal crossings into the United States.

While the focus of the news articles about this new deployment has been about drugs and cigarettes — and there have been some massive drug and contraband busts up in the Northern Tier in recent years — the 9/11 Commission Report was most concerned that the Canadian border could become an entry point for Jihadists and other extremists. A CPB report to Congress last year echoed that apprehension, stating that the agency had “significant concern” that extremists could slip across the northern border.

The remote-controlled aircraft has a 64-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for up to 18 hours at a typical operational altitude of 19,000 feet, is packed with high-tech surveillance equipment including synthetic-aperture radar and electro-optical/infrared sensors, and can capture high-definition and infrared video of anything within a 25-mile radius of its position. Predator reportedly will be based at the U.S. Army's Fort Drum base, and will fly out of Wheeler-Sack Air Field, located about an hour away from Syracuse, N.Y.

For several years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used the Predator aircraft with great success in operations conducted on the Mexican border and in the Caribbean. According to our sources, CPB possesses seven Predators, each of which costs an estimated $10.5 million. With three aircraft reportedly based in Arizona for patrol over the U.S.-Mexican border, at least one known to be on station at the Canadian border, two others in California being converted for use in coastal marine surveillance, there is at least one aircraft unaccounted for — at least according to the open-source intelligence to which PoliceOne has access (including the Associated Press, the Canadian Press, and several aviation-trade publications which have been reporting on this issue).

Who wants to bet that it’s flying the Bosh-Wash corridor? Post your comments below — we want to hear from you.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. In addition to his editorial and managerial responsibilities, Doug has authored more than 750 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association. He is also a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, and is a three-time (2011, 2012, and 2014) Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" Finalist in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

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