It seems that the militarization of police forces in the United States is taking giant leaps forward with military robots and spy satellites on the newest toy list. While the militarization is not new – it has been going on since the “war on drugs” started – the use of more sophisticated military technology is new.
Two recent articles captured my attention. The first related to the use of spy satellites by police. The second was the marketing of the new robot weapons platforms to police.
Each of these developments is alarming in its own way. However, since police are supposed to keep the peace, and the military is supposed to pacify using deadly force, the use of something like a weapons platform by police is beyond unnerving. In fact, it was once illegal to transfer military technology to local police forces. But … as the saying goes … 9/11 changed everything.
The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.(Wa. Post)
Beyond the fact that these “spy” satellites are largely used by the military, why are they being pointed into the United States? Isn’t this an invasion of privacy? What are the controls for police looking into buildings and underground?
These are not pictures like GoogleEarth on steroids. These are real time, controllable target and focus images.
But spy satellites offer much greater resolution and provide images in real time, said Jeffrey T. Richelson, an expert on space-based surveillance and a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington.
“You also can get more coverage more often,” Richelson said. “These satellites will cover during the course of their orbits the entire United States. They will be operating 24 hours a day and using infrared cameras at night.”
Other nonvisual capabilities can be provided by aircraft-based sensors, which include ground-penetrating radar and highly sensitive detectors that can sense electromagnetic activity, radioactivity or traces of chemicals, military experts said. Such radar can be used to find objects hidden in buildings or bunkers.
Apparently the plan was originally authorized by Mike McConnell (Director of National Intelligence) through Michael Chertoff (head of Homeland Security). So nice to know they “play well” together. The plan creates yet another agency within Homeland Security – the National Applications Office. (Whatever happened to the Republican’s love of “small government?) Conveniently, the program will have oversight from “officials” in both Homeland Security and the office of DNI. What no warrants necessary to take a peek inside anyone’s house?
One would assume that the “National Applications Office” will be dealing with more “applications” than letting local police forces use spy satellites. At the head of “applications” may be all the new (warrantless) surveillance powers that Congress just gave the Bush Administration (e.g. collection of business records, physical searches, and possible narrowing of the scope of electronic surveillance necessitating a FISA warrant).
(Picture and description from Foster-Miller – the manufacturers of the Talon: “A soldier from the 752nd EOD Co. places a block of C4 explosive in the gripper of a TALON robot in Fallujah.)
Now. What about those robots? The equipment being marketed to police departments is very similar to the robot platforms that were put in use by the military in Iraq in 2005. These robots are designed for urban environments and may be deployed for reconnaissance, with an assortment of weapons, or to deploy explosives (as in the picture), or for bomb disposal. The robots are remotely controlled from several thousand feet away. They cost about $230,000 a piece, but that can vary depending on how it is outfitted. The Talon is yet another “force magnifier” technology. The U.S. military strategy of the future seems to be (in part) to use remote operators of lethal arms. For those forces on the ground, they will be “modified” in a variety of ways to either be “super soldiers,” or the meld with the equipment they are operating.
Move that scenario into a domestic police force. The image certainly gives me the chills.
It is critical to point out that police and soldiers are not interchangeable.
U.S. troops have become “warfighters” in most of the literature. What shall we call the police of the future? Will they also be “warfighters”? Or perhaps “civilian controllers.”
We live in a time of both erosion of rights and Constitutional protections on the one hand, and the advancement of technological, governmental and corporate intrusion on the other hand. Increasingly the line between military and police, and the jurisdiction of the U.S. military are intentionally being blurred. The basis of all of it is fear. We are being “protected” into a police state.
Global Security. TALON Small Mobile Robot. Good description of the Talon.
Gizmag. Talon robot soldiers shipped to Iraq.
David Crane. Defense Review. Armed/Weaponized Infantry Robots for Urban Warfare and Counterinsurgency Ops