Saturday, May 15, 2010

Droning On

There are Big Brotherish initiatives I worry about and some that bother me less, not because I don't resent the government intrusion but because I doubt the competence of the government to successfully act on the information to ever meaningfully infringe on personal liberties.

So, for example, I dislike red-light cameras for establishing a for-profit surveillance network along transportation paths that people use every day and think their expansion is worth fighting. By contrast, I considered Governor Perry's border cams a bad joke and assumed nearly from the beginning that they'd be scrapped after a while because they don't really work.

The latter category is where I'd put my level of concern over the use of unarmed Predator Drones to monitor the border. Yes, it's a gigantic waste of time and taxpayer dollars, but from a civil liberties perspective, pointlessness is a plus. Drones only work if there are boots on the ground to follow up on what the drone sees in real time. Cameras aren't much use for clogging up a porous border - either on a stationary pole or a moving plane - unless you consider it a great success to obtain pictures from on high of one's ongoing failure.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, a commenter pointed out earlier, unarmed drones are used to give tactical information to commanders during strategic actions. But that's not what's being proposed here. Politicians are pretending that technology can replace manpower and that simply having a drone flying overhead will make up for the fact that there's nobody actually there to stop people crossing the river, scaling the wall, etc. at every cow pasture and grapefruit orchard along the Rio Grande, the border segment of which is 1,254 miles long.

Let's face it: You could hire enough border patrol to hold hands from El Paso to Brownsville like a giant game of Red Rover and it still would do nothing to stop the murders in Juarez or corruption at the checkpoints.

I tend to doubt there will be a great return on investment for this eye in the sky. Gov. Perry predicted the $4 million spent on stationary border cams would result in 1,200 arrests by now; in reality the number was 26, at a cost of $153,800 per arrest. There's no reason to suspect drones will achieve a better outcome. If history is any guide, the various agencies will never be able to cooperate in a timely fashion and in practice it will be a big waste of time and money.

So do I like the use of unmanned drones? Not particularly. Do I think it will be effective? No, I think it's a boondoggle launched mainly for show and as an excuse to buy a few extra pieces of military hardware from somebody's campaign contributor. However, I take a sort of perverted comfort in my belief that this unworkable foolishness will likely fail under its own weight in a year or three, ending up far more oppressive to taxpayers than to anyone's personal freedoms, or certainly to the coyotes or the drug cartels.

MORE: Perhaps I spoke too soon of taking "perverted comfort." Now we learn Texas may get a second drone to patrol the (much more populous) Gulf coast, and that the Obama Administration plans to "complete [a] network of the unmanned planes all along the border by 2015."


Anonymous said...

Grits, I'm glad you may be concerned about drones patrolling after all. There are plenty of "boots on the ground" just visit any border city or area. No doubt more can be found. If the government wants to coordinate the two, to look for people crossing, they will. If they want to use this for general surveillance, they will. IMO it is something to be concerned about.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree to an extent, but the experience with stationary cameras sorta speaks for itself. Certainly it's a bigger concern to the extent it justifies their use more broadly.

Mostly what the drone will see is lots of nothing, during which time one presumes those boots on the ground actually have other job tasks to perform. I mean, I'm agin it, but what do you do about it? Vote R or D? Both parties are for it!

Anonymous said...

I think they'll "see" what they want to see - that's part of the problem, who is the target? The boots on the ground would love to go after a target.

As far as "D or R" goes, you're right. First, that's the danger of involving the military - the "military complex" is sooo big. Secondly, we seem to be represented less and less by either party. However, still, the only thing that seems to affect either party is the people.

john said...

Any promise of additional gear or guards is primarily to stall until the fall elections. You may recall Bush promised a fence, money, troops. He sent Nat. Guards without ammo awhile, then took that back. Some little pieces of fence were put up, so maybe see who was the contractor(s).
The pending summer amnesty will engage 30-50 million temporary Democratic voters. Then the next flood will come await their turn. Who was it that said doing the same thing and expecting a different result was nuts. Did Einstein ever vote? Media and electronic voting ensure voting can't fix this.

R. Shackleford said...

The feds have a history of getting a toehold in one area, and then expanding it to include lots of other ludicrous and barely connected areas. Even if it collapses under it's own stupidity, the precedent will still be there for some jerk to use as a vehicle for more infringement of our civil liberties. Give 'em an inch, and they take a mile.

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