The Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law in effect for over a century, says that the military can’t be used for domestic police purposes. It’s not just an administrative violation. It’s a crime:
Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or 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 U.S. Northern Command specifically acknowledges that the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits domestic surveillance except in case of a nuclear emergency, a popular insurrection or the use of weapons of mass destruction:
As required by Title 10 USC, Section 375 the secretary of defense issued Department of Defense Directive 5525.5, which precludes members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps from direct participation in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.
The PCA generally prohibits U.S. military personnel from direct participation in law enforcement activities. Some of those law enforcement activities would include interdicting vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; conducting surveillance, searches, pursuit and seizures; or making arrests on behalf of civilian law enforcement authorities. Prohibiting direct military involvement in law enforcement is in keeping with long-standing U.S. law and policy limiting the military’s role in domestic affairs.
Yet according to Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times, the FBI, the DEA and even local police have been using U.S. military robotic aircraft to assist in law enforcement investigations “in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement.” The Predator robot drones fly two miles above the ground, so they can’t be seen, but they can see you in many ways: with infrared heat sensors, with high-definition radar as well as high-precision optical cameras.
Did you know that there is a multinational trade association for military robot manufacturers, representing thousands of producers of robotic drones in dozens of countries? A year and a half ago that association, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, lobbied Congress for permission to deploy robotic weapons systems domestically. Congress didn’t intervene, but AUVSI has a lot of weight in Washington: it turns out that corporate members of AUVSI.
Despite Congress’ lack of permission, it looks like the military robot lobby got what it wanted. And even though this behavior is a federal crime punishable by prison, there have been no arrests. Do you think there are going to be any arrests?
Of course not. Law enforcement is too busy deploying military robots to arrest itself for deploying military robots. And when they’re not doing that, they’re too busy arresting American citizens for their acts of dissent.
It’s all about priorities.