Predator drones are being used in domestic law enforcement cases, raising concerns that the aircraft are being deployed beyond the missions that Congress originally authorized them for, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
The Times said a North Dakota county sheriff asked federal authorities to employ a drone for surveillance in a standoff with three men on a large farm on June 23, resulting in the first known arrests of U.S. citizens involving the spy planes in domestic cases.
Since then, the Times said, two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base have flown at least two dozen surveillance flights for local police. The Times reported that the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration have also used Predator drones in domestic investigations.
"We don't use [drones] on every call out," Bill Macki, head of the police SWAT team in Grand Forks told the Times.
Congress authorized the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to buy unarmed Predators in 2005, the Times said, to search for illegal immigrants and smugglers on the country's northern and southwestern borders.
The Times reported that officials in charge of the fleet said they have authority to perform such missions through congressional budget requests that cite "interior law enforcement support."
But former California Rep. Jane Harman, who sat on the House homeland security intelligence subcommittee when the drone program was authorized, told the Times that no one discussed using drones to help local police in basic work.