by Gene Howington
CNN is reporting that re-tasked military drone use by the Border Patrol (under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security) is grossly expensive and of negligible benefit. According to figures derived from a report released on January 6, 2015 by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), using drones for patrolling our borders costs $28,000 per single arrest. In 2013, operating nine (9) drones for this purpose cost taxpayers $62.5 million and resulted in the apprehension of just 2,272 suspects. This accounts for less than 2% of the total arrests by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the area where drones operate. In toto, in its first eight (8) years of operations, the CBP drone program has cost $360 million.
The only difference between these drones and the ones used by the military in operations across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other battle zones is that there are no missiles on board. Read that carefully. “No missiles on board” is not “incapable of carrying missiles”. All of this high end military equipment being shipped to CBP and local police is extremely expensive to maintain as previously noted (“Look out! The 7th Graders have mined the kickball field!”). This is due in part to the equipment’s sophistication as a general rule, but in the case of drones the expense is compounded by the equipment being temperamental and sensitive to weather. The drones are grounded about 80% of the time due to budget issues. All of this expense is to cover the entire southern border with Mexico, right? Wrong. These costs reflect a patrol area of only 170 miles of the 1,993 mile border.
Naturally the boys with the new toys think that looking at the cost effectiveness issue in terms of arrests is a mistake. Maj. Gen. Randolph Alles, assistant commissioner of CBP, runs the program. He justifies the cost by saying the drones a larger picture of the border, what he euphemistically calls “domain awareness.” According to CNN, Alles added: “‘We could never see the border in the same way we could before we got these …’ adding the information received by the drones is invaluable to agents on the ground. Alles also says in 2013, the arrests by drone brought in $66,000 per hour of contraband seizures.” $62.5 million to get $66,000 worth of contraband sure seems like an efficient use of tax dollars and who cares how many innocent civilians were spied upon during the process, eh?
The bean counters were less exhuberent in their praise of the drone program:
Inspector General John Roth says while the drones do contribute to overall border security, Customs hasn’t “put any measurements in place as to whether it’s effective; the measurements we saw show that in fact it’s not effective.”
Maj. Gen. Alles says he doesn’t want any more drones until he can prove the program works at every level but that doesn’t seem to factor in to longterm plans circulating from both Republican and Democratic supporters of the drone program to buy more with the goal of and having continuous air coverage. It should be a real winning proposition . . . for the balance sheets of drone manufactures.