Report: Border drones are not cost-effective

Three drones patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border in the Tucson area were responsible for fewer than 2 percent of detentions in the sector, a report said.
By Frances Burns  |  Jan. 7, 2015 at 9:11 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Expanding the use of drones for surveillance on the U.S.-Mexican border would be a waste of money, an internal audit said.

The report released Tuesday by John Roth, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, said that the nine Predator B drones currently in use are grounded much of the time by weather or maintenance problems and are not effective when they are in the air. Roth called the drones "dubious achievers" and suggested the $400 million plan to add to the program could be used more effectively on manned planes and helicopters or ground-based sensors.

A Customs and Border Patrol spokesman said the agency plans to use the money that has been authorized to replace a drone that crashed last year and to upgrade infrastructure so the drones will be more effective, instead of adding to the fleet.

The drone program cost $62.5 million in fiscal 2013, Roth's report estimated. The report suggested the agency has been making the program seem cheaper by omitting ground pilots' salaries and other expenses.

While three drones deployed in the Tucson area were credited with helping to detain 2,200 people crossing the border illegally in 2013, that was fewer than 2 percent of those apprehended in the sector. the report said.

"Notwithstanding the significant investment, we see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border, and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time," Roth said in a statement.

Privacy advocates have been critical of the use of drones.

"People think these kinds of surveillance technologies will be a silver bullet," Jay Stanley, who studies privacy issues for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Los Angeles Times. "Time after time, we see the practical realities of these systems don't live up to the hype."

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