16:47 GMT07 August 2020
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    Democrats on the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform are calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to explain its use of drones and other federal government resources to monitor protests in honor of the late George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    “We write with grave concern about the use of Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
    resources - including drones and armed uniformed officers - to surveil and intimidate peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, in a letter to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on June 5.

    The lawmakers detailed that one specific use of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Predator drone on May 29 may have violated federal law due to its journey exceeding the bounds of the CBP’s jurisdiction.

    Investigative reporter Jason Paladino, of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, was the first to call attention to the government drone’s flight path. Sputnik soon after confirmed via the ADB-S Exchange that the Predator, entitled “CBP104,” had circled Minneapolis in a hexagonal path before departing the state.

    Flight path of CBP104 on May 29, 2020, as shown by the ADB-S Exchange.
    Sputnik Screenshot
    Flight path of "CBP104" on May 29, 2020, as shown by the ADB-S Exchange.

    Being that it was just four days after Floyd was killed by police, many netizens feared the drone could possibly be the beginning of a government response to the early riots. The deployment also came alongside US President Donald Trump’s ominous tweet saying that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which was later flagged by Twitter for “glorifying violence.”

    Hours after the fact, the CBP published a statement claiming the drone was deployed from North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base to "provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners in Minneapolis."

    However, "[a]fter arriving into the Minneapolis airspace, the requesting agency determined that the aircraft was no longer needed for operational awareness and departed back to Grand Forks,” the statement added.

    Clearly dissatisfied with the agency’s statement on the matter, lawmakers requested that the DHS, the CBP’s parent agency, provide them with a number of details on the mission - including whether full-motion video of protesters was recorded and if facial recognition software was utilized by the aircraft.

    They also noted that the recent confirmation of CBP officers being deployed across the country had raised concerns.

    “This news is particularly alarming given that, for almost a year, the Committee has been investigating racist, sexist, and xenophobic comments made by CBP employees in secret Facebook groups,” the lawmakers asserted. “CBP has been obstructing the Committee’s investigation, and CBP employees who made inappropriate and threatening comments may still be on the job and deployed to silence protesters exercising their Constitutional rights.”

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    Tags:
    US House of Representatives, Congress, Predator Drone, Donald Trump, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DHS, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
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