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Rick Perry: Use Predators to track illegal drug traffic on U.S. border

August 16, 2011 |  3:28 pm

Predator Drone flight over Southern California

Two themes have already emerged in the still-early 2012 presidential contest:

Republicans are running against Washington and President Obama is running against part of Washington, the Congress that gave him his early legislative achievements.

The newest entrant to the GOP race is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who touched on one of the most emotional and volatile issues sitting on the nation's debate table: border security, illegal drugs from Mexico and illegal immigrants.

In his announcement speech in South Carolina on Saturday, Perry said:

America’s standing in the world is in peril, not only because of disastrous economic policies, but from the incoherent muddle that they call foreign policy. Our president has insulted our friends and he’s encouraged our enemies, thumbing his nose at traditional allies like Israel.

He seeks to dictate new borders for the Middle East and the oldest democracy there, Israel, while he is an abject failure in his constitutional duty to protect our borders in the United States.

And the nation's longest-serving governor waved his right hand toward Mexico as he said it before a national TV audience and an enthusiastic crowd of conservative online writers at the RedState Gathering.

Now comes word that the border-state governor thinks as long as the U.S. is using unmanned aircraft so effectively in Afghanistan and Pakistan, why not use the same Air Force surveillance assets to protect the homeland?

The feds, former Air Force pilot Perry told a campaign gathering in New Hampshire, should use unarmed Predator drones to monitor the flow of illegal drugs coming from Mexico. Predators can fly for up to 20 hours undetected and are equipped with sophisticated video and tracking technology.

We know that there are Predator drones being flown for practice every day because we're seeing them; we're preparing these young people to fly missions in these war zones that we have. But some of those, they have all the equipment, they're obviously unarmed, they've got the downward-looking radar, they've got the ability to do night work and through clouds.

Why not be flying those missions and using (that) real-time information to help our law enforcement?

Such double use of military assets is not unprecedented, using training flight hours for real-time law enforcement work.

National Guard helicopter pilots, who need to log regular flight hours each month to maintain proficiency, were for a time tasked to do that over national parks. There, they'd scout for illegal drug operations using pockets of those vast public acreages as free farm land for marijuana growing. Some were well-guarded and even mined against poachers and authorities.

The Customs and Border Protection arm of the Department of Homeland Security says on its website it has been using unmanned aerial craft for several years, although the agency is vague on the crafts' specific missions other than "support of disaster relief efforts."

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times (A California National Guard chase plane monitors a Predator  flight over populous Southern California.)

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