The Internet erupted with some pretty shocking news yesterday: that the police were using drones to find wanted cop-killer Christopher Dorner. If true, it would be another odd turn in this massive manhunt, but despite claims to the contrary, he wouldn't be the first human target on American soil.
London's Express newspaper reported that "Dorner has become the first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil," adding that "The thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack." That's naturally led to thoughts of those drones that we're already using to kill "bad" U.S. citizens abroad coming stateside and killing American citizens on American soil, which is pretty terrifying considering how upset everyone was over the very vague leaked Justice Department memo which didn't do a very good job of detailing the protocol of sending drones after United States citizens. Cue the Twitter shock and media panic, even though the LAPD has not explicitly confirmed (or denied) that drones are in the skies over Los Angeles.
We aren't sure if this is going to make you feel better, but it's worth noting that Dorner wouldn't be the "first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil." In June 2011, a North Dakota county sheriff used a Predator B drone to find three armed men who were under suspicion for stealing six cows. (Yes, cows). "As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed," reported The Los Angeles Times's Brian Bennett, who added:
But that was just the start. Local police say they have used two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly at least two dozen surveillance flights since June. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have used Predators for other domestic investigations, officials said.
So Dorner wouldn't be the first criminal target and the Department of Homeland Security has loaned out drones to local law enforcement as part of a program last August. Now, if the drones were going to target Dorner and fire upon him, yes, that'd be a shocking, crazy first. We're just getting used to the fact that the Justice Department said it only targets "senior operational leaders" of al Qaeda, or the very vague "an associated force" when it employs drones overseas.
That sort of all brings us back to the Express's reporting. Do they really mean Dorner will be the first fired-upon target? We're not sure, but we do know they'd be factually incorrect if they meant that Dorner was the first criminal on U.S. soil that necessitated the use of drones. And as blogger Parker Higgins points out, the Express's reporting seems to be a bit dodgy. Higgins asks, "[H]ow did a tiny paper in the United Kingdom get such a juicy source more than 10,000 miles away in the Los Angeles police department?"
Regardless of that answer, if we are using drones to find Christopher Dorner let's hope they aren't of the armed variety as that would completely complicate the "innocent until proven guilty" and "right to a fair trial" rights afforded to all Americans. And secondly, let's hope these drones are much better than the actual humans who have mistakenly spotted Dorner throughout California.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.