Press Room: Press Releases

Center for International Policy Releases Major New Report on Homeland Drones


April 23, 2012

Contact Tom Barry, Director of CIP’s TransBorder Project, at


 Immigration reform proponents in Congress advocate pumping billions of dollars of new DHS spending into a border security strategy that is already overly reliant on dysfunctional high-tech surveillance. Drones Over the Homeland (PDF | HTML) raises questions about the wisdom of linking immigration- reform bills to high-tech surveillance programs – as both the White House and Senate have proposed.

Drones Over the Homeland complements another CIP policy report, Fallacies of High-Tech Fixes for Border Security, which examines the history of high-tech boondoggles in border control. Both reports demonstrate how the Department of Homeland Security has lost its policy compass, lacks strategic focus and fails to even define what it means by border security. Author Tom Barry, senior policy analyst and director of the TransBorder Project, exposes how the White House and Congress poorly serve the interests of both citizens and immigrants by tying immigration reform to strengthening misguided border security campaigns.

“Fixing a broken immigration policy should not entail ‘beefing up’ a badly broken border security policy,” says Barry. “Instead, Congress and the White House should undertake a major overhaul of the flawed border security system – especially its monumentally failing high-tech operations – rather than pour more money into ineffective, unfocused and unaccountable border security programs.”

Drones Over the Homeland reveals the key role of the Defense Department in expanding the presence of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at home.

Created following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with a counterterrorism mission, DHS now hovers over the homeland without pilots or purpose – launching high-tech programs with military contractors without oversight and placing “eyes in the sky” in the hunt for immigrants and marijuana.

An investigative examination of the DHS program that deploys military-grade Predator drones, the report lifts the veil on a homeland UAV program that is startlingly ineffective in its border control mission. Unable to demonstrate its effectiveness for border operations, the Predators are now venturing into national security, local law enforcement and overseas drug-interdiction operations.

 Barry highlights the problems of accountability, sole-source contracting, cost-inefficiency, lack of transparency and absence of congressional oversight of DHS drones in this extensive report – the result of more than two years of research.

“The drone program,” says Barry, “illustrates the overall strategic disorientation in homeland security and border security programs.” Barry notes that DHS lacks even a standard definition of homeland security and border security – an institutional failure that has encouraged the mission creep of the drone program.

When asked about some of the major findings of the report, Barry had the following to say:

DHS has consistently downplayed the many disadvantages and flaws in UAV operations, thereby misleading Congress and the U.S. public as to the capabilities and achievements of its UAV program. The DHS’s failure to assess the functionality, cost and achievements of the UAV program highlights its institutional incapacity to direct and monitor its high-tech initiatives.

The report notes that CPB’s drone strategy documents, its drone operations records and even its 2010 drone report to Congress are “classified” and not available for media or public review. DHS has shielded its drone program from public scrutiny. Lacking accountability, transparency and effective congressional oversight, the DHS drone program is nearly as shielded and as secretive as the government’s “hunter-killer” and drone surveillance operations overseas.

 Drones Over the Homeland examines the close collaborative, personal and political relationships that exist between General Atomics (manufacturer of Predators) and major congressional figures (including Diane Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairperson, and House Armed Services Committee’s chairperson, Buck McKeon).

 “The near-total lack of transparent and accountable governance over the proliferation of UAVs needs to be addressed and resolved,” the report concludes. “This absence of a well-defined legal framework for drone operations creates palpable risks to individual privacy, civil rights and our nation’s constitutionally-backed protections against military involvement in domestic affairs.”

The new CIP policy report includes a set of recommendations to address the failures and risks of the DHS drone program and its mission creep.


Tom Barry, author of Drones Over the Homeland, is available for media interviews. He can be contacted at Barry is the author of numerous books on U.S.-Latin America relations and the U.S.-Mexico border. His latest book is Border Wars (MIT Press, 2012). Barry is now working on a book on climate change and the coming water wars in northern Mexico and southwestern United States.