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Getting the police state in place under the guise of terrorism

Unmanned drones to patrol state-Canada border

Drones from Grand Forks Air Force Base will track drug smugglers and potential terrorists.

By BOB VON STERNBERG, Star Tribune

Last update: February 16, 2009 - 8:11 AM

After a couple of false starts, Predator unmanned drone aircraft are scheduled to start roaming the Canadian border this week.

State and federal officials will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony today at Grand Forks Air Force Base, where the first Predator arrived in early December.

That ceremonial milestone had to be delayed twice because of a maintenance problem and turbulent weather.

The Predators, unarmed versions of the aircraft being used in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, have been patrolling the Mexican border since 2005. The Grand Forks, N.D., base is one of five outposts along the northern border where the aircraft will be based.
Equipped with radar and optical sensors, the Predators are capable of flying up to 260 miles per hour at altitudes up to 50,000 feet for more than 18 hours.

The drones are operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They transmit their images and data to operators who can alert border agents on the ground.

Operators of the border agency's fully loaded, $10.5 million Predators use the drones' radar imaging and infrared capabilities to "light" a target at night with a laser visible only through the night-vision goggles of helicopter crews who intercept some of the people crossing the Mexican border.

From October 2006 through a year ago, the drones had helped in the apprehension of 3,857 illegal immigrants and the seizure of more than nine tons of marijuana, according to the most recent statistics available.

Currently border agents arrest about 4,000 people who illegally come into the United States a year from Canada and seize about 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs.

Landing the Predators was a coup for the Grand Forks base, which is slated to lose its fleet of KC-135 tankers in the next few years. Air Force officials say they hope as many as 20 drones eventually will be based there.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-718



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