Tasers with Wings

I’ve been focusing on Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, but I didn’t want this tidbit of news to go unnoticed. Among the other documents EFF has gotten in its FOIA on drones in the United States is a planning document for Customs and Border Patrol’s use of the  Predator drone. In it, there’s one line that suggests future upgrades (the report dates to 2010) might include non-lethal immobilization technology.

Customs & Border Protection (CPB) report, released in response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the agency, shows CBP has considered adding weapons to its domestic Predator drones.

The report, titled “Concept of Operations for CBP’s Predator B Unmanned Aircraft System” and submitted to Congress on June 29, 2010 shows that, not only is the agency planning to sharply increase the number of Predator drones it flies and the amount of surveillance it conducts by 2016 (detailed further in a separate blog post tomorrow), but it has considered equipping its Predators with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest. (p. 63).

And remember: CBP loans out its drones to other Federal agencies. I suspect when Robert Mueller testified recently that FBI had used drones he had CBP ones in mind.

So the next time LAPD uses loaner drones in a manhunt across Southern California, that drone may well be armed with industrial sized tasers.


Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

12 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    There are many non-lethals that could delivered by drone, and I think a Taser one of the least likely, as it must remain connected to the delivery device.

    Other possible, if not likely “non-lethals” for this brave new world upon us include:

    – stun grenades
    – plastic bullet automatic fire
    – tear gas and pepper gas
    – 40mm sponge grenade
    – sleeping gas (under development)
    – nets
    – sticky foam
    – low-frequency RF weapons, which cause nausea, intestinal pain, even the hearing of “voices”
    The imagination of the police and military is revving into high gear.

    The party of the Iron Heel is ready to step on the stage.

  2. Brindle says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Sticky foam? —human scaled fly paper?…..Sponge grenade?—what does it do? The RF weapons sound particularly terrible.
    Thanks for the list.

  3. art says:

    On one of the anniversaries of 9/11 I watched as a large government helicoptor patrolled overhead on the Detroit River. At the time I wondered how much of the taxpayers’ money was getting wasted for fuel while they kept an eye on me as I paddled a kayak around Belle Isle. But I never thought they might have me targeted for “immobilization”. Yikes!

  4. P J Evans says:

    @Jeff Kaye:
    I can see the drone hovering as it uses a taser – but it would have to be a much smaller drone. (Read Gibson’s ‘Zero History’ for one idea how to do it.)

  5. JohnT says:

    They do have weaponized drones. In one case I know of (doesn’t mean it’s the only one) a few years ago DHS funded a company in Texas to weaponize them

    I’ll try to find the link

  6. omphaloscepsis says:

    Sec. 2.9 of this 3 MB file discusses UAV delivery of non-lethal weapons (NLW):


    DOD site for non-lethal weapons:


    A DOD handbook:


    There is a list of vendors, along with links to their websites, at the end.

    As Milo Minderbinder said, “Everyone’s a member of The Syndicate. Everybody owns a share.”

  7. JohnT says:



    Forget the idea that weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are only for military operations in wars fought in far off lands. Soon they’ll begin setting their sights on criminals within our borders. And they’ll be packing heat, not the long-range missiles of the X-47B, but with up close and personal stun guns, 12-gauge shotguns and, believe it or not, grenade launchers.

    The ShadowHawk is the seven-foot, 50-lb copter that is the toy-sized dealer of destruction from Texas-based Vanguard Defense Industries.

    Six links here, one of which is of a French drone with a taser

  8. C says:

    I attended a protest once in which the police chose to park, purely as a precaution, an Active Denial System in public view.


    This was inside the U.S. and was done, I emphasize, preemptively in case anyone did anything. The thing was also surrounded by what looked to be every state trooper they could find while helecopters flew overhead. At the time I had the same question as @art. Then later in the day police officers from several agencies cooperated to fire pepper spray and to kettle at a group of non-protesters for reasons that are still unclear.

    To my knowledge the ADS was never fired but the mere presence of so many “non-lethal” tools paired with bored cops led to unnecessary confrontations and to the militarization of a situtation that, quite frankly, needed no military.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It’s hard to avoid the conclusions that this is where such programs have been headed since day one. Tasers would be one weapon; there are myriad others (some of which Jeff Kaye refers to), plus others that contractors are spending your tax dollars to develop. An example would be microwave emissions weapons (which I believe are classed as ADS, referred to above), that burn the skin. That’s a surefire way to distract even the most ardent proponent of greater government accountability.

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