Air National Guard Will Deploy Drones to Spy on Black Bears in Adirondack Park

As part of what they bill as a “military training program,” the Air Force National Guard will deploy a bunch of MQ-9 Reaper drones over the Adirondacks park in Northern NY. (h/t Tim Shorrock)

The Air Force Air National Guard will fly remotely piloted planes over the Adirondacks starting next June.

Crews at ground control stations fly the unmanned aircraft, the MQ-9 Reaper, from both line-of-sight locations and by satellite.

Col. Charles “Spider” Dorsey, vice commander of the 174th Fighter Wing based at Fort Drum, presented details of the new military training program to Adirondack Park Agency commissioners Thursday.


It is used for intelligence-gathering details, Dorsey explained, and also for combat search and rescue or simulated attacks.

The Department of Defense prohibits target surveillance of U.S. citizens by intelligence systems,” the colonel said, to deflect concern about any intrusion from the sorties.


The MQ-9 is used by the Army, Navy and U.S. Border Patrol, primarily along the southern border, Dorsey said.

Now, Colonel “Spider” Dorsey admits that this drone is used to collect intelligence. But don’t you worry, he says, because DOD prohibits “target surveillance” of US citizens by intelligence systems. I’m not sure precisely what he means by “target surveillance,” but as the NSA’s mission makes clear, DOD does not prohibit surveillance of US citizens by intelligence systems, at least within some parameters.

Moreover, as the use of these drones by Border Patrol makes clear, the US government does use these drones to surveil humans in the US. The legal basis for doing so would generally restrict its use to border areas. But as it happens, the Adirondacks are pretty damn close to an international border, and Fort Drum is even closer to that border. So the US government could very easily start flying “border patrol” missions out of Fort Drum with this drone and–given that DOD had publicly announced its use for “training missions” in the Adirondacks–no one on the ground would know any different. Particularly not given that–as “Spider” boasts–these are designed to be silent. And since this is a medium-to-high altitude drone, with a top flying altitude of 50,000 feet, those “black bears” on the ground “in the Adirondacks” wouldn’t see the damn thing, either.

Mind you, the Adirondacks are really not all that far from all the major population centers in the Northeast; both Boston and NYC would easily fall within its 1,150 mile range. So if this silent, high flying intelligence drone just happened to collect information from people in either one of those cities, under the legal cover of a border-related mission, we would have no way of knowing. Particularly given that the Air Force specifically prohibits anyone cleared into its Special Access Programs from talking to Congress about them.

But don’t you worry. Spider tells us we have nothing to worry about. Honest, I’m sure they’re just spying on the black bears that live in the park.

  1. JohnLopresti says:

    I wonder if the park rangers in Upstate New York put radio collars on the problem bears. I am not sure what state-of-the-art black bear integrated pest management techniques are. In Yosemite, as a youngster, I heard the orientation speech by rangers concerning black bears. Evidently, black bears tend to more irrascibility than brown bears. I believe, the method at the time was a paint filled balloon launcher to put some stain on the fur of the known problem blackbear individuals; the rangers said what that usually does is make the untagged bears ostracize the bear with the blotch; but that it did not always work, so some stigmatized bears continued to hang around parks and campers, and rangers would have to resort to sedative darts and physical relocation of the feisty black bear individuals to some place far from the campground. I do not know if NY has a problem with pharma and cigarette running blackbears, or if the paintguns have been retrofitted with rfid chip tagging capabilities. At least, for purposes of this post, I would consider things like rfid and gps as an integrated approach to target location. Yet, maybe it is simply trying to find unsuspecting bears in them woods, too; and, for a homework assignment, please describe the migration patterns of blackbears in Republican Upstate NY; locate at least 6 non-hibernating communities of the species which have not been identified previously in ranger reports, and describe their whereabouts, including proximity to Republican domiciles in agrarian, summer-camp, playhouse replete upstate NY.

    • emptywheel says:

      Btw, I was being snarky: suggesting they were probably NOT spying on black bears but on something more interesting.

      Though FWIW, I used to camp every summer in the Adirondacks. I remember vividly the fear my parents instilled in me about one area of the campground favored by the bears, even though we’d watch as they’d nightly wander through and scavenge the trash cans.

      Having ALSO had an interesting near-experience w/a bad grizzly in Denali, I think the difference has more to do with the insufficient efforts in the east to prevent bears from relying on trash, as compared to other parts of the country. In N MN, MI, and the Ontario coast, they’ve got a lot of black bears, but much better programs to not give them an incentive to pester tha people.

      • JohnLopresti says:

        Yes, emptywheel, I, too, was oversimplifying. I think a videogame experienced joystick recruit technician might begin with black bears, especially since that subspecies is common in the flyover part of the park. I should have recalled the PoundR environment, too, would be one close to summer camps in those beautiful mts. I guess, the larger drone mentioned in the article must have more equipment and longer range than the $1 million pilotless vehicle that first began apearing in the robotics wars. I believe I have read of its deployment along the US-CAN border in the plains states as well as AZ, the latter also being locus of a training center for the charmingly quaintly named signal corps.

        I have been studying animal game issues for other reasons related to wilderness stewardship; and, in the latter regard, located an interesting article by a grizzly and wolf biologist: there, written last month. Big game foodchain, indeed.

    • mr5roses says:

      They will accidentally discover marijuana plantings and pass that serendipitous information on to the DEA – and that will be the thin edge of the wedge – if the DEA, then why not FBI, NYPD, Homeland Security….

  2. MadDog says:

    OT – Ex-CIA employee Sterling news via CNN:

    Ex-CIA officer pleads not guilty in classified info case

    A former CIA officer pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he disclosed secret defense information.

    Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, 43, of O’Fallon, Missouri, is charged in a 10-count indictment with unauthorized retention and disclosure of classified information, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, the Justice Department said…

    …The defense waived its right to a speedy trial and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed, saying, “I think this case is a complex case.”

    The government is seeking to keep Sterling detained until his trial. A detention hearing will be held Wednesday.

    Defense attorney Edward MacMahon expressed hope after the hearing that his client would be released…

    Without bail, Sterling could spend a long time in pre-trial incarceration (Manning anyone?).

  3. MadDog says:

    More OT – via the White House:

    Vice President Biden Announces Bruce Reed as New Chief of Staff

    …Vice President Joe Biden announced today that Bruce Reed will succeed Ron Klain in the role of Chief of Staff for the Office of the Vice President. Mr. Reed has most recently worked for the Administration as Executive Director of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Bowles-Simpson Commission

    (My Bold)

    Goodbye Social Security?

    • JohnLopresti says:

      A perpendicular angle to the observed target bear is a much easier image to resolve than reconstructing an image from a far, oblique angle thru shimmering atmosphere, thru optics and software image processing; but 200 miles sounds like a wide scannable area. I forget the manufacturer of the one the signal corps was deploying in the invisible fence project in the southwest, maybe Lockheed; there were delays, redesigns, tower problems, too, but the administrative console concept sounded like an integrated electronics platform. Another item in news recently was a multi-camera airborne image acquisiton system on a drone, whereby ground personnel calling for an aerial image would have much less wait for scheduling a glimpse; i.e., if there were nine cameras onboard all providing realtime images each along a different vector; I picture the National Geographic image of the multi-faceted eye of some insects, or the way some telescopes piece a mosaic of images together like cinemascope.

      For the young children, there is is a possible question of how to find a lost teddy bear, a project in which said drone might be engaged; and for Slavic speaking children the teddy bear is called плюшевый медвежонок. Quite incidentally, the Russian president*s name Medvedev медведев also is built upon that mascot of the state of Russia the bear медвед. I think this drone is not looking for Russkies; yet, it is known that there is a substantial community of Polish people in upstate New York. First, the bears. I even envision a class at West Point with a practicum outsourced to Ft. Drum, er, Ft. Drone.

  4. DWBartoo says:

    Very interesting.

    Minor typo note: The last sentence of your third to last paragraph … those “black bears” … wouldn’t … see anything (that we people wouldn’t see).

    All’s bear in looking and forward.

    (Hey! Come over here and look at these pictures … those bears are giving us the digit … and that one, over there, is mooning us, somebody call General Spider. I think the bears are revolting. Speaking of bears, did you guys see those sun-bathers on the rooftops the other day?)


    ==modnote: fixed ty==

  5. hotdog says:

    “Target surveillance” seems to imply they can’t be looking specifically for you, but if you happen to be in their sights, they can check you out as much as they want. Who gets the data and how is it stored and analyzed? The answer, I’m betting, is probably by a private contractor. Good thing Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, ITT, Wyle, Blackwater, etc. all have our best interests at heart./s

  6. orionATL says:

    nomolos @13

    indeed. weed was my first thought.

    whatever, law enforcement and defense are getting much too cozy in this country.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Ah, weed all agree then, orionATL and nomolos.

      “Murka” just can’t stay away from the first “endless war”, such things must be habit-forming … or some-thin.


  7. Mary says:

    You’re out of the loop, EW.

    Everyone knows that bears of color fit profiling requirments. Unlike perfectly adorable polar bears, the radical IglooNo-bearscists that hibernate in “sleeper cells” in our very own parklands – they hate us. For our freedoms. Steven Colbert has been trying to sound the alarm for years now. After all, the Saudi’s just captured the Israeli Vulture Spy. It’s speciesism to think a bear can’t be a jihadi.

    Mock all you want, but national security is a serious thing and sleeper cells in our very own national parks should send frissons of fear through your very being.

    If not the bears – the drones.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Broad-based Speciel Profiling?

      I can’t bear it, Mary, the ursine truth.

      And, I have heard that there are bears, aminals of color, dressed in sheep’s clothing.

      Wall Street knows … and fears the bear.

      One notes, with the shrinking of the north polar region’s icy grip, that pale bears, bears of pure and honest coloration, may be forced to move into regions occupied by lesser bears.

      I suggest we invite the white-bear crowd, the right crowd, those who abhor crowding, and the backward looking investigation of garbage, to join our homeland’s crusade for purity and just desserts for the exceptional and chosen, that we may keep those colored bears, all, down, where they rightfully belong.

      Let there be fear and trembling amongst the bears of color, especially if they are French.


      • Mary says:

        And their biological weapons.

        @17 – Not just if they are French – remember those other Bears. Thankfully, Condi has this one all under control. She’s a bear of an expert. They just need to update that to show the US Drone Eagle hovering overhead. Still, the problem with the pure bears moving here is that there may be home-grown bearerists among their ranks.

        • DWBartoo says:

          I always thought those teddy-bear picnics was breeding grounds for who knows what, and the warning about the “surprise” of going “out in the woods today” … should have given it away. The stuffed bears, clearly, were spies, charged with worming their nefarious way into the hearts and minds of innocent little homelandish children … so turnabout is more than fair play …the security of we happy-home-landers is at peril! Even pure bears may hate us for our freedumbs and ubiquitous land-fills, for, as you say, if there is even a one percent chance of bearerist activity among the pure then the others must, all of them, be, without doubt, beyond the pale or the garbage can.

          Paul Revere would have appreciated your brave warnings, “Two, if by Homeland, one, if by seize … we’ve no choice, but to watch, carefully, all of these bears. Lift up the lanterns! Rev up the drones! “They” won’t catch us unready … and NEVER alone.

          Do Not Feed the Bears, Drone Them!!!


  8. PeasantParty says:

    Is this a Canadian imigrant watch, or emigrant watch? It’s something, either that or they just have to find something to do with themselves instead of practicing up on NATION BUILDING!/s

  9. orionATL says:

    if you go down in the woods today

    you’re in for a big surprise

    if you go down in the woods today

    you’ll find lots of government spies

  10. jpe12 says:

    So if this silent, high flying intelligence drone just happened to collect information from people in either one of those cities,

    What kind of information could it possibly collect that would be of any interest to anyone?

    • emptywheel says:

      They could be doing precisely what the same drones are doing in Pakistan: making rash decisions about what patterns of activity constitute terrorist activity.

      In Pakistan, of course, this is shortly followed by a drone strike. I guess in the US they’ll just put the people in question in some database for now and have the FBI entrap them before they go after them.

      • jpe12 says:

        I don’t think they’re going to see too much flying over brooklyn. People tend not to openly carry and transport RPGs and whatnot.

  11. mookieblaylock says:

    if society indeed does fall apart when the oil runs low and people get to fighting the government this will be an invaluable asset for the forces of righteousness

  12. nonquixote says:

    Come on doggers, what do you expect, some kind of environmentally objectionable concrete wall on the northern border. Make sure you have your fishing license, current canoe registration and life-jackets. Possession limit, 3 walleyes, min. length 18 inches.

  13. Rayne says:

    Hey — remember this event back in May last year?

    I was under the impression the planes in question flew out of an “arsenal” in state — my guess is Watervliet, a little more than three hours south of Fort Drum (which is must closer to the Canadian border). Am now wondering if this is all of a piece.