National Security Archive: New Documents Trace Controversial Use of Drones and other Aerial Surveillance for Domestic National Security

24 August 2015 — National Security Archive

New Documents Trace Controversial Use of Drones and other Aerial Surveillance for Domestic National Security – from Safeguarding Major Sporting Events to Law Enforcement to Tracking Wildfires

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 527

Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson

Posted – August 24, 2015

For more information, contact: Jeffrey T. Richelson: 202.994.7000 or

Washington, D.C., August 24, 2015. – “FBI spy plane zeroes in on Dearborn area” was the headline in The Detroit News on August 5, 2015. The story, which broke the news that the FBI had conducted at least seven surveillance flights recently over downtown Detroit, also raised a broader issue. It illustrated the fact that along with the controversy concerning electronic surveillance activities focused on telephone and e-mail records of United States citizens there exists a corresponding source of controversy – the use of satellites and assorted aircraft (manned and unmanned) to collect imagery and conduct aerial surveillance of civilian targets within the United States.

Today, the National Security Archive posts over forty documents, many appearing online for the first time, related to the domestic use of overhead imagery and the controversy it has generated. Among those documents are:

– Annual activity reports of the Civil Applications Committee, created in 1975 to provide a forum for interaction between the Intelligence Community and civil agencies wanting information from “national systems” (Document 2, Document 4, Document 6, Document 13, Document 16).

– Articles from a classified National Reconnaissance Office magazine discussing the use of NRO imagery spacecraft to aid in disaster relief (Document 9, Document 10, Document 23).

– Articles from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Pathfinder magazine, which describe how the NGA uses overhead imagery to provide data to assorted agencies with responsibilities in security operations and planning for National Special Security Events (Document 12, Documents 20a, 20b, 20c, Document 26).

– Examples of imagery, obtained by the KH-9 spy camera, of two targets in New York – the World Trade Center and Shea Stadium (Document 29).

– Detailed NGA, NORTHCOM, and Air Combat Command internal regulations governing the collection, dissemination and use of domestic imagery (Document 17, Document 19, Document 34).

– A description and assessments of the Customs and Border Protection service’s use of drones (Document 24, Document 30, Document 35, Document 37).

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________________________________________________________ THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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