It seems small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are again in the news - and not in a good way.
U.S. Border Patrol agents based in San Diego have spotted 15 drones flying between Tijuana, Mexico, and Southern California over the past 12 months, according to new data provided to the Washington Examiner.
Not one of the drone operators involved in those incidents was prosecuted for using an unmanned aerial system, or drone, around the international border, which is protected air space.
From Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017, the same border sector reported two known incidents. In fiscal 2016, five occurred. Before then, it wasn't even tracked.
San Diego Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Roy Villareal said his 2,200 agents have a hard enough time seeing or hearing the small aircraft at night — when they are most often flown — but intercepting them is nearly impossible. In fact, only one smuggler ever has been prosecuted in a drone incident near the border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Between being unaware of just how widely cartels are using drones to smuggle contraband over the border and being unable to do anything when they are seen, it's nearly impossible for agents to determine who sent the drone and then legally go after that person.
It's also difficult to know just how great the threat is when agents are not aware of just how widespread drones are being used to spy on them from hundreds of feet above.
“Detection is our greatest weakness right now,” Villareal told the Examiner during a recent tour of the region. “It’s one of a multitude of threats we have, but I think it’s going to grow ... simply because of the inability to intercept [them]."
The person flying a drone can stand a few hundred feet or a couple miles away. He or she can operate the drone with a remote control or input instructions and let the drone operate without a guide. Either way, the owner is able to avoid being captured by U.S. federal law enforcement while smuggling drugs, money, firearms, or other items between countries.
Because drones are small, they typically carry a few ounces to a few pounds of higher-priced drugs.
Villareal said the devices could be used to carry out a massive attack on the public. Someone looking to carrying out a terror attack could plant synthetic fentanyl on the drone and release it over a group of people. Just three tiny grains of the strongest fentanyl being smuggled into the U.S. is enough to put a person in a coma and a small baggie full of the substance would have devastating effects.
“It's the perfect criminal tool,” Villareal said. “A single pound of fentanyl [dropped above a crowd] would devastate a whole stadium.”
Federal law enforcement officers and agents do not have any tools for detecting a drone outside of their eyes and ears. Even if they do spot a drone that appears to be carrying drugs, they can’t shoot it down with their gun. Counterdrone tools exist in the private sector but have not yet been approved for agents to use, leaving them helpless to do anything.
There's more at the link.
That terrorist threat is enough to send shivers down anyone's spine. Fentanyl - or, worse yet, carfentanil, the so-called "elephant tranquilizer" - is phenomenally dangerous stuff. A lethal dose of fentanyl is 2-3 milligrams, so one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the drug, dispersed by a drone, would dispense 333,333 lethal doses. A lethal dose of carfentanyl is only 20 micrograms, meaning a single kilogram dispersed by a drone would dispense fifty million lethal doses. Even if ninety per cent of the drug was blown away by the wind, just ten per cent of it landing among a crowd in a sports stadium could cause so many fatalities that 9/11 would seem like a mere bagatelle in comparison.
I hope this never happens . . . but given the known association between terrorists and Mexican drug cartels, I'm afraid it's an all too real possibility.