Army Manual Gives Secretary of Defense the Right to Order Drone Surveillance in U.S.

Monday, February 18, 2013
MQ-1 Predator Drones (photo: Rob Valenca, U.S. Air Force)

As far as the U.S. Army is concerned, the use of drones to conduct surveillance in American airspace is allowed as long as top officials approve it.


According to U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-52, Airspace Control, February 2013, “legal restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft systems in domestic operations are numerous,” but the drones are not prohibited categorically, wrote Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News.


When the Army is called in to help government agencies respond to disasters or domestic emergencies, the secretary of defense must approve any use of drones in these operations. In some instances, the attorney general must also okay the missions.


The most alarming part of the manual, though, says there are times when drones could be utilized to spy on Americans.


“[Unmanned aircraft] operators cannot conduct surveillance on specifically identified U.S. persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations….Use of unmanned aircraft systems requires approval at high levels within the DOD and the FAA prior to employment in DSCA [Defense Support of Civil Authorities]…. All requests for unmanned aircraft systems must be approved by the Secretary of Defense.”


On February 13, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced legislation that would require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant or judicial approval before engaging in drone surveillance. The bill does not mention domestic military use of unmanned aircraft.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Army Use of Drones in U.S. is Constrained, Not Prohibited (by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News)

FM 3-52 Airspace Control (Department of the Army) (pdf)

Bipartisan Bill Introduced in Congress Would Prohibit Warrantless Drone Surveillance (by Kevin Gosztola, Firedoglake)

Homeland Security Quietly Runs “Loan-a-Drone” Program for Local Law Enforcement (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Here’s Who’s Buying Drones: Are Local Cops Watching You from the Sky? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)



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