Radley Balko has done an exceptional job of documenting how police departments have become increasingly militarized as part of the war on drugs. I came across a news story earlier this week that approached this from a different angle: large scale military participation in domestic drug raids.
According to Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, a military news site:
When 150 New York state troopers, U.S. Marshalls and local city police officers rounded up 52 suspects in a massive multi-city drug raid in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 27; five members of the New York National Guard Counterdrug Task Force gave themselves a silent pat on the back for a job well done.
The New York National Guard provides law enforcement agencies with equipment and staff to help with intelligence and surveillance. According to the NGCTF website (yes, they have a website), they’ve assisted in raids that have confiscated about $68 million of cash and contraband, and led to the arrest of “just under” 950 people. That yields about $72,000 per person arrested. This assistance includes the use of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft equipped with infrared cameras. Infrared cameras use heat emitted by objects to create an image. Heat signatures can give away the location of drug labs, grow operations, and illegal plants hidden amongst legal crops.
New York is not alone in this strategy. Law enforcement agencies in most states work with their own National Guard units under similar arrangements. The Minnesota National Guard even provides form letters on their website to facilitate requests from law enforcement agencies.
This raises some important constitutional issues. It was, in fact, a National Guardsmen using infrared technology to scan a house without a warrant that lead to Kyllo v. United States, the 2001 Supreme Court case that ruled warrantless thermal surveillance violates a resident’s Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches.
This doesn’t seem to have slowed down the National Guard, however. There are some anecdotal stories of National Guard units providing surveillance to law enforcement agencies without a warrant. According to the National Guard’s regulations on counterdrug support operations,
“Supported LEAs are responsible for obtaining warrants required for searches or for determining the need for searches, inspections, and observations that do not require warrants. This responsibility includes the determination of any potential legal restrictions upon the use of thermal imaging or sense enhancing systems.”
The abdication of any responsibility for protecting citizens’ rights shouldn’t be surprising. The military exists to completely annihilate enemies through the indiscriminate application of force. It would therefore be unrealistic to expect that organization to treat the war on drugs as anything other than a war on the American people.
UPDATE: If you’ve been linked here by Radley Balko, you may be interested in following me on Pinterest for daily coverage of the war on drugs. www.pinterest.com/warondrugs