Pentagon's Next Dystopian Surveillance Exercise Will Launch Spy Balloons Over These States

The Guardian reported Friday that the US military is conducting a surveillance exercise across six midwest states using surveillance radars attached to high-altitude balloons.

Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defense company, filed for a Special Temporary Authorization (through July 12 to Sept. 01) with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fly 25 solar-powered spy balloons, will be launched from South Dakota and will drift 250 miles through an area covering Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri, before landing in central Illinois.

The Defense Department's Southern Command (Southcom) approved the exercise in mid-July, which is being supervised by Sierra Nevada.

The spy balloons will travel with wind currents, expected to reach altitudes of up to 65,000 feet, will "provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotics trafficking and homeland security threats," the FCC filing said.

The balloons are carrying next-generation radars, designed for the modern battlefield to track vehicles day or night, through any weather.

Arthur Holland Michel, the co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York, told The Guardian, "What this new technology proposes is to watch everything at once. Sometimes it's referred to as 'combat TiVo' because when an event happens somewhere in the surveilled area, you can potentially rewind the tape to see exactly what occurred, and rewind even further to see who was involved and where they came from."

Southcom, which is responsible for security and intelligence operations in the Caribbean and Central and South America, could roll out these spy balloons across the Mexico-US border to identify and intercept drug shipments headed for the US.

Civil liberties advocates were shocked at what they read in the FCC filing:

"The deployment of this kind of surveillance capability in the United States is incredibly alarming," Mana Azarmi, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Common Dreams.

"Persistent government surveillance, such as that facilitated by this technology, raises many civil liberties concerns and should not be permitted in the absence of a warrant."

Advance technology programs like the Pentagon's balloon exercise "pose a grave threat to basic human rights, freedom of expression, and civil liberties," Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer told Common Dreams. "These programs are not about stopping the violence; they're about social control."

The government is testing wide-area surveillance systems, intended for war zones, on Americans is a massive privacy violation, the ACLU said.

"Even in tests, they're still collecting a lot of data on Americans: who's driving to the union house, the church, the mosque, the Alzheimer's clinic," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the organization, told The Guardian. "We should not go down the road of allowing this to be used in the United States and it's disturbing to hear that these tests are being carried out, by the military no less."

Greer told Common Dreams that the spy balloons is the latest example of new surveillance infrastructure that the government is creating, with the help from defense and technology companies.

"From police partnerships with Amazon's Ring doorbells to these privately contracted spying balloons," Greer said, "a dystopian surveillance state is being built in plain sight, by government agencies with authoritarian dreams and corporations willing to trample our rights to turn a profit."

About four years ago, has since been discontinued, Baltimore was one of the first major cities in the US to have spy blimps flying overhead with surveillance equipment.

If the upcoming tests with Sierra Nevada and Southcom go well, these spy balloons could enter series production in the near term and be ready for deployment on the Mexico-US border and in warzones across the world. However, as shown in Baltimore, these balloons could also be surveilling major US cities in the early 2020s.