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Rick Perry's Original Thinking

[Guest post by Nathan Pippenger]

It’s not the worst thing Rick Perry has said in his young presidential campaign, but I did scratch my head after reading the governor’s recent comments on border security:

I mean, we know that there are Predator drones being flown for practice every day because we’re seeing them, we’re preparing these young people to fly missions in these war zones that we have. But some of those, they have all the equipment, they’re obviously unarmed, they’ve got the downward-looking radar, they’ve got the ability to do night work and through clouds. Why not be flying those missions and using (that) real-time information to help our law-enforcement? Because if we will commit to that, I will suggest to you that we will be able to drive the drug cartels away from our border.

A number of news outlets (Politico and Huffington Post among them) have run with these remarks, implying that Perry is suggesting something novel. He is not.

If you’re an average voter (and not, say, the governor of Texas), you could be forgiven for not knowing the details of our current southwest border surveillance efforts, which include 250 towers with daytime and nighttime cameras, 38 truck-mounted infrared cameras and radar systems, 130 planes and helicopters, and, yes, a fleet of unmanned aircraft systems. The only possible charitable interpretation here is that by “drones,” Perry specifically meant autonomous unmanned aircraft, not remotely-controlled unmanned aircraft (“drone” technically refers only to the former, though it’s generally used to refer to both). It doesn’t sound like Perry was making that distinction, and in any case, it’s unimportant, because this is already policy. It is not, in any way, a new idea. In fact, The New York Times reported on the use of unmanned aircraft at the border almost two years ago. And it’s been over six months since DHS Secretary Napolitano gave a major speech announcing that Customs and Border Protection had Predators covering the entire southwest border, from the El Centro sector of California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. She even gave the speech in El Paso! This shouldn’t be news to the governor of a massive border state. 

Update, 6:40 p.m.: The banner headline right now on Huffington Post is “PERRY ON BORDER PATROL: UNLEASH THE DRONES”—ignoring the fact that President Obama is already doing this.

Second update, 8:50 p.m.: HuffPo's story has been updated.