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Surveillance Balloons Are Floating Over 6 States

Devices being tested can track scores of vehicles at once
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2019 4:26 PM CDT
An aerial view of Chicago. Surveillance balloons are being tested over the Midwest this summer.   (Doug Benson/DroneBase via AP)

(Newser) – The Pentagon is conducting high-altitude surveillance in six Midwestern states, testing a system designed to track vehicles 24/7 regardless of weather conditions. As many as 25 balloons outfitted with radar and video systems are in flight at altitudes as high as 65,000 feet, the Guardian reports. Their 250-mile flight path begins in South Dakota and ends in central Illinois, after running through parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri. The flights' existence was discovered in FCC documents permitting them from July 12 until Sept. 1; flights apparently occurred last year, too. The two big parties involved are the US Southern Command, which oversees intelligence in the Caribbean and Central and South America, and aerospace contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Sierra Nevada submitted the filing to secure authorization for the tests, which were commissioned by Southcom; the filing says the goal is "a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats." A drone expert explains: "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." There are concerns. Jay Stanley of the ACLU tells the Guardian the tests are gathering "a lot of data on Americans: who’s driving to the union house, the church, the mosque, the Alzheimer’s clinic." An official with the ACLU in Iowa pointed out that the balloons could track every vehicle on the road in the Des Moines area at once, per the Register. (Read more surveillance stories.)

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