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A drone program meant to guard U.S. borders hasn't proved effective, according to a government audit released on Tuesday.

The report, by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, criticized the program as costly, having a lack of direction and generally failing to achieve its mission.

"Its impact in stemming illegal immigration has been minimal," the report found.

Predator drones — initially developed for the U.S. military — have become part of nation's border security strategy in the past decade. Federal agents use the aircraft to detect unauthorized border crossers and thwart illegal activity, such as drug smuggling.


To date, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has purchased 11 drones, but lost two to crashes in 2006 and 2014. Unlike their military counterparts, the drones flying over Texas and Arizona aren't armed with weapons.

Whether unmanned aircraft will be the future of border security remains to be seen. The report found that it costs $2,468 per hour to operate a drone — too pricey for the results gained so far.


Of 275,392 apprehensions of migrants illegally crossing the border in Arizona and Texas in the 2013 fiscal year, only 2,272 could be attributed to the use of drones, less than one percent of the total.

The Office of Inspector General recommended that the government scrap plans to spend an additional $443 million on drones and put the money to better use until the program is better evaluated and structured.


Privacy worries are another issue. Although the report did not address those concerns, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the aerial surveillance program.

"People think these kinds of surveillance technologies will be a silver bullet," Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union told the Los Angeles Times. "Time after time, we see the practical realities of these systems don't live up to the hype."


CBP disagreed with most of the findings in the report. In a letter to the auditors, Eugene Schied, an assistant commissioner at CBP, said the agency “has achieved or exceeded all relevant performance expectations” for the program and that "additional unmanned aircraft are needed and justified."

The agency stressed that although it is authorized to expand its drone program, it does not plan to purchase additional unmanned aircraft at this time.


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.