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Military Deploys Raven Balloons to Spy on South Dakota and Midwest

Maybe Stace Nelson is right: we are all being watched by a great power from up above.

Unfortunately, that great power is Big Brother, in the form of balloons built by Raven Aerostar and launched by the United States military to surveil United States citizens in South Dakota and five other downwind states through this month:

Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois.

Travelling in the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 65,000ft, the balloons are intended to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats”, according to a filing made on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defence company.

The balloons are carrying hi-tech radars designed to simultaneously track many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather. The tests, which have not previously been reported, received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September, following similar flights licensed last year.

…The tests have been commissioned by the US Southern Command (Southcom), which is responsible for disaster response, intelligence operations and security cooperation in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Southcom is a joint effort by the US army, navy, air force and other forces, and one of its key roles is identifying and intercepting drug shipments headed for the United States [Mark Harris, “Pentagon Testing Mass Surveillance Balloons Across the US,” UK Guardian, 2019.08.02].

Thank goodness we have the foreign press to alert us to the erosion of our privacy and liberty.

Now I would think that the deployment of military assets against American citizens on American soil would violate the Posse Comitatus Act. Alas, lawyer, former Lieutenant Governor, and Navy veteran Matt Michels informs me that a 1981 amendment to that act allows the military to support law enforcement efforts against illegal drugs. The Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act has succeeded in counterproductively militarizing American police, but the military has shown no sign of being able to win the war on drugs on our soil or abroad.

There are many reasons to be bothered by spy cameras in the sky, among them the fact that, as noted in the FCC’s approval of this invasion of our privacy, the balloons could fly in the way of the Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope in North Liberty, Iowa, which helps us plumb the mysteries of the cosmos. So, not only will the spy balloons infringe on our rights, but they could also get in the way of science. Typical Trumpism!

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota says these military spy balloons violate everyone’s privacy:

“Technology like this runs the risk of turning South Dakota into a surveillance state and violating the privacy of every South Dakotan,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “We’re not talking about closed-circuit TV cameras or camera in discrete places. This is area-wide surveillance that essentially creates a pervasive checkpoint over entire cities and metro area. The military needs to be very clear about what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with the information.”

Because this technology is capable of recording and storing all public movement over large areas – entire cities or metro areas – this kind of mass surveillance destroys any level of anonymity South Dakotans have.

“There are so many unanswered questions here,” Skarin said. “What information is being collected? What information is being stored? Who has access to this information? Is the surveillance for law enforcement purposes? At a minimum, there should be consultation and approval from local communities before the federal government subjects South Dakotans to area-wide surveillance” [ACLU-SD, press release, 2019.08.02].

Mass spying by military balloons may be legal, but it’s not cool. The military’s eyes should be pointed outward at the Russians and North Koreans and other offshore bad guys who threaten our national security, not at me and you heading to Hy-Vee for another case of Shasta or your Uncle Bob heading for a Dakota Rural Action meeting. Decades of the futile war on drugs shows there’s no benefit to deploying military forces on American soil or in our skies that offsets the erosion of our liberty.


  1. jerry 2019-08-05 13:06

    It is astounding that maybe a Sioux Falls paper or any American news source would have a reporter that would tell us something about this spying. But no, they are all to busy reporting on the next sale at the mall. We are so lost, we need the spy in the sky to tell us where the hell we are going. Can you imagine if say, a President Obama or Clinton would have done such a thing? republicans will eat their own in their goose stepping ways.

    Sign up for the Guardian so you can keep track of how government is not being drowned in a bathtub, but is increasing in their spying efforts to make sure you are where you are supposed to be at all times. Cell phone gps, check. Computer gps, check, vehicle gps, check. Don’t even think that you can take a pee out in your hay field without the spy in the sky noting your manly-ness or shortcomings.

  2. Edwin Arndt 2019-08-05 13:09

    I suspect the courts would rule that there is no expectation of
    privacy if you are operating in public view and in
    broad daylight.

  3. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-08-05 18:29

    Balloon camera coverage from 65000 feet is not “public view.”

  4. Joe Nelson 2019-08-05 19:12

    No shout out ;) I will take my news tips elsewhere!

    This should concern all citizens, as we have allowed a system where the federal government will soon be able to constantly surveil us no matter where we go. Legit, Big Brother will literally be watching. I am not comfortable with this on many levels.

  5. Debbo 2019-08-05 22:20

    “US Southern Command (Southcom), which is responsible for disaster response, intelligence operations and security cooperation in the Caribbean and Central and South America.”

    If that’s their area of responsibility, what are they doing surveilling up here? According to my maps, that makes no sense, unless Crazy Cartographer (trump) is now drawing his own maps with crayons.

    This sounds like China. Xi Jinping has put up cameras everywhere and facial recognition is common. The only safe place to have even a modicum of privacy there is way out in the boonies. In Crazy Cartographer’s USA even the boonies are not safe with balloons floating out of sight overhead.

  6. John Dale 2019-08-06 07:21

    Like our tornado sensors, this is a domestic military operation. The culture of the country is out of control and it’s manipulation by foreign actors has caused a knee jerk reaction among “the complex”.

    Military is not supposed to operate domestically except in cases of Marshall Law. That’s where we are now .. technically we never ended WWII and the 3rd Reich jumped to Central/South America, which factors into the border crisis at the moment.

    Crimping free speech is the real danger .. if we do that, culture stagnates, so does innovation and our ability to protect ourselves. Humanity is in grave danger.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-06 18:15

    Joe, nothing personal, but I received multiple tips, including the ACLU press release alongside yours. But thank you for your own sharp eyes!

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-06 18:29

    Edwin, I do have an expectation of privacy on American soil from the U.S. military. See the Third Amendment.

    I do not give up my right to privacy in my backyard just because you put your snoopers 65,000 above me. Get a warrant, or close your lens cap.

    If I follow Edwin around all day long, recording his every move in public, he may be able to file stalking charges against me. Why not treat the military like a stalker?

    I do understand the question of what expectation of privacy remains when we step out in public. Cops don’t need a warrant to watch me drive down the street, park, and walk into the coffee shop.

    But we’re talking here about a level of universal, inescapable surveillance that gives the government enormous power over us… kind of like the power Google has over consumers when it can surveil their every online activity and now, via smart devices and wearable tech, much of their offline behavior. Uh oh….

  9. Porter Lansing 2019-08-06 19:50

    This operation doesn’t pass the smell test! Nor do these stats from my link below. SD ranks 44th in drug use. 50th in addiction rate and first in drug arrests. Why does your Governor and state government say South Dakota has a meth problem? You don’t have a meth problem. Taking federal money to fight a nonexistent problem is fraud. It’s just a game about arresting innocent people and taking their money.
    But these balloons. They’re not about following drug mules. The answer resides where so many answers in SD hide. Under the Governors lumpy carpet.
    PS … they sure as hell don’t gather data over Colorado. We’ve got NORAD and they’ve got missiles.

  10. grudznick 2019-08-06 19:54

    I, being one who is #4Science, am all in favor of these overlord balloons lurking overhead. I also, as you know, am against the demon weed and are glad we have these balloons to track the trafficers and tokers of the dank, wet, mind-altering plant sent to the earth by Satan himself. It doesn’t hurt that everybody loves balloons and they’re pretty and fun to watch.

  11. Porter Lansing 2019-08-06 19:59

    You’re an ignoramus, grudzie. You don’t know a bore hole from a corn hole. (The game, I mean.) SD is 44th in drug use and first in drug arrests. That’s a human rights violation, in itself.

  12. John Dale 2019-08-06 20:02

    Porter Lansing – are you having a conversation with yourself? For a minute there, I thought you were going to say something like, “SD has a meth problem .. it needs another nose”.

    South Dakota has a HUGE meth problem. The fallout is everywhere. Honestly, I think meth is a root cause of many psychoses.

  13. grudznick 2019-08-06 20:09

    Mr. Lansing, it gets your goat, probably part of the intention of the legislatures, that we have a low tolerance level for the criminal drug users who toke up and then perpetrate crimes on both toking and non-toking citizens of South Dakota. South Dakota will not have it’s citizens preyed upon by drug ingesting, out-of-control hell-bent criminals. That goes for ones riding those noisy damn contraptions all over town right now, too.

  14. Porter Lansing 2019-08-06 20:10

    Self medicating, Dale? You have serious psychoses and you seem to have an inside track towards what little meth problems there are. Are you disputing the report? What validity do you have in the field of meth use? You certainly do run your mouth like a tweaker does. South Dakota has not got a meth problem. South Dakota has an out of control law enforcement problem and a half-educated populace afraid of anything they’re told to be afraid of.

  15. Porter Lansing 2019-08-06 20:15

    grudzie … You scared l’il bunny. Your state doesn’t have a low tolerance for pot smokers. Your state has a high level of abusing human rights. Like you said to me on Power’s today. It’s about those Germans in Volga.

  16. John Dale 2019-08-06 20:23

    Porter Lansing – Go to and enter “south dakota meth epidemic” – the top two results I got were Argus Leader and South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Both are more credible sources than .. wallethub? :\ Hmmm ..

  17. Porter Lansing 2019-08-06 20:33

    duckduckgo is a low level, invalid, VPN. That you use it and believe it’s valid, says volumes about your ignorance. I use real VPN’s but only rarely. I’ve nothing to hide and even less to be afraid of. Wallethub is a reputable source.

  18. grudznick 2019-08-06 20:43

    You must be high, Mr. Lansing, and seeing more than the usual number of grudznicks on the blogs you spend your waking and sleeping hours on. Did you know there are at least 4 different documented grudznicks, all of whom have gotten your goat hundreds of times.

  19. John Dale 2019-08-06 21:06

    Porter Lansing – “VPN” – I have your goat here with me. He wants his acronym back.

  20. Porter Lansing 2019-08-06 22:18

    Sorry, there’s only one grudznick. Powers has lost control of the security of his blog. Others post under your name and you post under the name Moon Base Lansing. I love that reference to Matthew McConaughey and will use it often when I post on The Bishop’s Diaper Blog. It’s a pattern of deception no doubt designed to remove the last shard of credibility from Power’s rag. It was interesting to see that Mr. Pay had issues with Pat’s Pa. Guess being a horse’s patoot runs in the family.
    Dale, my boy, don’t you know what a VPN is? It’s what they use when they do psy-ops on you, when you’re asleep. I know their access code, too.

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