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Pentagon testing mass surveillance balloons over Iowa, report says

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 8/2/2019 Shelby Fleig
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Unmanned mass surveillance balloons launched from South Dakota will temporarily fly over Iowa and other Midwest states this month, the Guardian reported Friday

The Pentagon is testing the high-altitude, solar-powered balloons across six states, the British newspaper reports.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation, a Nevada-based national security and aerospace contractor, was granted "experimental special temporary authorization" by the Federal Communications Commission in mid-July, a document shows.

The stated purpose of the project, according to an FCC filing, is to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats."

Roughly two dozen small balloons carrying radars that can track vehicles will journey over Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri before ending up in Illinois, the Guardian said. The special contract expires on September 1, the filing shows.

Sierra Nevada Corporation did not immediately return a request for comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is echoing the concerns of its national counterpart, saying mass surveillance programs like the one described by the Guardian are "problematic" for Iowans.

"We think this is really problematic and would hope that all Iowans would be concerned about the government surveilling every single one of us with technology used for, and appropriately designed for, locating (improvised explosive devices) on battlefields," said Daniel Zeno, policy director at the ACLU of Iowa.

The devices could simultaneously track every vehicle in an area the size of the Des Moines metro, he said. 

"If this is going to be something the military is going to do ... there should be consultation and approval to ensure people in the communities understand what kind of mass surveillance is happening," Zeno said.

Shelby Fleig covers news and features for the Register. She can be reached at and 515-214-8933.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Pentagon testing mass surveillance balloons over Iowa, report says


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