Drones could become a headache for Border Patrol agents

drone pilot meth smuggling matrice 600
Sakuto/Creative Commons
Drones for filmmakers. Drones for real estate firms. Drones for inspectors. Drones for farmers. Drones for cops. Drones for criminals. Hang on … drones for criminals? That’s not supposed to be a thing. But it clearly is.

Remote-controlled multi-rotor copters have come a long way in the last few years, allowing pilots to fly them with ever greater precision — and with very little training.

So along with hobbyists and businesses, criminals, too, have been quick to learn about just how useful these reasonably priced flying machines can be for their own nefarious purposes.

We’ve already heard about the trouble drones are causing for prison authorities, with criminals on the outside flying all manner of contraband to criminals on the inside. But now officials face another challenge — how to stop smugglers using them to fly drugs over national borders.

Late one evening earlier this month, a Border Patrol agent spotted a drone flying over the U.S./Mexico border, heading toward San Ysidro in southern California, the LA Times reported.

A short while later, another agent arrested 25-year-old U.S. citizen Jose Edwin Rivera just over a mile from the border, asserting that he used a drone to smuggle more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine into the country. The stash had an estimated value of $46,000,

A photo of the drone alleged to have been used in the crime appears to show a DJI Matrice 600, a powerful hexacopter costing around $4,500.

According to a criminal complaint filed in a San Diego federal court, the accused told investigators he had pulled the same trick at least five times in recent months, adding that each time he would hand the drugs to a man at a nearby gas station in return for a $1,000 fee.

Rivera is currently in prison and has pleaded not guilty to a charge of importing a controlled substance. The federal authorities described the incident as their first confirmed case of drug smuggling by drone in San Diego County.

Border Patrol supervising agent Mark Endicott said criminals may be turning to drones as border agents have been having “some success” catching smugglers on the ground.

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