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New Lockheed robot on duty in Afghanistan

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Wired describes Lockheed Martin's 'Squad Mission Support System' ("SMSS") robot, now on patrol in Afghanistan:

Essentially a smart All-Terrain Vehicle with cameras, laser sensors, GPS and sophisticated computer algorithms, SMSS is programmed to follow designated soldiers around the battlefield, hauling their equipment for them.

So what?

Over the past decade, the line between civilian police and the army has been blurred by the transfer of surplus military gear to local police forces — including tanks, armored  personnel carriers, Skywatch mobile observation towers, Blackhawk helicopters, M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, military robots, bulletproof helmets and night-vision goggles purchased with the help of DHS grants.

Since the ‘1033 program’ under which the DOD gave leftover military gear to law enforcement was initiated in 1997 to give police tools to fight drugs and terrorism, “more than 17,000 agencies have taken in $2.6 billion worth of equipment for nearly free, paying only the cost of delivery”. In 2011 alone, almost a half a billion dollars in military equipment was given away under the 1033 program and 2012 is expected to be a bumper year for police departments.  

Norman Stamper, the former police chief of Seattle who was in charge of the department during the paramilitary crackdown on WTO protesters in 1999, is now convinced that “my support for a militarized solution caused all hell to break loose” and was “a huge setback – for the protesters, my cops, the community. ”

Stamper writes that

the paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders – a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood – is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy….The counterproductive response to 9/11, in which the federal government began providing military equipment and training even to some of the smallest rural departments has fueled the militarization of police forces. Everyday policing is characterized by a SWAT mentality, every other 911 call a military mission. What emerges is a picture of a vital public-safety institution perpetually at war with its own people.

Military equipment has a way of migrating back to the United States after foreign deployments, adding to the shifting culture within domestic law enforcement agencies towards militarization. Drones and IED robots are the latest example of this long, established trend. Perhaps protesters at Occupy Oakland — who have been met with small tanks in the streets — will one day face a SMSS?

Read more on surveillance robots and the militarization of the police.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.