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© NOVAThe ARGUS drone system paints a mosaic image from dozens of cameras.
To understand the extent to which the federal government has the ability to spy on us, we must attempt to understand the technologies it has at its disposal. Through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Department has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on one particular project alone. Known as ARGUS, it is a surveillance platform with the capability to maintain continuous 24/7 surveillance, day or night; able to track multiple moving targets miles apart in high definition without refocusing the camera; and with a resolution so astounding that it can detect objects as small as a cellular phone from several miles in the sky. It quite literally provides ubiquitous surveillance over a whole city from one drone.

"This is the next generation of surveillance," said Yiannis Antonaides, an engineer for BAE Systems who led the design of the project. "It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist."

The Government's All-Seeing Eye

ARGUS stands for Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance. Its alternative designation is Wide Area Persistent Stare (WAPS). The project integrates many sophisticated technologies into a formidable surveillance system, combining images from 368 independent into a single mosaic image. The result is a video with a combined resolution of reportedly 1.8 gigapixels.

The massive collection of data is equivalent to having 100 Predator Drones hover over a medium-sized city at once.

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© DARPAA mosaic image created by ARGUS.
As DARPA describes the project:
The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance (ARGUS) program developed airborne sensor systems that provide a persistent, real-time, high-resolution, wide-area, day-night video surveillance capability. The ARGUS Infrared System (ARGUS-IR) uses an advanced infrared (IR) composite focal plane array (FPA) sensor. The nighttime persistent capability provided by ARGUS-IR combined with the daytime capability provided by the ARGUS Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) enables 24-hour day/night surveillance. ARGUS-IR's wide-area, high-update-rate, high-resolution imaging capability enables detection and tracking of dismounts as well as vehicles.
The ARGUS system can simultaneously view an area of 15 square miles from an altitude of 17,500 ft. While never losing track of the greater image, ARGUS can allow users to open up dozens of zoomable sub-windows and track individual vehicles and people anywhere in the city-wide field of view. It can spot objects as small as six-inches wide.

"There's actually enough resolution to be able to see the people waving their arms or walking around; what kind of clothes they are wearing," said Antonaides, pointing out a bird flying in the air several miles below the camera.

The system is capable of streaming a million terabytes of HD video every day, which is the equivalent of 5,000 hours of high definition footage. This immense trove of data is capable of being stored in perpetuity, so that the government can "rewind" the video and view things that have gone on under the drone days or weeks earlier.

"If we had our choice, we would like ARGUS to be over the same area, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week," said Antonaides.

The technology is intended for unmanned drones, but has also been outfitted on Blackhawk helicopters.

Gigantic Price Tag

Despite maintaining perennially unbalanced budgets, the federal government continues to spend a seemingly unlimited amount resources on realizing its science-fiction fantasies of "ubiquitous" surveillance over the population.

The ARGUS program has itself consumed a total of three-quarters of a billion tax-payer dollars. Most of the spending has been passed under President Obama's tenure. Police State USA analyzed DARPA's spending reports and came up with the following breakdown of the ARGUS budget:
  • FY 2008 - $114.752 million
  • FY 2009 - $118.880 million
  • FY 2010 - $117.041 million
  • FY 2011 - $109.476 million
  • FY 2012 - $88.118 million
  • FY 2013 - $101.339 million
  • FY 2014 - $117.233 million (predicted)
Admitted total: $766,839,000.00. (Source: DARPA Budget Summary Reports for FY 2010-2014)

Remember these figures when people in Washington D.C. are complaining about the next government shutdown. The federal government never has shortage of resources when it comes to controlling populations and spying.

What to Expect from ARGUS

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The government remains tight-lipped about where ARGUS is deployed. It has certainly been applied overseas in America's unending global war against people who don't like foreign governments intervening in their countries. As we have witnessed, most wartime gadgets are perfected on foreign populations, and ultimately make their way back to the USA to be used against the citizens.

The government has big plans for its nearly billion dollar project. It continues to pour money into the system to integrate things like infrared vision and other advanced imaging features.

In the near future - as more of these platforms are deployed - it would be a fair assumption that every major U.S. city could be monitored and recorded from above nearly continuously, by ARGUS and other varieties of drones.

The FAA has cleared around 30,000 drones to take to the skies above the United States by 2015. They are now routinely used by agencies like the FBI, DHS, and DEA.

Drones have already been used to specifically track crime suspects inside the USA. Courts have ruled that a warrant is not necessary to hover above private property and spy on the occupants. Since as early as 2012, drones have been used by cops to surveil suspects and make arrests. A North Dakota man was recently sent to jail based on drone evidence.

ARGUS, with the capability of opening up 65 independent close-up surveillance windows within its greater image, gives the government the potential to set up a formidable surveillance dragnet from above. The drone operators could set-up dedicated windows to monitor a targeted individual's home, workplace, all his friends' homes, all his relatives' homes, and all of his favorite hangouts, if so desired.

Besides simply spying on Americans' every movement, the drones may take on other roles in law enforcement, with many dangerous implications. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says that it would be legal for an armed government to target and kill Americans on U.S. soil in an "extraordinary circumstance."

The government's incredible potential for domestic spying and surveillance is already here and Americans have failed to react in any meaningful way. The applications of such a power in the hands of an increasingly tyrannical government does not seem to bode well for residents of the land of the free.*

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face recorded by a drone in HD and stored forever.

The ARGUS system was featured in a PBS NOVA documentary called "Rise of the Drones." Preview it below or watch it in full here: Rise of the Drones - NOVA