|Secret missions over Bahamas|
Guardian News Editor
Published: Jun 25, 2012
The Bahamas government intends to make inquiries to the U.S. government over a report that the United States has been quietly testing unmanned surveillance flights over The Bahamas for more than 18 months, Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage said yesterday.
Nottage said neither he nor Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell was familiar with the operations and he has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to look into the matter.
However, former Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest indicated that the former administration was aware of the Predator drone tests.
Both Nottage and Turnquest were approached by The Nassau Guardian on the matter yesterday as a Los Angeles Times story made the rounds on social media.
The L. A. Times said: “After quietly testing Predator drones over The Bahamas for more than 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security plans to expand the unmanned surveillance flights into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to fight drug smuggling, according to U.S. officials.”
The story also said that for the recent counter-narcotics flights over The Bahamas, border agents deployed a maritime variant of the Predator B. The Predator B is best known as the drone used by the CIA to find and kill al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen.
The Times noted the drone uses a special radar system that can scan large sections of open ocean. Drug agents can check a ship's unique radio pulse in databases to identify the boat and owner, it reported.
Up until the L. A. Times story, Bahamians were unaware of these top-secret operations over Bahamian waters.
Asked yesterday if the Ingraham administration had knowledge of them, Turnquest said, “Nothing happens in The Bahamas unless the Government of The Bahamas knows about it.”
Pressed on the matter, he said, “The Bahamas and the United States have a long lasting relationship in the fight against drugs and we’ve worked together over the years and utilized various methods.
“Much of what we have done we don’t make public.”
The former national security minister said that is because authorities do not want drug smugglers to be aware of the methods they are using to fight drug smuggling.
“The methodologies that we have used over the years have yielded good results. As new methods come on stream, the criminals tend to find out about them and as they find out about them they use alternate strategies to try to avoid them.”
But Turnquest noted that because of the country’s porous borders authorities have not been able to stop all drug traffickers.
The L. A. Times reported that the high-tech aircraft has had limited success spotting drug runners in the open ocean.
It said the drone used over The Bahamas participated in only a handful of large-scale busts.
According to the L. A. Times, one of the most recent occurred early December 22 when a drone trained its infrared eye on a sailboat heading toward the south shoreline of New Providence.
Photographs of the sloop and grid coordinates were relayed by the U.S. Embassy in Nassau. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force found no drugs, but arrested 23 men, five women and a boy. The passengers were believed to be migrants from Haiti, the paper said.
The Nassau Guardian spoke briefly with former Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette yesterday, but he said it is not a matter he would discuss with the media if he knew about it.
A U.S. Embassy official promised to release a statement today on the Predator drone testing over The Bahamas.