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Cowboy hat By Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer - Tue., 2/5/13
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Sheriff Tommy Gage of Montgomery County, Texas, was eager to show off his new surveillance toy. With a $300,000 grant from those nice folks at Homeland Security in DC, his police agency had just become first in the nation to have its very own drone. In late 2011, Gage got a 50-pound, hovering UAV from Vanguard Defense Industries, with the deluxe eye-in-the-sky package, including a power zoom camera and infrared detection equipment. It didn't come factory-armed, but the fireworks could be added later. Filled with pride, the sheriff summoned the media to a photo-op last March to witness him and the drone strutting their stuff. To add even more drama to this show Gage had his SWAT team in full riot gear, in their "Bearcat," an armored vehicle.

So--the drone's ground controller launched the pilotless aircraft and the sheriff beamed. But soon, the demonstration went horribly wrong. Coming in for a landing, the gadget suddenly went on the fritz, losing contact with the controller. Not only did it crash in front of the startled media--but, even more startling to Sheriff Gage, it crashed right into his SWAT squad's Bearcat.

Luckily, the armored vehicle held up, so none of the SWAT teamers were injured. But what a show! We now know that if the American people don't stop this government-industry complex from deploying thousands of domestic drones, we'd all better get ourselves a Bearcat.

Oh, and Sheriff Gage says not to worry about these spy machines crashing into our Constitution: "No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody's going to question it, but we're going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that."

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