CBP Air And Marine Predator DronePhoto by John Moore/Getty Images

Customs and Border Protection flew a Predator B drone over Minneapolis as protests rocked the city


Customs and Border Protection flew a Predator B drone over Minneapolis Friday amid continued protests in a city rocked by the shocking death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for an extended period of time.

Jason Paladino, an investigative reporter at The Project on Government Oversight, tweeted Friday that CBP unmanned aerial vehicle CBP-104 out of Grand Forks Air Force Base is "circling over Minneapolis" at 20,000 feet.

The drone overflight over a city that has been consumed by outrage in recent days was detected using an open-source flight tracking tool, Vice reported Friday. Vice verified the flight path for CBP-104, confirming that the aircraft made several flights around Minneapolis along a hexagonal flight path.

Customs and Border Protection's CBP-104 is an older Predator B, a type of unmanned aerial vehicle manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The drones in CBP's inventory are all unarmed surveillance assets that can monitor an area for hours on end.

CBP told Insider in a statement that a US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations was there in preparation "to provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners in Minneapolis."

"The unmanned aircraft system provides live video feed to ground law enforcement, giving them situational awareness, maximizing public safety, while minimizing the threat to personnel and assets," CBP said, adding that it returned to Grand Forks once it was determined it was not needed.

CBP-104's activities Friday have drawn criticism from civil liberties advocates.

"CBP has no role in what's happening in Minneapolis at all," argued ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani in an emailed statement.

"This rogue agency's use of military technology to surveil protesters inside US borders is deeply disturbing, especially given CBP's lack of clear and strong policies to protect privacy and constitutional rights," Guliani said. "This agency's use of drones over the city should be halted immediately."

CBP said that CBP AMO "routinely conducts operations with other federal, state, and local law enforcement entities to assist law enforcement and humanitarian relief efforts," adding that these missions do not only occur at the border but are carried out nationwide.

George Floyd was killed on May 25 when Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for roughly eight minutes as Floyd was being arrested after allegedly attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill.

Four officers were fired and Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The charges against Chauvin come after days of protests against police brutality in Minneapolis and in some other parts of the country. In Minneapolis, the violence and destruction have been substantial.

CBP's drone flight Friday, which lasted from around 10 am to 1:15 pm, was linked linked to the ongoing situation in Minneapolis. This is not the first time though that aerial surveillance technology has been used to monitor such protests.

In 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the FBI used manned aircraft to carry out surveillance activities over Baltimore amid the ensuing protests.

Update: This post has been updated to include CBP's confirmation of the drone flight and its explanation of the unmanned aircraft's activities around Minneapolis.