National security pundit Glenn Greenwald has an interesting thought experiment in the Guardian today that asks whether Christopher Dorner, the LAPD's suspected "killer cop," should be targeted for drone strike the way other terrorists are in Pakistan and beyond. But while Greenwald's comparisons between foreign and domestic drone attacks work as a fun intellectual pursuit, it's worth noting that, despite what many news outlets are saying, the use of drones in capturing Dorner seems mostly to be a lot of of hype.
The first myth to dispel is that even if drones are being used to hunt—not kill—Dorner, it's not the first time something like this has happened. Quoting an unnamed "senior police source," UK paper the Express reported yesterday that "Dorner has become the first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil." Various news outlets ran with the Express story—including Gawker Media's own Gizmodo—but, unfortunately, the Express' claims were inaccurate. As this LA Times article explains, in June 2011, police in North Dakota used a drone to capture three hostile militia members moving about a 3,000-acre farm. Dispatching drones to catch domestic criminals may not be a widely used practice, but it's not unique to the Dorner manhunt.
Secondly, according to one police spokesperson, it turns out that drones may not even be part of the search for Dorner. The Express had reported that the drones being used to find Dorner belonged to US Customs and Border Patrol. But in an interview with Mashable, a US Customs and Border Patrol representative said that's not true:
"Reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are being used are incorrect. CBP UAS are not flying in support of the search," a spokesperson from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Mashable via email.
Despite the Border Patrol's denials, an LAPD spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny that drones are being used to capture Dorner, saying in interviews that commenting on potential drones would compromise their investigation. "That would tip off any suspect watching media, right?" he told Mashable.