U.S. Government Using Retired Military Spy Equipment at Home

By Susan Jones | May 7, 2014 | 8:41 AM EDT

A balloon-like craft known as an aerostat is attached to the back of a high speed Navy vessel docked in Key West, Florida, Friday, April 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Fox)

(CNSNews.com) - Military spy equipment once used in Afghanistan increasingly is being deployed in the skies over the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection this week announced that it will add two more aerostats to the three it now uses to spot and deter illegal activity along the Southwest Border.

"The aerostats were acquired from the Department of Defense as they are no longer needed by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but have significant benefits to the protection of the United States when deployed in a homeland security situation," the news release said.

The first three aerostats -- balloon-like devices that are tethered to the ground -- were deployed in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in November.

According to CBP, the aerostats "contain sensor equipment that allows operators to view activity along the border that could be a threat to the public and the nation. The sensor equipment is similar to what the Border Patrol already uses but allows for a greater viewing area."

In its announcement on Monday, CBP thanked local communities "for their enduring support of the aerostats’ deployment."

The agency also noted the "significant advantages of using excess military equipment," including economic benefits and "quality training" (in conjunction with the Defense Department) on how to use and maintain the aerostats.

"Additionally, the aerostats have helped agents save immigrant lives in remote and inhospitable areas," the news release said.

CBP isn't the only government entity using the aerostats.

On Jan. 22, the Washington Post reported that two aerostats would be raised over Army-owned land in Maryland, about 45 miles northeast of Washington, D.C., along the busy I-95 corridor.

"From a vantage of 10,000 feet, they will cast a vast radar net from Raleigh, N.C., to Boston and out to Lake Erie, with the goal of detecting cruise missiles or enemy aircraft so they could be intercepted before reaching the capital," the report said.

"The radar system that is planned for the aerostats will be capable of monitoring the movement of trains, boats and cars," but not people, the newspaper cited the Army as saying.

The report noted that the deployment had raised privacy concerns.