Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

June 26, 2024

Spy Balloons over Lakotas' Homes in the Dakotas the Past Four Days

Aerostar's helium balloons have surveillance technology attached, and have been over Indian country in South Dakota and North Dakota this week.

Spy Balloons over Lakotas' Homes in the Dakotas the Past Four Days

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, June 23, 2024

Spy balloons were above Lakotas' home on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Yankton, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, and Arikara, Mandan and Hidatsa this week, first spotted on June 19. The helium balloons, loaded with surveillance technology, can be used for tracking. Attorneys warn it is surveillance without a warrant, and is being used to track activists.

Aerostar's surveillance balloon is shown over Cannon Ball on Standing Rock this week. Cannon Ball was the site of resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. This balloon was spotted over Lakotas' home on Cheyenne River, before passing over Standing Rock. It ended its path in Minot, North Dakota, as shown on Flight Radar24. Screenshot by Censored News.

The Guardian exposed these spy balloons, that have been over Lakotas' homes in South Dakota and North Dakota.

"The high-altitude balloons promise a cheap monitoring platform that could follow multiple cars and boats for extended periods. The US military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six midwest states using experimental high-altitude balloons, documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveal."

The Guardian reported this five years ago. Censored News posted the live shots from Flight Radar24 on Facebook from the past four days, showing the paths of two of these balloons, HBAL684, and HBAL688, owned by Aerostar.

The two Aerostar balloons have been over Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Yankton, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, and Arikara, Mandan and Hidatsa. The one above is shown over Cannon Ball, after being above Cheyenne River, then traveling on and ending at Minot, North Dakota.

Lakota in Cheyenne River Saw this Balloon Hovering Overhead

Aerostar's surveillance balloon over Cheyenne River Lakota Nation in South Dakota three days ago. Censored News screenshot of Flight Radar24.

The Guardian's article exposes the extent of the surveillance. “What this new technology proposes is to watch everything at once. Sometimes it’s referred to as ‘combat TiVo’ because when an event happens somewhere in the surveilled area, you can potentially rewind the tape to see exactly what occurred, and rewind even further to see who was involved and where they came from.”

The tests were commissioned by the US Southern Command (Southcom), a joint military operation of the US army, navy, air force and other forces, the Guardian reported.

Now, Aerostar, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has a contract with the Airforce, as shown in the current US defense contracts.

The balloons were initially said to be used for Project Loon by Google to provide rural Internet Access before the project was cancelled. Now, Aerostar, a private company, owns the balloons and obtains U.S. defense contracts for unmanned surveillance, which is stated on Aerostar's website.

Aerostar balloon on Pine Ridge

This helium balloon was west of Sharp's Corner, above Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Nation, in South Dakota on June 22, 2024.

Aerostar's spy balloon that was over Pine Ridge, spotted west of Sharps Corner on Saturday, is shown in this image a week ago in southeastern New Mexico. The two surveillance balloons traveled up through Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa, to South Dakota. The helium balloons, loaded with surveillance technology, are owned by Aerostar, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  -- Screenshot by Censored News.
Aerostar's balloon was east of Wanblee, traveling north, above the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Nation, on June 19, 2024.

The balloons are used for surveillance as an alternative to drones and satellites. Drones are cheap, but fly too low and can be seen. Satellites fly high, but are expensive. The balloons are the middle alternative.

Aerial Surveillance: ACLU's Lawsuit
Law enforcement attempted to shoot down a drone during the resistance to Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock in 2017. Photo courtesy Paiute journalist Myron Dewey. Myron was later killed near his home on an isolated road in Yomba, Nevada, when a truck driven by a mining engineer hit Myron's vehicle head-on on Sept. 26, 2021. The day before Myron was livestreaming from the Fallon bombing range. While live streaming, Myron was opposing the expansion of the bombing range on Paiute and Shoshone lands, and the lithium mining targeting the Paiute Massacre Site at Thacker Pass, Nevada.
Photo credit:

The ACLU filed a lawsuit over aerial surveillance, pointing out that the United States government is failing to provide information under the freedom of information act, and at the same time, media and activists are being restricted from aerial surveillance of police who are brutalizing activists, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

"Unfortunately, there is a history of the FAA creating flight restrictions over protests at the request of law enforcement to limit the ability of reporters and community members to engage in aerial photography of police behavior," ACLU said.

"The agency restricted airspace over the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016, and before that in Ferguson, Missouri during the 2014 protests following the death of Michael Brown."

U.S. Border Patrol drone over Standing Rock camps

In a new court case this year, North Dakota v. USA over Standing Rock protests, the depositions by federal agencies reveal the U.S. Border Patrol used a drone over Standing Rock camps.

"Customs and Border Protection responded to the protests with its MQ-9 Reaper drone, a model best known for remote airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was flying above the encampments by August 22, supplying video footage known as the 'Bigpipe Feed,'" Alleen Brown reported in March of 2024 in Grist.

"The drone flew nearly 281 hours over six months, costing the agency $1.5 million." 

FBI special agent Robert Perry testified in this new case, North Dakota v. USA, about the Border Patrol drone used at Standing Rock over the camps.

"We wanted drones that could see faces, license plates; not just overhead act- -- not just a broad group of people," FBI agent Perry's deposition states.

MQ-9 Reaper Drone, the drone used by U.S. Border Patrol for unmanned surveillance in North Dakota

Spy Balloon over Cheyenne River on June 19, 2024

(Below) Helium Balloon 688 southwest of Eagle Butte, South Dakota
Flight Radar24 screenshot by Censored News

(Below) Helium Balloon north of Green Grass
Flight Radar24 screenshot by Censored News

(Below) Helium Balloon 688 northwest of Fort Yates, Standing Rock, North Dakota, midnight June 19, 2024

Read more:

The Guardian's report in 2019 exposing balloon surveillance

ACLU lawsuit over aerial surveillance

FBI surveillance and Border Patrol drone at Standing Rock, by Grist

FBI special agent Robert Perry's testimony about Standing Rock, by Censored News

Aerostar defense contracts

"Aerostar Technical Solutions has received prime contracts from the Department of Defense, Air Force, Navy and Army for a range of services including installation, sustainment and spare parts support for naval aviation programs, repair services under Foreign Military Sales cases, unmanned stratospheric systems development, high-altitude GPS technology R&D, and unmanned surface vehicle design and testing."

"The company has served as a subcontractor to Boeing, MITRE, MIT, HII Mission Technologies, Smartronix, Cybex and Sierra Nevada on projects like aerospace support, research subcontracts, high-altitude balloon procurement, and engineering services. While most awards did not specify set-asides, Aerostar has worked across R&D efforts, program management support and technology demonstrations for defense agencies."

Aerostar: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance

"The final piece of the former Raven Industries has a new owner.

"Maryland-based TCOM Holdings, the parent of TCOM LP, acquired Aerostar International Inc. from Raven Industries Inc., which now is a subsidiary of CNH Industrial NV."

"Aerostar will become an operating business unit under TCOM, which promotes itself as the global leader in ISR awareness solutions. ISR stands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance."

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