A recent weapons purchase by NASA piqued the interest of some of my readers, prompting questions such as, “What is NASA doing with assault rifles?” In post 9/11 America, no self-respecting federal agency — from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Education — can exist without its own SWAT team. A strong trend of militarizing law enforcement has been occurring for some time, and if this is a surprise to you, its time to catch up. Yes, even NASA has a SWAT team, and you may be surprised with some of their assignments, which include militarized perimeter security and robbing grandmothers of heirloom decorative paperweights.
NASA’s recent purchase of Armalite AR-15 rifles, documented on FedBizOpps.gov, is only the tip of the iceberg regarding NASA’s equipment and capabilities. The space agency also has its own police department and round-the-clock SWAT team.
The purpose of all this security is protection from “troublemakers,” as the agency states, as well as criminal investigations, which I will discuss shortly.
Some security is surely warranted to protect NASA’s equipment and personnel. How much? I will leave that for you to decide.
NASA.gov describes its SWAT team in a post they titled, SWATting Trouble:
Along with the formidable force of standard security at Kennedy, a highly trained and specialized group of guardians protect the Center from would-be troublemakers. They are the members of the Kennedy Space Center Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and they mean business.
“We’re here 24-7,” said SWAT commander David Fernandez. “There’s never a point when SWAT is not here, so we’re ready to respond to something if needed at a moment’s notice.”
The SWAT team is equipped with helicopter(s) and armored Lenco Bearcat vehicles — priced at $250,000 each — both of which the agency enjoys taking selfie pictures with.
Is this the same bureaucratic agency that people claimed could not possibly have its budget trimmed? Hmm.
So what does all this get used for? Let’s have a look.
Its not entirely clear why it is necessary to patrol the property with a sharpshooter dangling a sniper rifle out the side of a helicopter. But NASA isn’t going to give Al Qaeda any chances.
Besides the excitement of pretending the property is surrounded by hostile military forces, NASA’s police are used for crowd control. When the astronauts come out for a photo-op, men with rifles separate them from their fans.
These exaggerated security measures may or may not impress you. But what about when NASA cops leave the space station to perform undercover sting operations?
In May 2011, a 74-year-old grandmother from California was the subject of one such SWAT sting operation, performed to seize a piece of her personal property without compensation.
Joann Davis, needing to raise money to care for her sick son, decided to sell a gift that was given to her husband 42 years earlier by astronaut Niel Armstrong. Davis’ husband, who passed away in 1986, was a space-engineer, NASA-contractor, and friend of Armstrong’s. Davis received from him a speck of dust from the moon, embedded into a decorative paperweight.
The moon-dust paperweight is quite rare and valuable, and Davis attempted to sell for funds to treat her son’s illness and contribute to her children’s inheritance. When she reached out for potential buyers, and after months of searching, she unwittingly linked up with a secret federal agent.
Davis and the undercover agent agreed to meet up at a Denny’s restaurant in Lake Elsinore, CA. As Davis sat across from the would-be buyer, an armed team of NASA cops waited outside. When she placed the paperweight on the table, the strike team made their entrance.
Davis recalled to CBS, “Someone is grabbing me from the back. Now they’re pulling me out of the booth and they have a hold of me pretty darn good, and the force was like, unnecessary … because I’m like 110 (pounds). I’m four-foot-eleven.”
“They dragged me out of Denny’s,” she said. “I was scared. Really scared.”
The agents manhandled her so forcefully that she suffered deep bruising, and the shock of the raid was so intense that she lost control of her bladder. She was detained and interrogated in the parking lot.
“I peed in my pants and I stood there dripping wet for over two hours,” she told the Orange County Register. “I was so mad. Humiliated, but mad. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
She said it looked like a SWAT team. She wants her property back.
“It’s a very upsetting thing,” Davis told The Associated Press. “It’s very detrimental, very humiliating, all of it a lie.”
Peter Schlueter, Davis’ attorney, told CBS News, “There’s no such law that moon rocks belong to the federal government. There are laws about stealing from the federal government and I understand that, and if anybody could show that these moon rocks were stolen from the federal government, that’s a horse of a different color, but they haven’t shown that.”
Davis was not charged with a crime. The NASA cops simply roughed her up and stole her property.
“I felt humiliated,” Davis said. “I felt, this may not be proper to say, but I tell you, I felt raped. I really did.”