Fiji police fume at pot growers who jammed a surveillance drone

Fiji police drone marijuana

Police officials in the Pacific island nation of Fiji are fighting mad over a downed surveillance drone they say was put out of commission by a jamming device used by illegal pot farmers – not coincidentally because it was looking for signs of illegal pot farming.

Police in Fiji said their drone abruptly dropped from the sky while flying over areas of Kadavu island – the fourth largest in the archipelago – during a reconnaissance mission earlier this week. The craft, which reports say is worth about $9,525, dropped shortly after officers at the controls had identified what they reported as four large marijuana farms in the area. UAV surveillance has been a critical asset in Fiji’s efforts to battle growing illegal pot cultivation, leading cops to suspect growers have gotten their hands on signal jammers to thwart the craft.

“The drone operator lost command and control of the drone whilst on a reconnaissance flight and there (are) strong indicators that a drone jamming device was employed by farmers,” the nation’s Commissioner of Police, Sitiveni Qiliho, said in the Fiji Sun while issuing a warning to those responsible. “If those people think employing drone jammers is going to slow us down, no. We will continue our onslaught on the illegal cultivation of drugs. We set out to do that this year and that momentum will continue.”

That may sound like overly dramatic talk for an activity that increasing numbers of US states and nations around the globe continue to legalize. But it pretty accurately reflects the size of Fiji’s (still) illegal dope trade, and police efforts to battle it.

 In the first 10 months of 2021 alone, the nation’s cops have bust 27 pot farms, uprooting nearly 30,000 maturing plants. According to officials, those hauls – representing only a portion of total production underway – were valued at nearly $700 million. That’s a pretty big underground business activity in a country whose tourism-reliant economy is expected to generate total GDP of just $5 billion this year.

Which not only explains why marijuana farmers would want to get their hands on jammers to incapacitate police drones, but also how they’d finance tech usually reserved for police, military, and government security forces.

“It proves that the (farming) money is huge and they will take us on with technology as well,” Qiliho stated ahead of another warning. “It (isn’t because) this drone has been taken out of service with us that we’re going to give up the fight, no. We’re going to look for smarter technology that we can employ, and the identification of the gadget that has been employed in this case.”

To that end, the national police force has hired a drone services company to help them develop counter-counter-drone approaches to thwart the teched-up marijuana farmers. Should they succeed in keeping their UAV safe, Fiji’s cops may next want to bring in other kinds of specialists to deal with something reports say is also turning up at raid sites: grass-covered booby traps to protect plants from outsiders gaining access.

Photo: Matteo Paganelli

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