The Illinois State Police director didn’t know anything about more than two dozen surveillance balloons launched states away that are expected to come down in Central Illinois next month.

The Guardian earlier this month reported the U.S. Military in conjunction with the Sierra Nevada Corp. was conducting a test across six midwest states using 25 high-altitude balloons packed with technology. The report said Sierra Nevada Corp. got a permit from the Federal Communications Commission to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats.”

The balloons were launched in South Dakota. They will drift over Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, and will land in Central Illinois sometime in September after floating in the stratosphere at altitudes of 65,000 feet, the report said.

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said he didn’t know about it when asked about it Friday.

“Did you say spy balloons?” Kelly responded when asked about the report. 

Kelly said Illinois State Police officials would work to get more details after being asked about the story.

“Well now that you’ve asked we will be,” Kelly said. “I’m sure that we’ll inquire.”

A public information officer with the Illinois State Police didn’t have additional details immediately available Monday.

ACLU of Illinois Communications Director Ed Yohnka said it was troubling that state and local government officials, let alone the general public, had not been informed about the program.

“I know they’re calling it a test, but in the test, what information is being collected? And what happens to that information afterward?” Yohnka said. “Is it stored? Who has access to that information?”

Yohnka said such applications of mass surveillance may make sense in war zones to keep soldiers safe from improvised explosive devices and to be able to go back in time like a video recorder to pick up on other threats. However, he said it seemed the lines between military techniques and domestic law enforcement continue to blur.

“This is again one of these dangerous developments that we go from that military application to a domestic application with almost no discussion, or no public sense of what’s going on,” Yohnka said. “I think in terms of what people can do is to just pay attention to these sorts of things.”

Yohnka said people who have concerns about such surveillance and military tools being used domestically they should contact their state and federal elected officials.

Messages seeking comment from Sierra Nevada Corp. were not returned.

The company, based in Sparks, Nevada, works in the global aerospace and national security industries. It is a Tier One Superior Supplier for the U.S. Air Force, according to its website.

Staff Writer

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.