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Crime Technology

The Lithuanian Mob Was Smuggling Cigarettes Into Russia With a Drone 81

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-forget-to-tip-your-delivery-drone dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes: "A homemade Lithuanian drone was reportedly being used to smuggle cigarettes into Russia, meaning that organized crime has beaten Amazon to the punch in the quest to deliver desirable products to customers aerially. Russia has 'detained' the drone, a spokesman with the Kaliningrad border department of the Russian Federal Security service told one of Russia's largest news organizations earlier this week. It's not the first time drones have been used to smuggle products — back in November, people tried to smuggle drugs into a prison in Georgia; the same thing happened in Sao Paolo back in March and in Quebec last fall. Basically, people have learned that drones are good at carrying things."
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The Lithuanian Mob Was Smuggling Cigarettes Into Russia With a Drone

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  • If the drones are cheap enough, then it probably doesn't matter. Send several and let them try and catch them all. If any product makes it, you win. And your own neck is never at risk since the drone isn't going to squeal on you.

    Well, it probably is, though. It would be hard to cover all your tracks digitally. Hmm...

    Still interesting though.

    • by nxcho (754392)
      According to the first google result on 'tobacco tax russia' the duty is about $25 per 1000 cigarettes. This is probably inte same order of magnitude as the profit you can make on smuggling cigarettes if you include costs of procuring, distribution and sales. Say a decent autonomous drone with some carrying capacity costs >$1000. That means you have to sell more than 40000 smuggled cigarettes for each drone you have confiscated by the authorities. I would say that you have to have a fairly decent succes
    • TFA article has a picture of the drone incoming, whilst officers wait in a field. The smugglers clearly made 2 mistakes.

      1) Flying during the day. This is an autonomous drone, flying via GPS, it doesn't need to see. Fly it at night and it's far less likely to be spotted, and far harder to catch.

      2) They repeated the same route. Select a random route out of several possibilities each time you fly, and even if the authorities are aware of the drone, they won't have the man-power to send officers to intercept ev

  • by mirix (1649853)

    There's almost no cig tax in Russia, they're on the order of $2 a pack.
    It can't be worth the hassle to save the... what, 25 cents of tax?

    I guess if they were counterfeit or stolen it could be worthwhile, though.

    Bringing them into Canada makes sense, with some of the highest sin taxes in the world, though. They're $14 a pack in this province.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by camelrider (46141) on Friday May 16, 2014 @04:45PM (#47021095)

      May just be Putin beginning to set the stage for another invasion.

      • Well, the Itar-TASS article repeats this phrase twice:

        He did not rule out the drone could have been used for other purposes, including unlawful actions in Russia’s territory.

        The Kaliningrad border service department is checking whether the drone could have been used for purposes other than cigarette smuggling, including unlawful actions in Russian territory.

        Obviously the notion of "unlawful actions in Russian territory" is an important one, but the Russian Foreign ministry isn't quite sure how to spin this one. We'll know more later, perhaps in the days leading up to the elections in Ukraine.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:21PM (#47021397)

      Bringing them into Canada makes sense, with some of the highest sin taxes in the world, though. They're $14 a pack in this province.

      So, if you accidentally try to bring more than your personal quota into the country, is it a sin tax error?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the article is confused about the direction of the contraband. In Russia, a pack is around $1, in Lithuania - around $4. Source: I'm a lithuanian.

    • There's almost no cig tax in Russia, they're on the order of $2 a pack.
      It can't be worth the hassle to save the... what, 25 cents of tax?

      I guess if they were counterfeit or stolen it could be worthwhile, though.

      Bringing them into Canada makes sense, with some of the highest stupidity taxes in the world, though. They're $14 a pack in this province.

      FTFY

    • by PPH (736903)

      So, teach your money-grubbing government a lesson: Quit smoking.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @04:47PM (#47021121)

    Cigarettes are much cheaper in Russia, so "drone" smuggled stuff in opposite direction.(I know for sure, i`m local.)
    Here are some fancy pics on local news site:http://www.newkaliningrad.ru/news/incidents/3689593-zaderzhany-litsa-upravlyavshie-bespilotnikom-v-kaliningradskoy-oblasti-video.html#pic3296056

  • Umm, I'm pretty sure it has to be the other way around. Why would they smuggle cigarettes INTO Russia.... They are much cheaper there compared to Lithuania.....

    Unless of course this is another attempt at tarnishing the reputation of a country that is unfortunate enough to border Russia. They already claimed many of the key Maidan activists were prepared in special training camps in Lithuania, which seems unlikely.

    • . Why would they smuggle cigarettes INTO Russia....

      In Putinist Russia, cigarette smokes YOU!

      Actually . . . the first thing I thought about was when that German teenager took a joyride with a private plane, and landed it on Red Square.

      Have the former Soviet air defense systems fallen into disrepair . . . ? Or do the cigarette drones fly too low . . . ?

      • There's a photo in the link posted by another poster (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/05/russians-capture-cigarette-smuggling-drone/) that shows the drone to be flying low enough to ram into a low-rise building and small enough to fit on the back of a small truck and it's quite cheap: "The FSB spokesman said that it was estimated that the body of the drone cost about 300 rubles -- about $10 dollars."
    • Maybe they WERE smuggling cigarettes into Russia, realized, OMFG! they were losing money like mad and NOW are smuggling cigarettes from Russia to Lithuania.
    • by quarterbuck (1268694) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:54PM (#47021695)
      It was being used to smuggle cigarettes into Lithuania by gangs operating in both countries, though the police claim that was not the only thing that was being smuggled.
      More details and pics are in an Ars article [arstechnica.com]. Seems pretty nifty, small gasoline engine, has all the control surfaces (rudders, ailerons etc.) , camera and an automatic GPS controlled route (making it a true autonomous drone rather than a remote controlled airplane).
      • I wonder if it weren't possible to simply use a balloon at night. No metals, (almost?) no radar visibility, completely silent, much simpler (and cheaper) design, a mostly passive beacon to localize it, all you need is a little wind in the right direction (and we have weather forecast for that). The shape of the border area seems favorable for this purpose; almost any heading from NNW to ESE would do.
        • I'm wondering how they got caught anyway. The radar profile on that thing probably wouldn't be hight given that presumably only the tiny engine would be metal plus a few odd bits, and it likely would've flown fairly low.
  • Since the 1970s (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @04:54PM (#47021189)

    People were using drones to smuggle diamonds back in the 1970s. Except they weren't called "drones" back then, just remote-control aeroplanes, so I guess that's totally different.

    • Re:Since the 1970s (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:42PM (#47021591)
      Much different. You need skill to operate an RC airplane. These drones pretty much fly themselves, so are much easier for criminals (and the rest of us) to use.
      • by OSULugan (3529543)

        Much different. You need skill to operate an RC airplane. These drones pretty much fly themselves, so are much easier for criminals (and the rest of us) to use.

        Just like fly-by-wire technology has made planes pretty much fly themselves! No skill necessary to operate them anymore either.

      • This plane was reportedly fully autonomous, using GPS to navigate a pre-set route. So yeah, that's a drone, not RC.
    • RC airplanes can only be operated whilst in sight of the operator. That means line of sight, a relatively short distance, and during daytime.

      With a drone, the operator can program it in advance. Throw the thing into the air, at night, and then leave the launch site. And the drone can deliver miles away. Ad that makes a huge reduction in the chances of being caught.

      Only it looks like these smugglers were too stupid to do it at night.

  • These are the cases we know about. I bet the detection ratio (captures / total attempts) is actually pretty small.

    • They might have beaten Amazon, but I doubt they have beaten US drug interests to the first drone delivery. As you say, it is about the detection ratio. The Russian smugglers just weren't good enough at it.
    • by vanyel (28049)

      Indeed, I would change the subject to "is" rather than "was"...

  • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:01PM (#47021243)
    When drone trade become illegal, then they can smuggle themselves.
  • by Jim Sadler (3430529) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:22PM (#47021401)
    It would be a money maker if a tiny drone could carry six ounces of heroin or cocaine across the border. The money is sufficient to cover the occasional loss of a drone and one need not pay a mule to smuggle the substance. It may also be a lot harder to catch and convict the sender of such drugs. That also means that chemical or germ warfare could be a huge threat. But now the rabbit is out of the hat. We could not regulate drones out of existence as many people could easily build one from scratch. Maybe we could have high altitude drones that strike any site launching a drone.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      It would be a money maker if a tiny drone could carry six ounces of heroin or cocaine across the border.

      Six ounces is nothing. You could literally drone-ize one of those styrofoam flyers you get at the mall around the holidays and transport that on a calm day

      • by swb (14022)

        By keeping payloads lighter you could get more range. You could have it fly via GPS and land a fair distance from the border.

        A kilo of heroin is worth $50-80,000. If they could get 3 miles inside the border on GPS guidance, I would imagine the cartels might even consider a fleet of $10k drones to be a single-use disposable item if they could get each one to move a kilo of heroin totally undetected.
           

      • Indeed. This cigarette drone was carrying 22 pounds of cargo. Now that's could be a serious amount of heroin or cocaine. Far more than you could stuff into even a real mule's box.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is curious that as soon as a general feeling is developed towards a culture, country, etc. we seem to attribute all its citizens the same perceived failing and vices we generally bestow on all our 'enemies'. Suddenly, everything Russians say is a lie, provocation, whatever. They are simultaneously devious enough to set this up to `tarnish Lithuania's reputation' and too stupid to build an undetectable drone. We cheer over their misfortunes just because one of their officials made a stupid remark over tr

  • by craighansen (744648) on Friday May 16, 2014 @07:06PM (#47022157)

    The US-Mexico border is nearly 2000 miles, and the estimate for complying with the "Secure Fence Act of 2006" which builds 700 miles of fence, at $4.1Billion, greater than the budget for the Border Patrol ($3.6Billion). Attempts to extend this to a complete fence have failed multiple times in Congress.

    At that rate a complete fence would cost at least $12Billion, and it would be completely useless against drug-smuggling drones that could probably be built for less than a thousand dollars, that could fly lower than radar coverage as for the "Virtual Fence," and would not be easily traceable to the origin or destination of the flights.

    Drones that could carry humans would probably cost just a little more. Right now, about 500 migrants per year die crossing the US-Mexico border - drones could most probably be safer than that, but it's hard to speculate what safety features human smugglers would employ in illegal drones.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      An immigrant-a-pult?
    • by Alioth (221270)

      Radar coverage I'm sure goes all the way down to the surface on the US-MX border. The US puts up balloons at about 15,000 feet on tethers with radars looking down (the balloon sites are all charted).

      However, a small enough drone with only a small amount of metal might still be very hard to detect. The drone could also drop its payload and then continue flying so when the authorities go to collect the drone (hoping to catch the people recovering the goods) they just get an empty drone, while the goods may ha

  • All of Amazons Drone Patents are worthless!
  • I remember, during the Cold War (and the start of the Drug War), when "cruise missles" first came out.

    There were two designs - a short-range one, with an engine that destroyed its bearings during the run, and a long-range one, with better bearings so the engine could be stopped and restarted. They both used terrain-following, as well as inertial navigation, with onboard radar and a computer that could figure out the drone's location and path from the topography. VERY advanced computing for the time. They

  • Can someone describe the difference between a "drone" and a "RC helicopter" to me?

    I was under the impression a "drone" was autonomous, but many of the news stories about "drones" seem to be just RC toys?

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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