By Keith Johnson
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s . . . an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and thanks to the bought-and-paid-for politicians who work on behalf of the burgeoning drone industry, these intrusive surveillance devices will soon become a permanent presence in the skies over America.
According to a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), “dronemakers have sought congressional help to speed their entry into a domestic market valued in the billions. The 60-member House of Representatives’ ‘drone caucus’ —officially, the House Unmanned Systems Caucus—has helped push that agenda. And over the last four years, caucus members have drawn nearly $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions.”
Earlier this year, the military-industrial-banking complex’s intense lobbying efforts paid off after President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which compels the Federal Aviation Administration to modify United States airspace rules and allow for widespread deployment of UAVs by 2015. Since this legislation was passed, applications have been pouring in from law enforcement agencies and private corporations seeking permission to place their own eyes in the sky.
“In places like California, Texas and Washington State, police officers in recent weeks have intensified their demands for surveillance drones, a necessary addition they say to their arsenal of tools to help thwart crime,” news website RT recently reported. “The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to finalize plans to put drones in U.S. airspace, but by the end of the decade as many as 30,000 UAVs are expected to be soaring through the sky.”
In their 2012 market report, Teal Group, an aerospace and war consulting firm, “estimates that UAV spending will almost double over the next decade from current worldwide UAV expenditures of $6.6 billion annually to $11.4 billion, totaling just over $89 billion in the next 10 years.”
Unfortunately, this dangerous trend has yet to resonate with a significant number of Americans. According to a recent poll conducted by Associated Press (AP) and the National Constitution Center (NCC), 44% of those surveyed said they were in favor of allowing police departments to use unmanned drones for surveillance purposes.
“I had assumed that the idea that American police would be using the same technology that our military is using in Afghanistan would garner an almost hysterical response,” said NCC president and CEO David Eisner. “[Support for drone use] shows that people are feeling less physically secure than they’d like to because they are willing to accept fairly extreme police action to improve that security.”
Perhaps those security-obsessed Americans would have a change of heart if they learned just how unsafe these drones really are. According to FAA experimental flight records obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting through the Freedom of Information Act, UAV manufacturers are years away from developing a “see and avoid” system that can mimic a human pilot in the cockpit. Similarly, a report by the Government Accountability Office concludes that unmanned drones “pose technological, regulatory, workload and coordination challenges that affect their ability to operate safely and routinely” and “cannot meet aviation safety requirements, such as seeing and avoiding other aircraft.”
In addition to the obvious privacy and safety concerns, there is always the lingering question of how these drones will be used in the future. Last year, Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas used a $300,000 Homeland Security grant to purchase a 50-pound ShadowHawk drone capable of accommodating a 40-mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun.
According to the news website “The Daily,” “While McDaniel said the department has no interest in loading lethal weapons systems onto its ShadowHawk, he said the sheriff’s office was open to the idea of adding non-lethal weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets or Taser-style rounds to the drone.”
If the violent response to last year’s Occupy Wall Street protests is any indication, it is almost certain that police agencies across the nation will be champing at the bit to use their newly obtained technology to quell future civil unrest. And if things get bad enough, they may even resort to the kind of lethal action taken against our so-called “foreign enemies.”
For those complacent Americans who still take this issue lightly, a new study by researchers at the New York University School of Law and the Stanford University Law School, entitled “Living Under Drones,” should help put things into perspective. According to the report, “Drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”
Keith Johnson in an investigative journalist and host of the Revolt of the Plebs radio program.