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Posts Tagged ‘drone’
February 12th, 2013 at 8:54 am
Ramirez Cartoon: Drones
Posted by Print

Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez. 

View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.

June 26th, 2012 at 12:42 pm
Domestic Drones Turned Into Terrorist Missiles?

Previously, I’ve agreed with Charles Krauthammer’s concerns about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) being allowed into domestic airspace because of the threat to privacy from so-called “eyes in the sky.”

Now, Todd Humphreys, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is showing how tech savvy terrorists can, and very likely will, exploit a “gaping hole” in the government’s flight security structure.

Last Tuesday, in the barren desert of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, officials from the FAA and Department of Homeland Security watched as Humphrey’s team repeatedly took control of a drone from a remote hilltop. The results were every bit as dramatic as the test at the UT stadium a few days earlier.

DHS is attempting to identify and mitigate GPS interference through its new “Patriot Watch” and “Patriot Shield” programs, but the effort is poorly funded, still in its infancy, and is mostly geared toward finding people using jammers, not spoofers.

According to Humphreys, “Spoofing [a drone’s GPS receiver] is just another way of hijacking a plane.”

For about $1,000 and with a little bit of technical training a terrorist could take control of any civilian-operated drone and wreck havoc.  Without a human pilot at the controls, the drone’s onboard computer will simply follow whatever commands it is given, regardless of where they originate.

And while some terrorists may be interested in taking over surveillance drones for intelligence gathering purposes, the real danger is if a drone as large as a cargo plane – which FedEx plans to use when domestic drones are approved – is overtaken and flown into planes carrying people or into crowded buildings.

As Humphreys says, “In 5 or 10 years you have 30,000 drones in the airspace.  Each one of these would be a potential missile used against us.”

So not only would a terrorist hacker not need to buy a drone in order to fly one, he wouldn’t even need to go through an invasive TSA screening to reenact the 9/11 tragedy.

Because of pressure from the military and drone manufacturers, Congress is requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to fast-track regulations as part of the FAA’s reauthorization act.  Significant rules that will impact every American are to be conceived, written, and finalized within weeks of each other, and an entire regulatory scheme is mandated to be implemented in less than a year.

If you think that kind of statutory mandate translates into greater bureaucratic efficiency, think again.

The time-crunch – and the deliberate lack of oversight from Congress by pushing the rule writing onto an agency – means that everyday Americans will not be privy to the decision making process that will dramatically impact their safety in the air and on the ground.

Congress needs to rein itself and this process in.  With arguably illegal waivers being given to certain groups to avoid provisions of ObamaCare and No Child Left Behind, we’ve seen how arbitrary and capricious federal regulators can be when it comes to expedited rulemaking.  There’s no reason to expect a more coherent approach from an FAA trying to balance competing interests like privacy, profit, and public safety on an irrational deadline.

We need open debate and deliberation from our elected officials about the costs and benefits of domestic drones.  If Congress won’t engage the issue because it’s too politically painful, then the American people shouldn’t suffer a lapse in safety and privacy because their representatives would rather pass the buck than take responsibility.

May 30th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
State Governments Not Limiting Their Hunger for Drone Dollars

Salon highlights the combination of state-based interests lining-up to convince the Federal Aviation Administration to award it one of six licenses to operate a domestic drone test site.

The deal is this: Prove that drones – unmanned surveillance aircraft – can be operated safely in civilian airspace, and the FAA will remove regulatory barriers restricting where drones can fly.

By extension, locations with test sites will be positioned to become hubs for drone-related activity.

Salon notes that while states like Florida, Ohio, and Colorado have already pitched plans to the FAA to land a test site…

…the most fully developed proposals for running the test sites are likely to come from state consortiums of industry, government and universities, which will put up the money to run the sites. The FAA is not providing any funding for the sites.

According to the article, the parties most interested in promoting drone usage domestically are defense industry contractors, state research universities, and municipalities adjacent to military bases.

If you’re having trouble seeing the private sector in any of this, you’re not alone.  Commentators across the ideological spectrum are deeply disturbed by the near certainty that introducing drone surveillance into domestic airspace will do little more than empower government at every level.

Of course, there is one benefit promised for greater drone use: jobs.  As one retired Air Force colonel involved in Colorado’s plan told Salon, “The more freedom of movement the FAA allows, the greater the private business will be.  If unmanned vehicles have access similar to that enjoyed by manned aircraft, I think the commercial business will be ten times larger than the Department of Defense business.”

That’s an amazing forecast considering that military spending is 98.6 percent of the $7 billion-plus drone industry.  Until then, why not let government agencies up and down the food chain grow their budgets testing unmanned surveillance vehicles?  What could go wrong?

What we’re seeing with the rollout of the domestic drone issue is an example of one of the greatest threats to liberty and fiscal sanity today – a network of government actors negotiating among themselves over public resources.

If the system keeps mutating this way, privacy won’t be the only casualty.  We’ll also redefine what it means to create jobs.  Gone will be the idea that lower taxes and less regulations spur hiring and expansion.  In will be the notion that transfer payments between government entities are the best way forward.

And I think we all know how long that system is sustainable.

May 23rd, 2012 at 3:32 pm
Some Domestic Drones May Get Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas

Last week, I wrote in my column that “So far, consensus around the FAA’s thinking indicates that domestic drones would not be approved to fly with weapons.”

That was in reference to the Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement that it will ease restrictions on civilian use of unmanned drones for use in surveillance and research.  The institutions most interested in using drones are law enforcement entities ranging from the FBI to local police departments.

Now, consider this:

Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas told The Daily that his department is considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its drone.

“Those are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out and in certain situations it might be advantageous to have this type of system on the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” McDaniel told The Daily.

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer was criticized last week for saying, “I don’t want regulations, I don’t want restrictions, I want a ban on this.”  Call it a slippery slope or inevitable logic, but Krauthammer’s instinct was right.  Regulations and restrictions open the door for interpretations like the Texas sheriff’s office; i.e. that a drone – apparently unlike a police cruiser or helicopter – is a physical extension of a cop and should be equipped with rubber bullets and tear gas.  If this is allowed, there is no logical reason to prohibit other more lethal devices.

In his comments, Krauthammer said that “the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.”

Not if the drone shoots him first.

December 17th, 2010 at 5:53 pm
DHS Mum on Downed Mexican Drone near El Paso, TX

Could it be that a loaded gun passing unnoticed through a TSA checkpoint isn’t the only foreign object slipping under the radar of Secretary Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS)?  Reports are surfacing that an unmanned drone aircraft belonging to the Mexican government crashed near a residence in El Paso, TX.  In a move that can only be explained as an attempt to confirm the suspicions of Area 51 types, DHS returned the drone before other U. S. agencies could inspect it.

So far, no one with knowledge is saying why an aircraft similar to the drones the U. S. military uses to kill insurgents in Afghanistan was flying almost a mile into American airspace.  Even more incredible is the acknowledged failure to inspect the vehicle to make sure it actually belongs to the Mexican government and not one of the sophisticated drug cartels it’s battling.

Feeling safe about that southern border yet?