US-Based Drones for the Sake of Drones

(graphic: darkblack for Firedoglake)

Apparently, a bunch of people claiming to be interested in jobs inserted an amendment into the FAA bill requiring the FAA to allow for drones in US airspace. (h/t NC)

I became aware of the pro-drone legislation from a February 10, 2011, Syracuse Post Standard report that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) was supporting an amendment to the pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (S. 223) that would create test zones for the introduction of drones into general airspace.

Senator Schumer was interested in the pro-drone amendment because MQ-9 Reaper drones, killer drones that are flying over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, are stationed at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse. However, FAA safety restrictions have limited drone flights out of Hancock.

“If Schumer’s legislative move succeeds this week,” said the Post Standard, “it would help ensure the future of 1,215 jobs at the (air) base in Mattydale (New York) and potentially lead to millions of dollars in radar research contracts for local defense companies.”

Aside from jobs, what’s remarkable about the push for drones is how amorphous the purpose of the drones are. Here’s Candice Miller, one of the sponsors of the amendment, describing the need:

My amendment is designed to help expedite and to improve the process by which FAA works with government agencies to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs as they’re commonly called, into the National Airspace System. Currently, Mr. Chairman, law enforcement agencies across the country, from Customs and Border Protection to local police departments, et cetera, are ready to embrace the new technology and to start utilizing UAVs in the pursuit of enforcing the law and protecting our border as well.

However, the FAA has been very hesitant to give authorization to these UAVs due to limited air space and restrictions that they have. I certainly can appreciate those concerns; but when we’re talking about Customs and Border Protection or the FBI, what have you, we are talking about missions of national security. And certainly there’s nothing more important than that. It was a very, very lengthy exercise to get the FAA to authorize the use of UAVs on the southern border. While they’re finally being utilized down there, we are certainly a long way from fully utilizing these technologies. [my emphasis]

That is, we’re talking about CPB (which has used the drones for some years), but also the FBI, local police departments, and “et cetera” using the drones.

Did I miss the open, public debate about whether we want the FBI–much less local police departments or “et cetera” using drones to spy on Americans’ activities?

Then again, I guess this is why the government needs to trump up claims about self-radicalized Americans: to provide some justification, no matter how thing, for our latest jobs program.

  1. behindthefall says:

    What could possibly go wrong – hick – go wrong – hick – go wrong?

    BTW, last line: ‘thing’ <– 'thin'

  2. harpie says:

    Hey, I was just about to bring this article to the previous thread—too late again! ;-)

    Thanks, Marcy.

    Business opportunity for Benton Harbor: DRONES!

    Lobbying Report: Drones Fly Through Congress to Enter US Skies [same as the article Marcy linked to above]; Nick Mottern; TruthOut; 4/16/11

    I noticed from the map that there’s a regional airport near Benton Harbor.

    [Who knew there was a Congressional Drone Caucus?]

    Evidently, “everybody must get droned!”

  3. matthewj says:

    How long before they want these to be used for crowd disbursement when folks are protesting? Think of a drone with the sound cannon, tear gas, or similar crowd control mechanisms…

  4. shaw53 says:

    Where we live in Bellingham, WA, over the past 10 years there has been increasing helicopter traffic from Border Patrol, Homeland Security and others. The local police will frequently put in a call to one of these choppers to “assist” in looking for a thief on the run or similar. They rarely accomplish anything except to nurture a relationship of a quasi-military bureacracy looking for activities to justify huge expenses and training with local police (who are also turning quasi-military with their SWAT crap)into some new creature from the black lagoon w/jackboots.

    Drones cruising our skies locally will just be another collaborative enterprise in expensive futility whose main result will be to piss off the locals.

  5. spiny says:

    Just because we want to fly remotely piloted vehicles from one location to another without having a huge hassle with the FAA every time it happens doesn’t necessary mean we are building Skynet…

    Maybe it is more likely that the FAA is a risk adverse government agency that is having a hard time adapting to new technology and is looking for some congressional ass-covering when changing the rules governing remotely piloted vehicle flights?

    • bmaz says:

      Or maybe what is being contemplated is exactly “Skynet” and should be treated as exactly that. They are already using this shit on the border, it is NOT just to shuttle “from one location to another” and all manner of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are chomping at the bit to use them for patrol, recon and interdiction. So the innocent little pablum you are preaching is just complete bogosity.

        • IntelVet says:

          The link seems broken, but, some alphabet agency tried to use them several years ago to patrol the southern border, destroyed three of those expensive mothers within a couple of weeks flying them into the ground.

          • bmaz says:

            Link works here. The gist is that Border Patrol has been using drones here for quite a while, starting as early as 2004. That is true, and the use has expanded. They also patrol with them well into Mexico and quite a way inside the border as well. And it is growing. Arpaio is jonesing to use them extensively in Maricopa County. A place I can tell you has very crowded airspace and most certainly does NOT need drones meandering around in the terminal control area.

      • spiny says:

        lol… fear the machines!

        Not everything is a conspiracy. The fact is right now it is a pain in the ass to fly remotely piloted vehicles though FAA airspace. Not that I trust chucky, but everyone knows that he’s bought and paid for by Wall Street, not Cyberdyne…

        • bmaz says:

          First off, I do not “fear the machines”, I fear the intent, motivation, honesty and competency of the men and agencies that want to fly them. Having quite of bit of experience in these areas as relates to law enforcement and the government, I think I am on pretty solid ground in that regard. I didn’t say anything about a “conspiracy”; this shit happens openly and notoriously, and it is exactly what has whittled the 4th Amendment down to near extinction. And pilotless aircraft in TAC airspace is insane. Oh, and “lol” right back at ya.

          • spiny says:

            bmaz, I share your concern. Sorry for the lol- just the fact that the “terminator” ended up being our governor always makes me chuckle.

            There has been a steady creep in the surveillance state, and technology is certainly one of the factors that has enabled that process- but that doesn’t mean new technology is bad per se, just that there can be good uses and bad uses for it. Yes, I know this is an old argument.

            Unmanned vehicles aren’t inherently good or evil- there are plenty of worthwhile civilian uses for them that don’t involve oppressing the citizenry. My point is only really that there are most likely going to be issues with this technology that will be abused in the future by our government and should be spoken out against, but I don’t see modifying some FAA regulations as that alarming right now.

            • bmaz says:

              Agreed. My point is that, far as I can tell, the only people clamoring for these are the surveillance and defense industries. And cops. Nobody is asking that the EPA have them to collect data and regulate emissions. Indeed, I bet wingnuts would go absolutely crazy at that suggestion. But they all – even Schumer – are gung ho to set the drones off for surveillance and interdiction. How long before they are outfitted with Tasers and people are yelling up at the sky “don’t Tase me dro”

              • harpie says:


                But we’ll have to yell at the water and land, too. That’s why they changed their name [from Caucus website]:

                Since inception [Feb, 2009], the caucus has progressed to larger-scale support to now include ground and maritime systems.

        • john in sacramento says:

          Mebbe you didn’t read what Marcy quoted

          Senator Schumer was interested in the pro-drone amendment because MQ-9 Reaper drones, killer drones that are flying over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, are stationed at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse. However, FAA safety restrictions have limited drone flights out of Hancock.

          • liberaldem says:

            Because the companies that build them need more of our tax dollars, and they’ve paid off Schumer, et al to make the case for them.

  6. jackie says:

    Morning everyone :)
    I didn’t know where to put this, (or if I missed you guys posting on!! but this ‘company’ is big, powerful and private. I wonder who is hiding in the shadows??
    ‘A UK subsidiary of the world’s largest commodities broker helped one of its African mining operations avoid paying tens of millions of pounds in tax, according to charities who have analysed a leaked review of its accounts.’

    There is also a useful little ‘and connections map’

  7. bgrothus says:

    Have they worked up the amount they will pay when there is “collateral damage” to innocent US civilians, or should that be “innocent” US civilians (for which there will be no payments, b/c we are all terrorists)?

    • speakingupnow says:

      Perhaps Osama Bin Laden and “terrorists” were used as an excuse all along for the warmongers and MIC in this country (and those who profit around the world) to escalate wars, increase surveillance, and further take away privacy rights.

      • Synoia says:

        Ding. Opportunistic Bureaucracy.

        Opportunistic because the bureaucracy can increase its budget by “protecting” us from some very low risk hazards.

        Such as becoming stoners.

        (It should be a requirement for all in congress to smoke half a dozen joints per day. It would reduce the militaristic attitude. Munchies provided at taxpayer expense)

  8. clemenza says:

    Building surveillance drones so they can spy on us, monitor our movements, and kill us if King Obama gets an inkling. Notice how they always have the money to do us in, but destitution sets in when it’s for the greater good.

    This must be their idea of a jobs program.

    If one thing’s been most obvious the last three years is they don’t

    give a crap about creating jobs here. They continue to send every other job overseas with each new trade deal. They are truly repulsive.

    Schumer it a such a tool for big money. Sickening that he’s still there.

    Well, once this deal is done there’s nothing to stop them from outsourcing the drone industry either.


  9. OldFatGuy says:


    And funny.

    Funny?? Yeah, I think it’s funny that the same ones that scream the word FREEDOM the most are ALWAYS the quickest idiots to agree with this big brother bullshit.

    Just like they wouldn’t know reality if it bit them in the ass, they have no clue of what freedom means either.

    I now know what the USA produces the most. Idiots.

  10. pokums says:

    we’re talking about CPB (which has used the drones for some years)

    when we should be talking about CBP?

  11. wagthedog says:

    They could come in handy finding homeless people who died in the street from lack of jobs, affordable health care, food, and housing. Winning the future.

  12. elgin says:

    Eventually, these big, high flying drones will be old technology and will probably be replaced by bumblebee-sized machines silently flying around our houses and elsewhere, no doubt.

  13. JohnLopresti says:

    I think the version that faa wants congress on the same page as robotics develop is a worthwhile reading. In 2009 in an Austin problem with an armed person in a house who might have antiaircraft capability, the local gendarmes scrambled a model plane sort of vehicle with live video feed equipment onboard. The linked article describes the problems with the newness of the technology, and faa*s continuing but relaxing oversight in that regard. The robotic plane employed was called a Wasp. The Wasp reportedly is sufficiently miniature that at its 400-foot altitude it is ostensibly inconspicuous.

    The post a while back depicted the upstate NY exercise as learning to find bears in them hills.

    Recently darpa completed awarding a winner in the second phase of a competition for a drone called a Nano Hummingbird, whose maker is AeroVironment. It flies by means of actual mechanical wings. It also has hover capability, but the article does not mention whether it can light on a tree branch; it is standard small avian size.

    Also last week, actingSGkatyal and Mr. Breuer filed a pet for cert in a surreptitious surveillance launched outside the warrant*s stipulated authorized timeframeand outside the specified geographic region; the file is available several places, Volokh*s downloads ok. I was expecting to see the Hudson case cited, but it is not.

    I was wondering if the nano-hummingbird could deliver a gps device payload, something like the Jones electronic tracing device in the Katyal document 500K, 120pp linked.

  14. workingclass says:

    Drones are for spying on people and punishing or killing them if they in any way displease or inconvenience the authorities. They are a terrible weapon in the hands of a blood thirsty, war mongering Fascist Empire such as the one based in Washington.

  15. melior says:

    War hasn’t really been fun since the whole jawbone-of-an-ass era but the dawning age of personal pocketsized self-defense hovercraft drones with FLIR and chirpy Angry Birds personas that smacktalk by Twitter is almost upon us and that’s where it gets really exciting.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Not surprising, given the GOP pay-to-play rules for House committee seats, chairs and leadership positions (a fixed priced menu approach the Dems gladly adopted). Fundraising is job #1.

      An old price list had junior seats going for $150K/year in “dues” and “fees” paid to the party. Better seats went for $250K, and so on. The most expensive committee chair is, obviously, the Appropriations Committee. The Speaker has to raise more than $1.5 million. Those amounts are all in addition to the sums a member must raise for their own re-elections.

      That’s a lot of parties at the Willard. No wonder John Boehner plays so much golf.

  16. harpie says:

    Senate Bill 223—FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (Engrossed in Senate [Passed Senate]-ES


    (a) IN GENERAL- Within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall develop a plan to accelerate the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the National Airspace System that–

    (1) creates a pilot project to integrate such vehicles into the National Airspace System at 4 test sites in the National Airspace System by 2012;

    (2) creates a safe, non-exclusionary airspace designation for cooperative manned and unmanned flight operations in the National Airspace System;

    (3) establishes a process to develop–

    (A) air traffic requirements for all unmanned aerial systems at the test sites; and

    (B) certification and flight standards for nonmilitary unmanned aerial systems at the test sites;

    (4) dedicates funding for unmanned aerial systems research and development relating to–

    (A) air traffic requirements; and

    (B) certification and flight standards for nonmilitary unmanned aerial systems in the National Airspace System;

    (5) encourages leveraging and coordination of such research and development activities with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense;

    (6) addresses both military and nonmilitary unmanned aerial system operations;

    (7) ensures that the unmanned aircraft systems integration plan is incorporated in the Administration’s NextGen Air Transportation System implementation plan; and

    (8) provides for integration into the National Airspace System of safety standards and navigation procedures validated–

    (A) under the pilot project created pursuant to paragraph (1); or

    (B) through other related research and development activities carried out pursuant to paragraph (4).

    (b) Selection of Test Sites-

    (1) INCREASED NUMBER OF TEST SITES; DEADLINE FOR PILOT PROJECT- Notwithstanding subsection (a)(1), the plan developed under subsection (a) shall include a pilot project to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the National Airspace System at 6 test sites in the National Airspace System by December 31, 2012.

    (2) TEST SITE CRITERIA- The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall take into consideration geographical and climate diversity and appropriate facilities in determining where the test sites to be established under the pilot project required by subsection (a)(1) are to be located.

    (c) Certification and Flight Standards for Military Unmanned Aerial Systems- The Secretary of Defense shall establish a process to develop certification and flight standards for military unmanned aerial systems at the test sites referred to in subsection (a)(1).

    (d) Certification Process- The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall expedite the approval process for requests for certificates of authorization at test sites referred to in subsection (a)(1).

    (e) Report on Systems and Detection Techniques- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall submit to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives a report describing and assessing the progress being made in establishing special use airspace to fill the immediate need of the Department of Defense to develop detection techniques for small unmanned aerial vehicles and to validate sensor integration and operation of unmanned aerial systems.

  17. john in sacramento says:

    Re: Skynet.

    I’ve had this link for awhile

    The MoD actually thinks Skynet is a good name for the system that controls their drones.

    “This important milestone is very good news for the armed forces,” said Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence Procurement. “Skynet 5 will supply about 2.5 times the capacity of the old system and generate a very significant improvement for our global communications systems – allowing us to pass more data faster. It is an excellent example of a successful Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal.”

    • john in sacramento says:

      To follow up

      The Terminators: drone strikes prompt MoD to ponder ethics of killer robots

      The growing use of unmanned aircraft in combat situations raises huge moral and legal issues, and threatens to make war more likely as armed robots take over from human beings, according to an internal study by the Ministry of Defence.

      The report warns of the dangers of an “incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality”, referring to James Cameron’s 1984 movie, in which humans are hunted by robotic killing machines. It says the pace of technological development is accelerating at such a rate that Britain must quickly establish a policy on what will constitute “acceptable machine behaviour”.

      “It is essential that before unmanned systems become ubiquitous (if it is not already too late) … we ensure that, by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance, we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely,” warns the report, titled The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems.


  18. harpie says:

    Wrt: this Bill [HR658]

    Federal Aviation Administration Re-Authorization Bill; 4/4/11

    “Although this bill is a step in the right direction, I have concerns with the FAA’s languid Certificate of Authorization requirement for public unmanned systems. Our state and local law enforcement agencies need a faster, more responsive process. Our neighborhoods deserve safer streets, and these systems can help provide that.” -McKeon

    There was a small victory in March:

    MCSO MAKES HISTORY; Draganflyer can fly anywhere in the county; 3/8/11

    Mesa County, Colorado— Recently the Sheriff’s Office received notification from the Federal Aviation Administration of their approval to fly the Unmanned Ariel System (UAS)—with some restrictions, anywhere in Mesa County.

    Maybe they didn’t hand out enough bumper stickers to the people at FAA.

    UAVs for Congress; 9/23/10

    About the Congressional technology fair.

    The bumper stickers available at the door read, “My other vehicle is unmanned.”

    Cute, huh?

  19. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As commentators have mentioned, drones will deploy satellite based sensors at virtually ground level. If a satellite can read your license plat or spot you lighting that match at hundreds of miles, I wonder what modern spectrum analysis and photography can do at 10,000 feet.

  20. TheOracle says:

    This is all following a certain progression, that is, the transformation of America into a surveillance police state, primarily occurring after 9/11, with the 9/11 attacks by right-wing religious zealots being “conveniently” used (by other right-wing zealots) as the rationale for locking down America, for letting the war profiteers run wild…but only in the interest of “national security.”

    War profiteers have made a killing financially off Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (as they continue to do under President Obama), so it was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to making a killing financially on the domestic front. What is showing up in America’s skies today in the way of drone surveillance aircraft is either newly-manufactured hardware or hardware shifted from overseas combat zones…with someone in the background making money…always.

    The whole privatization scheme hatched and launched by the Bush/Cheney administration deals solely with making war profitable for all the private firms and individuals receiving no-bid contracts, in which taxpayer money is diverted into their privatized pockets, with most (if not all) of these no-bid contracts going solely to crony-Republican conservative-owned companies (especially during the infamous and criminal Bush/Cheney years), who no doubt would be so grateful for having so mush of the tens of billions in “national security” taxpayer dollars funneled their way that they would reciprocate by funneling huge campaign donations back into Republican Party campaign coffers.

    After 9/11, one of the first things the Bush administration did was co-opt American spy satellites, training their space-based cameras on American soil for the first time (before, they’d been prohibited from spying on Americans on American soil while passing overhead). But this wasn’t good enough for them. They’d already implemented their Total Information Awareness system, getting complicit telecom companies to participate in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, vacuuming up all that the no-bid private contractors could get their hands on, storing in super-computers, for analysis, to catch suspected right-wing religious terrorists (of the foreign kind), drug dealers, prostitution rings, whatever, whomever, all in the name of “national security” (remember Ashcroft’s priority list?).

    After the co-opting of these spy satellites for domestic purposes, Bush Republicans wanted something closer to the ground, which conveniently appeared in recent advances in remote-controlled drone surveillance aircraft (the merger of GPS technology with advances in miniaturized computer/video-camera technology). I first heard of these drones being used overseas in the Iraq/Afghanistan war efforts. Domestically, the first I heard of these drones being used in America was when the Bush administration announced that a Predate drone squadron was being based at Ellington AFB outside Houston, presumably to monitor the Texas/Mexico border (even though there are close airbases to the border area). Then, I read a couple of years ago that the Houston Police Department was shown a drone demonstration as a prelude to its buying some.

    Forget about “creeping socialism,” as some conservatives are wont to talk about. How about “creeping fascism,” which is apparently what most “national security” conservatives have in mind for America?

    I am reminded, for some reason, of pre-World War II Nazi Germany. World War I, and war reparations, impoverished Germany, with the 1929 Stock Market Crash impoverishing Germany even more going into the 1930s, with the German budget in shambles…something which the Nazis and Hitler took advantage of. (Hmmm, kind of looks like what today’s Republicans are trying to do: tax cuts for wealthy corporatists/industrialists, cuts in social programs, increased impoverishment of the middle-class and poor, attacks on labor unions). Then, as the Nazis rose to power, promising to “clean-up” German society and bring prosperity back, they formed “citizens watch” groups (the Brown-shirts) to police everyone, to monitor their activities, to compile an “enemies list” of any Germans viewed as a threat to the Nazi leadership and their self-proclaimed superiority. (Hmmm, kind of sounds like today’s Republicans once again). Then, instead of the Nazis pumping money into government programs to help make life better for all Germans, they diverted tons of money into building the Nazi war machine, impoverishing Germany even more. Result? World War II.

    It’s funny how history keeps repeating itself…or tragic if one happens to be on a conservative/Republican/Nazi “enemies list,” deemed a “threat,” kept under surveillance, monitored in one way or another, targeted for censorship or incarceration or even elimination…and all done under the auspices of a “national security” umbrella, like in Nazi Germany, like in Stalin’s Russia, like in one conservative totalitarian dictatorship after another around the world, throughout the history of the world…and democracy be damned.

  21. donbacon says:

    from aronsonsecurity group:
    Video surveillance is now playing an increasingly important role in proactively deterring crime, as well as in the investigation after an incident takes place.

    By monitoring grounds, sensitive areas, and general work spaces, your organization can literally keep an eye on everything at once. With new technology available today, your intelligent video surveillance system can actually monitor unusual behavior for you and create alarms for suspicious activities through live video feeds or by providing time/date stamps for later viewing. This drastically reduces the need to view hours of video when investigating an incident.

  22. fatster says:

    “On Monday, in a case that represents an about-face in American policy, Obama administration lawyers will charge in immigration court here that General [Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova] participated in torture when he commanded the Salvadoran armed forces and will seek to have him deported.

    “The case against General Vides is hailed by human rights advocates as the first time a special human rights office at the Department of Homeland Security has brought immigration charges against a top-ranking foreign military commander.”