Britain announced its plans to spend more than $6.5 billion to purchase 657 military drones, the Sunday People reports. It includes 10 Reaper MQ-9s, which are armed with Hellfire missiles plus laser-guided 500lb bombs and can hover 20,000ft above targets for more than 20 hours.
According to the publication, Reapers could be operated 3,500 miles away from Afghanistan’s warzones by a two-man crew. Yet, most of the drones will be unarmed and constructed for spy or fly recce missions.
A Freedom of Information request found the biggest number of UK drones are the 324 Black Hornet Nano micro-helicopters, only four inches long and an inch wide (100x25mm). They fly over insurgent strongholds to film and take pictures. Then there are 222 Desert Hawks, plastic spy-drones with a 4ft 3in wingspan (1.3m).
For tougher operations, 54 Watchkeepers can stay aloft for 17 hours. Nine more are due in service soon to replace ageing Hermes 450s. By contrast 30 Tarantula Hawks weigh just 20lbs apiece and are used as recce aides by bomb-disposal teams in Afghanistan.
Lastly there are eight ScanEagles, a specialist drone being used in the campaign against Somali pirates.
Drones are likely to make up a third of all RAF working aircraft by 2030 but human rights groups fear they could be used to spy on the innocent public.
Although using unmanned aircraft in military operations is criticized by many people all over the world, the UK keeps on saying that drones are an effective weapon and should be used more in the foreseeable future.
Despite critics’ claims that drones often kill civilians, the UK says that only one civilian was killed as a result of 459 missile strikes from its unmanned Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan.
By Richard Hugus | Aletho News | December 31, 2013
Drone aircraft, which we first heard of as weapons of war used by the United States in foreign lands, are now poised for a full-scale invasion of the skies above the US itself. On December 30, 2013 the US Federal Aviation Administration announced its choices for drone testing in six states around the country — Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. These six states may in turn do their testing in more than one location, For example, according to the Anchorage Daily News, drone testing centered in Alaska at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks will be called “the ‘Pan-Pacific Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Range Complex.’ It includes six flight ranges in Alaska, four in Hawaii and three in Oregon.” According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser “the Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island, the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and even the island of Niihau have been included in discussions of places where the testing could occur.” According to the East Oregonian, drone testing is likely to involve a former military base in Pendleton, Port of Tillamook, and Warm Springs. Likewise, the New York operation will be run from the former Griffiss Air Force base in Rome, NY and, according to the Cape Cod Times, will also include the former Otis Air Base on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Times reports that “the Cape site had the support of the state’s congressional delegation, a statewide military asset commission and business leaders” and that “among the institutions involved in the bid are Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rochester Institute of Technology.”
What this story reveals is the creation of a huge web of DOD-connected Universities, businesses, corporations, defense contractors, and former and current Pentagon facilities spread all over the country. Included in this web are the many and various chambers of commerce, their boosters in the press, and numerous comprador “officials” anxious to bring federal money into their districts, at the expense of all the other people who live in them. Almost no news coverage has appeared that would imply the FAA decision was anything but a boon for the economy and the advent of a wonderful and inevitable new technology.
There is little news about the down side to hosting drones in all these areas of the country, each with a populace that has simply not been consulted. Drones first came to our attention at the beginning of “the war on terror.” We learned of them first as weapons for highly illegal, cowardly, and indiscriminate “targeted killings” in foreign lands. These weapons have murdered countless innocent people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia pursuant to “kill lists” drawn up every week by the CIA and Pentagon, and approved by the White House. These weapons fulfill the US Air Force’s fantasy of “death from above,” carried out by pilots working in the security and comfort of US bases who, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, destroy supposed enemies from computer consoles as if it were a video game. The cowardliness of wars of aggression being conducted against innocent people in dirt-poor lands by unseen “UAV pilots” in air-conditioned offices thousands of miles away cannot be over-emphasized. This is what unmanned aircraft have brought so far to the reputation of the United States – a new low in the entire universe of human ethics; murder abroad is but the advance of capitalism at home. Wedding parties in Afghanistan have been decimated so that Amazon can deliver CDs and smart phones to our door by drone.
Nor is there news about the introduction of drones domestically as yet another assault on privacy and the human right to be free from surveillance. Domestic law enforcement agencies are just as anxious to spy on the US population and target people they call criminals as the Pentagon and CIA have been to spy on the rest of the world and kill people they call terrorists. It isn’t enough that our phones and computers have been turned by the NSA into astounding instruments of surveillance, that everything we say and do on these instruments is being harvested and stored, and that surveillance cameras are mounted at almost every business and public space. Now the national security state wants to have remote-controlled cameras videotaping us full-time from the sky. The police hope to have drones able to fire “non-lethal weapons” at people they deem to be involved in criminal activity so that they too can play God. Without question, non-lethal weapons will soon become lethal weapons and the US will be trying and executing citizens at home as it has done elsewhere without even a hint of due process.
The domestic military bases which are being revived by this brave new technology originally went out of business because there was nothing for them to do in the fulfillment of their original purpose – defending the country. Otis Air Base, now called “Joint Base Cape Cod”, is a case in point. It used to patrol the skies for Russian aircraft along the northeast coast and ended up being a disaster for the community in which it was situated because it polluted the local groundwater and sole-source drinking water aquifer with untold gallons of dumped jet fuel and cleaning solvents. It sent fighter jets to intercept the two planes hijacked to New York on September 11, 2001, but ended up being part of a ploy to let those planes actually reach the twin towers before they got there. This base and many others have been parasites on the communities around them. They will continue in that role in their new incarnation as hosts to drone spying and drone warfare. The war has come home. The people orchestrating this war – the global elite — have no particular allegiance to the United States. From their point of view, its land and its people must also be brought under control, just like everywhere else. How sad it is to see the scramble to welcome them.
- Drone research funds to fly into Bay State (bostonherald.com)
- Drone Testing Starts Toward Bezos Vision as States See Jobs Gold – Businessweek (businessweek.com)
The City of Montreal has purchased 24 drones to help law enforcement tackle crime as authorities look to cut back the police force over the next 15 years. The UAVs, equipped with facial recognition technology, will be armed to ‘neutralize suspects’.
“It’s very exciting,” the chief of police for the borough where the drones will be deployed, Montreal North, told the Montreal Journal.
“The drones with facial recognition will patrol the streets 24 hours a day. Officers will interrogate individuals suspected of criminal acts or searched directly through speakers and microphones installed in the drones, but soon they can be provided with equipment capable of neutralizing on-site suspects pending the intervention of the law enforcement officers. It will mainly make our work less dangerous, especially in an area where there is a lot of social tension,” he said.
When asked to clarify what intermediate weapons would be used to neutralize suspects, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spokesman told the Journal the “UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] will carry persuasive technologies, but non-lethal types, such as electric shock, blinding or paralyzing gases.”
He added that despite the seemingly limitless possibilities, only non-lethal weapons are “intended for the moment.”
The drones are set to be deployed in early 2014.
Despite the $400-million- plus price tag, the drones are intended to facilitate cutbacks to the city’s police force in line with nationwide efforts to curb RCMP expenditures, which have doubled over the last 15 years.
Employing new technology to create leaner, more effective law enforcements agencies, however, remains highly contentious.
A late 2012 poll conducted by Jennifer Stoddart, the privacy commissioner of Canada, found the public remains ambivalent about the use of UAVs in policing.
While 80 percent of those surveyed were comfortable with police use of drones for search-and-rescue missions, only 40 percent of respondents felt comfortable with their use in monitoring public events or protests.
“Considering the capacity of UAVs for surreptitious operation, the potential for the technology to be used for general surveillance purposes, and their increasing prevalence — including for civilian purposes — our office will be closely following their expanded use,” the report read.
“We will also continue to engage federal government institutions to ensure that any planned operation of UAVs is done in accordance with privacy requirements.”
The RCMP national drone is thus far in its infancy, with Mounties promising they will not be used to conduct general surveillance against the public.
A study released last month – Unmanned Eyes in the Sky – found that despite drones’ potential benefits for police, law enforcement had not “sought feedback from the public on how UAVs should or should not be adopted as a tool to serve the public interest,” the Canadian Press reported.
The study concluded that in light of the “potential for intrusive and massive surveillance,” Canadians needed reassurances that they would not be spied on once the drone program goes into full swing.
- Facial recognition, once a battlefield tool, lands in San Diego County (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Montreal buys 24 drones with facial recognition that will interrogate suspected criminals (blacklistednews.com)
Department Of Homeland Security Funded Study Proves War On Terrorism Has Greatly Increased Global Terrorism
A new study from the Department of Homeland Security has proven what has been a well-known fact amongst anyone who follows the alternative media. The so-called war on terrorism has actually increased terrorism around the world. Whenever the United States government announces that they are launching a war on something we get more of what they are waging a war on.The war on poverty resulted in more poverty, the war on drugs resulted in more drug use and now we can definitively say the same thing about the war on terrorism. If the goal of the so-called war on terrorism was to reduce the amount of terrorism in the world it has failed miserably. Anyone with any sort of common sense would look at this study and realize that a policy change is in order. Unfortunately the policy makers within the Obama regime who are either useful idiots or psychotic criminals will do nothing of the sort.
According to the study there has been a 69% rise in terrorist attacks and an 89% increase in terrorist related fatalities from 2011.In addition, the number of people killed due to a terrorist attack has risen greatly since 2001.These figures clearly indicate that global terrorism has steadily risen throughout this so-called war on terrorism.
In reality, these numbers should be considered low due to the fact that this study does not include terrorist attacks launched by governments or state actors.
If they did include these numbers the amount of terrorist attacks and terrorist related fatalities would be much higher with the Obama regime topping the list as one of the world’s biggest terrorist organizations. The Obama regime has authorized countless drone strikes that have killed many civilians including women and children.These incidents should all be considered acts of terrorism.
To prove this point, the study used the following criteria to classify an incident as an act of terrorism.
It was aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious or social goal.
It was intended to coerce, intimidate or convey a message to a larger group.
It violated international humanitarian law by targeting non-combatants.
The Obama regime’s drone strikes certainly fulfill all three categories and if they were carried out by a non-state actor they would be considered terrorist attacks.These drone strikes have specifically targeted civilians who the Obama regime merely suspects are terrorists.This means that the Obama regime is acting as judge, jury and executioner.This is illegal and contrary to international law. … Full article
- US drone strikes under fire at UN (nation.com.pk)
- No explicit, implicit consent for drone strikes: Pakistan (rediff.com)
- U.S. “War On Terror” Has INCREASED Terrorism (blacklistednews.com)
- Empire Under Obama, Part 2: Barack Obama’s Global Terror Campaign (thehamptoninstitute.wordpress.com)
While there is rightly much media attention on the US drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, there is a very different but over-looked “drone war” taking place in Europe right now. In parliamentary committee rooms, in company boardrooms, and in packed public meetings, arguments rage about whether Europe should embrace or reject the use of armed drones.
Many European armed forces already have unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, in their armories for reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance purposes. Increasingly, however, European countries are under pressure to follow in the footsteps of the US and embrace the use of armed drones.
The UK has been a long-time partner with the US in using armed drones, with British military forces using US Predator drones in Iraq starting in 2004 before acquiring their own Reaper drones for use in Afghanistan in 2007. Since then, the UK has launched more than 400 missiles and bombs from its drones in Afghanistan and this is likely to increase as the UK doubles its armed drone fleet over the next year while also now directly operating drones from UK as well as US soil.
So far no other European country has used armed drones. French forces have used unarmed Harfang drones (based on Israel’s Heron) in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali; German forces in Afghanistan have been using unarmed Luna and Israeli Heron drones, and Italy has been operating unarmed drones alongside the US in Libya and Afghanistan from a joint Italian-US ground control station at Amendola airbase in southeast Italy.
But despite widespread public opposition, growing pressure from the pro-drone lobby and military companies is pushing European countries to acquire armed drone capability. After much debate, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suddenly announced in the summer that France would be acquiring armed US drones. Very rapidly French pilots have begun training on Reaper UAVs in the US and it looks likely that France will put armed drones over Mali by the end of the year. In Germany,despite huge opposition, the German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière declared, “We cannot keep the stagecoach while others are developing the railway.”
Across Europe, the acquisition of armed drones is highly controversial. Many political parties are divided on the issue – or flatly oppose it – and there is much public hostility. A Pew Research Poll conducted in 2012 showed widespread opposition to drone strikes, including 59% of people in Germany, 63% in France, 76% in Spain, 55% in Italy, and a whopping 90% in Greece. Only the UK did not have a majority of its public against the use of armed drones but even so, only 44% were in favor.
In the US, opposition to the drone wars is focused on the use of drones for targeted killing. In Europe however, the focus is much more on whether the so-called “risk free” nature of drone warfare – at least to your own forces – will simply lead to more armed conflict, as well as an expansion of targeted killing and a lowering of global security in general. Across Europe protests, parliamentary hearings and public meetings on the use of armed drones are increasing.
But the pro-drone lobby is not running up the white flag just yet. Behind the scenes, the drone lobby is trying to persuade European governments to ignore the public anxiety and commit to armed unmanned systems. Their strategically placed Op-Eds extol the economic virtue of developing armed drones and of not being “left behind”. At the same time, NATO and European Union officials are urging European countries to increase spending on drones. US military companies are actively trying to amend international treaties in order to export armed drone technology to Europe. And senior arms company executives are directly lobbying European governments to commit to developing and building a future European armed drone. Already European military companies are devoting much effort and resources towards future combat drones, with known programs under development including BAE System’s Taranis and Mantis drones, Dassault’s Neuron and EADS’ Talarion. There are also on-going covert programs that are not as yet public.
As US and European combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan over the next 12 months, the war over drones in Europe is likely to get more intense. The drone lobby will try to clinch deals citing that a war-weary public is unlikely to support putting ‘boots on the ground’ anytime soon and will therefore support remotely controlled warfare. Skeptics will be demanding more transparency and information about exactly how drones have been used in Afghanistan – including proper casualty data – in order to assess the professed “pin point” accuracy of armed drone strikes and make informed decisions about future use. And opponents will ramp up their protests. For the moment at least, there will be no ceasefire in Europe’s drone war.
Chris Cole is a renowned expert on European drones and the director of Drone Wars UK.
As two new US ‘Hunter’ drones are set to start traversing German airspace next Monday, the army remains firm that they will be used solely for training drone operators rather than spying purposes, and will not be carrying weapons.
The Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) facility was officially opened at Vilseck Army Airfield on Monday by 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC). A letter of agreement between US and German authorities allows them the use of two ‘air bridges’ in the east of the country to train operators, it will be the first time a US unmanned aerial vehicle will fly beyond the limits of military training areas.
Hunter MQ-5B systems will span the distance between Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr, in the south east of the country, about 100km east from Nuremberg. Hohenfels is approximately 100km further south from Grafenwoehr.
The project has sparked concern after news began to leak out this summer. The US army has been channeling its efforts into gaining approval for the mission since 2007. “Some reports came out before we even knew we had approval,” Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, JMTC Commander told Stars and Stripes.
Local communities have expressed apprehension about US drones being in German airspace. Germans are concerned about potential violation of their freedoms after the drones come into operation. The recent scandal surrounding NSA spying activities in Germany and the protests that followed, has heightened public skepticism.
“It’s a big issue here in general, and it’s a very German topic,” Constanze Schulze, a reporter for ARD Bavaria stated. “There are many discussions going on about unmanned units, and of course there is some concern. I think that’s why you see so many reporters here [in Vilseck]. Everyone is talking about it.”
Politicians have also expressed concerns. Reinhold Strobl of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP) said that the public was informed “too late” and that there was “inadequate” information provided by the German authorities and US military ahead of the deployment. If it was not for test flights conducted in July, the politician says, Germans would have been left completely in the dark.
Other politicians complained about the noise, saying that drones that reach 175kph “have the volume of a lawn mower,” according to Peter Braun, the mayor of Schmidmühlen.
Richard Reisinger from the Christian Social Union Party (CSU) also said that the way the public was informed about the issue lacked transparency. “What happens to the collected data?” he asks, expressing concern of potential risk of information misuse that would violate privacy.
When Snowden’s leaks were first revealed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that she learned of the US surveillance programs through press reports. However, it later came to light that Germany’s BND intelligence service sends “massive amounts” of intercepts to the US and UK daily. Such revelations sparked a wave of protests across Germany calling on the government to provide more privacy and stop US spying activities.
Hunter MQ-5B are currently the largest and most advanced of their type, and will not be armed, and will be controlled from the ground. The distance apparently reflects that which soldiers would have to navigate in Afghanistan, operators said. The vehicle will travel between approximately 11,000 and 14,000 feet in the sky.
“The air bridge will only be used for transit between the two training areas,” according to Col. John Norris, Commander of the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels. He added that “no UAS will carry weapons through the air bridge.”
Drone operator Sgt. Carson Wilson reiterated that Germans had no need for concern. “We’re here to let people know the camera is only to avoid obstacles, not to watch what people are doing,” he said.
“Although we only use UASs at JMTC to train Soldiers — they are not armed, nor do they record data when in flight,” said Piatt. “We understand that our German neighbors have concerns and we want to make sure we address those concerns.”
On Tuesday, an open house was hosted that was aimed at alleviating any worries the German population may have over the presence of US drones. On Wednesday, local media were invited to explore the new facility.
“I wanted to invite our German neighbors and members of the press to come in and see the facility, see and handle the UAS aircraft that are flying at the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas and speak directly with the soldiers who maintain and fly them,” Piatt said.
During the event, two other types of UAS were displayed alongside the Hunter: the Raven and the Shadow. The vehicles were accompanied by their respective operators, maintenance crews and translators for each one. So attendees would be informed about what the training would entail, maps of the air corridors were on display alongside the vehicles that would navigate the routes.
JMTC officials said that the training with UAS is just one of many US army tools in the area, alongside fire ranges and simulation resources to prepare forces for conflict and battlefield strategy.
“Hopefully, this shows that we aren’t keeping any secrets here,” Piatt said.
Iranian officials say they have completed decoding the surveillance data and software extracted from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone that the United States lost possession of nearly two years ago near the city of Kashmar.
Hossein Salami, the lieutenant commander general of Iran’s Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, told the country’s Fars news agency that analysts have finally cracked the systems used within the RQ-170 Sentinel drone obtained in December 2011.
Iranians claimed previously that they brought the drone down after it entered Iranian airspace without permission. Roughly one week later, CIA officials admitted the drone was conducting a reconnaissance mission over Afghanistan when it went missing.
When the US asked Iran to return the unmanned aerial vehicle, Salami told Fars news agency, “No nation welcomes other countries’ spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin.”
Nearly two years later, Salami is now celebrating Iran’s latest accomplishment with regards to the UAV.
“All the memories and computer systems of this plane have been decoded and some good news will be announced in the near future not just about the RQ-170 and the optimizations that our forces have done on the reverse engineered model of this drone, but also in area of other important defense achievements,” Fars quoted him.
When the Iranian military gained control over the drone, the unmanned aerial vehicle’s (UAV) erase sequence allegedly failed to delete sensitive data from it. Since then, Iranian experts have been decoding the captured data, occasionally reporting their progress.
Although the CIA has not admitted the extent of the drone’s capabilities, experts have said previously that reverse engineering the Sentinel could be a significant event for any nation-state looking to learn more about the technologies utilized by American spy planes.
“It carries a variety of systems that wouldn’t be much of a benefit to Iran, but to its allies such as China and Russia, it’s a potential gold mine,” robotics author Peter Singer told the Los Angeles Times in 2011.
“It’s bad — they’ll have everything” an unnamed US official added to the Times then. “And the Chinese or the Russians will have it too.”
Meanwhile, a report in the New York Times this weekend suggested that Chinese researchers have been busy on their own attempting to emulate American drones. Edward Wong wrote in the Times on Friday that Chinese hackers working for the state-linked Comment Crew cybergroup have targeted no fewer than 20 foreign defense contractors during the last two years in hopes of pilfering secrets that would be useful in programming their own UAVs.
“I believe this is the largest campaign we’ve seen that has been focused on drone technology,” Darien Kindlund, manager of threat intelligence at California-based FireEye, told Wong. “It seems to align pretty well with the focus of the Chinese government to build up their own drone technology capabilities.”
Vice’s Motherboard website reported this week that at least 123 cyberattacks waged at American drone companies have been spotted by security researchers since 2011, and quoted Kindlund as saying the attacks have been “largely successful.”
When Customs and Border Protection (CPB) first got its drones, the rationale for the acquisition was that the unmanned aircraft would help improve monitoring and surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But now, CPB may be thinking about arming its Predator drones with “non-lethal weapons.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained a report produced by CPB in 2010 that shows the agency has considered equipping its Predators with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest. Given the date of the report, it is possible that the weaponization has already taken place.
Predators were first developed for the U.S. military in the 1990s, and are designed to fire missiles, such as the Hellfire. It is unclear at this time what kind of weaponization CPB has in mind for the drones.
Whatever their plans are, “CBP needs to assure the public that it will not equip its Predators with any weapons—lethal or otherwise,” wrote EFF’s Jennifer Lynch. If it doesn’t, Congress should halt the expansion of CBP’s Predator drone program, EFF argues.
Lebanese political party Hezbollah denied on Thursday that it had sent a drone over the Mediterranean sea, hours after the Israeli air force said it shot down an unmanned aircraft near Haifa.
“Hezbollah denies sending any unmanned drone towards occupied Palestine,” the Hezbollah-affiliated television channel al-Manar said.
Israel’s deputy defense minister earlier put the blame squarely on Hezbollah.
“An unmanned aircraft (UAV) was identified approaching the coast of Israel and was successfully intercepted by IAF aircraft five nautical miles off the coast of Haifa at approximately 2:00 pm today,” the military said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was inside an army helicopter when he was given the news of the drone, and was then forced to land until it was shot down.
“I see this attempt to breach our borders as extremely grave,” the premier said. “We will continue to do whatever we must to protect the security of Israel’s citizens.”
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters the drone had been identified moving down the Lebanese coast.
“A little after 1:00 pm, our aerial defense system identified (a drone) moving from north to south along the coast of Lebanon,” he said.
“Aircraft, helicopters and combat airplanes were alerted to the area and after confirmation that it was an unfriendly aircraft, they were approved to shoot it down.”
But despite reports blaming Hezbollah, Lerner was cautious, saying the incident was still being investigated.
“We don’t know where the aircraft was coming from and where it was actually going,” he said, adding that the navy was “searching for the remains of the UAV” as part of the probe.
But Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon accused the Lebanese movement of being behind the attack.
“We’re talking about another attempt by Hezbollah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory,” he told army radio, describing it as “another attempt to destabilize the Middle East.”
Israel would respond to the incident in its own time, he said.
“We are ready and we will react as necessary,” Danon warned. “They know not to provoke us.”
Hezbollah has previously claimed responsibility for several drone incursions in the past years, most recently on October 7.
Israel frequently stages incursions into Lebanese airspace, often sending drones at low altitude in South Lebanon.
In March, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti slammed the Israeli overflights, calling them a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the July 2006 war.
Yesterday I wrote about Dayton Ohio’s plan for an aerial surveillance system similar to the “nightmare scenario” ARGUS wide-area surveillance technology. Actually, ARGUS is just the most advanced of a number of such “persistent wide-area surveillance” systems in existence and development. They include Constant Hawk, Angel Fire, Kestrel (used on blimps in Afghanistan), and Gorgon Stare.
One of the problems created by these systems—which have heretofore been used primarily in war zones—is that they tend to generate a deluge of video footage. A 2010 article says that American UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan produced 24 years’ worth of video in 2009, and that that number was expected to increase 30-fold (which would be 720 years’ worth) in 2011. Who knows what that’s up to this year, or where it will be by, say, 2025. The human beings who operate these systems can’t possibly analyze all that footage.
In an attempt to solve this problem, Lawrence Livermore Labs has created a system for the military called “Persistics.” It can be used in conjunction with drone (or manned) camera systems such as ARGUS to help manage the vast oceans of video data that are now being generated. The system is
designed to help the Department of Defense and other agencies monitor tens of square kilometers of terrain from the skies, with sufficiently high resolution for tracking people and vehicles for many hours at a time.
That’s from a May 2011 report that I recently came across with the faintly ominous title “From Video to Knowledge.” Produced by Livermore Labs, it contains a lot of interesting detail about Persistics and the problems and solutions involved in massive aerial video surveillance.
The Persistics system consists of algorithms that “analyze the streaming video content to automatically extract items of interest.”
Its analysis algorithms permit surveillance systems to “stare” at key people, vehicles, locations, and events for hours and even days at a time while automatically searching with unsurpassed detail for anomalies or preselected targets.
With Persistics, the report boasts, “analysts can determine the relationships between vehicles, people, buildings, and events.” Among the capabilities touted in the report are:
- “Seamless stitching” together of images from multiple cameras to create “a virtual large-format camera.”
- Stabilizing video (“essential for accurate and high-resolution object identification and tracking”).
- Eliminating parallax (the difference in how an object appears when viewed from slightly different angles).
- Differentiating moving objects from the background.
- The ability to automatically follow moving objects such as vehicles.
- Creating a “heat map” representation of traffic density in order to “automatically discern if the traffic pattern changes.”
- Comparing images taken at different times and automatically detecting any changes that have taken place.
- Super-high “1,000-times” video compression.
- The ability to provide all the locations a particular vehicle was spotted within a given time frame.
- The ability to provide all the vehicles that were spotted at a particular location within a given time frame.
Technologically, according to the report, the Persistics program relies heavily on the explosion in the power of consumer Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) used in video games and the like.
The report also says that the system “is being further enhanced” to work with ARGUS, and includes new details about that system:
Persistics can simultaneously and continuously detect and track the motion of thousands of targets over the ARGUS-IS coverage area of 100 square kilometers. ARGUS-IS can generate several terabytes of data per minute, hundreds of times greater than previous-generation sensors.
Previous reports said that ARGUS could cover 15 square miles; here it reports 100 square kilometers, which is 38.6 square miles. (I suppose we should expect Moore’s Law-like expansion in the capabilities of these systems.)
Of course, the system is designed to store and retrieve all the records and data about everything that it surveils:
Persistics supports forensic analyses. Should an event such as a terrorist attack occur, the archival imagery of the public space could be reviewed to determine important details such as the moment a bomb was placed or when a suspect cased the targeted area. With sufficiently high-resolution imagery, a law-enforcement or military user could one day zoom in on an individual face in a heavily populated urban environment, thus identifying the attacker.
As with every privacy-invading technology designed and/or sold as helping foil terrorists, we have to wonder how long it will be before it’s applied to tracking peace activists.
Future work on Persistics is focused on the kind of behavioral analytics that have been discussed in the context of programs such as “Trapwire.” Livermore scientists, according to the report, are now working on automated methods for identifying “patterns of behavior” that could indicate “deviations from normal social and cultural patterns” and “networks of subversive activity.”
Also under development are efforts to allow the three-dimensional viewing of targets, as well as “methods to overlay multiple sensor inputs—including infrared, radar, and visual data—and then merge data to obtain a multilayered assessment.”
Of course, much of this is unobjectionable from a domestic civil liberties point of view when it’s used as originally intended: on foreign battlefields. The problem comes when the government brings the technology home and turns it inward upon the American people. In fact, at the close of the report, Livermore contemplates exactly that:
Unmanned aircraft have demonstrated their ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] value for years in Afghanistan and Iraq. As U.S. soldiers return home, the role of overhead video imagery aided by Persistics technology is expected to increase. Persistics could also support missions at home, such as monitoring security at U.S. borders or guarding ports and energy production facilities. Clearly, with Persistics, video means knowledge—and strengthened national security.
Among the federal agencies most interested in the technology, the report says, is DHS.
- Drone ‘Nightmare Scenario’ Now Has A Name: ARGUS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
(photo: U.S. Air Force)
Apparently stung by mounting criticism of its remote control assassination program, the Obama administration early this month secretly reneged on an Air Force promise to “provide more detailed information on [drone operations] in Afghanistan” by failing to provide data on drone strikes for February. And in an Orwellian twist, the Air Force removed the previously released data on drone strikes from the reports for October 2012 to January 2013.
According to the data, the Air Force actually relies more heavily on piloted aircraft to conduct airstrikes, with drones responsible for only about one-quarter of missiles fired. The data shows that the Air Force conducted 1,366 drone strikes in Afghanistan between 2009 and January 2013. Although casualty figures were omitted, it is known that the U.S. has killed between 3,049 and 4,376 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia during about 500 “covert” drone strikes, including at least 179 children—the equivalent of 9 Newtown child massacres.
Indeed, parents who have seen their children killed by U.S. bombs don’t care if the person who pushed the button that released the bomb was inside an airplane or in a control room thousands of miles away.
The “sanitized” reports without the drone strike data were created on February 22, just two days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA Director over Paul’s concerns that the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drone strikes inside the U.S. Joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Paul filibustered for almost 13 hours, finally getting a denial from Attorney General Eric Holder that this administration believes it has such authority.
Although the Defense Department released a statement claiming the data was removed to make the reports more accurate in light of the unsupported assertion that most drone operations do not include strikes, the Pentagon also took pains to state that it was not involved in the decision to hide the data. That can only mean that the decision came straight from the White House—almost certainly from President Obama himself, who, ironically, promised in 2008 to run the federal government in a more open and transparent manner.
- US Air Force scrubs drone strike data from reports (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Yesterday the drone regulation bill in the Washington state legislature died, having failed to meet the cutoff date for moving to the House floor. Although our lobbyist there thought the bill would have passed both houses had the Democratic leadership allowed it to get there, they did not. Boeing lobbied against the bill, as did law enforcement.
One of the arguments presented by opponents, our Washington state lobbyist Shankar Narayan reports, was the claim that no regulations are needed for drones because we ought to let the courts work out the privacy issues surounding drones and deal with any abuses that arise. I have also heard spokespeople for the drone industry association, the AUVSI, making this argument lately. It seems to be emerging as a primary argument of drone-legislation opponents.
This is a weak argument. Let me briefly give five reasons why:
- There is no reason to wait for abuses to happen when they are easily foreseeable. When you put an enormously powerful surveillance technology in the hands of the police and do not place any restrictions on its use, it will be abused, sooner or later, in ways illegal (i.e. by bad apples) and legal (i.e. through officially approved policies that nonetheless violate our Constitution and/or values). Why wait, when we can prevent them before they take place and spare their victims the grief?
- The legal system has always been very slow to adapt to new technology. For example, it took the Supreme Court 40 years to apply the Fourth Amendment to telephone calls. At first the court found in a 1928 decision that because telephone surveillance did not require entering the home, the conversations that travel over telephone wires are not protected. It was not until 1967 that this literal-minded hairsplitting about “constitutionally protected areas” was overturned (with the court declaring that the Constitution “protects people, not places”). Today, technology is moving far faster than it did in the telephone era—but the gears of justice turn just as slowly as they ever have (and maybe slower).
- There are many uncertainties about how our Constitution will be applied by the courts to aerial surveillance. Just as the new technology of the telephone broke the Supreme Court’s older categories of understanding, so too will drones with all their new capabilities bring up new situations that will not fit neatly within existing jurisprudential categories of analysis. For example, how will the courts view the use of drones for routine location tracking? The Supreme Court started to grapple with such questions in its recent decision in the Jones GPS case, but it is far from clear what the ultimate resolution will be. The Supreme Court has ruled before that the Fourth Amendment provides no protection from aerial surveillance, even in one’s backyard surrounded by a high fence, and while the new factors that drones bring to the equation could shift that judgment, we cannot be certain. Legislators should not sit around waiting for cases to come before the courts; they should act to preserve our values now.
- Legislatures often set rules even when the Constitution would seem to cover something. To take just one example: after the Supreme Court issued that 1967 ruling that a warrant was needed to tap someone’s phone, Congress went on to enact detailed standards the government had to follow before it could do so. What it did not do was throw its hands up and say “the court has ruled, if there are any further abuses we can let the courts take care of them.”
- Our courts often defer to the judgments of elected bodies. While the courts’ role is to step in and protect fundamental rights when they are threatened by the majority, they normally show great deference toward the judgments of elected representatives of the people. And for good reason—we live in a democracy, and unless fundamental rights are at stake decisions should be made by our democratic representatives. A legislature acting to protect fundamental rights such as privacy does not threaten such rights, and there is no reason why elected representatives shouldn’t act to protect our fundamental values if they feel that the citizens in their districts want them to.
Let’s hope that state legislators in other states don’t fall for this line of argument.