Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Coming soon to Anytown, USA

October 5th, 2011

There’s a collection of stories that don’t appear connected at first glance but once we put the pieces together I think you’ll get it. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so brace yourself. This is going to be a little rough.

Let’s start with Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born American Imam who was reportedly killed by a CIA drone in Yemen last Friday. Al-Awlaki was never charged and received no trial, not even in absentia. He’s also not accused of any actual violence, but allegedly inciting violence as a “spiritual advisor” by emails to the Underwear Bomber, the Fort Hood Shooter and some others. His principle crime, however you look at it, is speech.

Some important milestones were crossed in this case. First, the President now authorizes the assassination of US Citizens. And the order was carried out by the CIA, not the US Military, which is subject to far less scrutiny. Second, another US Citizen, Inspire Magazine Editor Samir Khan was also killed, though he was not on the “kill or capture list.”

The legal process by which this decision was made has still not been disclosed, despite a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU. When asked whether al-Awlaki had received whatever due process he was entitled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said that this case involved “special circumstances” because al-Awlaki was “an enemy combatant by any standard,” except of course… combat.

The government expects us to accept this because al-Awlaki is a “terrorist,” but that same government is constantly blurring the definition of “terrorist.” The FBI called Monetary Architect Bernard Von NotHaus a domestic terrorist for minting silver rounds. House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Peter King wanted Wikileaks classified as a terrorist organization. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer called Food Not Bombs, “food terrorists.”

In an opinion piece for the New York Daily News Ron Paul wrote:

“We now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating who he thinks are bad guys… Under our Constitution, American citizens, even those living abroad, must be charged with a crime before being sentenced… What I would not do as President is what Obama has done and continues to do in spectacular fashion: circumvent the rule of law.”

But we’re just getting started.

The Army just contracted several tech firms to design new drone mounted surveillance equipment. Progeny Systems Corporation has developed algorithms for the military that construct a 3D model of a target’s face using aerial photos. Combined with facial recognition software they expect to be able to tag and track targets from 750 feet in the air. Of course if the trend of military equipment trickling down to local police departments continues as it has I’m sure your DMV photo will work just fine.

Charles River Analytics is developing a drone-mounted, “Adversary Behavior Acquisition, Collection, Understanding and Summarization (ABACUS)” tool which is designed to spot “adversarial intent” from the air. The system purports to be able to integrate drone footage with other intelligence to apply a “human behavior modeling and simulation engine” to provide “intent-based threat assessments of individuals and groups.” In other words, soon predator drones will be able to determine whether or not you harbor ill will toward the government… or at least provide the pretense for those who claim you do.

Feeling nervous yet? It gets worse.

Ogden, Utah plans to launch the nation’s first domestic surveillance blimp by Christmas. The blimp will be equipped with day and night vision cameras and operated by remote control. The “unmanned aerial vehicles,” as Mayor Matthew Godfrey wants to call them, would run for five to seven hours at an altitude of around 400 feet (Well within the 750 foot range of the new military drone equipment). The blimp can follow a pre-programmed route, or be redirected to track an individual or vehicle. Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner added, “Nobody else in the nation is trying to do this, so the Federal Aviation Administration has no regulations for it.” I predict these will be common soon to most metropolitan areas. They reportedly cost less than half a fully loaded patrol car.

Now let’s bring all the pieces together.

1) Drone strikes against US citizens branded “terrorists” are ok.
2) Collateral Damage of US citizens during Drone strikes is ok.
3) The definition of “combatant” has drifted to include inciteful speech.
4) The definition of “terrorist” has drifted to include crimes of dissent.
5) Drones are being programed to detect dissent.
6) Domestic police will soon be using unmanned aerial vehicles.
7) Military technology trickles down to local law enforcement.

Are you seeing the pattern yet? All these puzzle pieces are just waiting for some authoritarian sociopath to fit together. If it’s not Obama, or whoever replaces him, it will be some faceless nameless bureaucrat, or some committee behind closed doors. One by one the precedents will be set. Step by step the policies will change and the contracts will be signed. It is the inevitable nature of government to grow, to push the limits of it’s power and to cross new milestones in the transgression of justice.

So… how long will it be before we witness the first drone strike in the United States?

About the Author: Davi Barker

In grade school Davi refused to recite the pledge of allegiance because he didn't understand what it meant. He was ordered to do as he was told. In college he spent hours scouring through the congressional record trying to understand this strange machine. That's where he discovered Dr. Ron Paul. In 2007 he joined the End The Fed movement and found a political home with the libertarians. The Declaration of Independence claims that the government derives its power “from the consent of the governed." He does not consent.