Drone surveillance quickly becoming routine in Colorado
20 December, 2012
According to new information obtained from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), law enforcement there has relied on unmanned aerial drones for surveillance purposes since as early as 2009.
Investigative journalism portalMuckRock.com has filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and has just begun publishing a number of documents they’ve received regarding the agency’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones.
According to the materials obtained by MuckRock, the Mesa County sheriff has authorized his office to use its arsenal of drones for surveillance purposes “similar to a K-9 unit” that’s deployed to search for suspects and contraband.
The documents reveal that the MSCO has been testing UAVs since 2009, and today the department is “beginning to implement [drones] into day to day operations.” Despite such frequency, though, the MCSO’s drone use manual obtained through the FOIA request reveals that the agency has yet to publish an actual written policy that determines what kind of activity warrants the use of an UAV.
Those missions in question consist of sending a high-tech aircraft into the sky to survey happenings across the county that on-the-ground officers might not be able to access otherwise. But while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has restricted drone flights for the time being to be below 400 feet from the ground, MSCO’s own drone program does not include any geographic limits, essentially letting law enforcement to look into events across the entire county. Notwithstanding FAA restrictions that preclude fights over “populated areas, heavily trafficked roads or an open-air assembly of people,” the MSCO is allowed to operate its UAVs and the attached state-of-the-art cameras anywhere over the country.
As MuckRock’s Shawn Muscgrave reports, “this freedom has allowed the agency to log dozens of operational missions since fall 2010.”
The FOIA request reveals that Canadian UAV manufacturer Draganfly provided the MCSO with one Draganflyer X6 rotorcraft drone free of charge in 2009. In 2012, a second drone was acquired through a deal with Falcon UAV at a reported price tag of $14,000.
Mesa County is one of only a handful of jurisdictions where drone use is already occurring, but that doesn’t mean that others aren’t interested. Just as the MCSO is using drones to do in-the-air surveillance, other law enforcement agencies across the country have appealed for aircraft of their own.
Drones are “Very valuable to any tactical officer,” Sherriff Greg Ahern of Alameda County, California told a local NBC affiliate recently. “As you’re setting up your perimeters and knowing what the suspect may have in his hands, how the suspect is dressed, what are the avenues of escape?” he asked.
With little safeguards in place and technology still largely untested, though, privacy advocates have raised a number of questions about drone use. In Colorado, those concerns are apparently too little too late. In all, two drones obtained by have logged a total of more than 160 flight hours since January 2011, including a handful of surveillance operations used to stake out crime scenes and track missing persons.*******
Air Force May Be Developing Stealth Drones in Secret
By David Axe
The Air Force’s multi-billion-dollar drone fleets may have helped against the insurgents of Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a fight against a real military like China’s, the
relatively defenseless unmanned aerial vehicles would get shot down in a second. So once again, the air will belong to traditional, manned bombers and fighters able to survive the sophisticated air defenses.
At least that’s the Air Force’s official position. Secretly, however, the flying branch could be working on at least two new high-tech UAVs optimized for the most intensive future air wars. Ace aviation reporter Bill Sweetman has gathered evidence of new stealth drones under development by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman — the latter potentially armed, and both drawing on classified funds. If these robots are real, the Air Force’s drone era is not only not ending — it’s barely begun.
To be clear, no one thinks unmanned aircraft are becoming any less vital to Washington’s shadowy counter-terrorism campaigns in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and, possibly soon, Mali. Missile-armed Predators, the larger Reapers carrying bombs and missiles, and stealthy, unarmed Sentinel spy drones, operated jointly by the CIA and the military, are still America’s weapon of choice for hunting terrorist leaders. Three years ago then-CIA director Leon Panetta, now the defense secretary, called UAVs the “only game in town” for disrupting the core of al-Qaida.
But when it comes to strictly military campaigns — assuming those even exist anymore — flying robots appear to be falling out of favor with the nation’s air combat branch. Earlier this year the Air Force announced controversial plans to scale back its known current and future drone fleets.
Gone would be the Block 30 model of the brand-new, high-flying Global Hawk recon UAV, axed in favor of upgrades to the decades-old U-2 spy plane. Production of the workhorse Reapers was slashed from 48 per year to just 24. Looking ahead, the Air Force cancelled a planned, unclassified effort to develop a jet-powered attack drone, the MQ-X. Indeed, the flying branch abandoned its entire 30-year “roadmap” for future UAV development, which had anticipated a host of new robot designs to ultimately replace most manned aircraft.
Publicly, the Air Force is even considering reneging on its promise to make the next-generation heavy bomber now in development “optionally manned,” meaning it could be converted into a large, long-range drone with the flip of a switch. The potential high cost of the dual design is “probably going to make it difficult to afford an unmanned solution,” Air Force Global Strike Command boss Gen. James Kowalski said.
Remarkably, it was just four years ago that then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates leaned on the flying branch to finally get serious about pilotless planes, which can fly far longer than their manned counterparts and are ideal for surveillance and attacks missions against lightly armed militants like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even after (then) seven years of war, motivating the Air Force to purchase more drones — and consequently fewer traditional planes — was “like pulling teeth,” Gates said. To break the logjam Gates had to fire the Air Force’s two top officials and abruptly cancel further production of the air-combat service’s prized F-22 fighter.
Now the Iraq war is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. All the military branches are revamping their arsenals for an era in which they anticipate fewer long-term counter-insurgency campaigns and more short, high-intensity wars such as last year’s Libya campaign plus the ongoing responsibility of deterring a rising China. “The fleet I’ve built up — and I’m still being prodded to build up, too — is not relevant in that new theater,” Gen. Mike Hostage, head of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, said last week.
In high-stress combat the human brain is still the best computer, and human eyes the best sensors, Hostage said. Drones “don’t have the awareness that a manned plane would have.”
The other branches do not share that view. The Army is proceeding with plans to purchase more than 100 copies of its own armed Predator variant. The Navy is pouring billions into a stealthy, jet-powered attack drone that can launch from aircraft carriers. Only the Air Force has looked into the future and stated that current flying robots don’t have much of a place.
Instead, the Air Force says it wants more manned planes. Despite flattening budgets the flying branch is sticking with its longtime requirement for 1,763 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters plus up to 100 new bombers. And Hostage says his researchers are trying to define a so-called “sixth-generation” fighter to succeed the F-35 around 2030. That plane will have an on-board pilot, Hostage said.
When it comes to drones, “retrenchment returns the Air Force to business as usual,” Lt. Col. Lawrence Spinetta and M.L. Cummings wrote in Armed Forces Journal. But that retrenchment could be a cover. It’s very possible that all the Air Force’s recent backtracking on unmanned warplanes applies only to unclassified efforts. It’s feasible, even likely, that Air Force UAV initiatives are thriving within the military’s $35-billion-a-year classified budget. For sure, the stealthy Sentinel drone that first appeared in Afghanistan five years ago and subsequently spied on Iran and Pakistan is one product of the classified budget.
In fact, it makes sense for UAV development for the post-Iraq and -Afghanistan era to favor “black” programs. As America’s wars become more high-tech and its foes more heavily armed, the Air Force will need truly cutting-edge drones — the robot equivalents of the Cold War F-117 and B-2 stealth warplanes, both of which were designed and initially produced in total secrecy in order to protect their pricey new technologies.
In a recent article for Aviation Week, reporter Sweetman laid out the evidence for no fewer than two new, jet-powered, radar-evading Air Force UAVs still cloaked in black funding. In 2008 Northrop Grumman, maker of the B-2 stealth bomber, scored a $2-billion Pentagon contract that the company took pains to keep off the books. At the same time, Northrop hired as a consultant John Cashen, the man most responsible for devising the B-2's radar-defeating shape.
The funding and Cashen’s expertise were applied to a secret effort to build a larger successor to the Lockheed Martin-made Sentinel, according to Sweetman. The new drone “is, by now, probably being test-flown at Groom Lake,” a.k.a. Area 51, Sweetman wrote.
In parallel, Lockheed could be building a stealthy spy drone meant to fly ahead of the Air Force’s new bomber, helping to jam enemy radars and spot targets for the larger, manned plane. Sweetman called the secret spy drone, which has been alluded to by Pentagon officials, “a real and funded program.” Perhaps coincidentally, in December last year a commercial satellite spotted what appeared to be a previously unknown UAV type at Lockheed’s facility in Palmdale, California.
Despite the public statements eschewing old-style drones, it’s possible the Air Force is working hard to field brand-new flying robots better suited to an era of conventional warfare. But it could be years before we know for sure, as any evidence is deeply classified and could remain so. “When the new systems will be disclosed is anyone’s guess,” Sweetman lamented.
Today’s drones might have hit their peak, by the Air Force’s reckoning. But tomorrow’s drones could rise to take their place.*******
Military Drones Prowl US Skies
By TechNewsDaily Staff
Thu, Dec 6, 2012
Military drones used to track terrorists or insurgents in Afghanistan have also been flying across the U.S. homeland. Newly released documents show U.S. drone flights by the Air Force, Marine Corps and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the first time.
The Air Force has tested drones in U.S. skies ranging from hand-launched Ravens to the larger Reaper drones responsible for targeting and killing people overseas — all recorded through the Federal Aviation Administration licenses required to fly in national airspace. That information became public through a Freedom of Information Act request from the nonprofit digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
"The FAA recently announced it wants to slow down drone integration into U.S. skies due to privacy concerns," the EFF said. "We are hopeful this indicates the agency is finally changing its views."
But the advocacy organization noted that the FAA documents don't show any oversight of how drone flights could affect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.
The advocates run a U.S. drone census that aims to track drone flights made in the homeland by the U.S. military, law enforcement agencies, local police departments and universities. Part of that effort has involved requesting the FAA to release documents showing what agencies and organizations applied for licenses to fly drones in U.S. national airspace.
Drones flown by the Air Force near places such as Virginia Beach, Va., have the cameras and sensors to track moving ground targets for hours at a time. The Reaper drone capable of both spying on people and firing missiles at them has spent much of its time prowling the skies above Nevada, California and Utah. [Rise of the Drones: Photos of Unmanned Aircraft]
Some Air Force operators have even practiced surveillance missions they might carry out in Afghanistan by tracking civilian cars on the highways, according to a New York Times report.
The Air Force proved the most accommodating by allowing the related FAA records to go public. The Marine Corps chose to redact so much material from the records that the EFF had a difficult time figuring out the Marines' drone programs.
On the civilian side, the drone records show how many U.S. law enforcement agencies want to use drones for spying on drug activities in the war on drugs. But some police departments — specifically the Orange County, Fla., sheriff's department and Mesa County, Colo., sheriff — chose to withhold some or most of the information about drone flights by claiming that public information could threaten their police work.
The FAA released the new batch of documents more than a year and a half after the EFF filed its Freedom of Information Act request, but has yet to release more than half of the available drone records. The EFF called that "unacceptable."
"Before the public can properly assess privacy issues raised by drone flights, it must have access to the FAA's records as a whole," the EFF said.
Seattle police plan to deploy spy drones
26 October, 2012
The rainy skies of Seattle are likely to soon be a whole lot drearier. The FAA has approved the local police department to start using surveillance drones for law enforcement, but protesters are making it clear that they're willing to put up a fight.
The Seattle Police Department displayed a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on Thursday that they intend on using soon to monitor criminal activity across the city, but opponents of drone use came out in droves to protest the proposed plans.
The SPD is one of only law enforcement agencies given the go-ahead by the Federal Administration Agency to show officers the ins-and-outs of UAVs, and the department hopes that soon they will be able to save lives and make the city more secure by actually deploying drones across town.
So far the department has already outlined an operations manual that they hope they’ll have a chance to adhere to soon, describing in detail how they hope to install an unmanned aerial system across the city to help photograph crime scenes, conduct search and rescue missions, monitor traffic accidents and even aid with natural disaster responses. Putting an extra set of police eyes — remote-controlled ones, at that — has put a fair share of Seattle residents ill at ease, though.
"We are not going to tolerate this in our city. This is unacceptable,"
anti-drone advocate Emma Kaplan told Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh at Thursday’s unveiling.
The Seattle Times says another protester in attendance, identified as General Malaise, said, "We don't trust you with the weapons you do have,” let alone new ones that are still being developed.
According to the paper, Thursday’s community meeting held to identify the public opinion of the program “was taken over by protesters,” leaving McDonagh with only a small chunk of time to talk about his plans.
The city says they have no intent on using UAVs for any unlawful surveillance purposes, but the bad wrap drones have received as of late — made only worse with military versions of the drones overseas executing as many as hundreds of civilians in recent years — has left Seattle residents saying they have good reason to oppose domestic use.
Even if unarmed, drones are a cause of big concern for some. The Seattle Police Department says they have every intent “to make reasonable effort to not invade a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy,” and that never will any police drones “supersede the issuance of a warrant when needed.”
“UAS operators and observers will ensure and will be held accountable for ensuring that operations of the UAS intrude to a minimal extent upon the citizens of Seattle,”
the drafted operations manual reads.
As the technology is still being tested, though, opponents say it’s not clear what the department could be able to get away with.
"The ways that they say they can use the drones is too broad,"
ACLU of Washington Deputy Director Jennifer Shaw tells the Seattle Times. "They have a list of different emergencies and then a catchall phrase saying the drones can also be used in other situations if they get permission."
Even what isn’t outline, she says, could eventually be added.
"So long as it is a policy, it can be changed. An ordinance cannot be changed at will and is the only way we can be sure there is meaningful input,"
Earlier this month, the Sherriff of Alameda County, California asked the US Department of Homeland Security for as much as $100,000 in funding so he could add a drone to his own department’s arsenal. Sherriff Greg Ahern told NBC News that UAVs are “Very valuable to any tactical officer,” because they could aid in identifying everything from how a suspect is dressed to what avenues of escape are possible.*******
California sheriff asks DHS for surveillance drones
20 October, 2012
If the sheriff of Alameda County, California has his way, the citizens of the West Coast cities of Oakland and Freemont might soon find more than just birds and planes soaring through the sky. Sherriff Greg Ahern is eyeing a remote-controlled drone.
At only four-feet wide and weighing in at roughly the size of a puppy, an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, could provide police in Alameda County with a whole new set of eyes where cops can’t easily get to. Such is the reason these aircraft are among the US military’s most popular addition to their arsenal in recent years, allowing the Pentagon to peer into insurgents from 30,000 feet above the Earth.
Sheriff Ahern wants the US Homeland Security department to send him funding to acquire a single UAV — for starters — which could cost the agency as much as $100,000. In the name of law enforcement and securing the state, though, it might not be a hard sell for the sheriff, especially after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano endorsed the idea of adding UAVs across California during a Capitol Hill testimony only earlier this year.
“I think it’s in California, looking at drones that could be utilized to give us situational awareness in a large public safety [matter] or disaster, such as a forest fire, and how they could give us better information,”
Sec. Napolitano said to the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security back in July. That same month, the Texas Department of Public Safety inked a deal with a Swiss manufacturer to acquire a $7.4 million spy plane with similar capabilities as surveillance drones.
Four months later, UAVs might soon be on the way to the West. The Associated Press cites a memo penned by a Sherriff’s Department officer that says the agency is interested in acquiring a UAV with a long-distance camera, live video downlink and infrared sensors. But while Sheriff Ahern insists that acquiring a drone could do wonders for law enforcement search and rescue missions, bomb threats, SWAT raids, and drug busts, civilians are expressing concern over how their civil liberties could be at risk for the sake of so-called security.
"I don't want drones flying over my backyard,"
Oakland resident Mary Madden said Thursday this week from the steps of City Hall. Madden was joined by members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Critical Resistance and the American Civil Liberties Union, the Oakland Tribune acknowledges, in order to protest plans to put UAVs overhead.
"The law hasn't caught up with the technology,"
the EFF’s Trevor Timm tells the paper. "There are no rules of the road for how they operate these things."
Timm’s testimony rings true among others, not just in Oakland or elsewhere in Alameda. A public poll conducted last month by the Associated Press in conjunction with the National Constitution Center found that more than one-third of Americans have reservations about surveillance drones, many saying they fear police use of UAVs to collect intelligence.
"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,"
Constitution Center CEO David Eisner told the AP at the time. 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,” he suggested.
Drones are “Very valuable to any tactical officer,” Ahern tells a local NBC affiliate, “as you’re setting up your perimeters and knowing what the suspect may have in his hands, how the suspect is dressed, what are the avenues of escape?” And acquiring one, he adds, is simply a “no brainer.”
Ahern adds that his office will host an annual preparedness event next month that will bring together dozens of other law enforcement agencies to test out UAVs and other equipment. Linda Lye, an attorney with the ACLU, says entertaining officers with the aircraft’s attractive qualities could only be catastrophic.
"When law enforcement has dangerous and powerful tools in their arsenal, they'll use them,"
Lye tells the San Francisco Gate. "The invitation to abuse this tool is enormous."*******
Military Stats Reveal Epicenter of U.S. Drone Wart
By Noah Shachman
Forget Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and all the other secret little warzones. The real center of the U.S. drone campaign is in plain sight — on the hot and open battlefield of Afghanistan.
The American military has launched 333 drone strikes this year in Afghanistan. That’s not only the highest total ever, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. It’s essentially the same number of robotic attacks in Pakistan since the CIA-led campaign there began nearly eight years ago. In the last 30 days, there have been three reported strikes in Yemen. In Afghanistan, that’s just an average day’s worth of remotely piloted attacks. And the increased strikes come as the rest of the war in Afrun by the intelligence community. It shapes everything from the level of transparency to the command and control to the rules of engagements to the process and consequences if an air strike goes wrong,” e-mails Peter W. Singer, who runs the Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Defense Initiative. (Full disclosure: I have a non-resident fellowship there.) “This is why the military side has been far less controversial, and thus why many have pushed for it to play a greater role as the strikes slowly morphed from isolated, covert events into a regularized air war.”
The military has 61 Predator and Reaper “combat air patrols,” each with three or four robotic planes. The CIA’s inventory is believed to be just a fraction of that: 30 to 35 drones total, although there is thought to be some overlap between the military and intelligence agency fleets. The Washington Post reported last month that the CIA is looking for another 10 drones as the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) become more and more central to the agency’s worldwide counterterror campaign.
In Pakistan, those drones are flown with a wink and a nod, to avoid the perception of violating national sovereignty. In Yemen, the robots go after men just because they fit a profile of what the U.S. believes a terrorist to be. In both countries, people are considered legitimate targets if they happen to be male and young and in the wrong place at the wrong time. The White House keeps a “matrix” on who merits robotic death. Congress (outside of the intelligence committees) largely learns about the programs through the papers.
None of these statements is true about the drone war in Afghanistan, where strikes are ordered by a local commander, overseen by military lawyers, conducted with the (sometimes reluctant) blessing of the Kabul government, and used almost entirely to help troops under fire. The UAVs aren’t flown to dodge issues of sovereignty or to avoid traditional military assets. They’re used because they work better — staying in the sky longer than traditional aircraft and employing more advanced sensors to make sure the targets they hit are legit.ghanistan is slowing dwn.The secret drone campaigns have drawn the most scrutiny because of the legal, geopolitical, and ethical questions they raise. But it’s worth remembering that the rise of the flying robots is largely occurring in the open, on an acknowledged battlefield where the targets are largely unquestioned and the attending issues aren’t nearly as fraught.
“The difference between the Afghan operation and the ones operations in Pakistan and elsewhere come down to the fundamental differences between open military campaigns and covert campaigns*******
Drones will Soon be Everywhere!
01 October 2012