How the Drone Warfare Industry Took Over Our Congress
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Advocacy for increased border security on the northern border and increased UAV deployment, as well as pressure on the FAA to open airspace for drones, is not confined to the House. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, has also brought these the issues of security, increased drone presence, and FAA airspace approvals together.
During the debate over the FAA reauthorization bill, Senator Schumer stressed that U.S. national security is at stake:
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.
For Schumer, as with the members of the House drone caucus, stated concerns about border security and national security overlap with the search for more federal pork.
Schumer is seeking FAA approval for extensive UAV testing in the airspace around New York’s Hancock Air Base, which is where the military stations the fleet of killer drones that are being used in the Middle East and South Asia. A report by the Syracuse Post-Standard noted that if approved by the FAA “it would help ensure the future of 1,215 jobs” at the air base and “potentially lead to millions of dollars in radar research contracts for local defense companies.”
Boys and Toys
The U.S. public has expressed little concern about the increased use of killer drones in U.S. war-fighting and counterterrorism operations under the Obama administration despite frequent reports of deaths of untargeted civilians. In Pakistan and within the United Nations, there are rising complaints that drone attacks violate international law and result in a pattern of noncombatant civilians – what the U.S. military calls “collateral damage.”
Yet all is not quiet on the home front.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is taking the U.S. government to task for ignoring international law, while the American Civil Liberty Union charges that drone surveillance tramples civil rights and violates individual privacy. Peace and anti-war groups like the Friends Committee on National Legislation have also criticized the administration’s increased use of attack drones.
With respect to border security, there is no public outcry or activism against drone deployment despite its massive costs and dubious benefits. Similarly, there has been little public concern about the virtual fence, the other major high-tech project to secure the border – in sharp contrast to widespread opposition to the steel border fence.
The relative absence of public discussion about the U.S. government’s increased deployment of drones can be, in part, explained by government secrecy and by lack of opportunities for public review.
American confidence that most problems have high-tech solutions may also help explain the lack of public or policymaker criticism of the Pentagon and DHS drone programs. But as drones increasingly appear on the home front, it’s likely that drone traffic will raise new concern about the threats to the safety of air travel.
Following the federal government’s lead, local law enforcement agencies are planning to use drones for surveillance. Reacting to the announcement that the Houston-area sheriffs department had purchased a drone, Terry Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, remarked: “I gotta tell you, it sort of looks like boys and their toys. We’re giving up our privacy, we’re letting the government have way too much power.”
Burke’s comments could just as well have referred to the federal government’s drone programs, and to the drone enthusiasm of the House drone caucus.