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How they do drone on, er do drones

“If you’re concerned about it, maybe there’s a reason we should be flying over you, right?”

So says a top executive of a U.S. drone company.

Here’s what’s a surprise, at least to me: This isn’t even hot “new news.” Heck, in 2009, the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks became the first four-year college to offer a degree in “unmanned aircraft piloting” that’s open only to U.S. citizens. A degree. And the university has a “fleet of seven different types of unmanned aircraft.”

That’s all from a fascinating read, “Spies in the sky signal new age of surveillance,” at the StarTribune.com. The subtitle? “A North Dakota criminal case highlights growing fears over police use of drones.” And here’s the first paragraph describing the criminal case set in North Dakota:

Amid 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans and miles from the closest town, a Predator drone led to the arrests of farmer Rodney Brossart and five members of his family last year after a dispute over a neighbor’s six lost cows on his property escalated into a 16-hour standoff with police. …

Well, I can’t quote the entire article, a shame since it is well-written — readable and chock full of fascinating stories.

But wait. I just have to tell you how I ran across this story. It was linked in a Tweet, which read:

Jillian C. York ‏@jilliancyork
Head of drone company: “If you’re concerned, maybe there’s a reason we should be flying over you” http://t.co/5dfIDbk6
Retweeted by David Waldman

That Tweet was meant to elicit some fear. And I’m guilty of using that “hot quote” in my lead. But, as I read the entire article, I found that, as is usually the case, there’s a lot more to the use of drones than just shuddering about 1984 come true.

Here is a graphic example — i.e., “graphic” as in an image and caption that say a lot:

Brian Armstrong was told by the FAA to stop using this drone to gather geological information in Otter Tail County where he is the head of the geographical information department. He uses the drone to CHECK FOR BEAVER DAMS. – From the StarTribune.com (click image to read article)

Beaver dams! Who’d a thunk it. By the way, that’s from another startribune.com article, “Otter Tail County wants drone to survey, not to spy.”

What a name. Otter Tail County. It’s so Americana. Like the Horse Heaven Hills in eastern Washington state.

Back to the major Star-Tribune story, which features a video. Here are a few highlights:

The Grand Forks [Air Force] base has been flying drones since 2005, when it switched missions from flying tankers to unmanned aerial systems. So, too, have the storied Happy Hooligans of the North Dakota Air National Guard, which has flown drone missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. …

… Predators operated by Customs and Border Patrol [mapped] the flooded Red River Valley areas of North Dakota and Minnesota [and provided] disaster relief support . …

The Grand Forks base [with] two Predators flying, expects … 15 Northrop Grumman Global Hawks and six to eight General Atomics Predators/Reapers [and] an additional 907 Air Force personnel. …

For this wide swath of eastern North Dakota, that is part of the appeal: jobs. The University of North Dakota has eagerly partnered with the military and defense contractors, and often operating behind locked doors and secrecy, university officials are working to make the area a hub of unmanned aircraft activity. The state has invested an estimated $12.5 million. … The local Economic Development Corporation has added a drone coordinator in charge of recruiting more companies. …

Where aviation was in 1925, that’s where we are today with unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Al Palmer, director of UND’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Education and Training. “The possibilities are endless.”

[...]

The University of North Dakota operates a fleet of seven [types]. In 2009, it became the first college in the country to offer a four-year degree in unmanned aircraft piloting. It now has 23 graduates and 84 students majoring in the program, … open only to U.S. citizens.

[...]

The university also serves as an incubator for companies. … In five days, Unmanned Applications Institute International, which provides training … can teach a cop how to use a drone the size of a bathtub toy.

“If you’re concerned about it, maybe there’s a reason we should be flying over you, right?” said Douglas McDonald, the company’s director of special operations and president of a local chapter of the unmanned vehicle trade group. “But as soon as you lose your kid, get your car stolen or have marijuana growing out at your lake place that’s not yours, you’d probably want one of those flying overhead.”

Earlier this year, the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department was provided its own drone by the university. …

[...]

[Not] everyone is enthusiastic. … Of the 43 public comments on [an Air Force] proposal, 42 opposed it, largely out of safety concerns and fears that it would interfere with commercial and general aviation. Nevertheless, the FAA approved. …

All: “Spies in the sky signal new age of surveillance.”

Know what? North Dakota has some amazingly enterprising people. It makes me proud in a way because my mother grew up in North Dakota. Her mother, parents and several siblings all came to the United States from Switzerland around 1905 to 1910. How they ended up in North Dakota, I don’t know, but they began growing wheat on hundreds of acres and did very well. My great-grandfather was supposedly quite a Lothario who had a mistress tucked away in Wisconsin while my great-grandmother “slaved away” on the farm.

Decades later, as the family grew exponentially and the wheat farms multplied, some made a killing off those infamous federal farm subsidies. A few, according to family lore, lived a grand lifestyle, all thanks to Uncle Sam.

I asked my mother if my great-grandmother missed Switzerland and she looked at me with soulful eyes, saying sadly, “Oh yes.” I could see why when my father, mother, brother and I visited North Dakota several times, either by train or car. I could not believe that there could be a flatter place on earth with the straightest possible roads and two-lane highways. Eastern Montana and North Dakota were the least interesting places, geographically, I’d ever seen. It was no surprise to me that many vehicular accidents were the result of drivers nodding off from sheer boredom. Yes, boredom. I could not fathom how anyone could bear to live on seemingly endless flat land that became synonymous, for me, with a mind-numbing lack of stimulation.

My mother spoke Swiss German until she went to school and picked up the English language. She had no trace of an accent and claimed she couldn’t remember any “Swiss,” but I’d catch her breaking into Swiss on a few telephone calls to her beloved grandmother. I’ve often wished she’d taught me some Swiss but figured out later that she was embarrassed, feeling that showing her bilingual skills would make her appear backward. She fought to be seen as a true American. And then there was that in the World War II era, the German language — even the Swiss version — made many Americans nervous. When I asked, she told me that yes, for a time it was a stigma to evidence any linkage with Germany.

Well, I’ve veered far afield. My original points were that I am tickled that North Dakota is getting so much ink these days and, most of all, that it is gratifying to see North Dakotans live up to the hearty, thrifty pioneers like my great-grandparents and great uncles and aunts, who worked that land in searing summer heat and below-zero winters.

North Dakotans espy and seize opportunities in every way possible. They know that it is rare for a politician in Washington, D.C. to ever think of their state. Presidential candidates rarely campaign there. They’re envious of South Dakota, which gets far more attention.

Why couldn’t North Dakota have had a Deadwood that’s become legendary, inspired an outstanding HBO series, and brings thousands of tourists? Why can’t they have a national monument of four dead presidents? Why couldn’t they have had a Black Hills Gold Rush? And most of General George Custer’s memorials?

Well, now they have fracking and drones. Smart North Dakotans are “playing the hand they’ve been dealt” but with a lot of “inspiration and perspiration.”

They prove that brains, foresight, hard work by a lot of citizens can reap high tech successes, not just wheat (and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture subsidies).

  • jiaolou

    tinyurl.com/cyk9xz2 jk

  • Flop_Flipper

    A legal question for those in the know. What if a drone crashes onto someone’s property. Do they now own it because it’s on their property?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1501575084 Russell Orem

      Yes. In the same way that if you park your car near my house, or lose control, I now own you and your car. Because that’s how ownership works.

  • Popsmoke

    Here is another piece of drone stupidity….
    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2011/11/weaponized_uav.html

  • HARP2

    I think I will start working on my miniature ground to air drone killing missile. Some cheap equipment from Radio Shack should work.

  • Popsmoke

    By the way… We need more signatures….
    TSA Should Follow the Law
    http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/tsa-should-follow-the-law/

    • Flop_Flipper

      Since all the folks that are responsible for creating and administrating our laws are exempt from them I doubt much will be done. I think it’s because they are all closet junk touchers. Wouldn’t doubt there is some classified part of the TSA law that allows members of Congress and the Administration to look through all those naked airport scans they say they aren’t recording. Fuckin pervs…..

      • Popsmoke

        Well its puts the Obama Administration on the spot anyway….

    • Hokma

      Just did it.

      • Popsmoke

        Thank you!

  • Popsmoke

    Try these… Its gotten ridiculous. Americans need to wake up before we have no civil liberties left. This is what happens when private industry teamed with government goes to far…

    SECOND THOUGHTS IN CONGRESS ABOUT DOMESTIC DRONES

    Some members of Congress are having second thoughts about the future use of unmanned aerial systems in U.S. airspace, judging from a colloquy on the House floor last week.

    When Congress passed the FAA reauthorization bill, recalled Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), it included “this very simple language allowing for the expansion of unmanned aerial vehicles in the national airspace.”

    “None of us really thought that was much of a problem, but our constituents are bringing it back to us,” Rep. Burgess said. “They are concerned about privacy, and they’re concerned about Federal agencies surveilling normal activities of commerce in which people may be engaged.”

    Looking beyond privacy concerns, Rep. Burgess proposed an amendment to the Transportation Appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of armed drones within the United States.

    “If these drones are weaponized, you can–if you’ve been surveilled unfairly, you can go to court and perhaps seek a remedy. But if a bullet is fired from one of these platforms, you don’t have any remedy if you’re the recipient of that bullet,” he said.

    “The amendment that I offer today is preemptive. As to my knowledge, no actual applications have been filed with the FAA to use armed drones in U.S. airspace. But I believe it is necessary, as there has been some discussion in the public media about the ability to arm unmanned aerial vehicles. I personally believe this is a road down which we should not

    travel,” Rep. Burgess said.

    However, the amendment was rejected for procedural reasons.

    http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2012_cr/drone-thud.html

    Similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) was approved last month as an amendment to the pending Homeland Security Appropriations bill.

    http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2012_cr/dhs-uas.html

    PENTAGON LISTS 110 POTENTIAL DRONE BASES IN U.S.

    The Department of Defense has identified 110 sites in the United States that could serve as bases for military unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones. A new report to Congress lists each of the 110 sites “and the UAS likely to fly at that location.”

    See “Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability,” Department of Defense, April 2012:

    http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/uas-future.pdf

    The newly disclosed DoD report was first reported by InsideDefense.com.

    http://insidedefense.com/

    The actual or potential drone bases are located in 39 of the 50 states, from Fort McClellan in Alabama to Camp Guernsey in Wyoming, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico.

    Currently, the DoD and the military have “88 active certificates of authorization (COAs) at various locations around the country” that permit them to fly UASs outside of restricted military zones, the report to Congress said. COAs are issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

    But “The rapid increase in fielded UAS has created a strong demand for access within the NAS [National Airspace System] and international airspace. The demand for airspace to test new systems and train UAS operators has quickly exceeded the current airspace available for these activities,” the report said.

    The Senate Armed Services Committee, evidently receptive to this demand, said in its report on the FY2013 defense authorization act that integration of drones into domestic airspace should be accelerated. See “Senate: Drones Need to Operate ‘Freely and Routinely’ in U.S.,” Secrecy News,June 8, 2012.

    http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2012/06/freely_and_routinely.html

    The website Public Intelligence previously identified 64 U.S. drone site locations.

    http://publicintelligence.net/dod-us-drone-activities-map/

    See also “Revealed: 64 Drone Bases on American Soil” by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Wired Danger Room, June 13:

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/06/64-drone-bases-on-us-soil/

    “UAS will not achieve their full potential military utility unless they can go where manned aircraft go with the same freedom of navigation, responsiveness, and flexibility,” the new DoD report to Congress said.

    A bill “to protect individual privacy against unwarranted governmental intrusion through the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles” (HR 5925) was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 7 by Rep. Austin Scott.

    http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2012_cr/hr5925.html

    A companion bill (S.3287) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. RandPaul.

    EFF Obtains FAA Documents Detailing Domestic Drone Use

    http://thenewamerican.com/usnews/item/12093-eff-obtains-faa-documents-detailing-domestic-drone-use

    • TeakWoodKite

      Thanks Popsmoke for the info.

    • Flop_Flipper

      Wow, great info. Thanks.

    • Hokma

      Very scarey.

      • foxyladi14

        Only if you are a Republican.. lol

    • Hokma

      If the President was Bush this would be an ongoing major news story.
      This is potentially the biggest violation of rights in American history and it is going unnoticed.

      • Popsmoke

        Shit if this was Bush all hell would be breaking out…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1501575084 Russell Orem

        If aerial photographs of cow thieves are the biggest violation of rights in America, then we truly have it blessed. Thanks for reminding me!

  • TeakWoodKite

    About Hijacking drones…an Afghan with supplies one could get from Radio Shack was able to drone-jack a US mil-drone, The Iranians with help from Russia Jacked a drone…
    They are the future and where an “expectation of privacy” or the 4th amendment will end up is anyones guess.
    Good on ya Bronwyn Harbor… :)

  • Flop_Flipper

    That first sentence bothers me. A lot. I’m an adult and believe that I am entitled to a little bit of privacy. It’s not the government or law enforcement’s business what I am doing 24/7/365. If I have exhibited any characteristic of being a threat then of course they have the right to check me out. But there has to be probable cause or some reasonable suspicion that I did something wrong. Even if it was an accident. On occasion I am accidentally inappropriate. Shit happens.

    But when I hear people like this shithead President of a drone company saying stuff like this it really pisses me off. Someone with the technology to totally invade another person’s privacy is boasting about his power to do so. And consequently, our lack of power to stop it. As if a desire for privacy equals a conspiracy to commit.

    To me, having a sense of privacy is an expression of freedom. It allows me to unburden myself, to let my hair down. To be frank. Honest. All those wonderful qualities I associate with being human. When I feel that my privacy has been violated I sense no external respect for my being. Nothing that confirms my worth. I feel bound, as if someone fancies me their slave.

    I have no problem with law enforcement patrolling the skies if they need to. Even drones are ok with me if they aren’t just out on a recon mission gathering as much data on a particular sector as possible, merely for the purpose of doing so. Their missions should be public record. Completely transparent except in the case of an ongoing or active investigation where revealing such info would jeopardize their ability to do their job. Which is what we pay them to do. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not too keen on the idea of paying someone to spy on me, just for the hell of it. They have to follow the rules and be accountable to the public for having done so.

    I am a firm believer in our Constitution. For some crazy ass reason I got it into my head a long time ago that being an American citizen meant I had something called liberty. And until Osama bin Laden decided to unconstitutionally restrict that liberty, I used to feel pretty free and easy. Not anymore. It’s bad enough that I have to fend off cyber attacks from malicious people on the internet. Now I have to be equally concerned that my government is also spying on me. And since the government doesn’t respect me enough to trust me I sure as hell can’t trust it. It’s pretty fucked up.

    • TeakWoodKite

      our lack of power to stop it.
      Baby steps of “Skynet”…

      • Flop_Flipper

        Maybe Schwarzenegger will make a comeback after all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1501575084 Russell Orem

      Complete nonsense. This plane isn’t flying inside your bathroom. It’s outside. You know, like your neighbors are. Like airplanes and helicopters have been, for the last 100 years. Nothing’s changed.

      • Flop_Flipper

        Geez… what a loon. I’m fairly certain the jets flying to the airport and the helicopters transporting folks to the hospital aren’t spying on me and recording the adventure.

  • HELENK2
  • HELENK2

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/94223274/Lost-Links-and-Mid-Air-Collisions-The-Problems-With-Domestic-Drones

    major problem with drones, not privacy but interference with control of them.
    think about if a bird flying into to engine of a plane can bring it down, what can a drone who someone overrode the control do if flown into a plane.

    think of the damage of the buzzbombs over London during WW2.

    I am sorry if I sound like a fear monger but these are real problems with them

    • Flop_Flipper

      Just scratching the surface…..