Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Downed drone in Maryland—What was that drone watching?

by Larry Geller

This Friday, June 15, 2012, former U-2 Pilot Francis Gary Powers will be posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his role in the 1960 U-2 spy plane incident. The award will follow recent news of the crash of a $176 million Navy drone in a swamp in Maryland.

The 1960 U-2 incident occurred during the Cold War on 1 May 1960, during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and during the leadership of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, when a United States U-2 spy plane was shot down over the airspace of the Soviet Union.

The United States government at first denied the plane's purpose and mission, but then was forced to admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft when the Soviet government produced its intact remains and surviving pilot, Francis Gary Powers, as well as photos of military bases in Russia taken by Powers. Coming roughly two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit in Paris, the incident was a great embarrassment to the United States[1] and prompted a marked deterioration in its relations with the Soviet Union.

[Wikipedia, 1960 U-2 incident]

Yesterday, on learning of the drone crash (from tweets about it, of course), I posed this question:


The Navy explained that the drone was one of four used for training purposes.

Of course, that would seem to require that it be surveilling something. Presumably the Navy does not fly these expensive aircraft around the way a kid plays with his RC model airplane in the park. They have cameras, and someone is watching something (or someone else).

The commercial press seems not to be asking what the drone was watching before it crashed, or what the other Navy planes typically spy on for “training” or other purposes. It would be surprising if we could trust a government statement on this regardless.

When the U.S. government learned of Powers' disappearance over the Soviet Union, it issued a cover statement claiming a "weather plane" had strayed off course after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment." What CIA officials did not realize was that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment.

[Wikipedia, Francis Gary Powers]

The most interesting statement on domestic drone surveillance so far came in a CNN interview with Senator Rand Paul posted today on their website (snip):

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is supporting a bill to ban the use of domestic drones to monitor citizens in the U.S. He spoke with CNN's Carol Costello a day after a U.S. Navy drone crashed in Salisbury, Maryland.

I mean police do have power and I want police to catch rapists and murderers. But they ask a judge and we separate the police from the people who finally make the decision on someone coming in your house. So even if a rapist is loose in D.C. tonight, the police will call a judge in the middle of the night, wake him or her up and say, we think there's a rapist in the neighborhood. Can we go in x address? And so those are things that are very, very important to protecting innocent individuals. And a drone is a very, very powerful way of snooping on behavior. And I don't want them monitoring every bit of my behavior. And I’m not joking about the recyclables. I mean, we've had different states and cities trying to punish people criminally for not separating out the recyclables. We don't want a nanny state that watches every minute of our day. It's not that there will be no drones it's just that drones will only be used when a judge says that it's proper.

[CNN, Sen. Paul says no to domestic drones, 6/12/2012]

Read the entire interview transcript at the link above.

CNN permits embedding of their video, so here is the interview as broadcast. It includes images of drones flying, views of people fleeing below, and of drone control centers. Click the little thingy at the lower right for full-screen:

Questioned about the military use of drones, Paul responded in part thusly:

I am concerned about one person deciding the life or death of not only foreigners but U.S. citizens around the world. And the chance that one person could make a mistake, you know, is a possibility. So having the president decide who he's going to kill concerns me.

I have had another question in my mind for some time—how long will it be before opponents gain the ability to shoot down US drones? It would be strange if no one were working on this.


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