Weekly Roundup 2/17

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield, Virginia. Credit: Trevor Paglen
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield, Virginia. Credit: Trevor Paglen

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

In January, the New Jersey Legislature passed a drone regulation bill with an overwhelming majority, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed it. Zachary Israel examines the death of the Garden State’s drone legislation, and what it tells us about the national push for drone regulation.


According to the Los Angeles Times, the Obama administration is seeking alternative locations for drone bases so that it can continue to fly missions over Pakistan after the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of the year. The CIA is worried that following the withdrawal it will lose much of the human intelligence support network as well as the drone bases for its targeted killing program.

The New York Times reported that drones were the center of attention at the Singapore Airshow. “Given the disputes in the Spratly Islands, piracy, counterterrorism, illegal logging and fishing, there is a market,” said Douglas Dawson, director of international business development for the Aero Services Division of General Atomics.

Meanwhile at the Airshow, representatives of defense contractor General Atomics, maker of the Predator and Reaper drones, complained that U.S. restrictions on weapon exports were harming U.S. drone manufacturers. To bypass the restrictions, General Atomics released a non-weaponized version of its Predator drone, but the aircraft has only been purchased by the United Arab Emirates. (Star Tribune)  

NASA has announced that it has agreed to lease a 35,000 square ft. hangar to Google. The internet company plans to use the space for testing and developing robotic systems. (San Jose Mercury News)

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged the existence of the CIA’s targeted killing program. Serving government officials have rarely admitted in public that the CIA uses drones. (Wall Street Journal)

High-ranking serving and retired officers of the Los Angeles Police Department recently visited Israel to learn about how to utilize drones and big data, according to the Jewish Journal. The newspaper reported that the LAPD representatives visited leading drone manufacturers such as Israel Aerospace Industries and Sky Sapience. “There are several things on the wish list,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez.

Kareem Khan, a well-known Pakistani anti-drone activist, has reappeared after going missing for a week. Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike, told reporters that he was abducted, beaten and tortured by a group of men who may have been associated with the Pakistani police. Before he went missing, Khan had been planning to testify before European parliamentarians about U.S. drone strikes. (Dawn)

The South Australian Police purchased two drones for emergency and high-risk situations. “Equipped with still, video and infrared cameras they will be guided with stealth and precision by specially trained officers,” said Police Minister and Deputy Premier John Rau in a statement. (Australian Techworld)

The Indian government is using drones in support of military forces that are fighting Maoists in northwestern India. While drones have been used elsewhere in India, this is the first time unmanned aircraft will be used in the ongoing struggle against Maoists in the province of Bihar. (Times of India)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At Al-Jazeera, Hyder Iftikhar Abbasi writes about the dangers of reporting drone strikes. Abbasi tells the story of Yemeni researcher Baraa Shiban, who allegedly received death threats after investigating a drone strike on a wedding party in December.

Statewatch, a European civil liberties watchdog, released a report on European drone programs. “EU drone policy is being fashioned through entirely technocratic processes that remain largely invisible to the parliaments and peoples of Europe,” write authors Ben Hayes, Chris Jones and Eric Töpfer.

At Other Words, Medea Benjamin, a leader of the anti-war advocacy group Code Pink, argues that it is time that the Obama administration sought an alternative to targeted killing operations.

At War on the Rocks blog, Johnny Walker considers the similarities between the months leading to the outbreak of the First World War and the proliferation of robotic weapons systems in armies today. Using WWI as an example, Walker argues that nations should consider the strategic risks of deploying unmanned and autonomous systems in battle.

At War is Boring blog, Rob Farley applies a Clausewitzian strategic model to understand the appeal of drones.

Lawfare blog posted a podcast of a debate between Benjamin Wittes and Conor Friedersdorf on the ethics of drone warfare at the University of Richmond.

At Motherboard, Shawn Musgrave looks at the redactions in the FBI’s ongoing release of documents relating to its drone program. “The FBI has scrubbed away any meaningful information that might help the public to assess this controversial program,” writes Musgrave.

Robert Edsel, the author of “The Monuments Men,” has called for drones to protect monuments and artworks in Syria. Speaking at a screening of the film adaptation of his book, Edsel said “we have drones that Amazon is trying to use to deliver packages. Maybe we could put cameras in those things and start taking photographs of all those bad guys.” (Independent)

Artist and investigator Trevor Paglen has released a series of public domain aerial photographs of the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office. “My intention is to expand the visual vocabulary we use to “see” the U.S. intelligence community,” explains Paglen. “Although the organizing logic of our nation’s surveillance apparatus is invisibility and secrecy, its operations occupy the physical world.” (The Intercept)

Open Source Imagery and Geospatial Intelligence blog shows the latest satellite photos of the expanded drone hangers at the U.S. airbase in Niamey, Niger.

Know Your Drone

The United Arab Emirates has announced its plan to develop a courier drone service to transport official documents and identity cards such as driver’s licenses. The drones, which will be operational within a year according to officials, use retina-scan and fingerprint technology to identify the person who receives the payload. (Reuters)

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has released concept images of its proposed ARES transformable vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones. The ARES, part of DARPA’s Transformers project, will transform according to its mission, which could range from cargo and troop transportation to casualty extraction. (Daily Mail)

At the Singapore Airshow, Israel Aerospace Industries revealed its newest drone, a larger, diesel-powered variant of the Heron, called the Super Heron. According to Defense Update, IAI designed the Super Heron to comply with the Missile Technology Control Regime so that it can be exported. (Defense Update)

Romanian aerospace company ARCA has developed a prototype for an electric high-altitude drone. The Air Strato has a wingspan of 16 metres (52 ft) and is designed to fly at an altitude of 18 km (60,000 ft).

From the archives: one of the earliest known quadcopters was a 1958 Navy prototype called the PA-4 Sea Bat. (Naval Drones)


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