Weekly Roundup 1/21


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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

Artist and writer James Bridle, whose bold creative interventions into the drone debate include the Drone Shadows and Dronestagram, discusses weaponized hot air balloons, drone art and the power of seeing without being seen. “Surveillance always becomes weaponized because it is embedded in an inherently unequal power relationship” explains Bridle.


Russia is sending drones and other weapons to the Syrian government. According to an unnamed Middle East security source who spoke to Reuters, “Russian advisers and intelligence experts have been running observation UAVs around the clock to help Syrian forces track rebel positions, analyze their capabilities, and carry out precision artillery and air force strikes against them.”

The United States Congress has challenged the Administration’s efforts to shift the targeted killing campaign from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Department of Defense. According to the Washington Post, lawmakers inserted a secret provision into the $1.1 trillion federal budget that would restrict funding for the transfer of covert operations to the Pentagon. President Obama announced his intention to shift the drone operations away from the C.I.A. in a speech at the National Defense University last Spring.

Senator John McCain criticized American lawmakers for drafting the classified provision. “The Appropriations Committee has no business making these decisions,” said McCain on the Senate floor. (Washington Post)

Officials, business representatives and privacy advocates testified before the Senate Commerce Committee in a hearing about efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate domestic drone use. During the hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein reported that protesters had recently flown a drone outside her house. (Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs)

The Customs and Border Patrol flew Predator drones on behalf of other American law enforcement agencies nearly 700 times between 2010 and 2012, according to documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The logs reveal that the CBP flew 200 more loan flights than had been previously reported. (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced that he will not seek reelection. Mr. McKeon is a long-time supporter of the drone industry; last year, he spearheaded an effort to convince the Air Force not to end funding for development of the controversial Global Hawk Block 30 high-altitude surveillance drone. (Los Angeles Times)

The U.K. Court of Appeals struck down a challenge to the United Kingdom’s participation in the U.S. targeted killing campaign in Pakistan. The case was brought to the court by Noor Khan, whose father, a tribal elder from northwest Pakistan, was killed in a drone strike in March, 2011. (Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

The town of Deer Trail, Colorado is preparing to vote on an ordinance banning drones from its airspace. In July 2013, Deer Trail resident Phil Steel proposed a measure to award bounties to anyone who shot down a drone in the town. “I have declared the sovereignty and the supremacy of the airspace of my town… This is an act of sedition, and I proudly state that,” Steel told the Los Angeles Times.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland will use drones to search for oil reserves in the North Sea. The search program, which began in 1980, is sponsored by more than 20 oil companies. (BBC)

Rodney Brossart, a cattle rancher who was arrested in 2011 with the help of a Predator drone operated by Customs and Border Patrol, was sentenced to three years in prison. During the trial, U.S. District Judge Joel Medd struck down arguments made by Brossart and his attorney about the legality of the use of the drone, asserting that “there was no improper use of an unmanned aerial vehicle.” (U.S. News)

South African police arrested a film crew after their drone, which was capturing footage of a man who was threatening to commit suicide by jumping from a 23rd story rooftop, almost caused the man to lose his footing and fall by accident. (Times Live)

Mayor Chris Beutler of Lincoln, Nebraska has issued an order to ban the city’s police department from operating drones. Lincoln is the latest of a number of American cities that have prohibited police departments from acquiring or operating drones. (Motherboard)

A U.N. peacekeeping drone crashed at an airport in the Congo during a mission. The U.N. force in the Congo began using drones for peacekeeping missions in December. (Reuters)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

NPR has brought together a collection of kite aerial photographs by the early 20th century photographer George Lawrence.

In The Fundamentals of Counterterrorism Law, Colonel Dawn M. K. Zoldi of the United States Air Combat Command writes about the intersection of drone legislation and domestic counterterrorism operations. “Although the majority of the state and federal drone bills were introduced to protect privacy, many fail to address critical privacy-related issues, such as dissemination and retention,” writes Zoldi.

The Daily Beast examines Senator Dianne Feinstein’s claim that Code Pink, the anti-war advocacy group, flew a drone outside the window of her home in San Francisco.

Airware, a company that builds autopilot software for drones, visited a black rhino sanctuary in Kenya to demonstrate the potential of drones as a tool for conservation. (TechCrunch)

As part of the Future of War project, a collaboration between Foreign Policy Magazine’s The Best Defense blog and the New America Foundation, Tom Ricks consider the implications of replacing Congress’ Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

At WBUR Boston and NPR, Matt Waite, who heads the University of Nebraska’s Drone Journalism Lab, argues that the Federal Aviation Administration is stifling the potential of drones as a powerful information-gathering tool for journalists.

In a presentation at Embry-Riddle University, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dale described the Strategic Air Command’s use of surveillance and reconnaissance drones in the 1960s and 1970s. “At one time, they had 19 MiGs chasing one drone,” he recounted. (The Daily Courier)

The Understanding Empire blog takes a look back at when China shot down an American Firebee target drone in 1964.

At War is Boring blog, David Axe considers why the U.S. Army is retiring thousands of manned helicopters in favor of drones.

Know Your Drone

Danish firm Sky-Watch has developed a quadcopter drone control unit that can be mounted on a Colt semi-automatic rifle. The system is designed to allow troops to easily control their drones without having to put down theirs rifles. (IHS Jane’s)

British army officials have announced that the Royal Air Force’s newest reconnaissance drone could be operational by the spring. The development of the Thales Watchkeeper has been delayed by three years as a result of safety concerns. (Aviation Week)

As the Pentagon develops its 2015 budget, it is debating whether or not to increase funding for its controversial Global Hawk high altitude surveillance drone. The Global Hawk program, which was initially intended to fill the same role as the aging U-2 spy plane, came close to being cut in 2011. In a tentative funding plan, Pentagon officials have proposed moving $3 billion from the U-2 program directly into the Global Hawk program. (Aviation Week)

The U.S. Army has announced that it will install “sense and avoid” drone radar systems at five bases where it operates drones. The radars, which will be installed by 2016, will prevent aerial collisions by tracking all drones in the airspace over the bases. (IHS Jane’s)

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Photo: kites used by George Lawrence to take aerial photographs. National Archives and Record Administration
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