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 Day 19

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DRONES: The Militarization of Daily Life

Drones

by KURT NIMMO

Now comes word the Ministry of Homeland Security is looking into the idea of buzzing the US-Mexico and Canada borders with pilotless surveillance aircraft, otherwise known as drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). “I think it would be very important that the president initiate a study on the future use of UAVs by elements of the federal government other than the military,” incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., told the media the other day.

When Warner says “other than military,” he is talking about private industry contracted by the Ministry. Like an increasing number of US prisons and other one-time government functions, many homeland security operations will be performed by for-profit corporations. It’s an ideal way for the Bushites to get around the pesky provisions of Posse Comitatus, which stipulates the military cannot be used for domestic law enforcement. Granted, the Border Patrol is run by the feds — and will be soon rolled into the Ministry of Homeland Security — not local police agencies. But once UAVs are soaring imperiously above the border — and people get used to the idea, thanks to praiseful news coverage (everybody likes a high-tech gadget story, especially if said marvel of engineering defeats illegals and terrorists who hate our way of life) — how long before police departments far and wide decide to use these devices to monitor street corner drug dealers, speeders, black-clad anarchists, and other contemptible tub-thumpers up to no good? Talk about the militarization of daily life.

Warner admits UAVs can be “quite intrusive,” and even dangerous to individual privacy. Not to worry, though, because this will be something addressed by the study he wants Bush to undertake. One has to wonder, however, where Mr. Warner was vacationing when large segments of the Bill of Rights were expunged with the passage of the USA-Patriot Act and the recently shooed through Ministry of Homeland Security contrivance. Is privacy really a concern as five-time felon John Poindexter attempts to juggle all manner of public and private databases together into a snoop’s dream? Or John Ashcroft conniving Neighborhood Watch programs organized to denounce terrorists and dangerous anti-American grousers?

But never mind. After the CIA used a UAV armed with Hellfire missiles to off a handful of suspected al-Qaeda types in Yemen last month, the bad-ass rep of these whiz-bang drones has increased to near mythical proportions. So what if they have failed repeatedly in Afghanistan, or they crash when it rains, snows, or Zeus sneezes. Even the bombed-to-bare-essentials Iraqis have shot down a few Predators with ease. In fact, it seems these glorified model airplanes can be knocked out of the sky with a lucky shot from a peashooter. Or at least a well-aimed rock thrown by a Palestinian grade school kid.

Regardless, expensive UAVs are good for business. Ask James Roche, Secretary of the Air Force and former head of Northrop Grumman (his old employer manufactures the Global Hawk and the experimental X-47A Pegasus UAV). As for the Hellfire missiles that blew the unconvicted American Ahmed Hijazi to bits in Yemen for the infraction of riding in car with the assumed buddies of Osama, ask Cheney’s wife, Lynne, who serves on the board of the largest death merchant in the world, Lockheed Martin (she receives $120,000 in compensation, which is pocket change for the Cheney clan), the company famous for cranking out Hellfires and other murder devices (F-117, F-16, F-2, F/A-22, C-5, U-2, ad nauseam) like I-Hop cranks out butter pancakes. Since there is no shortage of rogue nations and pesky illegals, business will be surely booming (no pun intended) for the likes of Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Electric and, of course, the Carlye group where Dubya’s daddy works.

“These [UAVs] are hot,” exclaims Daryl Davidson, executive director of the Association for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems International, a sort of pimping outfit for UAVs. Not to let potential market share slip from grasp, Boeing has devised a UAV for commercial use — a cute little model dubbed the Sentry Owl — which it hopes to sell for “property monitoring and pipeline security,” according to CongressDaily. Since these things have an uncanny habit of falling out of the sky when folks nearby turn on their radios, it only seems prudent the insurance industry come up with a new policy. Or maybe Bush needs to pass a law — like the one he wants to wave through to protect pharmaceutical corporations against lawsuits — to make sure ambulance chasers don’t sue the pants off Northrop Grumman if perchance a few UAVs fall out of the sky and kill innocent citizens.

Everybody, it seems, wants to get into the UAV act. Not only the Border Patrol, but also the Coast Guard, the Transportation Department, the Energy Department, and even the FBI want a piece of the action (imagine the post-COINTELPRO possibilities for the FBI if they lay hands on a squadron of these babies crammed full of electronic snoop hardware; it’s enough to make the folks over at Earth First! think twice about spiking old growth trees). Maybe in the not-too-distant future the rich will employ UAVs to patrol their exclusive gated communities. The possibilities — and lavish reward for investors and stockholders — are nearly limitless.

Meanwhile, down here in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a mere 40 miles from the Mexican border, I will keep my eyes trained on the sky for UAVs. Since more than a few so-called illegals pass through here on their way to sweatshops, orchards, agricorp plantations, and factories determined to beat the minimum wage, I may yet see a few UAVs buzzing around up in the wild blue yonder. Who needs an Israeli-style fence to cordon the border against desperate third world interlopers when Northrop Grumman is on the job? All Fortress America needs is good old Horatio Alger can-do ingenuity — and, of course, ample subsidization from increasingly shackled and distracted taxpayer-citizens.

KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent online gallery. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com