Friday, December 6, 2013

One Nation Under Drones

The continuing escalation of newsworthy drone-related stories recently included Amazon's announcement that it is considering employing unmanned aerial vehicles for delivery purposes. While the revelation curiously aired on the eve of Cyber Monday, an occurrence causing some to suspect it a clever ploy by the retail giant to create itself valuable and timely shopping season attention, the concept of commercial drones nonetheless deserves consideration.

The same could be said for a number of aspects of what might reasonably be termed the runaway circumstances. When we consider drones first took to the air nearly 100 years ago, it might almost make one wonder what took so long for them to catch on to their current extent. One way or another, we might as well accept the skies are (once again) forever changed.

This WASP Can Sting

Mike Tassey and the hacking, eavesdropping WASP
In 2011, seeming now to have been ages ago on the fast paced drone time line of late, a couple of crafty security experts created the Wireless Aerial Surveillance Platform, or WASP. Even with all the talk going around of fascinating technology and questionable surveillance, the point might well be argued that the average individual often does not understand deeper ramifications of electronic warfare. Suffice it to say that was not the case with WASP inventors Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins.

They put together a 14-pound, six-foot long UAV that could locate WiFi signals, crack passwords and, basically, hack electronically transmitted data while it hovered in the vicinity. It was equipped with a Linux computer about the size of a pack of smokes. The drone's flight path could be programmed, the vehicle carried a camera and, for a finale, it could imitate cell phone towers. That means the WASP could “fool” cell phones into transmitting through it, instead of normal service providers, enabling its operators to intercept and fully eavesdrop on calls.

Pirates and Parrots

If we are going to talk commercial delivery drones, we might as well consider hijackers. You didn't think all those retail goods were just going to fly around up there without attracting attention, did you? Security researcher Samy Kamkar created somewhat of a pirate drone. His masterpiece can monitor and inject packets into other wireless networks – such as those on board other drones. That allows one to remotely identify and seize control of another aerial vehicle. Once the original operator is disconnected from their drone, it's all over but the replacement of inventory.

A $4 million MQ-9 Reaper
Such technology might cause one to wonder a bit about the circumstances surrounding the story of the drone lost in Lake Ontario. The New York Air National Guard apparently lost track of a $4 million MQ-9 Reaper when it reportedly crashed suddenly about three hours into a practice mission. The Coast Guard couldn't find it and the Air Force was called in to investigate. No kidding.

A trip to a local mall recently revealed a drone for sale at a toy store. I'm not sure how much good can come out of a kid having a Parrot quadricopter with a camera that allows remote filming. Auto record activates at take off. The Parrot can be controlled via standard mobile devices and the operator can view the flight through the camera lens as compared to having to be within visual range. Actually, I'm not sure how much good can come out of any consumer having something like that.

A Parrot will set you back about 300 bucks. What do you suppose $4 million worth of drone can do?

While Amazon might be among the higher profile corporations to get in on the drone act, they are by no means among the first. The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre of Vancouver flew a drone in the vicinity of a minor league baseball game in an apparent attempt to drum up attention and support. The craft was intentionally designed to look a whole lot like a flying saucer of UFO lore. That resulted in the anticipated flood of UFO reports, but when the corporation admitted it had essentially executed a hoax in pursuit of gaining attention, numerous people expressed significant disappointment with MacMillan.

Escalating Circumstances

Despite the seeming blitz of drone stories, ever watchful Steven Aftergood reported a decline in Department of Defense budget requests for drone projects. The 2014 budget included $2.3 billion for work related to unmanned aerial systems, compared to $3.4 billion in 2013. It should be noted, however, that black budgets are of course classified, and reported figures might not entirely represent the amount of funds and subsequent attention allocated to drones.

Wired carried a story in November suggesting future military drones will be able to transform themselves. Sandia National Laboratories is working on a craft that can fly, swim, drive and even hop its way through its mission.

The Sandia drone concept as reported by Wired

Business Insider reported in November that Iranian aircraft consistently engage American drones. The article stated the drones had abilities to fly outside the atmosphere, cruise at ten times the speed of sound and render controls on Iranian F-14 aircraft inoperative. In at least one circumstance an Iranian fighter jet reportedly exploded in flight resulting in two casualties while engaging an apparent drone.

The drone situation is now progressing at such a rapid pace that in just the two days it took me to compose this post, more significant news broke. Drawing the attention of intelligence analysts far and wide, a December 6 Aviation Week exclusive shed more light on some previously classified circumstances of dronedom. The piece explained how officials have been directing their resources and attention, apparently culminating in projected additions to the current drone fleet that include stealth capabilities, among other news of note to the Beltway crowd.

Lethal Strikes

Protesters block NATO supply route in Pakistan
No post on the topic would be complete without directly addressing infamous lethal drone strikes. Alarming numbers of global civilian casualties are consistently reported. In a show of protest, thousands of Pakistani citizens temporarily blocked a road used as a NATO supply line to troops in Afghanistan.

In what veteran journalist Abby Martin called the most important interview she ever did, Martin spoke with the Rehman family of Pakistan. They explained circumstances surrounding the death of the family grandmother due to an American drone strike. One of the younger family members observed his grandmother killed while the woman stood in their yard.

The drone saga clearly winds through the Pentagon, corporate North America, UFO Land, toy stores and even ball parks. It is sadly and critically winding through other parts of the world as well. Drones and their policy makers are destined to continue their influence on our lives and interests and, in all likelihood, a great deal more so than is currently the case.


  1. The delivery drones are disturbing! I haven't seen the commercial on for several days now, so maybe the feedback wasn't so good. These friendly commercial drones are probably a way to soften the public up to having these little buggers landing in our yards. And you won't know, until it's too late, whether it's your order from amazon dot com or if it's from one of the three letter agencies that have decided to eliminate you.

    ~ Susan

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