Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How Buck McKeon created a global drone enterprise

A lawmaker helped create the drone industry - and has reaped the benefits.

Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon
Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon is described as "affable and well-respected" - and as a fierce
champion of the drone manufacturers in his California constituency

A drone reportedly flew over North Dakota last year, taking pictures of a meth lab. The drone's flight log was released in July in response to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties organisation.

The flight log sheds light on the way drones are being used - routinely and to an extent not previously known to the public. The release of the flight log and other documents caused a furore, and civil libertarians expressed dismay over the widespread use of drones.

However surprising the news about the drones may have been to activists, the surveillance of the meth lab is part of a global trend. Officials in Northern Ireland used drones to keep dignitaries safe at the G8 summit in June. Drones have flown over train tracks in Germany to look for graffiti artists.

A military drone on display at the Paris Air Show
Drones were on display at the Paris Air Show earlier this summer

Many countries, including China and Israel, make drones. Yet the US is the world's leader in creating technology for drones and in promoting their use - for both military and civilian purposes. The interest in drones in the US crosses political lines, with both Democrats and Republicans investing in the aircraft.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat and a liberal, has been more aggressive than his predecessor. US forces have launched about 360 drone strikes against al-Qaeda commanders and other militants since 2009, according to the New America Foundation. That is more than six times the number of strikes that President George W Bush authorised during his two terms.

The increase in the use of drones came partly because technology improved over the years, making the strikes more efficient, and also because Obama adopted a more focused campaign against al-Qaeda commanders and other militants in Pakistan.

The US-directed strikes, which are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, are frequently in the news - an attack reportedly killed six in Pakistan earlier this week. US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently the US would end the drone strikes, however, "as we have eliminated most of the threat".
Less well known, however, is the fact that drones are used in the civilian airspace over the US, UK and Europe.

It is a growing, if under-reported, trend. Many of the drones used in Pakistan, along with those sent to Afghanistan, now have a permanent home in the US. These drones are turned over to civilians who work for the federal Customs and Border Protection agency, police departments, and other government offices. 

The story of how drones became a robust niche in domestic law enforcement - and part of the commercial world as well - is rooted in Washington DC. Indeed, the rise of the drone can be traced in part to one man, Howard "Buck" McKeon.

McKeon, a California Republican, is chairman of the House armed services committee and co-chairman of a legislative group he founded, the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, which supports expansion of the industry.

One of the drones, a Euro Hawk, parked in the Mojave Desert
A Euro Hawk, parked in the Mojave Desert, is one of the newer models

Military officers on Capitol Hill and executives in the aerospace industry have welcomed McKeon's support.
Of the dozens of members on the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus in the House of Representatives, McKeon has received the most "drone-related campaign contributions" - $833,650 (£551,689), according to a report by Hearst Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics.
McKeon is a case study in how a member of Congress can work within the system, operate within ethical boundaries created by Congress, and have an impact on policy - as well as increase profits for Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, all of which make drones in his district.
McKeon, who has not been accused of any crimes or charged with any ethical violations, refused repeated requests for interviews for this article.

New Yorkers march against the use of drones New Yorkers march against the use of drones

Years ago, Americans were shocked at the way lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked the system in Washington. But he was also convicted of bilking, or cheating, Indian tribes, and imprisoned for serious criminal offences.

After the scandal, members of Congress re-examined their ethical rules. Today, however, the system remains much the same.

Lobbyists promote clients, including the makers of drones, and contractors give money to members of Congress, who in turn work on legislation that regulates their industry. Within this world of money and politics, McKeon is one who stands out.

Not only is McKeon the recipient of contributions from drone manufacturers, but he is also one of Washington's most vocal supporters of the industry. He and members of his Capitol Hill office have close ties with lobbyists and contractors.

Man holding a small drone
Small drones such as this French model help farmers take care of their crops
In a "Most Corrupt" report for 2012 compiled by researchers for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a progressive watchdog group, McKeon is one of several given a "dishonourable mention" over a mortgage he had received on preferential terms and his alleged improper use of official staff.

Another Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington report looks at the way members of Congress "use their positions to benefit themselves and their families". The report says McKeon's campaign paid his wife, the treasurer, a salary of about $118,000 (£77,956) in the 2010 campaign cycle.

McKeon once received a cut-rate loan from lender Countrywide Financial, as researchers for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington point out. He was included in a congressional report about Countrywide's attempt to influence members of Congress.

A member of the Mexican navy tries out a new drone
A member of the Mexican navy tries out a new drone
 McKeon has not been accused of wrongdoing. A spokesman for McKeon told a New York Times reporter that McKeon was "shocked and angry'' to hear his loan was mentioned in the investigation.
One morning in February, McKeon walked down a marbled hallway on his way to a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building and made a bow toward uniformed men standing near a doorway. The cordial relations are hardly surprising. He is "the defense sector's top congressional ally", according to Defense News.

"Gentlemen, you have no stronger advocate than the members of this committee," McKeon said during a hearing on the federal budget.

Gordon Adams, a former director at the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, says drones will remain "a high priority" for the Pentagon.

"The applications of unmanned systems are virtually limitless," McKeon said in a press release.

Meanwhile, drones are flying around Washington in military exercises, another sign that drones are increasingly part of the landscape in the US.

Matt Scassero, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Unmanned Aerial Systems Coalition and formerly vice-commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, has watched one fly above the Patuxent River in Maryland.

"Quietly," he says.

Drones are restricted to specifically designated airspace such as the one in Maryland, where military personnel fly drones for training purposes. Police officers and border patrol agents can also fly them.

An aerial view of a drought in Nebraska
A university professor used a drone last year to photograph a Nebraska drought 
Drones cannot be used for commercial pursuits, though that is likely to change. At the behest of Congress, Federal Aviation Administration officials are looking at ways to introduce drones into the civilian airspace. Officials expect that 10,000 drones will be flying in the air by 2020.

The presence of drones above cities and towns has troubled lawmakers. Virginia was the first state to enact a drone ban. Idaho and Florida have since followed suit.

State legislatures in Tennessee and Montana have passed anti-drone legislation. Lawmakers are worried drones will spy on people, especially since their sensors "scoop up quite a lot of information", according to the Brookings Institution.

In addition, drones are plagued with flaws. One may have been hacked, according to media accounts. Another crashed recently near Panama City, Florida.