On May 14, in Pendleton, Ore., the military launched the first unmanned military aircraft, or drones, to fly in civilian U.S. airspace. Police forces have already experimented with drones in manhunts, most notably for anti-cop vigilante Christopher Dormer.
The Oregon Army National Guard will initially fly four RQ7B Shadow drones, each equipped with high-tech surveillance cameras, over a 100-square-mile area twice a month, and plans to expand the practice to once a week. The RQ7B Shadow is a smaller, unarmed version of the Predator drone, used by the U.S. military to terrorize and kill people in various countries.
The National Guard has tried to assure the people of Oregon that they have no reason to be concerned about their privacy. The RQ7B Shadows will only be used, claims the National Guard, for combat training. But that does not alter the fact that the U.S. military will now have the most sophisticated surveillance technology aimed at the people of Oregon.
While it does not pertain to the military, the Oregon House of Representatives did pass a measure that requires police to get a warrant before using a drone to spy on a particular individual. However, the measure allows police to forgo the warrant if the police determine the situation constitutes an “emergency.”
No matter how the National Guard uses its drones in Oregon, it could be only a matter of time before federal and state police forces use drones to monitor, and perhaps attack, civilians in this country. A lot of money will be made by the military-industrial complex if domestic drones become a common reality—especially in view of the powerful drive on the part of government at all levels to expand domestic spying. There is now a powerful pro-drone lobby, the Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International.
Indeed, part of the reason Oregon was the first state to have military drones in its skies is that several drone-making companies are based in the state. Capitalist politicians cannot afford to stand up to the capitalists who fund their campaigns. Pendleton Mayor Philip Houk told the Oregon Army National Guard: “The more [drones] the better. We support the work you do up here.”
Small enough to carry in a backpack
Some of the new devices being developed by companies such as AeroVironment, Inc, the leading drone manufacturer, are so small they can be carried in a backpack, and so simple to set up that even most cops could make them operational. Their small size means that drones can access spaces that traditional air-born vehicles, such as helicopters, cannot, and they can stay in one spot, such as over one house, for a much longer period of time. Their small size also makes them hard to detect.
Greater surveillance is not the only thing people in this country need to worry about regarding domestic drone use. The FAA is preparing to issue guidelines for the use of drones in congested airspace. Police departments have said that once the guidelines are in place they plan to not only buy drones but arm them with tasers, bean-bags and rubber bullets.
Indeed, the use of small, killer drones by police should not sound outlandish. There are strong similarities between the way the capitalist class criminalizes people murdered by drone attacks as “terrorists” with the way cops get away with killing people of color in this country by labeling them “gangsters.”
Domestic drone use, along with the Obama administration's practice of killing U.S. citizens abroad with drone strikes without a trial or even a warrant, could understandably strike fear into the hearts of revolutionaries, dissidents and oppressed communities.
But rather than be afraid, we should look to the example of Afghanistan, one of the countries most subjected to drone attacks and surveillance. The U.S. military refers to its drone intelligence program in Afghanistan as a “Gorgon Stare,” after the mythical beast whose gaze turns its object into stone. One U.S. general claimed, “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything.”
What this general cannot admit, however, is that the U.S. military has not succeeded in Afghanistan. The resistance of the Afghan people is thwarting the U.S.-NATO occupation. No amount of drone surveillance and bombing can quell the will of a people to resist subjugation.