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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Naturalchick30 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Feb 18 2013 at 6:35am

Drones are taking to the skies in the U.S.

Federal authorities step up efforts to license surveillance aircraft for law enforcement and other uses, amid growing privacy concerns.

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Unmanned drone

NASA's Ikhana unmanned aircraft heads out to aid in fighting a wildfire at Lake Arrowhead. Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are making increasing use of such craft. (Jim Ross, NASA / April 23, 2009)

By Brian Bennett and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

February 15, 2013, 5:20 p.m.

WASHINGTON — While a national debate has erupted over the Obama administration's lethal drone strikes overseas, federal authorities have stepped up efforts to license surveillance drones for law enforcement and other uses in U.S. airspace, spurring growing concern about violations of privacy.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, far more than were previously known. Some 327 permits are still listed as active.

Operators include police, universities, state transportation departments and at least seven federal agencies. The remotely controlled aircraft vary widely, from devices as small as model airplanes to large unarmed Predators.

The FAA, which has a September 2015 deadline from Congress to open the nation's airspace to drone traffic, has estimated 10,000 drones could be aloft five years later. The FAA this week solicited proposals to create six sites across the country to test drones, a crucial step before widespread government and commercial use is approved.

Local and state law enforcement agencies are expected to be among the largest customers.

Earlier this month, TV footage showed a midsized drone circling over the bunker in southeast Alabama where a 65-year-old gunman held a 5-year-old boy hostage. After a tense standoff, an FBI team stormed the bunker, rescued the boy and shot his captor. Authorities refused to say who was operating the AeroVironment drone, which has a 9-foot wingspan.

In Colorado, the Mesa County Sheriff's Office has used a fixed-wing drone to search for lost hikers in the mountains, and a helicopter drone to help crews battling fires. Flying manned planes or helicopters would cost at least $600 an hour, explained Ben Miller, who heads the program.

"We fly [drones] for less than $25 an hour," Miller said. "It's just a new way to put a camera up that's affordable."

Big-city police departments, including Los Angeles, have tested drones but are holding back on buying them until the FAA issues clear guidelines about operating in congested airspace, among other issues.

"You've got to take baby steps with this," said Michael Downing, the LAPD deputy chief for counter-terrorism and special operations.

Los Angeles Police Department officials went to Simi Valley in December, he said, to watch a demonstration of a helicopter-like device that measured about 18 inches on each side and was powered by four propellers. It could fly about 90 minutes on its battery.

Downing said the LAPD was "pursuing the idea of purchasing" drones, but wouldn't do so unless the FAA granted permission to fly them, and until the department could draw up policies on how to keep within privacy laws.

If the LAPD bought drones, Downing said, it initially would use them at major public events such as the Oscars or large protests. In time, drones could be flown to track fleeing suspects and assist in investigations. Tiny drones could even be used to fly inside buildings to shoot video if a suspect has barricaded himself within.

In theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.

That's the problem, according to civil liberties groups. The technology is evolving faster than the law. Congress and courts haven't determined whether drone surveillance would violate privacy laws more than manned planes or helicopters, or whether drone operators may be held liable for criminal trespassing, stalking or harassment.

"Americans have the right to know if and how the government is using drones to spy on them," said Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has called for updating laws to protect privacy.

A backlash has already started.

In Congress, Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) introduced privacy legislation Thursday that would require police to get a warrant or a court order before operating a drone to collect information on individuals.

"We need to protect against obtrusive search and surveillance by government and civilian use," Poe said in a telephone interview. A similar bill failed last year.

Legislatures in 15 states are considering proposals to limit drone use. The City Council in Charlottesville, Va., passed a resolution on Feb. 4 barring local police from using drones — which they don't yet have — to collect evidence in criminal cases.

In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn ordered police to return two Draganflyer X6 helicopter drones earlier this month after privacy advocates and others protested. The police said they had hoped to use them for search-and-rescue operations.

Federal agencies fly drones to assist in disasters, check flood damage, do crop surveys and more. U.S. Customs and Border Protection flies the largest fleet, 10 unarmed Predators, along the northern and southern borders to help track smugglers and illegal immigrants.

Although flying drones might appear as easy as playing a video game, pilots and crews require extensive training.

In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Marshals Service tested two small drones in remote areas to help them track fugitives, according to law enforcement officials and documents released to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. The Marshals Service abandoned the program after both drones crashed.

Except in rare cases, the military is barred from using drones in U.S. airspace to conduct surveillance or pursue individuals. No state or federal agency has proposed arming domestic drones with weapons, but the prospect has raised alarms in Congress and elsewhere.

In response to a question during an online Google chat Thursday, President Obama said drones had never been used to kill "an American citizen on American soil."

"The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture terrorists in the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan," Obama said.

No drone was sent up to help find suspected killer Christopher Dorner after his truck was found burning near Big Bear Lake on Feb. 7, said Al Daniel, an officer in the aviation division of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. But Customs and Border Protection transmitted secure video from a Pilatus PC-12 plane to police commanders on the ground.

Despite a massive manhunt, Dorner vanished and authorities speculated he had escaped to Mexico. Five days later, however, he was found in a snowbound cabin near his truck and died after a shootout and fire.

The long delay, and the embarrassing fact that Dorner was hiding close by the police command post, sparked sharp criticism of police tactics and abilities.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said an aerial drone might have helped find Dorner more quickly.

"The search would have been much wider and quicker because you'd have an unmanned aircraft looking," he said. "You can cover more ground."

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Naturalchick30 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 23 2013 at 6:05am

US government admits to killing four American citizens with drones

Published time: May 22, 2013 20:37
Edited time: May 23, 2013 00:54
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)
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United States Attorney General Eric Holder has informed Congress that four American citizens have been killed in Yemen and Pakistan by US drones since 2009.

It has been widely reported but rarely acknowledged in Washington that three US citizens — Samir Khan, Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki — were executed in Yemen by missile-equipped drones in 2011. With Holder’s latest admission, however, a fourth American — Jude Kenan Mohammed — has also been officially named as another casualty in America’s continuing drone war.

Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of US counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki,” the letter reads in part. “The United States is further aware of three other US citizens who have been killed in such US counterterrorism operations over that same time period,” Holder said before naming the other victims.

These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” the attorney general wrote.

The news of the admission broke Wednesday afternoon when New York Times reporter Charlie Savage published the letter sent from Holder to congressional leaders in a clear attempt to counter critics who have challenged the White House for falling short of US President Barack Obama’s campaign plans of utmost transparency. Upon a growing number of executive branch scandals worsened by the Department of Justice’s recently disclosed investigation of Associated Press journalists, Holder wrote that coming clean is an effort to include the American public in a discussion all too often conducted in the shadows cast by the US intelligence community.

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft (Reuters / Lt Col Leslie Pratt)
MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft (Reuters / Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

The administration is determined to continue these extensive outreach efforts to communicate with the American people,” continued Holder. “To this end, the president has directed me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified. You and other members of your committee have on numerous occasions expressed a particular interest in the administration’s use of lethal force against US citizens. In light of this face, I am writing to disclose to you certain information about the number of US citizens who have been killed by US counterterrorism operations outside of areas of active hostilities.”

The letter, dated Wednesday, May 22, was addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Drone strikes have become a signature counterterrorism tool used by the Obama administration and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and have been attributed with killing roughly 5,000 persons abroad, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). But under the covert and protective umbrella of the Central Intelligence Agency, little has been formally acknowledged from Washington as to the details of these strikes.

As part of the vaguely defined ‘War on Terror,’ the US has reportedly waged drone strikes outside of Afghanistan where the Taliban once harbored al-Qaeda. In recent years, those strikes have targeted towns in neighboring Pakistan, as well as Yemen, Somalia and perhaps elsewhere.

But despite growing criticism over escalating use of drones, the president and his office has remained adamant about defending the operations.

It’s important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash,” Obama said last January, adding that his administration does not conduct "a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly.”

Others have argued quite the opposite, though, and have opposed these drone strikes over the lack of due process involved and the habit of accidently executing civilians in the strikes. When researchers at Stanford University and New York University published their ‘Living Under Drones’ report last September, they found that roughly 2 percent of drone casualties are of top militant leaders. The Pakistani Interior Minister has said that around 80 percent of drone deaths in his country were suffered by civilians.

Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) led a marathon filibuster on the floor of Congress to oppose the CIA’s drone program and demand the administration explain to elected lawmakers why the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is warranted in executing suspects, often killing innocent civilians as a result.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Reuters / Jason Reed)
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Reuters / Jason Reed)

Of particular concern, Paul said, was whether or not the Obama administration would use the 2011 Yemen strike as justification to kill American citizens within the US. For 13 hours, he demanded the White House respond.

I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA,” Sen. Paul said. “I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

One day after the filibuster, both Attorney General Holder and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reached out to Sen. Paul to say the president lacks the authority to issue such a strike within the US. With this week’s letter, however, Holder admits that at least four Americans have met their demise due to US drones. He also explains why the administration felt justified in using UAVs to execute its own people.

Al-Awlaki repeatedly made clear his intent to attack US persons and his hope that these attacks would take American lives,” wrote Holder. “Based on this information, high-level US government officials appropriately concluded that al-Awlaki posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”

Later, Holder says the decision to strike al-Awlaki was “not taken lightly” and was first put into plan in early 2010. Additionally, Holder said the plan was “subjected to exceptionally rigorous interagency legal review” and that Justice Department lawyers and attorneys for other agencies agreed that it was the appropriate action to take.

According to Holder, the senior al-Awlaki and Mr. Khan were killed in the same September 2011 drone strike in Yemen. The following month, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed in a strike in the same country. Mohammed, a North Carolina resident born in 1988, was killed by a drone likely in November 2011 within a tribal area of Pakistan. Mohammed was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2009 for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country, and was considered armed and dangerous by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both Khan and the older al-Awlaki were suspected members of al-Qaeda and were affiliated with the group’s magazine, Inspire.

Last February, friends of Mohammad told a North Carolina newspaper that they believed he was dead.

Farhan Mohammed says he heard in November that his friend was killed in a drone strike,” Raleigh’s WRAL News reported in 2012. “Jude Mohammad’s pregnant wife was hysterical about her husband's death and called her mother-in-law in the Triangle to break the news, according to Sabra. The US government hasn't confirmed Mohammad’s death, but the people who knew him in North Carolina say it's probably true.”

Holder declined to explain why either Mohammad or the teenage al-Awlaki were killed. President Obama is expected to discuss America’s drone program at an address in Washington on Thursday.

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