Saturday, January 5, 2013

Duck And Cover - 21st Century Style

Thursday I posted about the obama administration's indiscriminate use of drones to assassinate American citizens -- including women and children -- in foreign countries. Serendipitously, yesterday Peter had a post about the expanded use of drones here in the U.S. and their potential for 'extreme misuse.'
... technology that has been developed for military purposes will eventually be adapted for use elsewhere. You didn't really expect the manufacturers of fighter drones to quietly shutter their businesses after we "win" the Afghan war, did you?

Of course not. Thus, in February of last year, President Obama signed the FAA Reauthorization Act, which includes a provision that the Federal Aviation Administration create a comprehensive program for the integration of drone technology into the national air space by 2015. The agency predicts that there will be upwards of 30,000 drones flying the friendly skies of the US by 2020.

Fact is, domestic drone usage even predates the 2012 Act. Without any explicit legislative authorization, the FAA issued 313 certificates for drone operation over the previous year. The agency is mum on which organizations received the certificates and to what purposes they may have been put. However, we do know that the FAA has already approved drones for use by the Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Patrol, as well as in some state and local law enforcement operations.
For example:
Law enforcement near Houston, Texas will soon have a $300,000 robotic surveillance drone in their arsenal, and if Montgomery County’s chief deputy has his say, it’s only a matter of time before that aircraft will be equipped to fire from above.
That's bad enough. But the truly scary part is the relentless migration of military technology to individual use. A couple of obvious examples: 'evil' black rifles; and GPS systems. It's only been about 20 years since military-quality GPS technology became available to civilians, and now it's everywhere; vehicles, cell phones, pocket units for hunters and hikers ... hell, you can even get handheld units so accurate that they're used on the golf course (not that I can hit a shot precisely 137 yards, or whatever the distance is -- I'm lucky if I get within 20 yards +/- of a given distance -- but the technology exists, and is user-friendly enough and affordable enough, for a hacker like me to carry one around).

Now extrapolate that to drones. If you've got boys of a certain age you're already familiar with radio-controlled 'toys' with 15+ minutes of flying time - and controllable from your iPhone. At the next level, "you can go online and buy a Zephyr – proclaimed to have a "stealthy" electric propulsion system, 60-minute flight time, and 30-mile control range – for $9,500, a surprisingly small sum." Or buy the components at a hobby store and build one yourself.

Couple that with a chunk of C-4 studded with roofing nails, or a glass container filled with homemade ricin (made from castor beans - see the Internet for instructions) and you have the makings of a disaster - undetectable, unpreventable, and easily repeatable.

The article points out potential targets: government offices, people you have a grudge against, law enforcement or military establishments, even the president during his inauguration (not necessarily obama - any generic president will do).

Keep in mind that those targets mentioned above are static: that is, they are at a fixed location with easily obtainable longitude and latitude coordinates. That means any technology that might jam cell phone or radio-control frequencies would be useless against a drone coupled with a pre-programmed GPS device.

Read the article. It's illuminating - and frightening...


Old NFO said...

And you can bet 'we' are not the only ones thinking about this... Just sayin...

CenTexTim said...

Hopefully some of the people thinking about this are on our side, trying to find a way to prevent this sort of attack. I don't know who scares me more - terrorists, or lunatics. Terrorists are more likely to go after symbolic targets (like the Towers), whereas lunatics could strike anywhere (theaters, schools, malls...).

Just one more thing to keep me up at night ... not that I needed another one.