Next, a drone attack on American soil?

Time magazine has an excellent round-up of the state of drone technology, and explores drones’ implications for the future. It’s not just a piece about battlefield use; the story also looks at the increasing use of domestic drones.

Yep: We’re not in Afghanistan anymore, Toto.

This passage offers a good bit of insight into the psychology of the watched:

There’s something uncanny about drones. Flying one is a heady experience, but being watched by one is an eerie, oppressive, somewhat annoying feeling. …  [A] drone is the physical avatar of the virtual presence of a real person. They provoke a new kind of anxiety, quite unlike the nuclear terror of the 1980s or the conspiracy-theory paranoia of the 1990s. They’re a swarming, persistent presence, low-level but ubiquitous and above all anonymous. They could be al-Qaeda or your government or your friends and neighbors.

One way of gaining back some feeling of control is, I suppose, to press your very own drone into service. They’re now within almost everyone’s reach. People of relatively modest means can buy a $300 remote-controlled quadcopter that beams back live footage to their smartphones. For the price of a fancy motorbike or a small car, you can own a drone with better range, very good stability and maneuverability, hi-def cameras, and built-in GPS.

This realtor uses a drone to take promotional aerial footage of his high-end properties.

Tinkerer? You can build your own drone.

If you want a little more excitement, you can fly unmanned aerial vehicles with firearms mounted on them. You read that right. There are videos doing the rounds of guys who rigged cheap drones with guns.

Here’s one. This drone shoots fireworks to pop balloons:

Here’s another one, featuring some serious firepower. (The authenticity of this video is in doubt, but it seems feasible enough for committed individuals to build such a death machine.)

Nervous yet?

It’s not hard to picture a few of these home-rigged contraptions, in the hands of some bad guys, buzzing into sensitive areas and high-profile events — anything from an NFL game to the Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn — and unleashing hell. I sure hope it doesn’t happen. But a halfway imaginative survivor of a U.S. drone attack, or someone who saw a loved one blown up in such a strike, surely has revenge fantasies about just that. To jihadis, including the ones we mint almost daily with our fresh kills, carrying out a drone hit on American soil would be the sweetest retribution.

We can scarcely blame them, can we? Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, but if some foreign power invaded U.S. airspace and, accidentally or not, blew my kids to smithereens, I doubt I’d content myself with writing letters to the editor about it.

The genie is out of the bottle. President Obama (and George W. Bush before him) popped the cork, and I suspect that, technology being a double-edged sword cum two-way street, the consequences will become clear soon enough.


Bonus: Jon Stewart sounds off on the secret U.S. battle-drone policy. The best bit, dripping with well-deserved sarcasm, is in the second video (they’re part one and two of the same show segment).

Obviously, a Democratic administration’s White House secret war policy memos are very different from the Bush administration’s secret war policy memos — in that I assume the Democrats have written them on recycled paper.



About Rogier:
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.
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One Comment

  1. Posted February 7, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    The last one is confirmed to be NOT real by FPSRussia (the guy in the film.) It was a special effects promo for Call of Duty.