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Budget: The Power of One Man’s Conviction

By: Daniel Horowitz (Diary)  |  March 7th, 2013 at 01:02 PM

What was it about Rand Paul’s filibuster that has captivated conservatives all over the country and reinvigorated their desire to fight for our Constitutional Republic?  The irony is that the drone issue was not even one of the most popular issues among many conservatives until last night.  I suspect that many conservatives don’t necessarily agree with some of Paul’s assertions about targeting terrorists like Al-Awlaki overseas, although we are all (everyone except for McCain and Graham) concerned about targeting Americans on American soil.  Yet he has become an overnight sensation, not just among his core libertarian base, but among the broad conservative movement.

Conservatives have been starving for a fighter; longing for someone who will do something drastic, engage in a media savvy fight against an imperialistic president who has no respect for checks and balances and an invidious disregard for the separation of powers.

We have witnessed this president shred the Constitution and implement his radical agenda by administrative fiat.  We the People stand by flummoxed and frustrated at the lack of courage among Republicans to counter the president with anything more magnanimous than a press release.  We have seen him abrogate our immigration laws, grant administrative amnesty, and let criminal aliens out of jail.  Yet nobody has used their position and identified a point of leverage at which to take a stand and draw extended scrutiny to the issue or any other breach of authority.

Finally, when administration officials began asserting that the president might even have the power to launch drone strikes on American soil, Senator Paul decided he would hold up a major nomination to command the  attention of the entire country.  Many of us sat back and watched the impassioned speeches from Paul and the stirring words of Ted Cruz.  We wondered why we had not witnessed this sort of spirited opposition during Obamacare.

Yet that is exactly the point.  Most of these senators are new to Washington.  They have charted a new path forward, one that is not paved with backroom deals but with forthright demonstrations of courage and commitment to the principles that buoyed them into office.  Instead of cutting a deal to invoke cloture and having Brennan’s nomination sail to confirmation, Paul has united a fractious Republican Party against this – that is everyone except for Obama’s dinner companion Lindsey Graham.

Republicans have repeatedly entreated us to the tired bromide that they only control one-third of one-half….. What these banal bulls of Washington dealmaking don’t understand is that with complete control of the House and a filibuster strength minority in the Senate there is a lot they can do.  With the ubiquitous nature of C-Span and social media, Republicans can use critical leverage points to seize on winning issues and put Obama in the defensive position.

That’s why yesterday’s act of cowardice on the CR in the House was so incomprehensible to many conservatives.  Even if they planned to ultimately cave on Obamacare to avoid a shutdown three weeks from now, why not initially bring it to the floor under an open rule and debate Obamacare for a few days?  Let’s at least draw attention to the injustice of Obamacare at a time when many people are feeling the pain of higher insurance premiums.

We are also told that the juggernaut of a biased media is too powerful to overcome were we to force some sort of a dramatic battle over critical issues, such as Obamacare or illegal immigration.  It’s true in fact that the media is incorrigibly in the tank for the left, and there’s nothing we can do about that.  But one thing about the media is that they are impressed by a show of force and stimulated by something new and exciting.  Rand Paul proved that last night, as even some mainstream media reporters gave him positive coverage.

When the CR comes before the Senate, conservatives should hold it up at least for a day or two to educate the American people on the ramifications of funding Obamacare.  When the nomination of the new radical nominee for EPA director comes before the Senate, they should take turns launching filibusters into the night, educating the public on how that agency has cost jobs and raised the cost of living on the working class.  They should draw attention to onerous policies like ethanol mandates.

We didn’t send Republicans like Mitch McConnell to Washington to cut backroom deals and to passively and blithely ignore the injustices that are perpetrated by the statist class on a daily basis.  Nor did we send Republicans to Washington to echo those injustices, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham do on a daily basis. It’s no coincidence that this effort was initiated by the disciples of Jim DeMint.  And with the 2014 election cycle beginning now, it’s incumbent upon all of us to help send reinforcements to the ranks of our fighters.

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Energy companies eyeing drones to survey pipelines

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Cara Bayles
Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 1:24 a.m

New regulatory recommendations expected to be released by the Federal Aviation Administration soon could allow oil-and-gas companies to purchase light-weight unmanned drones akin to those used by the military.

Energy companies already use remotely operated vehicles to monitor and manipulate wells at extreme underwater depths, and unmanned aircraft companies hope that in the coming years, companies will be able to hire or buy aerial drones to survey pipelines, check on hard-to-reach parts of platforms and gather information after an offshore accident occurs.

The current federal regulations were first introduced in 2007, as production and development of unmanned aerial systems began to grow. The proposed regulation changes, which will be released in a few weeks, will be subject to a comment period and review, a process that generally takes 12 to 18 months.

“The concerns about these unmanned aerial systems, whether they’re operating in the Gulf of Mexico or over land, remain the same,” said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford. “We want to make sure that they’re used in such a way that the safety of other aircraft is not compromised.”

That could be particularly challenging in the Gulf, where, according to Lunsford, planes and helicopters traveling back and forth to offshore rigs make more than 800 trips per day.

California-based AeroVironment already had agreements with several oil-and-gas companies just before the 2007 regulations were introduced, according to Steve Gitlin a vice president at AeroVironment.

“We’re ready,” he said. “As soon as the FAA says ‘Go,’ we’re ready to provide capabilities to the customers who want it. These aerial systems will save money, save lives and allow for more effective use.”

Lindsay Voss, senior program development manager at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said that the FAA’s longtime complaint is that it needs more data, like a complete picture of the drone accident rate.

“You could say there’s a lot of operational time with Department of Defense,” she said. “We probably have about 6,000 hours a year in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it’s difficult to take that info and apply it to national airspace.”

Voss said several companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico, including Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips, have expressed interest in the technology.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said the company has been an industry leader in developing ways to deploy drone technology for pipeline inspection.

“We have been working cooperatively for over five years with other members of the oil-and-gas industry, the aviation industry and the FAA to enable eventual deployment of drones to assist us in leak and machinery threat detection once (new FAA) regulations are in place.”

Currently, BP and other companies use manned helicopters to survey their pipelines. But helicopters can run about $300 an hour, while renting a lightweight drone can cost as little as $20 an hour, said Voss.

Drone makers say their machinery has a range of applications beyond pipeline surveillance as well.

“The color and infrared video could be very useful if they want to check out the condition of an offshore platform. If there’s a disaster, people tend to be evacuated from a platform, but the operator will still want to have eyes on the target,” said Gitlin. “We’ve done some demos for offshore oil companies in the past and, using infrared, were able to detect oil slick in the water.”

Kevin Lauscher, who does industrial sales for the Canadian company Draganfly Innovations, said that in the past year, he’s already sold some drones that weigh less than 10 pounds for deepwater oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

“They’re used for inspectional purposes. It gives them the ability to more easily view platforms, rather than putting people on cranes or scaffolding as they’ve had to do in the past.”

He attributed the boon in sales to the tightening of federal safety regulations in the past year as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

“Safety has been brought to the forefront as a result of that,” he said.

Voss said that it could be a few years before drones under 50 pounds are flown over domestic waters.

“They’re still at the very beginning of this process,” she said. “It doesn’t look like the rule will be out until 2014. After that, I think we’ll start to see a pick up, but it’s still going to depend on how things go after the agencies put out the rule.”

Staff Writer Cara Bayles can be reached at 857-2204 or at cara.bayles@houmatoday.com.

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U.S. Knew Of Downed Drones Vulnerabilities And Iran Says It Did Too

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Robert Johnson

One day after Iran claimed to have brought down an advanced U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone, Public Intelligence received an Air Force report saying the drone suffers from many electronic vulnerabilities (via Jeffrey Carr at Digital Dao).

The report, Operating Next-Generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft for Irregular Warfare was published “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) in April 2011 by the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and addresses electronic threats to the American drone fleet.

The board found a list of problems, including communications vulnerabilities and lost communication events.

From Digital Dao:

Section 2.4.3 “Threat to Communication Links” expands on the state of vulnerabilities for [drones]:

  1. Jamming of commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) links is a widely available technology. It can provide an effective tool for adversaries against data links or as a way for command and control (C2) denial.
  2. Operational needs may require the use of unencrypted data links to provide broadcast services to ground troops without security clearances. Eavesdropping on these links is a known exploit that is available to adversaries for extremely low cost.
  3. Spoofing or hijacking links can lead to damaging missions, or even to platform loss.

Section 2.4.4 “Threat to Position, Navigation, and Guidance”:

  1. Small, simple GPS noise jammers can be easily constructed and employed by an unsophisticated adversary and would be effective over a limited RPA operating area.
  2. GPS repeaters are also available for corrupting navigation capabilities of RPAs.
  3. Cyber threats represent a major challenge for future RPA operations. Cyber attacks can affect both on-board and ground systems, and exploits may range from asymmetric CNO attacks to highly sophisticated electronic systems and software attacks.

This information is particularly interesting given the exclusive interview of an Iranian engineer by Scott Peterson and Payam Faramarzi at the Christian Science Monitor.

The CSM story says an Iranian electronic warfare specialist, and his team, overrode the drones communications systems based on information gleaned from the previously downed U.S. drones in Iran.

Once in control of the Sentinel, Iran reprogrammed the craft’s GPS coordinates to make the drone think it was landing at its home base, when actually it was setting down deep in Iran.

“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told CNN that Iran had no part in intercepting the RQ-170, insisting the drone suffered a technical problem and went down on its own.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta refused, however, to say whether the drone could have been brought down by an electronic attack.

“You can make all kinds of guesses at this point. Obviously there’s nothing that you can rule out and nothing that you can rule in right now,” Panetta said Fox News (via CNN).

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How Iran hacked super-secret CIA stealth drone

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Undated picture shows member of Iran’s revolutionary guard pointing at U.S. RQ-170 unmanned spy plane as he speaks with Hajizadeh at unknown location in Iran ( REUTERS/Handout)

More damage is being dished out to the US intelligence community as sources in Iran admit to hacking the CIA’s lost drone and bringing it down with not much more than computer navigating know-how.

Engineers with the Iranian military are admitting to the Christian Science Monitor that the dramatic disappearance of a multi-million dollar stealth drone aircraft suffered by the United States two weeks ago was indeed a result of their own doing, claiming now that they managed to hijack the system inside the craft with ease and bring it to a safe landing without incident.

The United States originally denied they lost a drone over Iran before changing their story and insisting that they lost contact with the craft during a surveillance mission over neighboring Afghanistan. Iranian officials quickly corrected Americans by displaying footage of the spy-plane and revealing that it was apprehended over 100 miles from the country’s border with Afghanistan.

RT has reported throughout the ordeal that the downing of the drone could have resulted from a budding cyber war between American and Iranian intelligence. Now officials overseas are insisting that they did indeed hack the craft to quietly bring it down.

Speaking to the CSM, an engineer responsible for the interception speaking on condition of anonymity says that technicians managed to hack into the craft’s GPS navigation, which the official describes as “weak.”

“By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain,” says the source.

Less than two weeks after the RQ-170 Sentinel was lost over Iran, US officials cited a system malfunction as the culprit in another drone that crashed over the Indian Ocean on Tuesday this week.

In a report out of RT earlier this week, we rehashed an earlier incident at Nevada’s Creech Air Force base in the United States from months earlier that left a key logger-virus installed in the cockpits of the military’s drones. We added to the report on Wednesday this week, citing an investigation out of Univision that linked Iranian officials with Mexican hackers in an alleged cyber war plot to attack the American intelligence community, specifically the Central Intelligence Agency, Pentagon and Department of Defense.

The RQ-170 Sentinel recovered by Iran was flying for the CIA when it was apprehended.

The United States originally laughed at Iran’s interception of the craft, with one American official telling Defense News that the act was equivalent to “dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.” Now Tehran says that they were able to successfully reverse-engineer the craft by using less powerful drones that it has downed in the years prior. To the CSM, officials overseas say that the weaknesses in the GPS navigation of the craft were known by US officials, who did little to fix the patch.

Despite both losses in recent days, US Defense Department Secretary Leon Panetta said to Fox News this week that America will “absolutely” continue stealth jets missions over Iran.

Iranian authorities have hailed the recovery as a great success for the country since announcing that they had obtained the craft, much to the chagrin of the Obama administration. The US president has formally asked Tehran to return the craft to authorities, to which Iran shrugged off.

Source

More US drones patrolling above border with Mexico

Congress pins hopes of securing US border on unmanned drones

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The MQ-9 Predator B, an unmanned surveillance aircraft system, is unveiled by US Customs and Border Protection at Libby Army Airfield on Oct. 30, 2006 in Sierra Vista, Ariz. (Gary Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

Teri SchultzDecember 6, 2011 06:21

LUNA COUNTY, New Mexico — Raymond Cobos, the sheriff in these parts, said the horrors of Mexico’s drug war aren’t limited to the big cities of Juarez or Tijuana, and are creeping closer and closer to the United States everyday.

Just across the border sits Puerto Palomas, a Mexican town where Americans used to go — in relative safety — to shop, eat out and seek low-cost medical procedures.

But last years things began to change. And then, Cobos said, shocking events began happening on his doorstep.

“We saw the violence first-hand: the bodies, the tortures, the decapitations. People going to church found three heads displayed there in the plaza,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any single town anywhere of any prominence in Mexico that hasn’t had at one time a series of horrible criminal events in which people have been murdered, tortured, mutilated.”

Now fear is growing that such violence will spill over onto American soil and some officials are hoping that an increased reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will help stem the tide.

More from GlobalPost: Complete coverage of the Drone Wars

Although the number of Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States is declining, the potential for drug-related violence — especially as an ongoing war among Mexican drug cartels continues to spiral — has reestablished border security as a hot-button issue, and made the use of drones along the border ever more popular.

The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, commonly known as the Drone Caucus, is a congressional group that works to promote the use of drones both domestically and abroad. It has doubled its membership since January while the number of drones used on the border to track illegal immigrants and drug activity has also steadily increased.

A bipartisan group formed in 2009, the Drone Caucus argues that UAVs are a peerless asset whose use should be amplified not only in weaponized strikes against extremists abroad, but also for the surveillance and tracking of those trying to breach US borders.

Drones now troll the southern border from California to Louisiana, and the northern border from Washington to Minnesota. With a potential flight time of more than 20 hours, the drones make it feasible to cover vast expanses of difficult terrain, while “pilots” split the shifts on the ground.

The first Predator drone was assigned to the southwest border in 2005. Four more soon followed, with the fifth delivered in October to the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, in the district of Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is a co-chair of the Drone Caucus. A sixth will soon arrive in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and two more monitor the northern border out of North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base.

More from GlobalPost: Are the drone wars legal?

Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, a retired Air Force pilot who has been working with unmanned technology since the 1990s, said that in his current post as assistant commissioner for the US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine, the drones could prove an invaluable tool.

“If you look at how important the UAVs have been in defense missions overseas,” Kostelnik said from Washington, DC, “it’s not really rocket science to make adjustments for how important those things could be in the homeland for precisely the same reasons.”

Other than the fact that border patrol aircraft do not carry weapons — and despite the presidential campaign rhetoric, Kostelnik said they don’t intend to weaponize them — the units are identical to those used in Pakistan and elsewhere in terms of intelligence collection and real-time interdiction support for agents on the ground.

Tucson Border Patrol Division Chief John Fitzpatrick said it was difficult to put into numbers just how valuable the drones could be for border security.

“Whenever the aircraft shows up, the agents on the ground are more successful and more efficient in what they do,” he said. “It gives us a lot of capabilities we didn’t have before.”

He acknowledged that there was some discomfort with the technology from people living in the area, who worried that the government would be looking into their backyards.

More from GlobalPost: The rationale behind the Drone Wars

“We reassure them there’s accountability in everything we do,” Fitzpatrick said.

For now, supply appears to be outweighing the need and on Capitol Hill, the Drone Caucus appears to be in overdrive. The last three UAVs purchased for border patrol — at a price tag of $32 million from the 2010 budget — were not even requested by Customs and Border Protection, according to an official from the Department of Homeland Security who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Congress sent no extra money for missions or maintenance, despite reports that planes already in service remain grounded at times due to a shortage of pilots, spare parts and other logistical restraints.

Customs and Border Protection reported that drones have been responsible for the apprehension of 7,500 illegal immigrants since they began operating six years ago — a tiny fraction of the total number of arrests that have been made over the same period. Using other means, in six years, the agency has apprehended almost 5 million people.

T.J. Bonner, head of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing border patrol agents, said the low numbers prove that money is better spent on manned aircraft and boots on the ground.

More from GlobalPost: The people behind the drones

“People play with the facts around this stuff,” Kostelnik said with frustration, acknowledging that high-profile, targeted killings overseas have politicized even unweaponized missions.

When asked what help he needed most back in Luna County, Sheriff Cobos said he would prioritize “boots on the ground,” but wouldn’t object to a little unmanned help.

Unlike Texas and Arizona, New Mexico doesn’t have a facility to receive data from drones, so it has had to rely primarily on a low-tech approach — manually tracking known routes with a night-vision scope, searching abandoned houses and sidling along the border, watching for Mexicans climbing and jumping off the 12-foot high border fence.

The other states are “banging their drums while we’re using a popsicle stick,” Cobos said about New Mexico.

“Sooner or later the cartels are going to say, ‘Hey, why aren’t we utilizing this space? Why are we trying to shove it through Arizona and Texas?’” he said. “The possibility [there’s] going to be a catastrophic civil war in Mexico is pretty high, and I have to face the probability that at some point I have to deal with it.”

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