Archive for category surveillance

Plans to have British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone used by British at CFB Suffield, Alberta, a step closer

Flight Global recently reported that the UK armed forces will test the Watchkeeper drone  at Canadian Forces Base, Suffield, Alberta in 2014 and beyond. That the UK would test Watchkeeper there was anticipated from at least 2006 as indicated in the Environmental Assessment for the Suffield base for that year.

UK army personel are now learning to fly the Watchkeeper over the Salisbury plain in the UK, presumably in preparation for flying it elsewhere, like CFB Suffield (BATUS), or Afghanistan. No mention was made of operators being licensed pilots, despite recent comments by the same officer elsewhere that Watchkeeper would be as safe to fly as manned  planes (neglecting to mention that manned aircraft are flown by licensed pilots).

British forces have long used Canadian Forces Base Suffield for training, going so far as to call it ‘British Army Training Unit Suffield’ (BATUS). There is already a private drone test facility at Suffield. It isn’t clear whether it will figure at all in the flying of the Watchkeeper drones at Suffield. (More likely not, because it is believed that the flights this summer will involve integrating Watchkeeper into British army practise, not testing the drone per se). Interviewed by a parliamentary committee in 2008, Air Vice Marshall Stuart Butler said that Watchkeeper would be flown at Suffield because of the greater ‘standoff area’ that Suffield provides, as well acknowledging that Suffield was already had a designation for dangerous flights.

TTU Online has reported that British military officials will invite French military officers to join in the flying of Watchkeeper at Suffield, as part of the ongoing effort of the British military industrial establishment (and its French and Israeli arms company friends) to sell the French a few Watchkeeper systems.

Watchkeeper is an Anglo-Israeli-French drone, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 drone used widely in the suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Interestingly, when flown at the Suffield base Watchkeeper will likely be flying within the view of American border patrol Predator drones (believed currently grounded because of safety concerns after a crash).

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Drone crash grounds US surveillance drones on the Canadian border

David Pugliese, reporting in the Ottawa Citizen, says that a drone operated by US  Customs and Border Protection has crashed off San Diego. Apparently the crash grounded the entire fleet of surveillance drones that monitor both the Mexican and Canadian borders of the US. Presumably the drone was a Predator drone, made by General Atomics.

A description of the drone surveillance programme along the US border with Canada has been posted on the blog previously.

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Most US Drones Broadcast What They See, To Anyone

An article in Wired suggests that for the past several years, US drones in conflict zones have been broadcasting unencrypted video transmissions, that could be viewed by anyone with the appropriate knowledge and some simple equipment.

While the article doesn’t offer an opinion whether UK controlled Predator and Reaper drones have encrypted video feeds, it seems likely that the UK Predator drones are similarly unencrypted.

The implication of this information is that civilians in conflict zones are completely undefended from drones flying overhead, while militants are able, in theory at least, to be aware of US/UK drone monitoring and take evasive action.


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Great source for information on Israel-Canada armstrade links

Not long after beginning to research the links between arms trade links between Canada and Israel I ran across a previously overlooked paper by Kole Kilibarda, Canadian and Israeli Defense-Industrial and Homeland Security Ties-An Analysis, published online by the Surveillance Studies Centre of Queens University. This is an exhaustively researched paper for the period up to 2008.

I can’t do better than that. In future blog posts, I’ll refer to this paper and limit my own research to updating the the material in Kole Kilibarda’s paper. I urge anyone interested in the history of Canada Israel arms trade links, including drones, to refer directly to this paper. I will try to focus on specific elements of this relationship as it develops, and how the ongoing relationship influences Canada’s arms purchases and its sales and investments in the arms industry in Israel.

I’ll also spend more time exploring the American and British arms industries, especially their role in future Canadian drone purchases, both for the military and so called ‘civilian’ uses’*.

*Just as the civilian nuclear industry is a co-dependent part of the nuclear weapon’s industry, the civilian drones industry is integrally linked with the military drones industry, and other elements of the arms trade. They support each other. Civilian drone purchases support research into military drone technology.


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Canada testing drones in the arctic

The Canadian Press is reporting that drones will be tested in the summer of 2012 by Canadian Forces in the Canadian arctic, at Inuvik NWT, and at Churchill Manitoba. Drones have already been tested at Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, in the High Arctic. This information was given to a Senate committee by Lt.-Gen. Walter Semianiw, head of the army’s domestic command. For an extensive transcript of Semianiw’s conversation in the Senate, go here.

The Scaneagle, a small tactical drone, appears to have been used in the arctic in 2011 during annual exercises (Nanook). Note, I have not seen the Scaneagle drones referred to by name by Canadian government sources. It isn’t completely clear what drones are undergoing ongoing testing in the arctic.

A proposal by Northrup Grumman to provide Canada with Global Hawk drones was made public last week. The competition to provide Canada with drones is heating up, as Project JUSTAS proceeds to a conclusion. Project JUSTAS is the initiative to assess Canada’s need for drones, and to presumably recommend a drone acquisition programme.

Northrup Grumman is likely facing an uphill battle. The current Canadian government has favoured Israeli drone manufacturers in the past and heavily supports the supremicist regime. MacDonald Dettwiler, the agent for IAI which manufactures the Israeli Heron drone, already has experience providing satellite surveillance of the Arctic to the Canadian government. Although Macdonald Dettwiler’s relationship with the government may be strained at present, as the government has waffled on full funding of arctic satellite surveillance. This report, by Kole Kilbrada, documents some of the lobbying efforts of Israeli aerospace companies with respect to providing drones to the Canadian military.

Semianiw did not provide information relating to the drone testing facility in Suffield Alberta. It is unclear whether military drone testing is continuing there, although a recent tender for trailers to move several ‘helicopter’ drones gives an indication about what might be happening. Suffield has conditions in winter that might mimic Canadian arctic conditions.


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‘NATO’ to buy costly drones

Apparently NATO ministers have agreed that the organisation would acquire a fleet of unarmed drones. This is unusual, in that generally the organisation relies on in-kind contributions of its members.

According to the Wall Street Journal NATO would buy five Global Hawk drones and a ground control station, produced by Northrup Grumman, at a cost of $1.5 billion, or $300 million each. The Global Hawk is a high altitude, long endurance jet powered drone capable of very high and very long sorties.

According to Defense Industry Daily, the unit cost of the Global Hawk is as low as $35 million each. But at a quoted price of $300 million each, the NATO partners appear to be being asked to pick up a share of the staggering development costs for the high tech drone. Also needed would be a range of surveilance equipment.

Surprisingly, the purchase came as some portions of the US military appeared to be ‘warehousing’  their existing Global Hawks. Colin Clark in AOL described US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz as saying the Global Hawks would be taken out of active service because the sensors weren’t as good and the operating costs higher than the U-2 aircraft also being used. An article by Reuters in Aviation Week claimed that the programme would be scrapped completely, except for a version being developed by the US Navy.

The cost would be shared by 13 of (mostly) smaller NATO members, with the US picking up 40% of the cost. The drone will be based in Italy.

Few countries would have a use for an expensive drone of this type, but the US no doubt pressured them to pay for part of the costs of supplying high altitude surveillance for NATO’s many interventions.

Perhaps equally interesting, and puzzling, are the reasons why certain other members of NATO didn’t participate.


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Drones Protect Whales

The news this week is that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is using an Osprey drone to help it locate and monitor Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean.

While the introduction of drones has allowed some belligerant countries to introduce targeted killing and pervasive surveillance into conflict zones, drones also have the potential to democratise surveillance, as non state organisations are able to purchase simple drones which have sophisticated optical and communications technology. Small drones like the Osprey can stay aloft for as much as an hour and send back high definition images from far above the surface of the land, or the sea.

The SSCS has also used the drone in its campaign to protect bluefin tuna.

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Civil liberties concerns as American drones continue to patrol Canadian border

Three American predator drones patrol the Canadian border, while five patrol the border of America with Mexico. They are believed to patrol the portion of the border along the three prairie provinces and southern BC, from their base in the northern US.

The Digital reports, crediting the US Government Accountability Office, that ‘238 drug smugglers and 4,865 undocumented immigrants’ have been apprehended using drones in the past six years (most or all of them along the Mexican/US border). The US GAO also reports that the US Department of Homeland security plans to increase the number of drones used in border patrol to 24 by 2016, budgets permitting. It isn’t clear how many would be deployed along the Canadian border.

The Digital Journal article also suggests that the drones have cost $20 million each and cost $3,600 per hour to operate. $240 million have been spent so far, not counting operating costs.

It isn’t clear how many drug smugglers and illegal immigrants have been apprehended entering the US from Canada, but the number is certainly small to non existent, suggesting that the US is paying a great deal of money to patrol the quiet Canadian border. To date I am not aware of a single report of a drone involved in the apprehension of a smuggler or an illegal immigrant along the northern border.

Because of the vast distances,  low population, and lack of cover, few smugglers or illegal immigrants would use any means of crossing the border that did not involve transportation, where they would be subject to inspection by ground based immigration officers. The overhead drone surveillance appears to be an expensive toy for the US Homeland Security force.

William Booth, writing in the Washington post, describes an incident where drone operators closely observed a citizen living near the border, from 15,000 feet, noting just how intrusive the technology is. Indeed the American Civil Liberties Union has begun a campaign to demand protection to be put in place to protect Americans from intrusive drone surveillance. Their very good report on the issue can be found here.

There appears to be no equivalent campaign in Canada. Perhaps there should be, as the American drones can send back sharp images of Canadian backyards from well within American airspace.


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Russian Drone Surveillance of Protesters

New World reports that 25,000 people protesting in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow recently were surveilled by a mini helicopter drone. See Youtube video here.

These small drones have extremely good optical abilities and can remain aloft for several minutes. It wasn’t clear from reports whether the drone was being operated by security forces, by the media, or by someone else. Similar kinds of drones are sold and marketed by Aeryon Labs, of Canada.

This occurence is but the beginning of a wave of surveillance by minidrones that do not require licenses to fly in civilan airspace.

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Pakistan Ups the Ante, Wants Drones Out

Pakistan is asking the US CIA to drastically cut back drone attacks on Taliban insurgents in Pakistan.

The New York Times reports that Pakistan may ask as many as 335 US CIA employees to leave Pakistan. The Sunday Times has reported in the past that the CIA is secretly using airbases in Southern Pakistan to launch drones. This was confirmed by analysis of Google Earth photos.

Many CIA officials in Pakistan may be involved in selecting targets and managing information flows after attacks. Reports of drone attacks in Pakistan are usually accompanied by a statement by ‘an unnamed official’ claiming that all the dead were insurgents. Many CIA agents in Pakistan are probably engaged in managing the network of informants decribed in Wired Magazine.

There have been many allegations that the majority of persons killed in the CIA drone strikes have been civilians, something that the US has always strenuously denied.

Pakistan is also demanding joint selection of targets.

Pakistan has in the past asked for its own armed drones, something the US has always refused to do.  In 2010 the US offered to supply Pakistan with ‘Shadow’ drones, unarmed and for surveillance only.

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