Monday, January 11, 2010

Damn, What Are We paying For, #2 ? STUFF

OK, so here it is another Monday, and I am in a bad mood since watching the Patriots getting it handed to them by the Ravens (although the Cardinals-Green Bay game was entertaining and a game which illustrates why not allowing defensive linemen to rush a QB unless he/she is out of the "pocket" would be great for football). So, I have to vent on something, why not the government, might as well be at the party.

I am entirely curious about the report about the surveillance gathered by drones used by U.S. military and the CIA. First, let me promise that I have no problem with using drones to do "spying" on people who are threats to the safety of our country, no problem at all. However, I was struck by some of the comments made in the recent article in the New York Times concerning the plethora of information gleaned by the drone named Reaper. The Reaper, according to the Times is larger than the Predator and capable, soon, of carrying 10 cameras with plans in the works to have a Reaper out there with 65 cameras filming during a flight. Wow, that is WAY COOL.

But the Times reports that the Air Force's head dude of intelligences admits that the Air Force is “swimming in sensors and drowning in data.” This drowning pool seems to be filling with more than data: the Air Force projects having to download information directly to ground forces and having to hire 2500 more analysts to review the data. Plus, Raytheon has a contract for 500 million dollars to provide a super-computer for the Air Force which will help that branch of the military deal with video data. According to a Raytheon designer, the Air Force has 4000 men and women who watch the drones' data around the clock, identifying suspicious targets. In addition to those 4000, the National Geo-Spatial-Intelligence Agency NGA) assists analyzing of all the video tape (I tried to find out how many help or how many work at NGA but could not). The NGA does some WAY COOL stuff too, but one of their chiefs had this to say, the drones “proliferated so quickly, and we didn’t have very much experience using them. So we’re kind of learning as we go along which tools would be helpful,” And ground force commanders will soon have video receivers with TELESTRATORS similar to the one introduced by John Madden to circle players and formations on football games. Folks, this is WAY COOL. Keep in mind the Times is referring to Air Force events and tape.

So, there are two(maybe way more)types of drones, the Predator and the Reaper which cost about 4 million and 10.5 million dollars,respectively ( 2008 figures). But,these drones are not all alike; you see there is an Air Force version, a Navy version, a NASA version, a Homeland Security version, and I guess the CIA and NSA borrow a drone or two for their work. Of course, I do not expect to be able to find out how many drones are used in the Middle East; there are some things citizens do not need to know. But my point is which tail is wagging which dog? If the intelligence community and the Air Force have so much data now that insiders say they cannot handle the information, and if they are learning as they are going along, do we need all this technology now and in the future? If we are collecting so much data that it is not used because we do not have the manpower to analyze and interpret it, what good is having it? And why are we planning to build ships with even more cameras to take even more film that we already can't handle?

It seems to me that the military-industrial complex is doing very well on tax dollars, and I have no doubt that some of the technology is necessary, saves lives, and makes us safer. I just constantly wonder who is in charge to make sure we don't have STUFF we can't use, STUFF that can be hacked with a few bucks of Radio Shack equipment, STUFF that is purchased so fast we don't know how to work it, STUFF that does not work, ever, and STUFF that collects so much STUFF we can't use the STUFF. How come we never read or hear about accountability and reducing big-government when it comes to all this STUFF?

PS: I do want to know how many drones are being flown over the US by our own government to spy on what at a cost of what. What good will it do to take pictures of illegal immigrants crossing borders if we do not have the manpower to go capture them?