Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Spy-Eyes

Late last week, there were several hours of concern after a diesel fuel tank truck went missing in the Baltimore area. The tanker was found a few hours after it was hijacked, and simple theft, not terrorism, was given as the reason for the crime.

Diesel fuel and a few other fairly common ingredients are used every day to make deadly vehicle bombs in various parts of the world. So the disappearance of a tanker – this one carried more than 7,000 gallons of fuel – is cause for concern.

In Iraq, our troops have been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for surveillance of pipelines and other facilities. Not long ago, a Marines UAV “ScanEagle” spotted a whole herd of tanker trucks tapping directly into an oil pipeline.

A Marine unit immediately rolled to the spot and captured the freelance tanker yankers. The Army and the Marines are using more and more of these relatively inexpensive, easy-to-deploy birds to give them extra information about potential battlefields and the whereabouts of bad guys. Some of them are barely bigger than your hand and look more like something you got caught folding and throwing at your buddy in fifth grade than a sophisticated war machine.

That’s the good news – what you may not want to hear is that the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement are very interested in the many potential uses of UAVs at home. Some months back at the end of the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, I was driving east away from Iowa 80 when a UAV flew right across the highway in front of me, headed back to the nearby airbase. Eerie, to say the least.