“Angel has Fallen,” a movie starring Gerard Butler reprising his role as the president’s number one Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, follows a plot line that begins with a nefarious criminal element utilizing weaponized drones. In the movie, the president’s Secret Service contingent is helpless against the small, agile devices as they attack the president, as usual portrayed by Morgan Freeman. An unseen villain remotely controls the drones. The villain seeks not only to kill the president, but to frame Banning for the crime.
Back in the real world, on Jan. 3, our government used its much larger, weaponized drones to assassinate Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the architect of many a terrorist attack against American forces and interests. The message in this case was clear. Terrorists who crawl out of their holes intent on harming Americans, no matter where, are never beyond America’s reach.
Closer to home, eastern Coloradans are spotting fleets of large drones at night over their private property. In spite of nationwide news coverage, no one has come forward to claim ownership of the drones and explain their purpose. The United States military denies any responsibility for them. Local government law enforcement officials have gone out of their way to opine that the drones don’t appear to be malicious, which without knowing their owners and purpose constitute statements of pure conjecture.
Here at home, Aspen planned to substitute a lighted drone show for fireworks last July 4, utilizing some 60 remotely controlled machines in a demonstration of coordinated flight. But a software glitch forced its last-minute cancellation
By contrast, the internet is replete with videos of Chinese drone shows, their imaginative, coordinated actions forming all manner of shapes, forms, and messages in extraordinary and at first glance non-malicious displays of light, color and movement. But it’s China, the communist totalitarian regime, operator of mass detention and re-education camps, well documented pilferer of American technology, and lest we forget, purveyor of fentanyl. So, it’s impossible to not wonder if whatever they’re developing to wow and please people has somewhere in the bowels of its coding a more nefarious ultimate purpose.
It’s not just the Chinese who are interested in advancing and exploiting drone technology. Worldwide, companies imagine using drones to do many of the jobs humans currently do, including delivering purchases and transporting items that benefit from rapid, cost effective conveyance. By doing so they perpetuate the ongoing cycle of adaptation to technological advancement in which humans have been operating for centuries, only today far more rapidly than centuries ago.
The drones aren’t the problem of course. The device is rarely the problem. It’s a misguided and time-worn trait to grant human qualities and weaknesses to inanimate devices. People and their governments, who seek to use new and evolving devices and technologies to exploit others, are the real problem.
Modern drone weapons create of a seemingly antiseptic battlefield where troops are rendered unnecessary. Vehicles piloted remotely from the other side of the planet cause death to lose its weight when it looks like a video game, or a movie.
Back in Hollywood, also known as the land of make-believe, we learn that the bad guys in “Angel has fallen” are an imagined manifestation of perhaps the only remaining politically correct villain left for our megalomaniacal movie moguls to exploit — white guys working for private companies. Mike Banning, another white guy, takes them all down, almost single handedly, and proves his own innocence. Why? Because let’s face it, white, male movie heroes still sell more movie tickets. But having Morgan Freeman as president, again, doesn’t hurt either.
Still, I wonder. Art on occasion imagines future real-life events. Presaging the 9/11 attacks, Tom Clancy’s 1994 Jack Ryan novel “Debt of Honor” involved a foreign influence, in this case Japan, embroiled in an economic dispute with the United States. A conflict results in the death of a Japan Air pilot’s son and brother. The grief-stricken pilot then flies his empty Boeing 747 passenger airliner into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress, killing almost all of our federally elected officials.
The 9/11 Commission report summarized its findings of how and why such an attack was even possible. The report surmised that America’s failure to identify and stop the attack stemmed from four kinds of failures: policy, capabilities, management, and perhaps most importantly in this age of rapid technological innovation, a failure in imagination.
In 2001, it was a failure to imagine how terrorists, intent on killing Americans and harming American interests, might leverage the United States’ own air transportation system against us, right under our noses. Almost two decades later, if you were a terrorist whose brothers, sisters and leaders had been killed by American drones, how might you react? Imagine how the rapidly advancing and relatively poorly regulated use of flying drones can be used or abused, also right under our noses, and might just be the next big threat. I doubt that such a plot is manifesting itself right now over the skies of eastern Colorado, but then again, I don’t have much of an imagination.
Paul Menter’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org