Tag Archives: drone

Florida postal worker who landed gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn pleads not guilty

  • Doug Hughes speaks after his hearing at the U.S. District Court. (Nick Kariuki/MEDILL NSJI)
    Doug Hughes speaks after his hearing at the U.S. District Court. (Nick Kariuki/MEDILL NSJI)

WASHINGTON, May 21 (UPI) — Doug Hughes, the Florida mail carrier who landed his gyrocopter on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn last month, appeared in court on Thursday to plead not guilty to all six federal charges against him.

Among the charges against Hughes are two felonies: operating an aircraft without a license and flying an unregistered aircraft. He faces up to nine and half years in prison.

“As long as I’m free I’m going to introducing voters to groups with solutions to problems of corruption that the vast majority of voters recognize and oppose.” Hughes said after the hearing.

On April 15, tax day, Hughes piloted the low-altitude aircraft from Gettysburg, Pa., to Washington, landing on the Capitol lawn.

Hughes carried 535 two-page letters, one for every member of Congress, highlighting the need for campaign finance reform because of what he sees as the corrosive effect of money politics. He described his actions as an act of civil disobedience.

“I’ll never do anything like this again, but I would do it exactly the way I did,” Hughes said.

Capitol Police arrested Hughes after he landed the small aircraft. He was later released on bail and remained under house arrest in Ruskin, Fla., where he wore an ankle monitor.

Mag. Judge Alan Gray allowed Hughes to move within Hillsborough Count,y where he lives, though he still must wear the monitor.

The judge also refused to let Hughes visit the Capitol, White House and other areas in Washington, which he was banned from doing immediately after the incident.

Hughes was also put on administrative leave from his job at the U.S. Postal Service.

The postal worker’s protest has raised concerns from lawmakers about the security of the Capitol. Hughes flew across 30 miles of some of the nation’s most restricted airspace on his route to D.C.

The Tampa Bay Times wrote about Hughes’s protest plans before the flight. He also informed the Secret Service and other news organizations by email and live-streamed the event on The Democracy Club, a website dedicated to congressional reform.

Hughes has stated his frustration at the focus on the security concerns raised, rather than the reasons for his flight:

“I have faith in a jury of my peers and will accept whatever consequence I must,” Hughes wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “I simply hope by putting my freedom on the line, others might realize how precious their freedom is and join those of engaged in this fight to preserve and protect our government of, by and for the people.”

Members of CODEPINK, the women-led grassroots activist group, presented Hughes with a framed stamp after the hearing.

Published in conjunction with UPI Logo

Question and Answer session on Unmanned Aircraft Systems

How strong is the human element behind drones?

War may be more automated than ever, but human fingers still pull the triggers.

Although President Barack Obama has adopted drones as the workhorse weapons system of his anti-terrorism strategy, full automation is unlikely in the near future.

“Drones don’t change the human dimension of war,” said Christopher Swift of Georgetown University, a leading expert on the anti-terrorism campaign in Yemen. The true philosophical quandary, Swift explained, comes with granting computers the power to shoot.

Replacing humans with computers in that capacity “seems like an incredibly bad idea,” said Josh Meyer, former chief terrorism reporter for The Los Angeles Times and director of education and outreach for Medill’s National Security Journalism Initiative.

While it’s unlikely that automaton UAVs would present a sci-fi threat akin to the Terminator series’ Skynet, the human element is still essential for effective use of drones.

Ground based teams commonly aid UAVs in finding their targets. There are also strong indications that the military is using manned aircraft in the sort of covert missions usually reserved for drones. Witness February’s fatal accident in Djibouti, in which an Air Force Special Operations U-28 with civilian markings crashed killing all 4 occupants.

But the level of reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is not to be underestimated. According to Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, the Obama administration conducts a drone strike every 4 days. Under President George W. Bush, the average time between drone attacks was 40 days.

There are many reasons for the increased dependence on drones. One major advantage of drones over conventional aircraft is the UAV’s ability to remain in a holding pattern for a long period of time. This ability leads to “better precision [when conducting strikes]”, said Meyer.

Another advantage is political. Drone strikes have been ordered overwhelmingly in Pakistan and Yemen, countries where a conventional American military presence would likely create havoc. While Pakistan and Yemen have tacitly acquiesced to UAV operations over their territories, the strategy is not without flaws.

The strikes have successfully weakened Al-Qaida by killing off many within its leadership, especially those with battle experience. “It used to be that Al-Qaida had a deep bench,” said Meyer, “some killed aren’t easily replaceable.”

But the strikes aren’t 100 percent accurate. The collateral damage caused by drone attacks has at times alienated potential key allies on the ground. Swift claims drone strikes have multiplied the number of Al-Qaida militants in Yemen threefold.

The pressure for young Yemeni males is economic, Al-Qaida pays $200 a month in a $60 a month economy, and reactive: Signature strikes, attacks aimed at men behaving in a suspicious manner, have often hit undeserving targets. As Swift pointed out, “Not everybody with an Ak-47 and a turban in Yemen is al-Qaida.”

Most UAV missions are not signature strikes but targeted killings. Because of collateral damage, missiles mounted on drones have been modified over time to be more precise.