Monday, July 16, 2012

U.S. Drone Manufacturers Contribute Millions to Congressional Campaigns

The New American
July 16, 2012


U.S. Drone Manufacturers Contribute Millions to Congressional Campaigns
President Obama’s drone fever is contagious and is spreading worldwide, and the American industries that build the drones are slavering over the chance to supply the demand.
Christopher Ames, the director of international strategy development for Pentagon contractor General Atomics Aeronautical, was almost gleeful in his statement to Reuters regarding the opening of a potentially lucrative overseas market for his company’s remote control killing machines.
"There has been very considerable international interest," he told Reuters. "There have been countries that for a long time have been asking for Predator... (the export variant) opens up those markets to us."
Ames would not disclose which countries were expressing the most interest in acquiring his company’s drones, but he did confirm that Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia “were all areas of considerable buyer interest.”
Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveals that several regimes, including those in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have tried to secure contracts to purchase armed drones from American providers but have thus far been unsuccessful.
In fairness, General Atomics isn’t the only American defense contractor anxious to peddle the Predator-style drones to other eager governments. Northrop Grumman and other companies continue to lobby Congress and the White House to ease export restrictions on drone sales. Such wide open sales could, of course, result in the drones ultimately ending up in the hands of regimes that would use the devices to harm American interests around the globe — Iran, for example.
The prohibition currently in place was established in 1987. As an article on AllGov.com reports:
In 1987, the Reagan administration joined other democracies (but not Israel) in signing an agreement that prohibited the sale of unmanned aircraft that carry 1,102 pounds for more than 186 miles at a time. Because UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] below this size are allowed, some manufacturers have begun to get around the restrictions by building smaller drones.
Manufacturers aren’t happy having to adhere to these Reagan-era restrictions. Wes Bush, Northrop’s president and CEO, argues that “export restrictions are hurting this industry in America without making us any safer.”
What is certain is that additional arms sales will not make us safer, either. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told the Los Angeles Times that making larger and deadlier drones could make starting wars much easier and cheaper for governments currently considering such operations.
“The proliferation of this technology will mark a major shift in the way wars are waged,” Kimball said. “We’re talking about very sophisticated war machines here. We need to be very careful about who gets this technology. It could come back to hurt us.”
Not accustomed to not getting their way, drone manufacturers know that the way to a congressman’s heart is through his wallet.
Chances are readers have never heard of the Unmanned Systems Caucus.
The relationship between drone makers and lawmakers was recently reported by an Arizona radio station:
The drone caucus — like the technology it promotes — is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to help save money on defense, better patrol the country’s borders and provide a new tool to U.S. law enforcement agencies and civilians.
“It’s definitely a powerful caucus,” said Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, a D.C.-based company that analyzes lobbying data.
“It’s probably up there in the more powerful caucuses that sort of is not talked about.” And, he says, caucus members are well placed to influence government spending and regulations.

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