Eagles’ Wings

From Mideast battles to Amazon deliveries, drones are in the news.

In 2013, President Obama said, “The United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al-Qaida … including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones.”

While acknowledging public criticism of drone attacks, the president said, “Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage.”

There is no doubt of the effectiveness of drone strikes. During the first week of February, Jalal Baliedy, a Yemeni al-Qaida leader, was killed in a drone strike in the southern province of Abin. Baliedy had led several major terror attacks, including the beheading of soldiers.

But, while the U.S. is carving notches on its drones, Iran has also been abuzz. In January, an Iranian drone flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. The reconnaissance flight by Iran’s Shahed drone over the USS Harry S. Truman marked the latest tense naval encounter between the U.S. and Iran.

But drones — because of their effectiveness and ease of use — are not limited to military use. They have become practically ubiquitous. From the military to local law-enforcement, drones are becoming a surveillance tool of choice. As police forces deploy drones to track criminals, there is increasing talk of outfitting drones with tasers or other weapons for law enforcement.

Law-enforcement drones are a new chapter in an age-old saga of security vs. personal freedom. The American Civil Liberties Union warns, “Uniform rules should be enacted to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a ‘surveillance society’ in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government.”

As if war and police weren’t enough, hobbyists have clouded the skies with private drones. The proliferation of drones pose a clear and present danger, no matter what side you take in the personal rights debate.

On Thursday, February 4, a small drone crashed into the Empire State Building. The aircraft hit the 40th floor of the landmark skyscraper and then fell to a 35th floor landing. Apparently it was not an act of terrorism. New York City police say the man naively went to the building’s security guard to try to retrieve his drone. Instead, he was given a set of handcuffs. He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and illegal “avigation” — navigation of aircraft in the city.

The thought of an aircraft — of any size — crashing into a skyscraper is enough to send shivers down the spine of anyone who lived through 9/11. Now there may have been a lack of malice, but there was certainly a lack of forethought.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers reports, “No matter how many regulations are put in place, drones are cheap enough now that frequent misuse is becoming the norm. There’s no good way of dealing with a dangerous drone: You can jam its radios to force it to autoland, or maybe try using an even bigger drone to capture it inside a giant net.”

A computer expert we know advises to always try low-tech solutions first. The more sophisticated the technology you throw at a problem, the more that can go wrong.

Dutch police agree. They have teamed up with a unique partner to combat menacing drones, offering “a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem.”

They are studying using birds of prey to swoop down and pluck rogue drones out of the sky.

Police are working with a Hague-based company that trains eagles and other birds of prey to catch drones. The police and bird handlers are investigating whether the birds can be used above large events or near airports, where the small flying machines are banned.

Dennis Janus of the national police said that trainers use the birds’ natural instincts to tackle the high-tech problem of drones flying in restricted areas.

Janus says the birds are trained “to think drones are their prey” and get a reward if they catch one. Dutch police will likely make a decision later this year whether to use the birds.

Whether or not birds of prey eventually become the new defense forces in the war against the rogue drones, there is something reassuring in the recognition of the wisdom in returning to natural creations from the One Above to combat menacing technology.

Eleh barechev… Whether the chariots travel on wheels or wings makes no difference. We know the true Source of security. After all, security translates as bitachon.