As Rand Paul Droned On

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) conducted an old-fashioned filibuster on the floor of the United States Senate.  A gazillion hours after he started the Senator even received an important concession from the White House on how military drones will NOT be used.

Some called his oratorical marathon a success and yet, I can’t help but feel that he missed a great opportunity to expand debate on this critical technology.  Here’s why.

As Senator Paul talked for 13 hours, I am pretty certain he never discussed the flip side of military-related technology.  I guess he does not realize that the applications of technology are only limited by the human imagination.  And this guy wants to run for president?

Let me start with the meaning of a phrase to demonstrate the short-sighted aspect of Senator Paul’s filibuster.  When you hear the phrase “intelligence gathering” what is your first thought?  Exactly! It is easy to think only in terms of  information collected to support military operations.

Even Hollywood cashes in on our myopic view of this target-rich technology.  Some in today’s media have called drones the perfect “assassin.” Rand Paul only gave us more of what we are used to receiving.

It is true that we won the Cold War with the former Soviet Union, and now with international terrorists, because of our nation’s technological leadership.  We are the experts at collecting and integrating detailed images from space, intercepting coded messages, and using human spies to glean information that our technological assets could not.  Now we have drones added into the mix.

If our nation’s policy is not to kill American’s on our soil, what else can we do with these “assassins?”  I have three applications to table for discussion:

  • Take high resolution photographs that can be used to prepare for, as well as recover, from man-made or natural disasters, including real time information that can help direct first responders.
  • Digital mapping of the Earth, including topographical contours.   
  • Equip drones with sensors that can gather reflected sunlight in different bands of the light spectrum for environmental monitoring and resource management.

These are just three ideas that I had on the top of my head.  Once we start thinking outside the box, I have no doubt that many other applications can be dreamed up.  Plus, in a era where budget resources are at a premium why not get the biggest bang for the buck with all of our technology.  Can we really afford to think in limited ways?

Then there is the international angle to consider.  Drones can be peacekeepers as well as assassins.  This can be a whole new take on President Eisenhower’s “Open Skies” proposal.  Ike’s idea of sharing intelligence to prevent wars was decades ahead of its time.  But with drones, the U.S. only needs to share images and not highly classified methods.  Lastly, humanitarian efforts to recover from natural and man made disasters will build goodwill at a time when international cooperation is badly needed.

I do congratulate Senator Paul for standing up for his convictions.  Every filibuster should be conducted in the light of day.  I also agree there are many thorny issues connected to the military use of drone technology that must be resolved.

Real leadership, in our era, requires taking the extra step beyond protest.  The real question remains, who will be the person that stands up and leads?

Author: Robert Katula

What say you, the people?