A massive, military blimp, the size of a football field, will hover over Maryland to “keep watch” over the capitol.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) will hover at 10,000 feet, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, to protect us against everything except civil liberties abuses.
“It’s getting at an area where currently, you know, we have a risk,” U.S. Army Major General Glenn Bramhall, commander of the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, told Fox News. The blimp will give the military time to make decisions. “You know that way, I don’t have to worry about targets falling on the White House lawn,” said Bramhall.
Because there are a lot of targets falling all over the White House lawn.
Over at The Intercept, Dan Froomkin describes the project as “the last gasp of an 18-year-long $2.8-billion Army project.” The spy blimps provide 360-degree radar up to 340 miles in any direction. Essentially, the blimps can see what’s happening from North Carolina to Boston.
I suppose we should be grateful there will only be two and not three dozen spy blimps. “[A]fter a series of operational failures and massive cost overruns, the program was dramatically scaled back to the two existing prototypes that the Army plans to keep flying continuously above the Aberdeen Proving Ground for three years, except for maintenance and foul weather.”
Naturally, privacy advocates are concerned.
“There’s something inherently suspect for the public to look up in the sky and see this surveillance device hanging there,” says Ginger McCall, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group. “It’s the definition of persistent surveillance.”
And naturally, the military denies the blimps will be used for spying on people, just missiles and boats. Of course, the flying spy blimps have the ability to see much more than missiles and boats. Raytheon, the recipient of taxpayer dollars to build the spy blimps, says the radar “simultaneously detected and tracked double-digit swarming boats, hundreds of cars and trucks, non-swarming boats and manned and unmanned aircraft.”
The military says there are no high resolution video cameras on JLENS. According to The Intercept:
In a test last year, however, Raytheon equipped one of the blimps with an MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System that provides both day and night imaging, laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities.
The result: JLENS operators could “watch live feed of trucks, trains and cars from dozens of miles away.” They also watched Raytheon employees “simulate planting a roadside improvised explosive device.”
Major Beth Smith, the spy blimp program’s spokesman says it “has no cameras, it has no video, nor is it tracking any people,” she says. “It does not possess the capability to see people.” And while it can see cars, “for the purposes of this test, we have no intent to track any vehicles. Well, any civilian vehicles.”
What kind of psychological effect does a football field-sized spy blimp have on citizens?
It doesn’t much matter. Federal regulations for privacy don’t apply. “JLENS does not operate under privacy rules,” Smith, the spokesperson for JLENS, explains. “It is a military radar and as such carries no electro-optical or infrared cameras, nor does it have acoustic or electronic surveillance capability. There is no ability to ‘listen’ to cellular or radio traffic, nor can it optically ‘see’ any ground objects.”
Watch the spy blimp inflate: