Two aerostats are to be used to create a vast radar net over a 340-mile stretch of America’s northeast skies. From a 10,000 feet vantage point, the blimps–flown from the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground–will be able to detect cruise missiles or “enemy” aircraft before they reach the U.S. capitol. In addition, the Raytheon-built blimps will be able to detect vehicles across a 140-mile radius, which is a total land area of 62,000 miles.
Blimps have long been established technologies for surveillance in Afghanistan (as well as Iraq, and also flown by Israel in the West Bank), and the use of military-grade technology over suburban America has raised privacy concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union stated “That’s the kind of massive persistent surveillance we’ve always been concerned about with drones.” The U.S. Army insisted that its primary mission is track airborne vehicles, not ground-based vehicles or boats, which is why it did not conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment.
The system in Maryland is called Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. A GAO report from March put the cost for JLENS at a staggering $2.7 billion.
The sensor-surveillance system is another example of vertical, or atmospheric securitization. Those who secure the skies, secure the ground–and all the lifeworlds that dwell across the landscape.
It is also another example of the perennial “boomerang” effect of wartime technology: what is used against the “enemy” abroad, always comes back home.
As Chalmers Johnson was apt to remind us: you cannot have empire abroad and democracy at home…something always has to give–as it did with the Roman Empire so many centuries ago.