Amid all the angst about Florida postal worker Doug Hughes piloting an ultra-light gyro-copter from Gettysburg Airport in Pennsylvania to the U.S. Capitol building in an astounding 20 minutes were calls for the security of the nation’s capital to be enhanced. Of course, all that “security enhancement” was to have taken place as a result of the 9/11 attack. So, where did all the money budgeted for the security of the nation’s capital go? It went into the pockets of the same contractors who stand to benefit from the gyro-copter incident.
Hughes was arraigned in a federal court in Washington on charges of violating restricted airspace and operating an unregistered aircraft, which both carry hefty prison terms. However, Hughes was released by federal magistrate Deborah A. Robinson on his own recognizance and allowed to return to home detention in Florida. Some lawmakers said Hughes’s message that politics has been taken over by wealthy special interests was the real story. MS-NBC’s Chris Matthews said Hughes should be sentenced to one hour of community service that would entail him speaking about money and politics before a joint session of Congress.
Hughes’s planned stunt was known to a number of agencies. The Secret Service interviewed him in 2013 about his plan and it deemed him not to be a threat. The Tampa Bay Times was tipped off about Hughes’s flight and even dispatched reporters to Washington to cover it. The Tampa paper’s pre-knowledge of Hughes’s stunt earned the paper, which prides itself as a paragon of journalistic ethics under the aegis of the self-important Poynter Institute, condemnation from The Washington Post and the Society of Professional Journalists.
The fact that Hughes has left Washington a free man, for now, and federal law enforcement saying that there was no need to over-react to the gyro-copter flight begs the question: Who stands to benefit from the incident?
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson first asked, as did many members of Congress” what is a gyro-copter? Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, called the gyro-copter an “unmanned aerial vehicle,” correcting himself when the normally dim-witted Blitzer reminded Rhodes that the gyro-copter was piloted. Rhodes referred to the drone that crashed on to the White House lawn in February. In that incident, the drone operator, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) employee Shawn Usman, escaped federal charges. In the gyro-copter incident, Hughes wore his U.S. Postal Service uniform to his arraignment. Two federal employees involved in two separate incidents involving security breaches of restricted airspace and one is let off and the other receives a slap on the wrist. Dare we say that these two incidents appear to be LIHOP or “let it happen on purpose” operations.
Johnson, who just happened to be in Congress for hearings at the time the gyro-copter landed on the Capitol building’s west lawn, said that after the Secret Service interviewed Hughes about his plans, which he decided to carry out on April 15, federal tax day — known to federal law enforcement as one day to be particularly prepared for attacks, especially after the 2010 suicide airplane crash by tax protester Joseph Stack into an Austin building where 200 Internal Revenue Service employees worked — “all of the appropriate law enforcement agencies” were informed about Hughes’s intended publicity stunt.
Johnson said that Hughes’s gyro-copter was not detected because, “this individual apparently literally flew in under the radar. Literally.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that “answers” were needed for the security exposure.
Also tipping his hand about the gyro-copter incident was Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, who said, in reaction to the incident, “I think there’s absolutely a gap and it’s a very dangerous gap, with regard to our airspace, and I think we have to fill that gap sooner rather than later.” Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), the Homeland Security Committee chairman, said, “These small aircraft or UAV devices concern me because they could go undetected and cause damage, so that’s something we’re taking a look at.”
What stands to fill Cummings’s “gap” will be of benefit to him and his constituents, as well as the military-intelligence complex, particularly Raytheon. The gap-fillers are two 70-yard long tethered helium-filled blimps that are to fly at 10,000 feet above national capital area airspace in Harford County, Maryland over Graces Quarters, a Chesapeake Bay peninsula that is part of the Aberdeen facility, and Edgewood, the main part of the Aberdeen base.
The Pentagon has been testing the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or “JLENS” at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. JLENS is designed to detect “under the radar” threats such as ultra-lights and UAVs flown into the airspace around Washington, DC and a wider area stretching from Boston to Norfolk known as the Eastern Air Defense Sector.
Aberdeen is represented by the intelligence community’s most stalwart supporters, Dutch Ruppersberger. Ruppersberger has been a champion of JLENS because he has been assured of 140 new jobs and $20 million for his district as a result of the new system. It also helps that JLENS’s prime contractor, Raytheon, has kicked in thousands of dollars to Ruppersbergers campaigns. Raytheon has also generously donated to the Empowering Each Community PAC, the Cummings’s political action committee. Cummings represents Baltimore. Nancy Pelosi, who demanded “answers” to the gyro-copter incident, received $2500 in 2012 for her PAC to the Future political action committee from Raytheon.
One JLENS “aerostat,” as it is officially called, was launched in December but Aberdeen Proving Ground officials indicated the blimp’s radar was not turned on when Hughes took off from Gettysburg. Because JLENS is in the testing phase, it does not currently transmit radar and other sensor data to the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). JLENS does, however, send sensor data to a joint command center at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. However, if the JLENS radar was turned off at the time of Hughes’s flight, there would be no way for warning data to reach Bolling. Without any warning data, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Park Police helicopters that are on stand-by to intercept small aircraft violating restricted capital airspace, would not have been deployed to force Hughes’s gyro-copter to land before it reached the Capitol building.
When the first JLENS aerostat was deployed in December, U.S. Army Major General Glenn Bramhall, Commander of the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, told Fox News, “I don’t have to worry about targets falling on the White House lawn.” But with development delays, that is exactly what happened in February when an unmanned drone did “fall on the White House lawn.” And the gyro-copter incident has lawmakers and administration officials eager to breathe new life into JLENS.
Proponents of JLENS, including prime contractor Raytheon, have also been looking for ways to fast-track the deployment system, both operationally and in the budget process, especially after complaints from privacy advocates and some Harford County, Maryland officials that JLENS represents an intrusive “eye-in-the-sky” over the planned deployment area off of Interstate-95, north of Baltimore. A second aerostat is also planned for deployment testing. Funding for JLENS is due to run out in 2017. Nothing could have spurred JLENS on more than Hughes’s gyro-copter landing in front of the very building where future funding for JLENS hangs in the balance.
Hughes’s publicity stunt, far from calling attention to the flood of money into politics, may have provided the impetus for JLENS to not only be fully-funded by Congress but expanded in scope. The Republican-led House cut JLENS funding in half from the $54 million requested by the Obama administration in the 2015 budget. The Senate supported the full amount, resulting in a conflict between the Senate and House. Nothing spurs Congress into action more than an incident that all the members personally experience. There will be no more congressional fighting over full funding for JLENS. If the Postal Service fires Mr. Hughes, Raytheon, which has operations in Tampa that support the U.S. Central and Special Operations Commands, should offer him a nice cushy job since he just made the firm a bundle of money.