During the Republican National Convention, NPR is operating out of the The News Center, which also houses the Tampa Tribune. Yesterday, I went to the News Center to give an interview. Along the way I noticed the headline blaring from the front page of the Trib.
“Drones to patrol skies over Republican convention” is how it read in one version. “This will mark the first time unmanned aerial vehicles will patrol the skies over a national convention…” reported Howard Altman.
As a drone enthusiast (I own a modified AR 2.0 drone), the headline jumped out to me. But even if you are not a drone enthusiast, the headline was an eye-catcher as it combines three of our worst fears for the future: Big Brother, robots run amuck (where’s Sam Waterson for Old Glory Robot Insurance?) and political conventions.
“None of the 60 local, state or federal agencies involved in the security operation of the Republican National Convention will utilize air or ground drones,” said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. “They were never part of the planning process and they will not be utilized during the event, anywhere.”
“The Secret Service is not aware of any drones being used in the implementation of the security plan for the national special security event,” said spokesman George Ogilvie.
But wait, what about the Tribune‘s story? Doesn’t the reporter who made it sound as like the next’ Terminator’ movie was being filmed at the GOP convention have a spokesperson from a law enforcement agency to quote?
Um, no. Altman originally quoted Curt Winter, an engineer with United Drones, who said the company obtained an FAA waiver to fly the vehicles during the convention and had a contract with a government agency whose name he would not disclose.
Upon further inquiry, Winter said he “misspoke” about obtaining an FAA waiver for the convention. Altman was forced to walk back his story.
So drones will not be circling above the RNC, right? No they won’t.
Just don’t tell that to Chris Knott, director of corporate development for United Drones, who insisted to Altman that the company has an agreement with a “private entity” for use of its drones during the convention
“I am telling you, we will be present” during the convention,” he said. “I am not going to talk to you about the level of operational commitment.”
Perhaps its not drones Knott is referring to, but the proverbial ‘black helicopters’ who will be operating at the convention.