A little-noted amendment to a $63 billion Federal Aviation Authority appropriations bill has ominous implications for democratic rights in the United States.
President Barack Obama signed the bill, the "FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012", into law on February 14. It clears the way for a vast expansion of the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, over US territory.
The legislation, passed earlier this month, underscores the link between the explosive growth of US militarism abroad and the steady advance of police state repression at home.
Drones have become infamous the world over as instruments of US military aggression and assassination in the "global war on terror". Their use has expanded exponentially over the last decade. In 2001, the US military arsenal included barely 50 drones. Now, it has a fleet of some 7,500, ranging from small Raven drones, used for surveillance, to the better known Predators and Reapers, capable of hovering unseen over human targets for up to 28 hours and firing Hellfire missiles with devastating effect.
Just last month, Obama publicly praised what had ostensibly been a covert drone war against Pakistan, though the Pakistani people themselves were well aware who was responsible for the death raining down upon impoverished villages in the country's tribal areas. The drone strikes have dramatically escalated during the Obama administration. They have claimed nearly 2,700 victims since 2004, the great majority of them unarmed men, women and children.