by Naven Jones, freelance investigative journalist

round airshipDo you ever get the feeling that you are being watched, but cannot figure out where it is coming from? Perhaps you should look to the skies. A new spy technology, or should I say a very old one being made new again, is on the horizon: Surveillance blimps.

Spy satellites are way up in space, cost millions, and cannot quickly or easily be moved to new targets. Spy planes move very fast, so they can easily get blurred images, or miss what they are looking for entirely. Airships would fill the gap between these technologies. They are much cheaper, don't have to be launched into space, and can move slowly enough to take good pictures. Unlike the traditionally oblong Goodyear Blimp, and others like it, some of the new ones being proposed and demonstrated are spherical, like this one made by Techsphere Systems International in Atlanta. With this new shape, they can turn around in a perfect circle, and do other unusual maneuvers.

I spoke to aerospace engineer Dr. Kim Chung Wan about the idea, and he had much to say. "Airships would be a great way for the military or the Department of Homeland Security to perform surveillance. They could easily drift way above the range of small arms fire, and even use the clouds as camouflage. In the past, blimps and dirigibles have been vulnerable in the weather, but several are in the works that could go above it, even to the edge of space, and be safe. With solar panels for power, they could stay aloft for months." He went on to point out that they would also be completely invisible at night, and could see clear over the horizon.

The Death StarThe government would have us believe that only terrorists would be the targets of these eyes in the sky, but they will use that excuse to justify anything. These things could make Orwell's 1984 a reality; they would to be able to watch any one any time. They could look down upon us all, and who watches the watchers? They could even be mounted with weapons to strike people down like Zeus throwing a lightning bolt! 

Just how serious is the government about developing these technologies? So much so that the U.S. Navy is spending four million dollars with a company called STI. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has a forty million dollar contract with Lockheed Martin.

Another proposal that has been "floated" is that blimps could replace unsightly cellular phone towers (as if big balloons always looming overhead wouldn't be unsightly) and allow them to connect to each other over longer distances. They could also be used to clandestinely listen in on our wireless conversations, or steal information from wireless computer networks. Every time the government says that they have new tools to combat terrorism, or big business says that they have new gadgets to make our lives easier:  Beware, every silver lining has a cloud.

UPDATE: One of Big Brother's Blimps will be at the Olympics in Athens. A 200-foot surveillance zeppelin critics say tramples civil rights. They are bringing legal action to try to stop it.

UPDATE: The blimps did indeed watch over the Olympics. They were not stopped.


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