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Overhead issues at play [Editorial]

Overhead issues at play [Editorial]
(The Aegis / Baltimore Sun)

At this late date, complaining about relatively innocuous, though high profile, activities at Aberdeen Proving Ground seems a bit out of sorts.

Last year when the U.S. Department of Defense announced it would be launching a tethered airship (which looks like a blimp but the Army assures us is most certainly not a blimp), there were plenty of complaints.

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Many complaints centered around the possibility that the electronic gear held aloft by the blimp-like device would be used for monitoring the general public. It was seen as the physical manifestation of a government effort to intercept private communications. Of course, the device that isn't a blimp was launched amid the scandal resulting from revelations that federal intelligence agencies had been very active in monitoring various communications worldwide.

The issue remains unresolved on many levels. In the public eye, Maryland native Edward Snowden is regarded by some as a whistle-blowing hero for revealing the monitoring and by others as a traitor for violating the terms of his government security clearance. This even as the prospect of government eyes prying into private matters is almost universally regarded as unacceptable.

As for the ability of the federal government to deal with the situation, it suffices to say remedies have been slow in coming and too complicated to explain in anything less than a policy manual.

Meanwhile, the launch of the tethered lighter-than-air craft from APG was described by the military as being equipment designed to detect low-flying missiles as they approach the U.S. coast. This week a second such device was launched, presumably adding to whatever capabilities were made possible by the first one. The Army said the two are designed to work in tandem.

As the military is notoriously secretive, it remains to be seen for sure what the seemingly ever-present non-blimp over Harford is doing, but in this case, there's no harm in taking the Army at its word.

The reason isn't so much because the U.S. Armed Forces are known for being straightforward in such matters. Indeed, like it or not, secrecy and diversion are vital to keeping a military advantage.

No, the greater issue here is that no balloon-like device is needed for the general public to be monitored. Private companies routinely track our movement based on our cellphones making contact with the nearest towers. Internet services keep track of our searches and seamlessly customize advertising on web pages to be especially attractive to us.

Social media operations track just about everything they can, organize the information and sell it to marketing and advertising firms (or use it themselves for such functions).

If Google, Facebook and any number of other businesses can gather such information without the help of tethered balloons, certainly the federal government can, too.

This is, indeed, a cause for concern, but it isn't really related to balloons.

Meanwhile, two balloons/blimps may be visible in the sky over Harford County at any given time for the foreseeable future, and they're presumably protecting us from rogue missile attacks.

As a practical matter, they're a good deal less disruptive than the regular explosions related to tank and munitions testing that for many years were a hallmark of the Army's presence in Harford County.

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