A Buzzing Sound in the Massachusetts Sky Evokes Drone Fears

The mysterious plane is keeping residents up at night and making them anxious.
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In a Massachusetts town where no one has ever died in a drone strike and no one is likely to for the foreseeable future, it is nevertheless unnerving to hear an unidentified aircraft buzzing overhead.

Just ask the residents.

The mysterious plane that's flying over Quincy on starlit nights is frightening some of them, the local CBS affiliate reports. "It's not the state or local police doing the flying, and the FAA is giving out little information, even to city officials," reporter Bill Shield states in the writeup. He goes on to cite sources who indicated "that the aircraft is not a drone, that it is manned. FAA spokesman Jim Peters would only say, 'We have to be very careful this time' concerning information."

One resident described it as "this strong humming sound" that gets louder and fainter as the plane flies to and fro in the middle of the night. Local leaders are getting inundated with phone calls, some from people complaining that they can't sleep, but haven't been given any information.

Said city councilor Brian Palmucci, who also spoke to the FAA:

"I specifically asked, 'Is it a law enforcement flight? Can we tell people that?' He said, 'No, we can't tell you that.' Then I asked that when folks call me can I at least tell them that it is something that they shouldn't worry about, it's something they shouldn't be concerned with? He said, 'I can't tell you that.'"

Jack Encarnacao of The Patriot Ledger has a similar report:

QUINCY -- The Federal Aviation Administration knows what's up there but it's not telling the public. A slew of Quincy residents have been complaining and calling police and the city about an aircraft that appeared about two weeks ago and has been taking wide, repeated loops in the air, between about 7 p.m. and 4 a.m. Residents from Wollaston to West Quincy describe a low-pitch humming sound coming from the aircraft. Some have said it's reminiscent of a drone, which is an unmanned aircraft operated by remote control. "It's not a drone," FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. "It's an authorized flight and we are aware of it."

Peters declined to make any further comment. The FAA first allowed the use of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace in 1990. It continues to allow limited use for firefighting, rescue, law enforcement and military testing, the FAA's website says. Interest in the use of drones is growing. Quincy Police Capt. John Dougan said police are aware of the aircraft and "it's nothing to be concerned about."

I feel bad for the residents of Quincy, and hope that the intrusion into their airspace is explained and halted. It is telling that, despite assurances from the FAA that it isn't a drone buzzing through their skies, that is the technology that the local media reports focus on, presumably knowing that drones will be the first thought that comes to the mind of many residents.

Understandably so. The United States is using that same technology to carry out regular Hellfire missile strikes in multiple countries, a campaign that has so far killed hundreds of innocent civilians. What does that have to do with Quincy? Well, drone critics tend to focus on the drone death toll, but even apart from the innocents drones kill are the communities that they terrorize. Americans understand why the unexplained plane in Quincy is making its residents uneasy, and sympathize with them, whether they're less able to fall asleep, or even afraid of the mysterious aircraft, like the resident who told a reporter, "It's frightening, not just weird, but frightening."

That's how it feels, in a world with drones, when you have every reason to believe that the particular plane buzzing above your house isn't armed. So imagine what it feels like for whole communities in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where the buzzing sound in the sky isn't a mystery, it's definitely a killer drone hovering with the intention of blowing up an unknown target. Imagine how much scarier the buzzing would be if houses or social gatherings in your neighborhood were often blown apart by drone strikes that left charred, dismembered bodies in the rubble.

Note that the vast majority of Pakistanis, Yemenis, and Somalians who are terrified by those drones we're flying over their communities aren't guilty of anything. We've just decided that robbing them of sleep and causing their children to cower in fear is an acceptable price to force them to pay for killing suspected terrorists, most of whom would be extremely unlikely to successfully attack the American homeland if the United States stopped its drone campaign today.

Think about the people of Quincy, MA as you sit in your own home. Can you sympathize with their frustration and anxiety about an unexplained aircraft buzzing above them on successive nights? Can you imagine, for a moment, how you'd feel if that buzz was above your town? If so, perhaps its time to reflect on the fact that the Obama Administration's drone program is causing fear and anxiety orders of magnitude greater to countless Pakistanis and Yemenis who everyone agrees to be innocent. Can we really live with having that policy carried out in our names?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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