BY JIM DOOLEY – The state purchased an unmanned aerial surveillance drone last year to patrol the skies over Honolulu Harbor but the aircraft can’t be flown because of heavy air traffic in the area.
The $75,000 drone was delivered last June – six months after Hawaii Reporter disclosed that the state had not sought and was unlikely to receive federal approval to actually fly the aircraft.
It has been stored since then in a state office on the Honolulu waterfront.
Harbors Division administrator Davis Yogi said the state didn’t check with the Federal Aviation Administration about flying the drone until it received inquiries from Hawaii Reporter in January 2011 on the subject. The FAA then told the state the drone could not be deployed in the crowded airspace adjacent to Honolulu International Airport and Hickam Air Force Base.
“It was a glitch,” said Yogi. “It works, we’re maintaining it, but we just can’t fly it.”
The drone “was already built” by the time the state talked to the FAA, Yogi continued. “We had to accept it,” he said.
Transportation Department spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the drone purchase, by harbor security contractor Hawaiya Technologies, Inc., was a “mistake” and an example of ”government not working.”
Hawaiya Technologies was hired under a sole source $1.4 million harbor security contract in 2009.
Current Transportation Department Director Glenn Okimoto first sought approval of the Hawaiya sole source contract, including the drone acquisition, in 2007 when Okimoto was head of the DOT harbors division.
The drone is a small part of a much larger security system now in operation at several waterfront locations on Oahu. A second system is now being installed on Maui and more are planned for the Big Island and Kauai. Paperwork for the Maui security system said deployment of another drone was planned there, but Yogi said only the Honolulu drone was acquired.
Hawaii Reporter first began asking questions about the drone purchase in November 2010, but state officials delayed responding for months.
In early January of last year, the state was asked specifically if it had “sought or secured” an FAA “certificate of authorization” to fly drones over Honolulu harbor.
In February 2011, Meisenzahl noted that the drone surveillance idea was first approved during the administration of Gov. Linda Lingle.
After Gov. Neil Abercrombie took office in late 2010, his administration undertook an analysis of the harbor security
contract, Mesienzahl said in February 2011.
“Every significant expenditure and operational practice is under review including the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) portion of this project,” said Meisenzahl.
After learning that FAA approval was necessary to fly the drone, the state approached the federal agency for a certificate of authorization, Meisenzahl said.
“The DOT has taken the first step in this process. It is part of the contractor’s obligation to assemble all of the necessary paperwork,” Meisenzahl said.
Four months later, the drone was delivered to Hawaii and put into storage at Pier 1 on the waterfront.
The state has been silent about the presence of the drone here, and its grounded status, since last year. HawaiiNewsNow last night reported that the drone had been delivered last June.
Hawaiya founder Paul Schultz flatly refused to discuss the company’s harbor security work last year.
“This is not a friendly story,” Schultz told Hawaii Reporter. ”You’re coming after me. You can come after me by yourself. But don’t call me looking for information.”
After the drone was delivered, a key state official who oversaw Hawaiya’s work for the state, Kelvin Ogata, left his state job and went to work for a nonprofit company headed by Hawaiya owners Schultz and Mun Won Chang.
Schultz and Chang were the subjects of a long-running investigation conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service concerning expenditure of Navy research funds when Schultz served as a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and Chang worked as a civilian Navy employee.
Both left government service with no charges filed against them. Schultz was reduced in rank to captain before he retired. The pair are now married and active in local Democratic Party politics.
Schultz and Chang are business associates of former Hawaii Governor John Waihee. A company in which all three are involved, Aina Kai Environmental, performed subcontracting work on Hawaiya Technologies’ state harbor contract, according to records on file with the State Civil Defense Division.
The Honolulu and Maui harbor security systems were financed with grants of $1.4 million and $900,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency administered by the Civil Defense office.
Yogi said that although the two systems were installed under non-bid contracts to Hawaiiya Technologies, the state is seeking competitive bids for design and installation of the Big Island and Kauai harbor security programs.
The Honolulu surveillance drone was touted as an anti-terrorism tool in purchasing documents submitted to the state Office of Procurement.
The craft is equipped with a high-tech camera to scan and track surface activities.
Law enforcement agencies around the country are increasingly interested in using unmanned flying drones for surveillance and intelligence-gathering purposes.
The aircraft are far less expensive and intrusive than helicopters or piloted planes.
The Federal Aviation Administration is developing regulations for their use in civilian air space.
The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concern about invasion of privacy issues raised by use of surveillance drones in other states and is monitoring the situation in Hawaii.
“Use of ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ or ‘drones’ by law enforcement has a vast potential for abuse,” Daniel Gluck, senior staff attorney for ACLU Hawaii, told Hawaii Reporter last year.
“The Hawaii Supreme Court has already ruled that warrantless infrared surveillance of people’s homes is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.” Gluck said.
“The ACLU of Hawaii will monitor the details of this particular program (the kinds of technology used to perform the surveillance and the areas where it is used) to ensure it does not intrude on Hawaii residents’ and businesses’ protected privacy rights,” said Gluck.