In May 1987, at the peak of the Cold War, a 19 year old pilot named Mathias Rust flew a small Cessna-172 from Finland to Moscow, landing next to Red Square and causing a scandal by penetrating the supposedly impregnable Soviet air defense system.
William E. Odom, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military, says that Rust’s flight irreparably damaged the reputation of the Soviet military. This enabled Gorbachev to remove many of the strongest opponents to his reforms. The defense minister Sergei Sokolov and the air defense chief Alexander Koldunov were fired along with hundreds of other officers. This was the biggest turnover in the Soviet military since Stalin’s purges fifty years earlier.
The story was presented as "young man easily penetrates Russian air defenses", followed by "the emperor has no clothes", followed by Gorbachev sacking many military officers. Some people credit Rust's flight with a thaw in American-Soviet relations; others see that as coincidental.
The reality wasn't that straightforward. Rust was (and remains) a quirky, detached individual who has since been convicted of violent crime. The discharge of military officers was as much an opportunistic political purge as an act of accountability. But the fact remains that an inexperienced pilot penetrated Soviet airspace and landed in their capital city; the emperor was found to be naked, even if the story is complex and the actors are flawed.
Mr. Eidinger is a drone enthusiast and likes to fly his video-camera equipped drones around Washington DC. He's been flying drones around DC for a year and he's quite open about it; he has a YouTube channel of his videos.
On Sept. 9th Eidinger invited journo-blogger Martin Austermuhle to observe him making drone video of a street celebration while controlling the drone from the roof of an adjacent four-storey building. The drone got away from him, due to wind or an equipment problem. When that happens, it's supposed to go into "safe-landing" mode and come to a soft landing wherever it is. It could end up in a tree, on a roof, in a street, etc.
So what do you do if you lose your drone? You do what any city dweller who loses a dog, or who loses a bicycle does - you put up posters in the neighborhood and offer a reward!
You couldn't make this up. The posters attracted attention, blog posts, and old-media coverage in the Washington Post and (the WP-affiliated) Slate.
Then the Guv'mint heard about it, and they contacted Eidinger and explained that there can't be any drones flying within a 30-mile radius of Washington DC because they've written a memo about that. After chafing at how it's legal for TheSharperImage to sell drones within 30 miles of DC but it's not legal for him to use them, Eidinger agreed to comply with the memo.
Michael Crosby, an HVAC specialist, found the drone on the roof of the Camden Roosevelt, a building located on 16th Street between Florida Avenue and V Street, just south of Meridian Hill Park. The drone had been there for over a week after falling out of the sky. He returned it to Eidinger and collected the $250 reward.
Eidinger has retrieved the video memory card from the drone's last flight, and posted it on his YouTube channel, along with subtitles containing his political protest, which goes something like this: Every day, American drones are killing civilians in countries we're not at war with, and that's completely legal? But taking pictures of street parties in DC is against the law? His drone's video swansong is embedded at the bottom of this post.
To me, Adam Eidinger is Mathias Rust 2.0, a flawed but significant character who shouts, The emperor has no clothes! Something's wrong here! He's been flying drones and conducting personal video surveillance of the DC metro area for a year, and very much without any attempt at hiding what he's doing. In spite of the ga-jillion dollar Homeland Security Military Industrial Complex, the authorities only learned about about his DC-droning by — wait for it, wait for it — reading the newspapers. (Probably by unauthorized web-surfing on company time, to boot)
At least the Russians held their air-defense officials accountable. We're playing, move along, no story here, move along, what are you looking at?
All this invocation of "the emperor's new clothes" had me wondering about the provenance of that story, in which swindlers use people's insecurity to commit fraud, and a young child's innocence exposes the scheme. Turns out, the story wasn't original to Hans Christian Anderson in 1837, but is instead a Spanish story from the Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor, 1335) a medieval Spanish collection of fifty-one cautionary tales with various sources such as Aesop and other classical writers and Persian folktales, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282–1348). Andersen did not know the Spanish original but read the tale in a German translation titled "So ist der Lauf der Welt".
An English translation of the story of Count Lucanor can be found here, and instead of a child's tale, the original plot involves illegitimate bastards, insecurity and a Negro with nothing to lose. It's an interesting read.
This is Eidinger's Drone Crash Video and phillipic, it's pretty interesting if only to see where and what he's filming: