Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Using Drones Against Protesters

“I predict that we will see a whole new wave of UAVs emerging with payloads more unusual than tasers, dart guns and paintball guns.”
— Guy Martin, editor of Defence Web, BBC News, Jun 18, 2014
Innovation, Edmund Burke reminds us in “A Letter to a Noble Lord,” does not necessarily imply reform. While the peaceful uses of drones are often treated as the benign effects of the security industrial complex, the spill over into more violent deployments has proven unavoidable. What is done in Waziristan against Taliban militants will eventually be done to US citizens on a smaller yet significant scale – the civilian cloaking there becomes as irrelevant in tribal foothills as it does on the streets of Chicago.

The drone monitors have gotten excited by an announcement that Indian police forces will be making use of drones to deploy pepper spray against protesters. Trials were conducted on Tuesday in Lucknow, with the city’s police force anticipating using five such vehicles later this month. “The results,” claimed the jubilant police chief Yashasvi Yadav, “were brilliant. We have managed to work out how to use it to precisely target the mob in winds and congested areas.”[1]

The language used by Yadav serves an important purpose. Drones are weapons of use against that dark, primordial “mob”, difficult to control, unruly of purpose. From the perspective of many state authorities, any protesting group constitutes an unruly “mob”. The idea of a peaceful protest is nowhere to be seen, the greatest of unnatural phenomena. But Yadav insists that, “Pepper is non-lethal but very effective in mob control. We can spray from different heights to have maximum results.”

Controlling protests via the use of drones is at the forefront of new policing technologies, be they used by private entities or more conventional police forces. It is certainly interesting weapons manufacturers, who are lining up their customers. South Africa-based Desert Wolf is one example, telling the BBC in June last year that it had secured the sale of 25 “riot control copters” that would deal with crowds “without endangering the lives of security staff.”[2]

As is the habit of those in the business of providing such weapons, benevolence accompanies the authoritarian, somewhat murderous streak. Using such weapons against dissenting citizens will save, rather than inflict, the loss of life. According to Desert Wolf’s managing director Hennie Kieser, “We cannot afford another Lonmin Marikana [where striking miners were killed] and by removing the police on foot, using non-lethal technology, I believe that everyone will be much safer.” All this, despite the obvious point that using pepper spray, or firing projectiles from the air, can constitute lethal forms of action.

Such octacopter drones brandish the necessary menace that policing authorities will find attractive. They can carry up to 4,000 bullets at a time, as well as sporting the added feature of “blinding lasers” and onboard speakers. The Skunk variety has four high-capacity paintball barrels, each with a firing capacity of 20 bullets per second. The culprit purchasers in this instance came from the mining industry, a sector always keen to iron out protesting strife.

The International Trade Union Confederation immediately saw misty red. Spokesman Tim Noonan deemed the purchases a “deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations” (BBC, Jun 18, 2014).

The police have traditionally felt left out when it comes to the assortment of weapons the military deploy against designated enemies. But the increasing militarisation of the police forces makes waiting for such weapons less of a problem. Military grade weapons are used against petty criminals. They are used in a hopelessly categorised “war on drugs”.

In the apocalyptic language of an ACLU report, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing (Jun 23, 2014), it is noted how, “Our neighbourhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. An[d] yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments.”[3]

Alli McCracken, national coordinator of Code Pink, a body opposed to the deployment of drones, fears the innovations advanced by the Lucknow police force. “We can’t as a world rush into utilising this tech. The police are already so militarised. It’s a matter of privacy and safety.”[4]

The increasing use of drones to carry out policing functions is deemed by such officials as Yadav to be the logical and natural consequence of police work. For him, there is little difference in using such vehicles in monitoring crowds at religious festivals, to then deploying pepper spray when the gathering crowds misbehave.

This cognitive blindness is to be expected from those supporting the machine imperative. Irony proves inescapable, though it is lost on those behind this security push: to humanise policing, machines must be used. To improve public safety, the human element must be removed from the security agent monitoring the ground. Effectively, decisions on life and order are to be made at a location separate and even distant from the protest. This is the gruesome logic of targeting from vast distances.

Where police departments treat protesters as sinister enemies, seeing themselves as protective warriors, problems proliferate. Drone technology desensitises the task of policing, focusing less on public safety than police security. The machine imperative in this regard neuters human judgment.

Added to this the attractions offered by weaponized drones, and a world of urban mayhem filled with strafing vehicles and poor decision-making is not so much around the corner as very much pressing against us.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Graphic anti-drone video ad to run on television near US air force bases

Created by group of US military veterans who ask pilots to ‘refuse to fly’

Wednesday 1 April 2015

A group of US military veterans is hoping to put a stop to the use of drone strikes with a graphic TV ad campaign which will run near drone operating bases across the US this month.

The 15-second television spots – thought to be the first anti-drone ads to run on US television – will air during the daytime throughout April in the Sacramento region, near Beale air force base, and asks drone pilots to “please refuse to fly”.


“We feel that it really comes down to the people who are doing the actual killing to put a stop to this,” said Nick Mottern, the coordinator of activist site and a navy veteran himself.

The ads are being sponsored by roughly 200-300 veterans from a Democratic party veterans’ group in Sacramento, and the city’s local chapter of Veterans for Peace, a group of US military veterans seeking world peace.

One of the ads features images of wounded and dead children, and will appear on television only after 10pm. The other, edited version will run 5am-9pm daily.

The Sacramento spots are part of a larger plan to run the advertisements near drone operations centers around the US. Last month, the more graphic ad ran in Las Vegas near Creech Air Force Base for one week.
“We felt that the president and the Congress had been totally unwilling not only to stop the killing, but to provide any information to the public on the scope of these attacks since they began,” said Mottern.

US drone use is one of the most controversial aspects of its foreign policy. An analysis by the human rights group Reprieve, released in November 2014, found that US operators targeting 41 men had ended up killing an estimated 1,147 people.

The coalition of veterans is hoping that the advertisements will reach drone pilots, support personnel and their families. Mottern said that the group understands the difficulties and consequences of violating orders, but believes the only way to put an end to drone killings is by having soldiers involved.

Congressional Research Service — links to reports

Secrecy News

Domestic Drones & Privacy, and More from CRS

from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS)
Posted on April 2, 2015 in CRS, Drones by

The anticipated deployment of thousands of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — or drones — in American skies raises unresolved privacy concerns that have barely begun to be addressed, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS report provides “a primer on privacy issues related to various UAS operations, both public and private, including an overview of current UAS uses, the privacy interests implicated by these operations, and various potential approaches to UAS privacy regulation.” See Domestic Drones and Privacy: A Primer, March 30, 2015.

This week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration arguing that the FAA was obliged to establish privacy rules for commercial drones and that it had failed to do so.

The privacy implications of drones have been discussed in several congressional hearings over the past two years, yielding these published hearing volumes:
U.S. Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Integration, Oversight, and Competitiveness, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, December 10, 2014
Eyes in the Sky: The Domestic Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems, House Judiciary Committee, May 17, 2013
The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations, Senate Judiciary Committee, March 20, 2013

* * *

Other new or updated CRS reports that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.
Cyberwarfare and Cyberterrorism: In Brief, March 27, 2015
The United Kingdom: Background and Relations with the United States, March 27, 2015
Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, March 26, 2015
Peace Talks in Colombia, March 31, 2015
Membership of the 114th Congress: A Profile, March 31, 2015
Supervised Release (Parole): An Overview of Federal Law, March 5, 2015

FAA rules or Common Sense? Another point of view.

In our conversations with people about Killer Drones, the subject of drones for other uses seems to come up quite often. [ed.]

 KEEP CALM: The FAA and sUAVs/Drone Rules UPDATED

Filtering-out the Facts from Fiction & Paranoia (UPDATED 2/15/2015)
From the website
By Jeff Foster 03.14.15
 With the publishing of Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor's speculative and interpretive article in the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2014, it seems every news agency, media outlet and publication has totally lost their minds in a fit of hysteria liken to Chicken Little proportions; sparking "end of days" tweets and forum discussions throughout the social mediasphere that has brought on an industry-wide panic akin to Orson Wells' War of the Worlds live broadcast radio play. Let's just stop right there and breathe for a moment - turn off the TV, put down that paper and let's look at some facts... (UPDATED 3/14/2015 with FAA Activities at bottom of article)

If you're new to the sUAV (small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems) or "drones" industry and are only reading the headlines today or hearing the rumors and fears of those around you (or on TV) then you probably think that sUAV you bought or were thinking of buying for the holidays is just going to have to sit on the shelf until the FAA gets around to making up the new regulations for the industry.
You might think... but you'd be wrong.

First of all, the FAA can't make laws - only develop guidelines and regulations. The federal government has no authority whatsoever to regulate the operation of remote-controlled model aircraft.

Let's back up a little and look at how the FAA has been kicking the can down the road for several years now:
Since before 2008, there have been the same restrictions and rules in place that the FAA has been clinging too, that has made it nearly impossible for commercial, industrial, agricultural, search and rescue, forest service, firefighters and *law enforcement to get full, proper authorization to use sUAVs in their work. Even the Washington State Department of Transportation had to write up a 27-page report (PDF) on the application process for test vehicles and how it was the main barrier to entry in the industry. *Note that special applications are now available for sUAVs in public service, but they need to be requested and applied/approved by the FAA.

Chris Anderson (Founder/CEO of 3D Robotics) wrote this Regulatory FAQ on his blog DIY Drones back in March of 2008 showing that really, nothing has changed in 8 years!

In as early as 2010, the discussions of the FAA sUAS regulations NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) were open for public commenting through mid 2011. These deadlines have been continually extended all the way up thorugh Sept, 2014 - most recently at the request of the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics). To be fair, most people didn't know much about the importance of having their voices heard on the subject and the AMA was trying to rally members to speak up and issue their comments.

According to Peter Sachs, Esq. of the Drone Law Journal blog, these have been the FAA's basic standing guidelines/rules, but not directly enforceable laws:
  • Don't fly above 400ft AGL
  • Don't fly within 3 miles of an airport/landing strip
  • Keep you craft within line of sight
  • Don't fly in NOAA zones and obey all TFRs/FRZs (Temporary Flight Restrictions/Flight Restricted Zones)
  • Fly safely (not near pedestrians, wildlife, buildings/property, etc. - common sense)
Again - using common sense and care when you're flying, all of these guidelines should be adhered to for the safety of everyone. Unfortunately, a lot of people either don't know about them or don't care and fly recklessly anyway - which has brought a lot of attention of this industry to the media, which is putting more pressure on the FAA to set standards for enforceable regulations of sUAVs.

Actually, it goes back even further, as you'll see in this Advisory Circular published in 1981: See circular and most of the original article HERE:


UPDATE 1/30/2015: 
"Aerial photographer Raphael Pirker has settled the civil penalty proceeding brought by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in 2013 concerning his flight of a styrofoam Zephyr II model aircraft (or “drone”) at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in October 2011.
The $1,100 settlement  “does not constitute an admission of any of the allegations in the case or an admission of any regulatory violation,” Pinker’s attorney Brendan Schulman said in a statement."

So where does that leave the rest of us?

Well, if you ask the FAA, you can basically do anything you want within the guidelines as long as you fly safely and don't fly for payment or commercial purposes.


That's right. According to the FAA website, you can still fly your model aircraft (weighing less than 55lbs) within all the operation limits of the guidelines stated in the Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft as long as there's no commercial attachment.

So what does COMMERCIAL PURPOSE have to do with safety?

Good question! 

So - the FAA DOES claim to allow you to apply for special consideration by applying for a Section 333 exemption which requires you first filing for a COA (Certificates of Waiver or Authorization) in which you must first request to get an account for which to access the online application process and you get passed-on to yet another department/entity and it continues... probably best to get some legal assistance on this process and be prepared to wait in the queue.

But since the FAA has allowed exemptions for a handful of film & TV industry professionals, they've come with a lot of restrictions that a smaller company or independent couldn't possibly meet. Some restrictions demand a two-operator UAS, to last less than 30 minutes and remain under 200 feet on a closed set.

Interestingly though, all seven exemption applications for the film companies were awarded through the same law firm and lawyer.

But no word yet on the FAA's acceptance of the hundreds of other applications sent in through the process, such as construction, geological surveying/study and precision agriculture, which has been booming business in Japan for years now.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Are Pilots Deserting Washington's Remote-Control War?

A New Form of War May Be Producing a New Form of Mental Disturbance
By Pratap Chatterjee
from    March 5, 2015

The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress -- significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to work like any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

They typically “fly” missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over U.S. soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen where they are ordered to kill “high value targets” from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conducting deadly strikes on militants of ISIL.

Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California’s General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts, and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)

The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular “combat air patrols” around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon’s enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war -- by remote control -- is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward's war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Killing Up Close and Personal From Afar
There can be no question that drone pilots resent the way other Air Force pilots see them as second-class citizens. "It's tough working night shifts watching your buddies do great things in the field while you're turning circles in the sky," a drone instructor named Ryan told Mother Jones magazine. His colleagues, he says, call themselves the “lost generation.”

“Everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we're Nintendo warriors,” Brandon Bryant, a former drone camera operator who worked at Nellis Air Force Base, told Democracy Now.

Certainly, there is nothing second-class about the work tempo of drone life. Pilots log 900-1,800 hours a year compared to a maximum of 300 hours annually for regular Air Force pilots. And the pace is unrelenting. “A typical person doing this mission over the last seven or eight years has worked either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” General Welsh told NPR recently. “And that one- or two-day break at the end of it is really not enough time to take care of that family and the rest of your life.”

The pilots wholeheartedly agree. "It's like when your engine temperature gauge is running just below the red area on your car’s dashboard, but instead of slowing down and relieving the stress on the engine, you put the pedal to the floor," one drone pilot told Air Force Times. "You are sacrificing the engine to get a short burst of speed with no real consideration to the damage being caused."

The Air Force has come up with a pallid interim “solution.” It is planning to offer experienced drone pilots a daily raise of about $50. There's one problem, though: since so many pilots leave the service early, only a handful have enough years of experience to qualify for this bonus. Indeed, the Air Force concedes that just 10 of them will be able to claim the extra bounty this year, striking testimony to the startling levels of job turnover among such pilots.

Most 18Xs say that their jobs are tougher and significantly more upfront and personal than those of the far more glamorous jet pilots. “[A] Predator operator is so much more involved in what is going on than your average fast-moving jetfighter pilot, or your B-52, B-1, B-2 pilots, who will never even see their target,” Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Black, a former Air Force drone pilot says. “A Predator pilot has been watching his target[s], knows them intimately, knows where they are, and knows what’s around them."

Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."

"It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."

Many drone pilots, however, defend their role in targeted killings. “We’re not killing people for the fun of it. It would be the same if we were the guys on the ground,” mission controller Janet Atkins told Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice. “You have to get to [the enemy] somehow or all of you will die.”

Others like Bruce Black are proud of their work. “I was shooting two weeks after I got there and saved hundreds of people, including Iraqis and Afghanis," he told his hometown newspaper in New Mexico. "We'd go down to Buffalo Wild Wings, drink beer and debrief. It was surreal. It didn't take long for you to realize how important the work is. The value that the weapon system brings to the fight is not apparent till you're there. People have a hard time sometimes seeing that."

Measuring Pilot Stress
So whom does one believe? Janet Atkins and Bruce Black, who claim that drone pilots are overworked heroes? Or Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh, who claim that remotely directed targeted killings caused them mental health crises?

Military psychologists have been asked to investigate the phenomenon. A team of psychologists at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has published a series of studies on drone pilot stress. One 2011 study concluded that nearly half of them had "high operational stress." A number also exhibited "clinical distress" -- that is, anxiety, depression, or stress severe enough to affect them in their personal lives.

Wayne Chappelle, a lead author in a number of these studies, nonetheless concludes that the problem is mostly a matter of overwork caused by the chronic shortage of pilots. His studies appear to show that post-traumatic stress levels are actually lower among drone pilots than in the general population. Others, however, question these numbers. Jean Otto and Bryant Webber of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, caution that the lack of stress reports may only “reflect artificial underreporting of the concerns of pilots due to the career-threatening effects of [mental health] diagnoses, [which] include removal from flying status, loss of flight pay, and diminished competitiveness for promotion.”

Seeing Everything, Missing the Obvious
One thing is clear: the pilots are not just killing “bad guys” and they know it because, as Black points out, they see everything that happens before, during, and after a drone strike.

Indeed, the only detailed transcript of an actual Air Force drone surveillance mission and targeted killing to be publicly released illustrates this all too well. The logs recorded idle chatter on February 21, 2010, between drone operators at Creech Air Force base in Nevada coordinating with video analysts at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Florida, and with Air Force pilots in a rural part of Daikondi province in central Afghanistan. On that day, three vehicles were seen traveling in a pre-dawn convoy carrying about a dozen people each. Laboring under the mistaken belief that the group were “insurgents” out to kill some nearby U.S. soldiers on a mission, the drone team decided to attack.

Controller: “We believe we may have a high-level Taliban commander.”

Camera operator: “Yeah, they called a possible weapon on the military-age male mounted in the back of the truck.”

Intelligence coordinator: “Screener said at least one child near SUV.”

Controller: “Bullshit! Where? I don’t think they have kids out this hour. I know they’re shady, but come on!”

Camera operator “A sweet [expletive]! Geez! Lead vehicle on the run and bring the helos in!”

Moments later, Kiowa helicopter pilots descended and fired Hellfire missiles at the vehicle.

Controller: “Take a look at this one. It was hit pretty good. It’s a little toasty! That truck is so dead!”

Within 20 minutes, after the survivors of the attack had surrendered, the transcript recorded the sinking feelings of the drone pilots as they spotted women and children in the convoy and could not find any visual evidence of weapons.

A subsequent on-the-ground investigation established that not one of the people killed was anything other than an ordinary villager. "Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything," Air Force Major General James Poss, who oversaw an investigation into the incident, later told the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Obama administration officials claim that such incidents are rare. In June 2011, when CIA Director John Brennan was still the White House counterterrorism adviser, he addressed the issue of civilian deaths in drone strikes and made this bold claim: “Nearly for the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”

His claim and similar official ones like it are, politely put, hyperbolic. “You Never Die Twice,” a new report by Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a British-based human rights organization, settles the question quickly by showing that some men on the White House “kill list” of terror suspects to be taken out have “'died' as many as seven times."

Gibson adds, “We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?” In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 “targets” numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against “him” over the years, according to Reprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.

Deserting the Cubicle
Back in the United States, a combination of lower-class status in the military, overwork, and psychological trauma appears to be taking its mental toll on drone pilots. During the Vietnam War, soldiers would desert, flee to Canada, or even “frag” -- kill -- their officers. But what do you do when you’ve had it with your war, but your battle station is a cubicle in Nevada and your weapon is a keyboard?

Is it possible that, like their victims in Pakistan and Yemen who say that they are going mad from the constant buzz of drones overhead and the fear of sudden death without warning, drone pilots, too, are fleeing into the night as soon as they can? Since the Civil War in the U.S., war of every modern sort has produced mental disturbances that have been given a variety of labels, including what we today call PTSD. In a way, it would be surprising if a completely new form of warfare didn’t produce a new form of disturbance.

We don’t yet know just what this might turn out to be, but it bodes ill for the form of battle that the White House and Washington are most proud of -- the well-advertised, sleek, new, robotic, no-casualty, precision conflict that now dominates the war on terror. Indeed if the pilots themselves are dropping out of desktop killing, can this new way of war survive?

Pratap Chatterjee is executive director of CorpWatch. He is the author of Halliburton's Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War and Iraq, Inc. His next book, Verax, a graphic novel about whistleblowers and mass surveillance co-authored by Khalil Bendib, will be published by Metropolitan Books in 2016.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Pratap Chatterjee

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Drone Rules in Afghanistan Go Unchanged, And Other Reasons the War Isn't Really Over

Despite the official end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, our involvement goes on

By | in RollingStone

Though many Americans may not have realized it, December 28th marked what the U.S. government called the official end of the war in Afghanistan. That war has been the longest in U.S. history – but despite the new announcement that the formal conflict is over, America's war there is far from finished. In fact, the Obama administration still considers the Afghan theater an area of active hostilities, according to an email from a senior administration official – and therefore exempts it from the stricter drone and targeted killing guidelines the president announced at a major speech at the National Defense University in 2013.

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty
A civilian contractor checks a U.S. Army surveillance
drone in Logar Province, Afghanistan in 2013.

"Afghanistan will continue to be considered an 'area of active hostilities' in 2015," the official tells RS. "The PPG does not apply to areas of active hostilities." (PPG stands for Presidential Policy Guidelines, the formal name for the heightened drone rules.)

That perplexing distinction – that formal combat operations are over but that the U.S. still remains in an armed conflict – in many ways exemplifies the lasting legacy of Obama's foreign policy. From Yemen to Pakistan to Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, the administration has consistently downplayed its actions – some acknowledged and some covert – saying that the wars are (almost) over while retaining virtually all the powers of a country at war. Or, as the Kabul-based journalist and RS contributor Matt Aikins put it, referring to Afghanistan: "a 'formal' end to the war means the beginning of an 'informal' war, without aim or end, founded on the lie that we are no longer at war."

No change to the drone war

The announcement from the White House that despite the formal end to the war the stricter drone rules won't apply in Afghanistan – which hasn't been previously reported – isn't entirely unexpected. In October, I reported that the Obama administration wasn't planning on announcing any changes to the policy, but, regardless, the news that the administration will continue to take a wide aperture for selecting targets to kill runs counter to the spirit of their rhetoric that the war is over.

Drone strikes in Afghanistan have been a major part of the US occupation, though they receive less media attention than strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. In July of 2014, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report attempting to track drone and other airstrike in Afghanistan, and claimed that "the country has seen more than 1,000 drone strikes, carried out by U.S. and U.K. forces." A recent suspected drone strike in Afghanistan killed 9 alleged members of the Pakistani Taliban.

The White House announcement also means the semi-covert, CIA-run drone war in Pakistan will likely continue unchanged as well. The drone strikes in Pakistan are closely linked with the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, as part of the legal rationale behind the drone strikes is "force protection." That is, using drones to kill suspected militants in Pakistan before they have an opportunity to kill U.S. troops. Drone strikes in Pakistan continued at a steady pace in the final months of 2014, and there has already been at least one suspected U.S. air strike in 2015.

More than 10,000 US troops – and countless more contractors – will remain in country

This is perhaps the clearest and most obvious signal that the U.S. will continue its war. As part of a bilateral security agreement signed between the new Ashraf Ghani administration in Kabul and the Obama administration, roughly 10,600 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for at least the coming months. U.S. troops are currently scheduled to leave the Afghanistan entirely by 2016, but the agreement authorizes troops to remain until 2024 if conditions change.

Originally, the U.S. and coalition forces were only going to stay in the country to train Afghan security forces. But as The New York Times reported in November, Obama widened the military's authority from a training-only mission to include counterterrorism operations. That decision "ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year," the Times reported.

Beyond the remaining troops, as of October the Pentagon had over 45,000 contractors in Afghanistan on its payroll (as the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko has noted). Slightly over 2,000 of that total are private security contractors, both armed and unarmed, a number that's likely to increase as U.S. troops gradually depart.

The U.S. government's decision to privatize the military over the last decade – from contractors who feed and house troops to mercenaries who provide security – has been widely commented on. Regular reports issued from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, however, raise serious concerns about the job many of those contractors – and the U.S. officials in charge of them – are doing. Responses from DoD, USAID, and the State Department to SIGAR's findings have been less than inspiring and suggest insufficient oversight and opportunities for massive amounts of corruption will continue for the foreseeable future.

Extremism and militancy in Pakistan's tribal regions have yet to be fully addressed

The Pakistani military has been engaged in a massive operation since last June to dislodge extremists in North Waziristan. One result of the operation is that over one million people have been displaced – either internally or fleeing to Afghanistan or elsewhere – and few, if any, have been able to return. According to sources in the area and numerous media reports, the Pakistani military alerted several of the extremist groups, including groups the U.S. says it is at war with, prior to the siege, allowing them to flee to Afghanistan. There are some reports now that Pakistan is planning on going after all the groups, not just those who terrorize Pakistan, and a recent airstrike that killed 31 alleged militants may signal a new approach. But Pakistan has made promises like this before, and many critics remain skeptical.

As the horrific attack on the school in Peshawar in December showed, terrorism is a major concern within Pakistan's own borders. But as long as the primary tool for both the U.S. and Pakistani governments remains military force, the problem will persist. Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, told me in late 2014 that he remains skeptical of the U.S. approach to eradicating extremism through drones. "Drones may be a more accurate weapons platform than other aircraft," he said. "But the targets can move somewhere else, and it's simply not possible to eliminate every single suspected militant, let alone carry out these killings without also killing civilians. It just shows you that it's a vicious cycle."

Continuing allegations of fraud in Afghanistan's election

A recent European Union report found that last year's runoff election in Afghanistan was marred by widespread fraud that went underreported at the time. Many Western outlets initially reported that the first round of the election was largely free from ballot tampering, though one major exception was a Harpers story from RS contributor Aikins and journalist Anand Gopal. Those two found polling stations almost completely abandoned and interviewed locals who witnessed occurrences of large-scale ballot stuffing.

That level of fraud could signal the central government in Kabul's limited power beyond the capital, and suggests the Taliban will continue to be able to make gains in the coming months and years. The last year saw record numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, as well as territorial advances by Taliban forces in the south. Even in Kabul, security continues to deteriorate.

Comparisons between the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and the troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2012 and the ensuing chaos in that country are inevitable, if incomplete. But as conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., solidifies around the idea that the U.S. military left Iraq too soon, all these factors could mean that the informal war will continue even if all U.S. troops do leave by 2016.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Watchdog: Agency drones expensive to fly, urges cancellation of $443 million in new spending

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department's border drones program costs far more than the government estimates, helps in the arrests of just a fraction of the number of people trying to cross the border illegally and flies far fewer hours than the government claims, an internal watchdog asserted in a report released Tuesday.

Inspector General John Roth said in his report that the Predator B drones flown along the border by Customs and Border Protection are "dubious achievers."

Customs and Border Protection doesn't have any performance measures, so the agency can't prove that the program is effective, it said.

CBP planned to operate four 16-hour drone patrols a day, for about 23,290 total flight hours during the 2013 budget year that ended Sept. 30, 2013. But Roth's audit found that the planes were actually in the air for about 5,100 hours, or roughly 22 percent of the planned flight time.

Drones have also led to relatively few apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally. In the two busiest Border Patrol sectors, Tucson, Arizona, and Texas' Rio Grande Valley, drones accounted for only about 2,270 of the more than 275,000 apprehensions in 2013.

CBP spokesman Carlos Lazo said the agency disagrees with the report's findings and said auditors don't appear to fully understand the program, including future expansion plans. He said while CBP is authorized to add drones to the fleet, there are no immediate plans to do so.

CBP has nine drones flying along the Mexican and Canadian borders as well as coast lines in Florida, Texas and Southern California. A 10th drone was downed over the Pacific Ocean last year after suffering technical problems. Roth said while the agency hopes to add about 14 aircraft in the coming years the $443 million the agency plans to spend on expanding the fleet could be better spent on manned aircraft and ground surveillance.

The drone fleet also doesn't patrol the entire Southwest border, as Homeland Security has previously reported, Roth found. Instead, drone operations are focused along about 100 miles of border in Arizona and about 70 of border in Texas.

Roth's review of the program also found significant disparities in cost estimates. Auditors concluded that the drone program cost roughly $62.5 million, or about $12,255 an hour, in 2013. CBP estimated a cost of $2,468 per flight hour, but that price didn't include operating costs including pilots, equipment and overhead.

Roth recommended, among other things, that the department reconsider expanding the drone program.