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.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, No Lone Rangers in Drone Warfare

Intro by Tom:
Since November 2002, when a CIA drone strike destroyed the SUV of “al-Qaeda's chief operative in Yemen,” Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi (“U.S. kills al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen”), it’s been almost 13 years of unending repeat headlines. Here are a few recent ones: “U.S. drone strike kills a senior Islamic State militant in Syria,” “Drone kills ISIL operative linked to Benghazi,” “Drone kills four Qaeda suspects in Yemen,” “U.S. drone strike kills Yemen al-Qaida leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi,” “U.S. drone strikes target Islamic State fighters along Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” Those last strikes in Eastern Afghanistan reportedly killed 49 “militants.”  (Sometimes they are called “terror suspects.”) And there’s no question that, from Somalia to Pakistan, Libya to Syria, Yemen to Iraq, various al-Qaeda or Islamic State leaders and “lieutenants” have bitten the dust along with significant numbers of terror grunts and hundreds of the collaterally damaged, including women and children.

These repetitive headlines should signal the kind of victory that Washington would celebrate for years to come. A muscular American technology is knocking off the enemy in significant numbers without a single casualty to us. Think of it as a real-life version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's heroic machine in certain of the Terminator movies. If the programs that have launched hundreds of drone strikes in the backlands of the planet over these years remain “covert,” they have nonetheless been a point of pride for a White House that regularly uses a "kill list" to send robot assassins into the field. From Washington's point of view, its drone wars remain, as a former CIA director once bragged, “the only game in town” when it comes to al-Qaeda (and its affiliates, wannabes, and competitors).

As it happens, almost 13 years later, there are just one or two little problems with this scenario of American techno-wizardry pummeling terrorism into the dust of history. One is that, despite the many individuals bumped off, the dust cloud of terrorism keeps on growing. Across much of the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, the drone assassination program continues to act like a recruitment poster for a bevy of terror outfits. In every country (with the possible exception of Somalia) where U.S. drone strikes have been repeatedly employed, the situation is far worse today than in 2001.  In the two countries where it all began, Afghanistan and Yemen, it’s significantly -- in the case of Yemen, infinitely -- worse.

Even the idea of war without casualties (for us, that is) hasn’t quite panned out as planned, not if, as TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee reports today, you count the spread of post-traumatic stress disorder among the drone operators.  In fact, given how humdrum headlines about the droning of terror leaders have become in our world, and the visible futility and failure that goes with them, you might think that someone in Washington would reconsider the efficacy of drones -- of, that is, an assassination machine that has proven anything but a victory weapon. In any world but ours, it might even seem logical to ground our terminators for a while and reconsider their use. In Washington, there's not a chance in hell of that, not unless, as Chatterjee suggests, both resistance and casualties in the drone program grow to such a degree that a grounding comes from the bottom, not the top. It turns out that -- remember your Terminator films here -- if a future John Connor is to stop Washington’s robotic killing operations, he or she is likely to be found within the drone program itself. Tom

Killing by Committee in the Global Wild West
The Perpetrators Become the Victims of Drone Warfare 

By Pratap Chatterjee  July 12, 2015

The myth of the lone drone warrior is now well established and threatens to become as enduring as that of the lone lawman with a white horse and a silver bullet who rode out into the Wild West to find the bad guys. In a similar fashion, the unsung hero of Washington’s modern War on Terror in the wild backlands of the planet is sometimes portrayed as a mysterious Central Intelligence Agency officer.  Via modern technology, he prowls Central Asian or Middle Eastern skies with his unmanned Predator drone, dispatching carefully placed Hellfire missiles to kill top al-Qaeda terrorists in their remote hideouts.

So much for the myth. In reality, there’s nothing “lone” about drone warfare. Think of the structure for carrying out Washington’s drone killing program as a multidimensional pyramid populated with hundreds of personnel and so complex that just about no one involved really grasps the full picture. Cian Westmoreland, a U.S. Air Force veteran who helped set up the drone data communications system over southeastern Afghanistan back in 2009, puts the matter bluntly: “There are so many people in the chain of actions that it has become increasingly difficult to understand the true impact of what we do. The diffusion of responsibility distances people from the moral weight of their decisions.”

In addition, it’s a program under pressure, killing continually, and losing its own personnel at a startling and possibly unsustainable rate due to “wounds” that no one ever imagined as part of this war. There are, in fact, two groups feeling the greatest impact from Washington’s ongoing air campaigns: lowly drone intelligence “analysts,” often fresh out of high school, and women and children living in poverty on the other side of the world.

A Hyper-Manned Killing Machine
Here, then, as best it can be understood, is how the Air Force version of unmanned aerial warfare really works -- and keep in mind that the CIA’s drone war operations are deeply integrated into this system.

The heart of drone war operations does indeed consist of a single pilot and a sensor (camera) operator, typically seated next to each other thousands of miles from the action at an Air Force base like Creech in Nevada or Cannon in New Mexico.  There, they operate Predator or Reaper drones over countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen. Either of them might have control over the onboard Hellfire missiles, but it would be wrong to assume that they are the modern day equivalent of the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto.

In fact a typical “combat air patrol” may have as many as 186 individuals working on it. To begin with, while the pilot and the sensor operator make up the central “mission-control element,” they need a “launch-and-recovery element” on the other side of the world to physically deploy the drones and bring them back to bases in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. As with so much that the U.S. military now does, this work is contracted out to companies like Raytheon of Massachusetts.
And don’t forget another key group: the imagery and intelligence analysts who watch the video footage the drones are beaming from their potential target areas. They are typically at other bases in the U.S.

Each member of the flight crew has an Air Force designation that specifies his or her task. The pilots are known as 18Xs, the sensor operators are 1Us, and the imagery analysts are 1N1s. The launch and recovery personnel are often former drone pilots who have quit the Air Force because they can make twice as much money working overseas for private contractors.

In charge of the flight operators are a flight operations supervisor and a mission intelligence coordinator who report to a joint force air and space component commander. In addition, there are “safety” observers and judge advocates (military-speak for lawyers) who are supposed to ensure that any decision to launch a missile is made in accordance with officially issued “rules of engagement” and so results in a minimum number of civilian deaths. They are often situated at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

But Predators and Reapers don’t fly solo. They typically roam in packs of four aircraft known as “combat air patrols.” Three of them are expected to be in the air at any given time, leaving one on the ground for refueling and maintenance. A fully staffed patrol should have 59 individuals in the field doing launch and recovery, 45 doing mission control, and 82 working on the data gathered.

Bear in mind that the Air Force is currently staffing 65 such combat air patrols around the clock, and the Central Intelligence Agency may well be operating quite a few more. (It is possible that the two fly all missions jointly, but we have no way of knowing if this is so.) In other words, toss away the idea of the lone drone pilot and try to take in the vast size and complexity (as well as the pressures) of drone warfare today.

This, by the way, is why Air Force officials hate the popular industry term for drone aircraft: “unmanned aerial vehicle.” The military notes correctly that drones are in every meaningful sense manned. If anything, of course, they are hyper-manned, when compared to, say, a traditional F-16 fighter jet. (In fact, the preferred military term is “remotely piloted aircraft.”)

How PTSD Hits the Drone Program
In covering Washington’s drone wars, the media has tended to zero in on the top of the kill chain: President Obama, who every Tuesday reviews a “kill list” of individuals to be taken out by drone strikes; the CIA general counsel who has to sign off on each decision (John Rizzo did this, for example); and Michael D’Andrea, the CIA staffer who oversaw the list of those to be killed until he was replaced by Chris Wood last year.

In reality, these decision-makers at the top of the drone pyramid see next to nothing of what happens on the ground. The people who understand just how drone war actually works are the lowly 1N1 imagery analysts. While the pilots are jockeying to keep their planes stable in air currents that they cannot physically feel and sensor operators are manipulating cameras to follow multiple individuals moving around on the ground, the full picture is only obvious to the imagery and intelligence analysts. They are steadily reviewing both real time and past drone footage and comparing surveillance data to see if they can spot potential terrorists.

Many of them are in their teens or slightly older with perhaps a year of formal military training. They are outranked by drone pilots, officers with degrees and years of training at the Air Force Academy, who will typically pull the trigger on a Hellfire missile.

Add to this picture one more fact: the Air Force is desperately short of people to do such work and losing them faster than it can train new recruits.  As a result, Washington’s drone wars are operating at perhaps two-thirds of what the Air Force would consider ideal staffing levels. This means that drone personnel are now expected to work double- and triple-duty shifts. As one drone commander explained to an Air Force historian: “Your work schedule was 12-hour shifts, six days a week. You were supposed to get three days off after that, but people often got only one day off. You couldn’t even take your 30 days of annual leave -- you were lucky to get 10. When you have mainly a non-vol[unteer] community, what do you expect? It’s not going to be a happy place.”

These overworked, under-trained, underpaid, very young drone personnel are now starting to experience psychological trauma from exposure to endless killing missions. They are the ones who see and have to live with the grim scenes of what is so bloodlessly called “collateral damage.”

“They are often involved in operations where they witness and make decisions that lead to the destruction of enemy combatants and assets,” Dr. Wayne Chappelle, an Air Force psychologist, wrote in the August 2013 issue of Military Medicine. “They can still become attached to people they track, experience grief from the loss of allied members on the ground, and experience grief/remorse when missions create collateral damage or cause fratricide. It is possible there are drone operators who perceive the deployment of weapons and exposure to live video feed of combat as highly stressful events.”

Chappelle’s studies have already shown an increased level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among these personnel. He is now working on new studies aimed at focusing on exactly which of them are most affected, at what point in the decision-making, and why. The Air Force hopes that Chappelle can help them reduce the incidence of PTSD -- from which they are losing personnel -- by offering advice on just how psychologists and chaplains working alongside drone operators might counsel them on their ongoing traumatic experiences.  Otherwise it faces the problem of staffing its missions, fulfilling a growing demand for ever more drone strikes in ever more countries, and a new phenomenon as well: growing criticism and resistance to its killing machine from within.

Cian Westmoreland, who was not even involved in active targeting work, is nonetheless typical.  He says that he is experiencing nightmares about the 200 or so “kills” that he was credited as having supported. As he wrote recently, “I started having dreams about bombs. I once dreamt I saw a small girl crying over a body on the ground. I looked down and it was a woman. I looked at the girl and told her I was sorry. I looked at my hands and I was wearing my [battle dress uniform]. They were covered in her mother’s blood."

Westmoreland's nightmares pushed him to speak out -- and he is just one of a growing number of Air Force veterans who have chosen to do so. An imagery analyst I recemtly interviewed told me that junior personnel were deeply affected when they saw civilians, including women and children, in the line of fire.

“If the pilot really wants to, they can ignore us and push the button without us agreeing,” the analyst added. “We are often completely helpless because airmen are terrified of officers. It is an unbalanced chain of command.”

What’s striking is the whistleblowers coming forward are not pilots and officers but the lowest ranked personnel in the drone teams.

PTSD in the Global Wild West
The trauma of desktop warfare comes mostly from the voyeurism of watching death thousands of miles distant and can, in some cases, be tuned out and eventually turned off. The same cannot be said for the experiences of targeted communities.

Washington experts regularly claim that the surgical elimination of top al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen has reduced terror in these communities, but actual studies on the ground suggest that the very opposite is true.

Last month, Alkarama (the name means “dignity”) -- a Geneva based human rights organization that specializes in the Arab world -- published “Traumatizing Skies,” a special report on the impact of drones in Yemen. One hundred participants were interviewed from the villages of Qawl and al-Sirin between July and September last year and evaluated using the same American Psychiatric Association standards for PTSD that Chappelle’s team used on drone analysts.

“An overwhelming majority of adult respondents are seen to be suffering from numerous drone-inflicted symptoms of PTSD, which are even more prevalent amongst children,” writes Radidja Nemar, Alkarama's regional legal officer for the Gulf countries. “The situation has transcended the question about whether or not an individual has lost a family member to a drone attack, simply because trauma has become pervasive in a society living constantly under the fear of drones.”

Their situation differs from that of the pilots or analysts who can and do quit their jobs when they begin to suffer. The victims have no such options. They can’t escape the drones regularly buzzing overhead. “The common denominator in most of the cases is the feeling that life has no value and that death could happen at any moment and without apparent reason,” wrote one of the Yemeni survey researchers. “This shared feeling hinders most everyday activities in the villages and results in constant anxiety and fear. The deterioration of the living conditions in general, as added to the lack of healthcare services and the mental suffering of the populations, are aggravating their general feeling of hopelessness, frustration, and anxiety.”

The most distressed respondents were women, partly because they felt the drones violated their modesty. Girls reported the highest percentage of sleeplessness and nightmares. Not least was the impact on women’s daily lives, already far more restricted than those of men. Atiqa, a 55-year-old mother of three, for instance, explained that her blood pressure problems had become more severe, forcing her to stay in bed for several days at a time. Fatima, a 40-year-old mother of five, reported that women like her were unable to enjoy the few opportunities where they could meet other women, like weddings, for fear that such gatherings would act like drone magnets.

Similar reports have emerged from Pakistan, says Dr. Mukhtar-ul-Haq, the head of the psychiatry department at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital.  He has studied the impact of the drone war on Waziristan, a tribal borderland near Afghanistan. “The vast majority of people report being perpetually scared of drone attacks day and night,” Dr. Haq said in a video conference call held by Alkarama to mark the release of its Yemen report. “The constant noise makes them experience bouts of emotional trauma and symptoms of anxiety. They often manifest themselves in the form of physical illness, heart attacks, and even suicide.”

Joining the Alkarama conference call was Brandon Bryant, a former Air Force sensor operator, who has experienced PTSD, thanks to his work with drones. He has become one of the most outspoken critics of Washington’s killing program. “The leadership only looks at this program as a numbers-based thing… how many people were killed,” says Bryant whose unit took part in 2,300 kills. He estimates that he personally killed 13 people with Hellfire missiles. “They don’t care about the human beings doing the job or the human beings affected by the job.”

Although they never served together, Bryant and Westmoreland recently discovered each other’s work at a screening of the film Drone by Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Schei. The two Air Force veterans have now joined forces to seek justice for affected communities.  They have set up an online organization of national security whistleblowers and their supporters, giving it the symbolically bloody name of Project Red Hand.  Through it they are calling for others from the drone program to join them in speaking out.

“Many of us are people who looked down one day to see our hands painted red,” they write in the organization’s mission statement. “To those [to] whom we direct our words, we are not your adversaries. We are only a mirror. Through our crimson hands we only seek to show you your reflection. We believe that truth deserves its own narrative. We hope that people like you will also stand up and join us in our efforts. We are also living proof that there is life after this, and if you trust us, we will show you a better world.”

In bucking the military system and Washington’s cherished drone war program, perhaps Bryant and Westmoreland are themselves the ones who are taking on the classic Wild West roles of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. They have ridden into the badlands of the national security state to challenge the injustice of an outlaw system of killing that extends across significant parts of the planet. In the face of such an implacable program, one can only hope that they will find their silver bullets.

Pratap Chatterjee, a TomDispatch regular, 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. 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 him on Facebook.

Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, 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

 Read article on TomDispatch



Monday, June 29, 2015


Between July and September 2014, Alkarama* conducted a survey to understand the presence of trauma on a sample of individuals living in Yemen, in areas where drone operations are being carried out by the United States (hereinafter “U.S.”). The study was aimed at evaluating the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (hereinafter “PTSD”) symptoms among civilians. After screening more than 100 individuals, men and women, boys and girls, we found strong common patterns of anxiety, stress, paranoia, insomnia and other trauma symptoms across gender and age. The specificity of the study is that it incorporates both individuals who have lost a direct family member to a drone attack and individuals who have not but still live under drones. We found that these two groups are exhibiting similar symptoms and are suffering from severe stress. We concluded that the simple fact of living under drones has psychological consequences that derive from the constant fear of being killed or having a relative being killed.

The study also brings to the fore the legal shortcomings and implications that surround the operation of drones in Yemen. While the application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Human Rights Law with regard to drone operations continues to be debated within the international community, what we call a “legal black-hole” has instead come to dominate aspects of regulation, accountability and retribution. This scenario is but exacerbated by the peculiar nature of the drone technology that is yet to be engaged with adequately in legal as well as ethical terms and serves to facilitate trauma among civilians. We hence stress on the importance of addressing the implications of drone attacks through all possible legal instruments by discussing international and national legal frameworks in this context.

With this study, our aim is to reduce the gap between the abstraction of a military personnel sitting behind a screen triggering the strike and the overwhelming as well as constant mental suffering of civilians on the ground. This study is thus a testimony to the presence of a direct causal link between the one powerful side and the other. It is fundamentally an attempt to highlight – to the international community, of which the U.S. is an integral part – that drone operations have direct consequences on Yemeni civilians, particularly on their mental integrity; that the suffering involved amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment; and that the current U.S. drone operations in Yemen hence amount to a gross violation of Yemeni civilians’ basic human rights. 

*Alkarama is a Swiss-based, independent human rights organisation
established in 2004 to assist all those in the Arab World subjected
to, or at risk of, extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and
arbitrary detention. Acting as a bridge between individual victims in
the Arab world and international human rights mechanisms, Alkarama
works towards an Arab world where all individuals live free, in dignity
and protected by the rule of law. In Arabic, Alkarama means dignity.

Full report at this link.

Friday, June 19, 2015

As Stress Drives Off Drone Operators, Air Force Must Cut Flights


Reduced flights signal abrupt shift for Air Force.

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — After a decade of waging long-distance war through their video screens, America’s drone operators are burning out, and the Air Force is being forced to cut back on the flights even as military and intelligence officials are demanding more of them over intensifying combat zones in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The Air Force plans to trim the flights by the armed surveillance drones to 60 a day by October from a recent peak of 65 as it deals with the first serious exodus of the crew members who helped usher in the era of war by remote control.

Air Force officials said that this year they would lose more drone pilots, who are worn down by the unique stresses of their work, than they can train.

“We’re at an inflection point right now,” said Col. James Cluff, the commander of the Air Force’s 432nd Wing, which runs the drone operations from this desert outpost about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The cut in flights is an abrupt shift for the Air Force. Drone missions increased tenfold in the past decade, relentlessly pushing the operators in an effort to meet the insatiable demand for streaming video of insurgent activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones, including Somalia, Libya and now Syria.
Trevor Tasin, a retired Predator drone operator, with three of his sons, at home in New Braunfels, Texas, June 16, 2015. — Ilana Panich-Linsman, New York Times 
The reduction could also create problems for the C.I.A., which has used Air Force pilots to conduct drone missile attacks on terrorism suspects in Pakistan and Yemen, government officials said. And the slowdown comes just as military advances by the Islamic State have placed a new premium on aerial surveillance and counterattacks.

Some top Pentagon officials had hoped to continue increasing the number of daily drone flights to more than 70. But Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter recently signed off on the cuts after it became apparent that the system was at the breaking point, Air Force officials said.

The biggest problem is that a significant number of the 1,200 pilots are completing their obligation to the Air Force and are opting to leave. In a recent interview, Colonel Cluff said that many feel “undermanned and overworked,” sapped by alternating day and night shifts with little chance for academic breaks or promotion.

At the same time, a training program is producing only about half of the new pilots that the service needs because the Air Force had to reassign instructors to the flight line to expand the number of flights over the past few years.

Colonel Cluff said top Pentagon officials thought last year that the Air Force could safely reduce the number of daily flights as military operations in Afghanistan wound down. But, he said, “the world situation changed,” with the rapid emergence of the Islamic State, and the demand for the drones shot up again.

Officials say that since August, Predator and Reaper drones have conducted 3,300 sorties and 875 missile and bomb strikes in Iraq against the Islamic State.

What had seemed to be a benefit of the job, the novel way that the crews could fly Predator and Reaper drones via satellite links while living safely in the United States with their families, has created new types of stresses as they constantly shift back and forth between war and family activities and become, in effect, perpetually deployed.

“Having our folks make that mental shift every day, driving into the gate and thinking, ‘All right, I’ve got my war face on, and I’m going to the fight,’ and then driving out of the gate and stopping at Walmart to pick up a carton of milk or going to the soccer game on the way home — and the fact that you can’t talk about most of what you do at home — all those stressors together are what is putting pressure on the family, putting pressure on the airman,” Colonel Cluff said.

While most of the pilots and camera operators feel comfortable killing insurgents who are threatening American troops, interviews with about 100 pilots and sensor operators for an internal study that has not yet been released, he added, found that the fear of occasionally causing civilian casualties was another major cause of stress, even more than seeing the gory aftermath of the missile strikes in general.

A Defense Department study in 2013, the first of its kind, found that drone pilots had experienced mental health problems like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder at the same rate as pilots of manned aircraft who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Trevor Tasin, a pilot who retired as a major in 2014 after flying Predator drones and training new pilots, called the work “brutal, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The exodus from the drone program might be caused in part by the lure of the private sector, Mr. Tasin said, noting that military drone operators can earn four times their salary working for private defense contractors. In January, in an attempt to retain drone operators, the Air Force doubled incentive pay to $18,000 per year.

Another former pilot, Bruce Black, was part of a team that watched Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for 600 hours before he was killed by a bomb from a manned aircraft.
“After something like that, you come home and have to make all the little choices about the kids’ clothes or if I parked in the right place,” said Mr. Black, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2013. “And after making life and death decisions all day, it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to care.”

Colonel Cluff said the idea behind the reduction in flights was “to come back a little bit off of 65 to allow some breathing room” to replenish the pool of instructors and recruits.

The Air Force also has tried to ease the stress by creating a human performance team, led by a psychologist and including doctors and chaplains who have been granted top-secret clearances so they can meet with pilots and camera operators anywhere in the facility if they are troubled.

Colonel Cluff invited a number of reporters to the Creech base on Tuesday to discuss some of these issues. It was the first time in several years that the Air Force had allowed reporters onto the base, which has been considered the heart of the drone operations since 2005.

The colonel said the stress on the operators belied a complaint by some critics that flying drones was like playing a video game or that pressing the missile fire button 7,000 miles from the battlefield made it psychologically easier for them to kill. He also said that the retention difficulties underscore that while the planes themselves are unmanned, they need hundreds of pilots, sensor operators, intelligence analysts and launch and recovery specialists in foreign countries to operate.

Some of the crews still fly their missions in air-conditioned trailers here, while other cockpit setups have been created in new mission center buildings. Anti-drone protesters are periodically arrested as they try to block pilots from entering the base, where signs using the drone wing’s nickname say, “Home of the Hunters.”

Correction: June 16, 2015
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the pilot who retired as a major in 2014 after flying Predator drones and training pilots. He is Trevor Tasin, not Tazin. 
Christopher Drew reported from Creech Air Force Base, and Dave Philipps from New York. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

Drone Strikes: United States Terrorism

Activists protested and spoke out against the use of drones at Creech Air Force Base this spring. Hear the words of people speaking out for peace and justice from Veterans for Peace, CodePink, Nevada Desert Experience, Catholic Worker and other Anti-Drone organizations and activists. Produced by Mauro Martins de Oliveira.

US Special Forces are testing insect-sized reconnaissance drones

By on June 8, 2015 article on Extreme Tech 

Since March, US Army Special Forces have been testing Black Hornets, lightweight reconnaissance drones from Prox Dynamics that are small enough to fit in your pocket. Each Black Hornet PD-100 is a micro unmanned aerial vehicle that weighs just 0.6 ounces and measures only 4 by 1 inches. Three onboard cameras provides full-motion video and still images to the operator. The camera array contains a thermal imaging camera for night missions. The Black Hornet has a range of just over a mile, and can remain in the air for up to 25 minutes per flight. The device is designed to operate quietly, and can navigate in winds up to 20 mph.

You can watch video live on the base unit, and the video is also stored on a SSD drive there. No video is stored on the drone itself, which means that if captured, enemies cannot see what the reconnaissance drone has viewed. The Black Hornet is controlled by a handheld controller reminiscent of a video game flight controller. It can hover in place or pan and tilt for precise image angles. The drone, controller, and base unit are all contained in a case that attaches to the soldier’s uniform.

Inspecting case that contains base unit, controller, and drone.

The base unit, which contains the display, provides a network connection to remote PCs and peripherals. You use the base unit to plan missions and analyze data. A built-in GPS autopilot mode allows the drone to operate on its own or return to base if the operator loses control or the signal is lost. You can program the PD-100 to follow predefined routes or built-in search patterns automatically.

The applications for this thing are endless. The Black Hornet is ideal in a wide variety of situations, such as for search-and-rescue missions to locate missing or injured persons, as well as for crowd control and otherwise monitoring large groups of people. The device can be fitted with chemical sensors and used for inspection of nuclear installations, chemical plants in case of accidents, or situations where it may not be safe for a human to go in right away. It can navigate inside buildings as well.

Internal view of the PD-100

The British Army have been using an earlier version of the PD-100 Black Hornet reconnaissance drone in Afghanistan for a couple of years. The neutral color blends in with muddy grey walls, and it’s being used to look over walls and around corners to search for enemies or possible traps.

The United States Army selected the Black Hornet after examining several commercially available alternatives. A contract was awarded to Prox Dynamics after they agreed to provide US-required refinements. Night vision, navigation enhancements, and communication improvements were quickly added and U.S. troops began testing the PD-100T in March of this year. I would imagine that in the future we’ll see them being used by local law enforcement as well. A future where war and crime is fought entirely with machines is a step closer.

Article found in Extreme Tech under Electronics.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Six Facts from “Sudden Justice,” A New History of the Drone War

By Cora Currier  on The Intercept posted June 11, 2015

Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars, a new book by London-based investigative journalist Chris Woods, traces the intertwined technological, legal and political history of drones as they evolved on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the covert U.S. targeted killing campaign.

Woods is especially thorough on the issue of civilian casualties, arguing that in pursuit of the short-term goal of eliminating suspected terrorists or militants on the battlefield, both the military and CIA were slow to grasp the strategic damage done by civilian deaths. Woods also argues that the controversy over the number of civilians killed by drones stemmed from the United States’ elastic definition of who could be targeted, an issue not just in the CIA’s secret strikes, but also across the military.

U.S. drones have now fired on Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Syria, and are a feature of war that is here to stay. Their global use by the United States has set precedents “pushing hard at the boundaries of international law,” and the challenge, Woods writes, will be in “convincing others not to follow Washington’s own recent rulebook.”

The book is densely informative and includes interviews with drone operators and intelligence officials, a notable number of them on the record. Here are six new details that Woods unearthed in his reporting:
  1. No one is exactly sure who ordered the very first drone strike in Afghanistan, in October 2001. The failed attempt to kill Taliban leader Mullah Omar was a collision of orders between the CIA, Air Force, Central Command and the White House. Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Dave Deptula says that when he saw the drone’s missile hit, he exclaimed, “Who the fuck did that?” (The book’s description of the first drone strike was recently excerpted in The Atlantic.)
  1. There was a secret presidential order in 2002 signed by President George W. Bush that explicitly related to targeted killings by drone, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Woods. “It was loosening the [Executive Order] 12333 against assassinations,” Armitage said. It has long been understood that a September 2001 memo signed by George Bush had paved the way for the CIA’s terrorist assassination campaign, with authorities bolstered by the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress that same month. But Armitage recalls a subsequent “draft executive order or a finding.”
  1. “Could have been us,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said of a reported drone strike that killed up to 80 civilians in 2006. The Pakistani military originally claimed responsibility for the bombing, but then later insisted it was Washington. The United States never confirmed or denied a role in the attack, in keeping with how it would handle almost all future drone strikes.
  1. The CIA generally runs the drone war in Pakistan, but there have been longstanding questions about the role played by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Woods’ sources tell him that in fact, “much of the mundane surveillance for CIA targets in Pakistan” was carried out by JSOC, because the CIA’s regular Air Force pilots were overwhelmed. Those missions were so sensitive that one of Woods’ sources told him that he had “no intention of wearing an orange jumpsuit for the next 20 years by talking about this.” The missions provided essential intelligence for the CIA’s “signature strikes,” which killed people based on their behaviors without necessarily knowing their identities.
  1. As the CIA began its most intense bombing campaigns between 2008 and 2010 in Pakistan, it ignored lessons about minimizing civilian casualties that were becoming critical parts of counterinsurgency doctrine during the same period in Afghanistan. A WikiLeaks cable unearthed by Woods notes that U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke waved off concerns about drone strikes in Pakistan, as “drones were more targeted than bombs.” It took until 2012 for the number of civilian deaths documented by outside groups to dip significantly.
  1. Bored drone pilots sometimes smuggled simple computer games onto the drone operating systems — chess, solitaire, Battleship. That stopped in 2011, after a computer virus got into the drones’ operating systems, likely from the games, former pilots told Woods.
Sudden Justice is the latest in a slew of books about the drone war published in the past year. To round out your drone war bookshelf we’d also recommend Predator, by Richard Whittle — a detailed look at the military contracting and technology behind the most iconic drone — and Kill Chain, by Andrew Cockburn, which focuses on how high-tech killing evolved from Vietnam to the drug war to drones. Earlier books on the drone war include The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti, Kill or Capture by Daniel Klaidman and Dirty Wars by The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill.

Photo: Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa/AP

(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
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Note from Ground All Drones Blogger - Other reviews of the book found here. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Drones and Polls: Signs for Hope?

by Buddy Bell on June 4, 2015 found in
  CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

A new survey just released by the Pew Research Center
found that respondents have become much more likely to voice their
disapproval over the U.S. drone assassination program. In a phone survey
conducted from May 12-18, 2015, Pew found that 35 of every 100
respondents said they disapproved “of the United States conducting
[drone strikes] to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan,
Yemen and Somalia.” The complete report of Pew’s methodology indicates
that the last time they asked this particular question was from February
7-10, 2013. In that survey, only 26 of every 100 respondents
disapproved, so in the span of two years the disapproval rate shot up by
9 points, constituting a 34% increase.

Approval for the drone program went up, too, though not as
dramatically. Between 2013 and 2015, responses of approval increased
from 56 to 58 per 100, a change which is actually smaller than the
survey’s stated margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

The remaining portion of respondents who said they didn’t know or who
refused to answer decreased by 11 percentage points between 2013 and
2015, and people who publicly advocate for an end to the drone
assassination program have won more of them over to their side:
apparently by a factor of 4 and a half.

Yet much of the media that have reported on this survey would have
you believe that there has come to be a solid bulwark of support for the
drone program. A sampling of recent headlines:
Pew Research Center: “Public Continues to Back U.S. Drone Attacks”
Politico: “Poll: Americans overwhelmingly support drone strikes”
The Hill: “Majority of Americans support US drone strikes, survey says”
Times of India: “Majority of Americans support drone strikes in Pakistan: Survey”
Al-Jazeera: “Poll finds strong support for drone strikes among Americans”
AFP: “Nearly 60 per cent of Americans back drone strikes overseas: Pew survey”
The Nation: “Americans support drone strikes: poll”
While some of the headlines are technically true, the analyses inside
the stories paint a different picture than reality, as I have not seen
any discussion about trends or any comparisons of the 2015 survey to
earlier ones.

The most pernicious headline, perhaps, comes from Pew itself. The Pew
writers presumably read their own survey reports, yet they claim a
continuity of public backing which is not demonstrated by the data.
Suppose a gambler wins 20 dollars but loses 90; is that breaking even?

Regardless of what media will or will not say, there is a
hot story here: drone opponents are making progress in convincing the
public that drone strikes are not a wise or moral course of action for
the United States to pursue.
We might be approaching a breakthrough
moment if we keep up our momentum.

Buddy Bell co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He can be reached at: