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.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The huge drone that could not be grounded

A major defense contractor used campaign donations and insider access on Capitol Hill to defy the Air Force and keep a troubled drone aloft at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars


About this story

  • An Air Force proposal to save $2.5 billion by closing a drone production line and mothballing some of the aircraft was defeated this year and last year by its manufacturer, Northrop Grumman.
  • The drone, known as the Global Hawk Block 30, had numerous  operating flaws and recurrent maintenance troubles.
  • Twenty-six lobbyists helped block the Air Force proposal, including many former congressional staff.
  • Northrop’s employees and PAC invested a half-million dollars in the 2012 election campaigns by members of the key decisionmaking committee, House Armed Services, and have given its chairman $113,000 since 2009.

An RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 30 prepares to land at Beale Air Force Base in Yuba County, Calif.
Chris Kaufman/AP
With large budget cuts looming in the next decade, top Air Force officials knew last year they needed to halt spending on some large and expensive programs. So they looked for a candidate that was underperforming, had busted its budget, and wasn’t vital to immediate combat needs.

They soon settled on the production line for a $223 million aircraft with the wingspan of a tanker but no pilot in the cockpit, built to fly over vast terrain for a little more than a day while sending imagery and other data back to military commanders on the ground. Given the ambitious name “Global Hawk,” the aircraft had cost far more than expected, and was plagued by recurrent operating flaws and maintenance troubles.

“The Block 30 [version of Global Hawk] is not operationally effective,” the Pentagon’s top testing official had declared in a blunt May 2011 report about the drones being assembled by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, Calif.

Canceling the purchase of new Global Hawks and putting recently-built planes in long-term storage would save $2.5 billion over five years, the service projected. And the drone’s military missions could be picked up by an Air Force stalwart, the U-2 spy plane, which had room for more sensors and could fly higher.

But what happened next was an object lesson in the power of a defense contractor to trump the Pentagon’s own attempts to set the nation’s military spending priorities amid a tough fiscal climate. A team of Northrop lobbyists, packed with former congressional staff and bolstered by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, persuaded Congress to demand the drone’s continued production and operation.

In so doing, the contractor — which had revenue of $25.2 billion in 2012, more than 90 percent from the federal treasury — defied not only the leadership of the Air Force, but also the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. He told the House Armed Services Committee in February 2012 that the Global Hawk “has fundamentally priced itself out of our ability to afford it.” The White House, in two messages to Congress last year, said it “strongly objects” to the lawmakers’ demand for additional Global Hawks, but the protests were to no avail.

Northrop’s strikingly successful campaign to thwart the government culminated in a letter  this May from two influential House lawmakers to newly installed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, reminding him of the requirement to buy three more of the drone aircraft. The Air Force, they complained to Hagel, had not heeded “clear congressional intent [and] explicit direction to complete the acquisition.”

The letter, whose authors — Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. — received a total of $135,100 from Northrop Grumman’s political action committee and employees for their election campaigns and leadership PACs since the beginning of 2009, is emblematic of the political forces that helped stoke a 117 percent jump in the Defense Department’s procurement budget from fiscal year 2001 through its peak in fiscal year 2010.

Those forces are now causing some lawmakers to resist the drawdown in military spending that President Obama and some military analysts say is needed to help shrink the federal deficit, projected to be $759 billion this year, and repair the nation’s long-term economic health.

Northrop Grumman’s political strategy “is entirely predictable — hire the right people, target the right people, contribute to the right people, then link them together with subcontractors and go for the gold,” said Gordon Adams, who served as the senior White House budget official for national security from 1993 to 1997 and has studied defense spending and procurement for more than 30 years.

“Killing a major program, in production, is rather like vampire-killing,” Adams added. “You have to drive a silver stake through its heart to make sure it is dead.”

The battle over the Global Hawk is one of many in which a major defense contractor and its influential friends in Congress have forced the military to spend money on hardware it doesn’t want. An Army proposal in 2011 to stop refurbishing the M1 Abrams tank to save $3 billion was blocked by the same House and Senate defense panels in response to the lobbying muscle of the tank manufacturer, General Dynamics.

A contractor-driven campaign “often works,” Adams said. “It eked out more F-22 [fighters] than the Air Force wanted. It extended the C-17 [transport] production line by several years as Congress ordered up 10 more aircraft beyond what the Air Force needed.”

The case of the Global Hawks Block 30s also shows how lawmakers — even deficit hawks who say they want to slash federal spending — still earmark money for favored defense projects, even though such earmarks are formally prohibited by both House and Senate rules.

In this case, the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill Congress passed last December and the spending bill it enacted in March require the Air Force not only to keep flying Block 30s for roughly $260 million a year through calendar year 2014, but to also spend as much as $443 million on three more. The House — which has been Northrop Grumman’s close ally in the fight — voted in June for a fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill that extends Block 30 operations two additional years, through 2016.

Unexpected maintenance and flight problems
The Global Hawk at issue — the largest drone in the U.S. arsenal — is a successor to a smaller Block 10 drone that the Air Force flew successfully from 2001 until 2011. Northrop Grumman hailed the Block 30 as an “unblinking eye” platform that does a better job of tracking objects on the ground for a longer period.

But in a reversal of the prescribed path in which weapons systems are designed and fully tested before going into full production and being dispatched to war zones, Global Hawks were pressed quickly into service over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the Horn of Africa, Japan and Haiti while still technically under development.

The reason is that the drones were a “technology push rather than a requirements pull,” in which the manufacturer developed a new capability before combat commanders specified exactly what they needed, according to a congressional source familiar with the program. Only after the new Global Hawks were in the field “did the services find out how commanders would actually use them,” he said. Randy Belote, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for strategic communications, declined comment on this characterization.

The Block 30 models were designed to fly for 28-35 hours compared to the 10-12 hour endurance limit of the piloted U-2s.  But unlike the U-2, Global Hawks are not equipped with electronic countermeasures to defeat air defenses, and lack the U-2’s “all-weather” capability, according to congressional testimony by Air Force officials.

Moreover, the drones and their sensors have been prone to a wide range of problems, many of them blamed on the speed with which the aircraft were deployed.

To meet certain data needs, for example, Block 30s have been torn apart and rebuilt to add some sensors already present on the U-2. Built with hardwired sensors, unlike a newer, more “plug-and-play” version known as the Block 40, the Block 30 “lacks the flexibility to change with new requirements,” said the congressional source, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
The concurrent testing and production also “put it at increased risk of cost growth,” the Government Accountability Office said last year, and the program has twice triggered special statutory provisions alerting Congress to its cost overruns. In all, the cost of a single Global Hawk jumped by more than 150 percent, from about $88 million in 2001 to $223 million in 2012, GAO reported in March.

That record caused a special Pentagon report on June 28, examining why the defense-wide acquisition system routinely produces large cost overruns, to depict the Global Hawk in particular as an egregious outlier. “Analyzing just aircraft development contracts” such as Global Hawk, the report said, Northrop Grumman had “significantly higher cost growth” than rival behemoths Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The program was restructured in 2011 by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, then the Pentagon’s procurement chief, who nonetheless told Congress that its continuation “is essential to national security.” He cut the number of Block 30s to be bought and scaled back the full program’s price tag of $13.9 billion to $12.4 billion.

Meanwhile, rigorous testing from October 2010 through January 2011 led the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester to conclude that the Block 30 was unreliable. The Block 30’s “mission-critical air vehicle components fail at high rates, resulting in poor takeoff reliability, high air abort rates, low mission capable rates, an excessive demand for critical spare parts and a high demand for maintenance support,” J. Michael Gilmore said in a May 2011 report.

When flying at a near-continuous pace, the Block 30 provided less than half the required 55 percent “Effective Time On Station” coverage — the amount of time loitering over a target to gather intelligence — over a 30-day period, Gilmore said. Its sensor to identify radar and communications signals “does not consistently deliver actionable signal intelligence end-products to operational users due to technical performance deficiencies” and other reasons, he said.

As a result, Gilmore added, the Block 30 “is not operationally effective for conducting near-continuous, persistent ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations].”

Bracing for congressional “impact”
Given the Block 30 troubles, Air Force officials concluded in late 2011 that they could not fly both that aircraft and the U-2 under provisions in the Budget Control Act. The U-2 already met all the military’s requirements for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, while significant investment would be needed to give Block 30s the same capabilities.

The Air Force knew its decision would be controversial on Capitol Hill. “We were bracing for impact,” recalled a retired Air Force pilot who worked with the Air Force liaison office. “There are too many constituencies tied to the Global Hawk.”

“The Block 30 Global Hawk has fundamentally priced itself out of our ability to afford it when the U-2 gives, in some cases, a better capability and, in some cases, just a slightly less capable platform,” Dempsey told a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 15, 2012. “So what you are seeing there is our ability to eliminate redundancy, to continue to invest in the best value, and to avoid at every possibility redundancy that fundamentally is too expensive.”

But cost and reliability concerns took a back seat to the risk of losing jobs, said former Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who last year played a key role in blocking the proposed retirement of Block 30s as chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.

Bartlett, who lost his bid for re-election last fall, spoke openly about how his colleagues on the full committee “see the military as a jobs program,” something he said is not necessarily in the national interest. “How is that consistent with national security? And budget frugality?” he asked rhetorically, asserting that his colleagues often rationalize such dilemmas away.

“Everybody has to look in the mirror and not see a jerk, so they have to argue with themselves that keeping this factory going in their district is the best thing for their country, whether it is or not,” Bartlett said.

After rumors of the program’s cancellation surfaced in late 2011, Northrop Grumman activated a “Support Global Hawk” website that described the drones as “high-flying, combat-proven aircraft [that] are so robust and reliable that they’re in high demand by warfighters who fly them.”

The advocacy site, which Belote, the Northrop Grumman spokesman, told the Center for Public Integrity was set up at the request of company employees who supported the Block 30, listed all the suppliers, their congressional districts and the lawmakers who represented them. The site also offered a “Take Action” form visitors could fill in that would be emailed to their elected officials. “Please help our troops continue to receive this much-needed capability,” the site said.

Northrop Grumman also circulated fliers on Capitol Hill with a map of the country showing the locations of major Global Hawk manufacturing sites, military bases and major subcontractors. The “Global Hawk Enterprise across the U.S.” has 3,483 Northrop Grumman employees in 22 states, 303 suppliers in 36 states and almost $600 million in supplier purchases, the flier said.

It was a sales pitch that major defense contractors — and often the military services themselves — routinely circulate on Capitol Hill. “There are probably 500 floating around right now,” a House armed services aide said, referring to fliers similar to Northrop Grumman’s, emphasizing the jobs issue.
Among the 26 in-house and outside lobbyists who identified Global Hawk or surveillance issues on their lobbying reports were three well-connected former Republican aides to the House Appropriations Committee: Jeff Shockey, a former staff director; John Scofield, a former communications director; and Letitia White, a longtime aide to former Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. Also on the team was Northrop Grumman Vice President for Government Relations Sid Ashworth, who spent 14 years on the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, serving as staff director for two subcommittees, including defense.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Judge Challenges White House Claims on Authority in Drone Killings

Muhammad ud-Deen, via Associated Press
Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2008. He was among three Americans killed in drone strikes by the United States  in 2011.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the United States District Court here was hearing the government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by relatives of three Americans killed in two drone strikes in Yemen in 2011: Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who had no involvement in terrorism; and Samir Khan, a 30-year-old North Carolina man who had become a propagandist for the same Qaeda branch.
Judge Collyer said she was “troubled” by the government’s assertion that it could kill American citizens it designated as dangerous, with no role for courts to review the decision. 

“Are you saying that a U.S. citizen targeted by the United States in a foreign country has no constitutional rights?” she asked Brian Hauck, a deputy assistant attorney general. “How broadly are you asserting the right of the United States to target an American citizen? Where is the limit to this?”
She provided her own answer: “The limit is the courthouse door.” 

The case comes to court at a time when both the legality and wisdom of the administration’s use of targeted killing as a counterterrorism measure have come under question in Congress and among the public. The debate, including the first public discussions of drone strikes by Congress and a major speech by President Obama on May 23, has raised the possibility of a role for judges in approving the addition of Americans to the so-called kill list of suspected terrorists or in signing off on strikes.
Mr. Hauck acknowledged that Americans targeted overseas do have rights, but he said they could not be enforced in court either before or after the Americans were killed. Judges, he suggested, have neither the expertise nor the tools necessary to assess the danger posed by terrorists, the feasibility of capturing them or when and how they should be killed. 

Judge Collyer did not buy it. “No, no, no,” she said. “The executive is not an effective check on the executive.” She bridled at the notion that judges were incapable of properly assessing complex national security issues, declaring, “You’d be surprised at the amount of understanding other parts of the government think judges have.” 

Despite Judge Collyer’s evident frustration with parts of the Obama administration’s stance, legal experts say the plaintiffs face an uphill battle. They are Nasser al-Awlaki, father and grandfather of two of the men killed, who wrote about their deaths on Wednesday in The New York Times, and Sarah Khan, mother of Samir Khan. Only Anwar al-Awlaki was deliberately targeted, officials say; Mr. Khan was killed in the same strike, while Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed by mistake in a strike officials say was intended for a suspected terrorist who turned out not to be present. 

The relatives filed suit late last year, but not against the military and the Central Intelligence Agency, which carried out the strikes, because such lawsuits usually fail on technical grounds. Instead, they sued four officials in charge of the agencies at the time: David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director; Leon E. Panetta, the former defense secretary; and two successive heads of the Joint Special Operations Command, Adm. William H. McRaven and Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel. 

The lawsuit is known as a Bivens action, after a 1971 Supreme Court ruling that permitted citizens to sue government officials personally under some circumstances for violating their constitutional rights.
The government is asking that the lawsuit be dismissed on several grounds. Mr. Hauck said decisions about targeted killing should be reserved to the “political” branches of government, the executive and legislative, not the judiciary. In addition, he said, allowing a lawsuit against top national security officials to proceed would set a dangerous and disruptive precedent. 

“We don’t want these counterterrorism officials distracted by the threat of litigation,” he said.
Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union, representing the plaintiffs, argued that the claims had extraordinary importance because they involved the deaths of Americans at the government’s hands. “The entire goal of Bivens is deterrence,” to discourage officials from infringing the rights of Americans, Ms. Shamsi said.
“The court still has a role to play in adjudicating whether or not a citizen’s rights have been violated,” she said. 

At one point, when Mr. Hauck referred to the Constitution, Judge Collyer, 67, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and also serves on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, interrupted to note that the Constitution prescribed three branches of government, and that she represented one of them. 

“The one that’s normally yelled at and not given any money,” she said, sounding as if she was not entirely joking. “The most important thing about the United States is that it’s a nation of laws.”
The judge said that she believed the case raised difficult questions and that she would “do a lot of reading and studying and thinking and try to reach a decision as soon as I can.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Drone That Killed My Grandson

The New York Times Opinion Pages
Published: July 17, 2013

SANA, Yemen — I LEARNED that my 16-year-old grandson, Abdulrahman — a United States citizen — had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after he died.

The missile killed him, his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in southern Yemen. 

I visited the site later, once I was able to bear the pain of seeing where he sat in his final moments. Local residents told me his body was blown to pieces. They showed me the grave where they buried his remains. I stood over it, asking why my grandchild was dead. 

Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death. 

The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said only that Abdulrahman was not “specifically targeted,” raising more questions than he answered. 

My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable. On Friday, I will petition a federal court in Washington to require the government to do just that. 

Abdulrahman was born in Denver. He lived in America until he was 7, then came to live with me in Yemen. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile. 

In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.
The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed. 

Early one morning in September 2011, Abdulrahman set out from our home in Sana by himself. He went to look for his father, whom he hadn’t seen for years. He left a note for his mother explaining that he missed his father and wanted to find him, and asking her to forgive him for leaving without permission. 

A couple of days after Abdulrahman left, we were relieved to receive word that he was safe and with cousins in southern Yemen, where our family is from. Days later, his father was targeted and killed by American drones in a northern province, hundreds of miles away. After Anwar died, Abdulrahman called us and said he was going to return home. 

That was the last time I heard his voice. He was killed just two weeks after his father. 

A country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew. From 1966 to 1977, I fulfilled a childhood dream and studied in the United States as a Fulbright scholar, earning my doctorate and then working as a researcher and assistant professor at universities in New Mexico, Nebraska and Minnesota. 

I have fond memories of those years. When I first came to the United States as a student, my host family took me camping by the ocean and on road trips to places like Yosemite, Disneyland and New York — and it was wonderful. 

After returning to Yemen, I used my American education and skills to help my country, serving as Yemen’s minister of agriculture and fisheries and establishing one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning, Ibb University. Abdulrahman used to tell me he wanted to follow in my footsteps and go back to America to study. I can’t bear to think of those conversations now. 

After Anwar was put on the government’s list, but before he was killed, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights represented me in a lawsuit challenging the government’s claim that it could kill anyone it deemed an enemy of the state. 

The court dismissed the case, saying that I did not have standing to sue on my son’s behalf and that the government’s targeted killing program was outside the court’s jurisdiction anyway. 

After the deaths of Abdulrahman and Anwar, I filed another lawsuit, seeking answers and accountability. The government has argued once again that its targeted killing program is beyond the reach of the courts. I find it hard to believe that this can be legal in a constitutional democracy based on a system of checks and balances. 

The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?
Nasser al-Awlaki, the founder of Ibb University and former president of Sana University, served as Yemen’s minister of agriculture and fisheries from 1988 to 1990.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 20, 2013
Because of an editing error, an Op-Ed on Thursday incorrectly described Anwar al-Awlaki, the writer’s son, at the time of a lawsuit challenging the government’s targeted-killing program. He was alive when the suit was dismissed, not dead.