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, December 29, 2015

Create a Quilt Square on Saturday January 16

Decorate a quilt square to memorialize the death of a victim of a drone strike. It will be sewn together with other squares into a quilt by an experienced quilter. Thread, floss, fabric, fabric markers will be available but feel free to bring your own too.

Sit in front of our fireplace with members of the Ground All Drones Committee of Women Against Military Madness, old and new friends to discuss drones and sew, write, color, or paint a quilt square together.

WAMM Office
4200 Cedar Ave S
Minneapolis, MN

Saturday January 16, 2016
1:00-4:00 pm 

Images taken from Drones Quilt Project

initiated by Leah Bolger former president of Veterans for Peace.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Exclusive: 2 Air Force Vets Speak Out for First Time on Why They Want the Drone War to Stop

Story from Democracy Now!

In an unprecedented open letter to President Obama, four U.S. Air Force servicemembers who took part in the drone war say targeted killings and remote-control bombings fuel the very terrorism the government says it’s trying to destroy. Two of the signatories, former sensor operator Stephen Lewis and former Air Force technician Cian Westmoreland, tell us why they are speaking out for the first time about what they did. "Anybody in the Air Force knows that an air strike has collateral damage a significant amount of the time," Westmoreland says. "I’m saying it wasn’t all enemies. It was civilians, as well."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Stephen Lewis, I wanted to ask you—you made one kill, and then you immediately appealed to your superiors about—about what you were doing. Could you talk about your experience, who you killed?
STEPHEN LEWIS: It was late 2009, and I was tasked to go support a troop in contact. And that’s whenever our troops are taking fire.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this was in which country?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Oh, this is in Afghanistan. And during this troops in contact, we were told to go to this specific location. It was four guys walking down a mountain path. And I didn’t see any weapons. I didn’t see anything. About five minutes goes by, and two Hellfires come in, and they kill three people. And there was one wounded guy left. I was given clearance to—we were given clearance to fire the missile. And that guy just—he just wasn’t there anymore.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is—you were given clearance to fire at the wounded guy on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do next?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Seriously re-evaluated my life. Shortly after that, I ended up writing a very, very convincing letter to my leadership and told them that I didn’t belong there, I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I wanted out.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was their response?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Six months later, I was out of the Air Force.
AMY GOODMAN: How are you chosen as a drone operator?
STEPHEN LEWIS: I was chosen basically at random. I went to imagery analysis school, which I—I wanted to look at satellite photos. That’s what I wanted to do. And about halfway through it, they come up and they say, "You’re going to Las Vegas. You’re going to go to sensor operator school, and you’re going to do this." There’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Did they say why?
STEPHEN LEWIS: They don’t have to. There is no argument there. It’s "Yes, sir, yes, ma’am, I’ll do whatever you tell me to."
AMY GOODMAN: And now that you’re out of the Air Force, how has what you did in the Air Force, being a drone operator, engaging in that kill, affected you?
STEPHEN LEWIS: It makes any kind of relationship difficult. I can’t—I can’t communicate properly with my friends. I have to preface it with "I’m sorry, guys. I can’t hang out with you tonight. There’s too much going on right now." It’s, in effect, killed every single relationship that I’ve had afterwards. I can’t—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this issue that you raise in your letter, how the drone program is actually helping to fuel or create more terrorism?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Well, it’s been noted in the film, Drone, that kids are afraid to go outside and play, or go to school during the day, whenever the sun is out, whenever the sun is shining, because they’re afraid that they’re going to get struck by a drone.

Continue on Democracy Now!  

Part of three segments found on Democracy Now! From November 20, 2015 See video and interview there. 

From Console to Trigger: How Pentagon "Exploits" Video Game Culture to Wire Youth for War

November 20, 2015
Among the issues tackled in the new documentary film "Drone" is the connection between video games and military recruitment. We air a clip from the film and speak to its director, Tonje Hessen Schei, as well as drone war whistleblower Brandon Bryant. "I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using [video games] to manipulate and recruit," Bryant says. "We’re more interconnected now than at any time in human history — and that’s being exploited to help people kill one another."

TRANSCRIPT This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to a clip from the film Drone about the connection between video games and military recruitment. This clip features Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Callahan and former U.S. Navy pilot Missy Cummings. But first, P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War.
P.W. SINGER: There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment. And I call this phenomenon "militainment," where the military world is actually now pulling tools from the world of entertainment to do its job better. The military has invested in creating video games that they’re using as recruiting tools.
LT. COL. BRYAN CALLAHAN: How do we find our 18X pilots? There’s been a lot of different theories. If you can answer that question or I can answer that question, you can make a lot of money for the Air Force right now, because we don’t know. We’re trying to get our arms around what really does make the best candidate for unmanned airplanes and how do we identify these people early.

TO read whole article and watch on Democracy Now! 

Two other related articles also from Democracy Now from the same day.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Drone Papers

Breaking News from The Intercept

The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The documents provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama's drone wars.  See for yourself now. 

Or listen to Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now! 

Drone War Exposed: Jeremy Scahill on U.S. Kill Program's Secrets & the Whistleblower Who Leaked Them.  from October 16, 2015 on Democracy Now

One of the most secretive military campaigns in U.S. history is under the microscope like never before. In a major exposé based on leaked government documents, The Intercept has published the most in-depth look at the U.S. drone assassination program to date. "The Drone Papers" exposes the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, revealing a number of flaws and far more casualties than the intended targets. The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed U.S. intelligence source who says he wanted to alert Americans to wrongdoing. Hear The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill, lead author of the exposé, "The Drone Papers."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

One Day Soon, That Drone Overhead May Be Pointing a Taser at You

by Marjorie Cohn found on CommonDreams 
Published on Wednesday, September 02, 2015 by TruthDig
North Dakota has just become the first state to legalize police use of drones equipped with “less than lethal” weapons, including rubber bullets, Tasers, tear gas, pepper spray and sound cannons. Now, police will be able to remotely fire on people in North Dakota from drones, much as the CIA fires on people in other countries.

Although drones in North Dakota will be limited to “less than lethal” weapons, some of these devices can cause injury or even death, according to Christof Heyns, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He reported that rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas have resulted in injury and death. “The danger is that law enforcement officials may argue that the weapons that they use are labeled ‘less lethal’ and then fail to assess whether the level of force is not beyond that required,” Heyns wrote. The Guardian reports that at least 39 people have been killed by Tasers as far in 2015.

Heyns warned the U.N. General Assembly that the use of armed drones by law enforcement could threaten human rights. “An armed drone, controlled by a human from a distance, can hardly do what police officers are supposed to do—use the minimum force required by the circumstances,” he said.
Drone manufacturers in North Dakota lobbied hard to stymie efforts that would have required police to obtain warrants before using drones. Al Frazier, a sheriff’s deputy who pilots drones, revealed their motivation. He told The Daily Beast, “I think when you’re trying to stimulate an industry in your state, you don’t want things that would potentially have a chilling effect on [drone] manufacturers.”

When North Dakota police suspected Rodney Brossart of cattle rustling, they asked Homeland Security to use a Predator drone to fly over his land. Predator drones are also used by the CIA to conduct surveillance and drop bombs in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. The police, who didn’t get a warrant to fly over Brossart’s land, used evidence gathered from the drone surveillance to prosecute him. Brossart was convicted of terrorizing, preventing arrest and failing to comply with the law for stray animals.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether police must obtain a warrant before using drones. In California v. Ciraolo, the court upheld the warrantless use of a fixed-wing aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet to peer into a private, fenced backyard and identify marijuana plants because “any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed.” The court noted that no warrant is needed for what is “visible to the naked eye.” The justices reached the same result in Florida v. Riley, in which officers saw marijuana plants in a greenhouse from a helicopter 400 feet above.

But in Kyllo v. United States, the court held that the police need a warrant to use a thermal imaging device that measures the temperature of the roof of a house to detect the growing of marijuana inside. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that if the government could freely collect any information “emanating from a house,” we would be “at the mercy of advancing technology—including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home.” The majority thought it significant that the technology used in Kyllo was “a device that is not in general public use.”

It is unclear how the court will apply these cases to the use of drones, which could be used to conduct long-term surveillance of private property with imaging systems that pick up much more detail than the naked eye.

Fourteen states have enacted legislation that limits how the police can use drones. But, “in the states that don’t require warrants, it’s pretty much a Wild West,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the National Journal.

Drones are increasingly used for surveillance in the United States.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which patrols almost half the Mexican border with drones, has loaned its drones to local agencies and other national agencies, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Drones were used 700 times for domestic surveillance between 2010 and 2012.

Stanley cautions against government use of drones for mass surveillance. In my book “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues,” he writes:
Police and government agencies, meanwhile, are likely to seek to use this technology for pervasive, suspicionless mass surveillance. To begin with, there is a long history of government agencies seeking to engage in mass surveillance, from the Cold War spying abuses to today’s deployment of license plate scanners and surveillance cameras in our public places, to the sweeping NSA programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden.
Stanley warns about discriminatory targeting of people of color, citing the experience in Britain where black people were 1½ to 2½ times more likely to be the subject of surveillance than the percentage of their numbers in the general population would indicate.

Stanley cites the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s revelation of CBP documents that suggest the CBP will use “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOIs [targets of interest].” But, he thinks, “there is good reason to think that, once current controversies subside and the spotlight of public attention shifts elsewhere, we will see a push for drones armed with lethal weapons.”
The private use of drones can also be quite threatening.

Augustine Lehecka was enjoying a San Diego County beach with friends when a drone flew a few feet above them, its four blades whirring, its camera rotating from side to side. Lehecka said, “We had like a peeping Tom. I felt threatened.”

So Lehecka threw his T-shirt at the drone, it hit the propeller and the drone fell to the ground. He was arrested for felony vandalism, and after spending the night in jail and posting $10,000 bail, Lechecka was released without charge. The incident caused a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist to write an article titled “We should pin a medal on that drone downer’s shirt.”

In response to Lehecka’s arrest, the Encinitas City Council is considering local regulation of drones. John Herron, who urged the council to take action, told a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter that his 3½-year-old son had been terrified by a low-flying drone, saying, “Once my son saw the drone, he became visibly scared . . . he told me he wanted to leave the park.”

Children in Yemen and Pakistan are also terrorized by U.S. drones, which hover above their communities for hours at a time, according to the study “Living Under Drones,” published by Stanford and New York University law schools. The constant buzzing of the drone is terrifying. Medea Benjamin spoke to people in Waziristan, Pakistan, many of whom “live in a state of constant fear.” She wrote in “Drones and Targeted Killing,” “Residents I met with said they had a hard time sleeping, that many people suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that there is widespread use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.” She added, “They also reported a spate of suicides, something they said never existed before.”

William Merideth downed a drone with a shotgun, claiming it was flying over his property near Louisville, Ky. He said, “I had no way of knowing [if] it was a predator looking at my children.” Charged with first-degree endangerment and criminal mischief, Merideth was released on $2,500 bond and is due to return to court in September. The operator of the drone was not charged with any offense.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued proposed regulations on drone use earlier this year. Drones would not be allowed to fly over people unless they are directly involved with the flight. The rules would apply to drones that weigh 55 pounds or less. Drone flights could take place only during the daytime. They would be limited to an altitude of 500 feet and speeds of 100 mph. And they could not fly near airports or restricted airspace. The operator would have to maintain eye contact with the drone at all times.

It could take years for these regulations to be implemented. Meanwhile, the FAA has reported 700 near misses between airplanes and drones in U.S. airspace so far this year. Some of the drones have been flying at high altitudes—10,000 feet or more.

Twenty-six states have passed laws regulating the use of drones, and six more states have adopted resolutions. Issues addressed in these laws include defining what a drone is, the manner in which they can be used by law enforcement and other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, and how they can be used to hunt game.

In February, the White House began requiring government agencies to inform the public where federal agencies fly drones, how frequently, and what information they secure from drone use.

Two federal bills are pending: in the Senate, The Protecting Individuals From Mass Surveillance Act, and in the House, Preserving American Privacy Act. The Senate bill would require a warrant before federal law enforcement officers could use drones and manned aircraft, but it carves out an exemption within 25 miles of the border, and it wouldn’t bind state or municipal agencies. The House bill would require warrants to conduct state or federal drone surveillance with some exceptions. Evidence obtained in violation of both these bills would be inadmissible in court.

Given the significant invasion of privacy occasioned by the use of drones by law enforcement, warrants should be mandatory before using them for surveillance. And weaponized drones of any sort should be outlawed.

To read the article on Common Dreams and view comments. 
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her latest book is, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Previous books include: Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd); and an anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse.

Friday, August 21, 2015

US Military Prepares Drastic Escalation of Global Drone Program

New reporting reveals plans to expand drone program by 50 percent, including broader use of mercenaries

by  Lauren McCauley, staff writer  
Published on Monday, August 17, 2015
The U.S. Pentagon is poised to dramatically increase the deployment of surveillance drones over "global hot spots" such as Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, the South China Sea, and North Africa, as well as expand its capacity for lethal drone strikes, the Wall Street Journal revealed on Monday.

Citing exclusive interviews with senior U.S. officials, the WSJ's Gordon Lubold reports that the number of daily flights by aircraft such as MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones will surge an estimated 50 percent. Further, the expanded drone program will "draw on the Army, as well as Special Operations Command and government contractors," in addition to the U.S. Air Force, which currently carries out most of the operations for the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency.

Lobuld reports: "The Pentagon envisions a combined effort that by 2019 would have the Air Force continue flying 60 drone flights a day, the Army contributing as many as 16 and the military’s Special Forces Command pitching in with as many as four. Government contractors would be hired to fly older Predator drones on as many as 10 flights a day, none of them strike missions."

A detailed investigation published late July by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed the great extent to which the U.S. military has already relied on corporate entities for much of its surveillance and analysis. The probe raised the question as to whether a private contractor's "risk assessment"—i.e. the determination whether an individual should become a target— obeys an already "mushy" legal framework.

Monday's WSJ piece notes that other officials are reportedly pushing for even-broader surveillance capabilities, employing technologies known as "wide-area airborne surveillance pods," which increases "by as much as tenfold the quantity of surveillance feeds."

The news follows reporting also by Lobuld, as well as colleague Adam Entous, last week which revealed that the U.S. is currently holding talks with a number of North African countries over the possibility of erecting drone bases within their borders, expanding the military footprint in order allegedly unmask so-called "blind spots" in Islamic State strongholds such as Libya and Tunisia.

According to the latest tally from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, since 2002 there have been as many as 620 total U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan, killing up to 5,460 people including as many as 1,106 civilians.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Thanks to Reliance on "Signature" Drone Strikes, US Military Doesn't Know Who It's Killing

Tuesday, 04 August 2015
By Adam Hudson, Truthout 
A "signature strike" takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior - but without knowing the target's identity. (Image: Predator drone via Shutterstock)

 Last month, on June 9, the United States launched a drone strike that killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a high-ranking leader in the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). What makes the strike notable is that it was a coincidence: The CIA - the agency that pulled the trigger - had no idea al-Wuhayshi was among the group of suspected militants it targeted. Al-Wuhayshi's death at the hands of a US drone reveals that the United States continues to fire drone missiles at people whose identities it does not know.

Government officials confirmed the June 9 strike was a "signature strike" to The Washington Post. A signature strike takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior, but without knowing that target's identity. Thus, a US drone, in a signature strike, will target an area the government believes is filled with militant activity but will not know who exactly they are killing. While signature strikes have been happening for a while in the global war on terror, they signify a serious shift in US war-making. American warfare is increasingly placing a greater emphasis on big data, advanced computing, unmanned systems and cyberwarfare. While this approach may seem "cleaner" and more precise than previous tactics (particularly in contrast the drawn-out and bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan), it is not. High-tech militarism is far from "accurate." Even more importantly, it inflicts serious human suffering and perpetuates the US permanent-war machine. 

Signature Strikes
Signature strikes began during the Bush years, in January 2008, as the US intensified drone strikes in Pakistan. When Obama entered office in 2009, his administration picked up where Bush left off and exponentially increased the number of drone strikes. During his eight years in office, Bush launched 51 drone strikes in Pakistan and killed between 410 and 595 people. Obama, so far, has launched 419 drone strikes in Pakistan, alone, and killed over 4,500 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.

When a drone strike takes place, the US government "counts all military-aged males in a strike zone as combatant" unless posthumous intelligence proves them innocent, according to a May 2012 New York Times report. A White House fact sheet says this is "not the case." However, that contradicts what government officials leaked to the media outlets like The New York Times and ProPublica. As the Times report notes, "Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: People in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good."

In fact, US drone strikes have killed teenagers in countries like Pakistan and Yemen. One example is 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (son of Islamic militant preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, also a US citizen killed in a US drone strike) in 2011. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said Abdulrahman was not ''specifically targeted.'' Another is Mohammed Tuaiman, a 13-year-old Yemeni boy who was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen last February. Drones had killed his brother and father beforehand.

Some State Department officials complained to the White House that the CIA's criteria for signature strikes was "too lax," according to The New York Times report. "The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees 'three guys doing jumping jacks,' the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bomb makers - but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued," the report says. 

Drone strikes are launched by the CIA and the US military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite military unit that carries out specialized, risky missions - or "special operations" - such as manhunts, "targeted killings" and rescues. Underneath JSOC's umbrella are special mission units that directly perform the operations. Those units include the Army's Delta Force, the Air Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron and the Navy's SEAL Team Six, which killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

The CIA has a similar paramilitary unit, known as the Special Operations Group (SOG). SOG operates under the CIA's Special Activities Division - the division that carries out covert operations - and often selects operatives from JSOC. JSOC's activities are distinct from conventional troops in the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) oversees JSOC and all special operations units within every military branch. JSOC also answers directly to the executive branch, with little to no oversight from Congress. Its missions are secret. The CIA is subject to some congressional oversight but still largely answers to the executive branch. This means JSOC and the CIA's paramilitary unit are virtually the president's private armies. 

The CIA has no drone bases in Yemen, but flies drones out of bases in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti. Last year, the United States signed a new, 20-year lease on its military base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, which is a key hub in the US's counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa. The US flies surveillance and armed drones out of Camp Lemonnier to spy on and kill militant groups in Somalia and Yemen. Recently, Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US has two military bases in Somalia, from which JSOC operates. The bases are used to carry out counterterrorism operations and surveillance, as well as lethal drone missions.

In order to know where to launch a drone strike or other lethal operation, the US needs intelligence. For drone strikes, the main source for that intelligence is electronic - it's known as "signals intelligence," as it is the result of monitoring anything with an electronic signal. Targeting for US drone strikes and other extrajudicial operations is based on a complex analysis of metadata and tracking of cellphone SIM cards.

Metadata is data about data - such as who called whom at what time, what day, and for how long - rather than the data's actual content. Analyzing electronic intelligence can help analysts connect the dots and map a person's activity, though often not the purpose or substance of that activity. In an earlier email interview, former CIA case officer Robert Steele explained, "Signals intelligence has always relied primarily on seeing the dots and connecting the dots, not on knowing what the dots are saying. When combined with a history of the dots, and particularly the dots coming together in meetings, or a black (anonymous) cellphone residing next to a white (known) cellphone, such that the black acquires the white identity by extension, it becomes possible to 'map' human activity in relation to weapons caches, mosques, meetings, etcetera."

According to The Intercept, "Rather than confirming a target's identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using." The NSA will typically pinpoint the location of a suspected terrorist's cellphone or handset SIM card and feed that information to the CIA or JSOC, which will either launch a lethal drone strike or conduct a raid. JSOC used a similar approach when it conducted raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. To capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, JSOC analyzed insurgent networks through surveillance drone imagery and the tracking of cellphone numbers.

However, that approach often leads to killing the wrong people. Because the US government is targeting cellphone SIM cards that are supposedly linked to individuals, rather than the individuals themselves, innocent people are regularly killed. Sometimes Taliban leaders in Pakistan - aware of the US government's tracking methods - will randomly distribute SIM cards among their fighters to confuse trackers. People who are unaware their phones are being tracked will often "lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members," according to The Intercept. 

Lethal Impacts
The use of signature strikes poses serious legal, strategic and moral questions. The recent Houthi rebellion in Yemen overthrew the US-backed Yemeni government, which the United States relied on to help wage its covert counterterrorism war in the country. As a result, the US has fewer operatives and on-the-ground intelligence sources in Yemen. According to Reuters, the US "will now be forced to rely more on surveillance drones, spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping, as well as their own 'human intelligence' sources on the ground." Thus, the government will defend drone strikes and signature strikes on the basis of convenience and efficacy. The Washington Post reported that "CIA officials have staunchly defended the targeting approach [of signature strikes], saying that analysts poring over drone footage and other surveillance have become adept at detecting patterns - such as the composition and movement of a security detail - associated with senior al-Qaeda operatives." The government also claims that signature strikes have killed many high-value al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

So far this year, there have been between 14 to 15 confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen, which have killed 46 to 69 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's (TBIJ) figures. In 2014, there were 13 to 15 confirmed US drone strikes in the country, killing between 82 to 118 people, along with 3 additional US attacks that killed 21 to 22 people. TBIJ's figures don't differentiate between who was and was not a "militant," however; that is hard to determine since many drone strike victims are unknown people. The US government largely does not know who it is killing in drone strikes.

Overall, US drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations have, so far, killed between 3,155 and 5,285 people, including around 563 to 1,213 civilians, in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to TBIJ's numbers. A report by the human rights organization Reprieve found that US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for each intended target. Only 2 percent of those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan are top-level al-Qaeda leaders. The rest of those killed are either lower-level fighters who pose little existential threat to the US, or else they are simply civilians or other unknown individuals.

There's the whole original article here at

Adam Hudson
Adam Hudson is a reporting fellow at Truthout. He typically covers national security issues, Guantánamo, human rights, gentrification and policing. For fun, he likes to play drums in a Bay Area alternative rock band called Sunata. Follow him on Twitter @adamhudson5.

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. 

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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.