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.

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:

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

These acronyms can really bug a person!

CICADAs, LOCUSTs and the new innovation of military infestations

  The Washington Post

Once released, CICADA drones are virtually undetectable. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory invented the CICADA and demonstrated it can fly to a precise waypoint and deliver a payload. CICADA was featured as part of the Department of Defense Lab Day. (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)
One of the highlights of the Pentagon’s first-ever Department of Defense Lab Day in Washington, D.C. on May 14 was the demonstration of new micro aerial vehicles known as CICADAs. These micro-drones, which can be deployed from military aircraft at altitudes close to 50,000 feet and still fit in the palm of your hand, could represent the next big thing in the way wars are waged. Think military infestations rather than military invasions.

The CICADA (which stands for Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft) is relatively cheap, easy to make and totally disposable. Best of all, they’re as hard to destroy as the cicadas in your backyard during summer – in one test scenario in Arizona, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory released these micro-drones 57,600 feet in the air, let them free fall 11 miles in the sky, and then watched as they glided to within 15 feet of their target destination.

“They’ve flown through trees. They’ve hit asphalt runways. They have tumbled in gravel. They’ve had sand in them. They only thing that we found that killed them was desert shrubbery,” Daniel Edwards, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory, said at the DoD Lab Day event.

For the foreseeable future, most of the work of these CICADAs will be related to surveillance and intelligence-gathering, just as the Black Hornet mini helicopter drones were used by the British Army in Afghanistan to detect Taliban fighting units. Some of the scenarios outlined by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory include dropping CICADA drones tens of thousands of feet above enemy lines, where they can be used to eavesdrop on troop movements once they are equipped with microphones. At the very least, they might provide a clue about traffic or activity at checkpoints on roads leading into and out of difficult terrain. If you add magnetic sensors, they might even be able to pick up the movement of submarines below the water’s surface.

But here’s another thing – the official description of these CICADAs is “an unmanned glider, nearly undetectable, that delivers payloads to precise waypoints.” The word that should have sparked your attention, of course, is “payloads.” Yes, imagine dropping these CICADAs out over enemy territory, each of them armed with a small micro-payload of death. Enemy radars won’t be able to pick them up, and even if you look up into the sky, you’ll just see what appears to be a small bird or insect flying.

The fascinating part of the CICADA program is how these micro drones could eventually be used as part of a “robotic swarm” to overwhelm an adversary. An enemy may be able to defend against several of these drones, but just try to defend against a giant swarm of them launched out of the back of a plane. A separate but related U.S. Navy experiment carried out as part of the SWARM program at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) showcased the potential effectiveness of the new LOCUST (Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology) program. Imagine 30 micro aerial vehicles launched all at once to carry out strikes on enemy territory.

And, in fact, there’s a growing literature about so-called “robotic swarms” — which are essentially drones or bots that can be programmed to behave intelligently during combat. And best of all, these bots and drones can form “swarms” without the need for humans to control them. In another related experiment, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory showed how a group of 13 “swarm boats” — all of them without requiring a human drone operator — could be used to protect a high-value naval vessel.

And it doesn’t stop there. Imagine giant “aircraft carriers in the sky,” capable of launching whole fleets of mini-drones at one time. Or, better yet, how about underwater aircraft carriers? As Peter W. Singer, an expert on drones and warfare, pointed out about recent DARPA initiatives, “If you are looking at other places where you might see aircraft carriers, don’t look up in the air, look under the water.”

Yes, that’s right — underwater aircraft carriers for drones. In yet another experiment, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory showed that it was possible to release a drone from a submerged submarine with the robotic drone shot out of a Tomahawk missile tube. As the drone emerges from the tube, its wings unfold before it speeds off to its destination.

Mind blown.

What makes micro aerial vehicles such as the CICADA so attractive, of course, is that they’re cheap to make and simple to operate. By the estimates of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, a single prototype for a CICADA can be produced for less than $1,000. And as more uses are found for these micro-drones, it’s easy to see the price falling further. One scenario being bandied about is using these CICADAS to monitor extreme weather situations, such as tornadoes. Within a few years, as more applications are discovered, that price might drop to as low as $250.

In terms of simplicity, they’re basically a “piece of cardboard with a circuit board.” They’re not sophisticated drones that you have to learn how to pilot. You just load them up in a plane, fly really high, and drop them out the back end of a plane. That’s huge, if you take into account the latest report from the GAO, which suggests that there just aren’t enough drone pilots out there to keep up with the military’s use of drones.

Cheap, simple, disposable and without the need for a human operator — it’s no wonder, then, that the military is so interested in the potential applications of these micro CICADA drones.

Remember when the future of warfare was bigger — bigger missile payloads, bigger tanks and bigger warplanes? In an era of asymmetric warfare, tiny innovations such as the CICADA are what might be needed to take the fight to the enemy in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. military had been able to drop off hundreds of these CICADAs over mountainous areas of Afghanistan or Pakistan in the search for Osama bin Laden. Forget “boots on the ground,” “insect wings in the sky” might be a better metaphor. 

If giant swarms of insect-like drones can save the lives of U.S. soldiers abroad, then let the CICADA infestation begin. 
[The opinion of this author is not the position of WAMM's Ground All Drone Committee]

Written by Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.