Welcome to Global Drones Watch!

Welcome to Global Drones Watch. The purpose of this site is to provide useful information about drones, and to encourage people to become active in efforts to stop killer drones overseas and stop domestic drones from violating our privacy and safety.

This site is run by CODEPINK Women for Peace and CODEPINK is coordinating a coalition of organizations, academics, and activists working to stop drone warfare. Please contact us with any suggestions, comments or questions.

In November of 2013 CODEPINK hosted an International Drone Summit in Washington DC, hosting delegates from Yemen, Afghanistan, England, Germany, and many more!  To see video and articles chronicling this groundbreaking event visit our Drone Summit 2013 page.

Rather than reposting every article in full, below are some snippets from articles written by Craig Whitlock in the Washington Post.

A snippet from part three of Whitlock’s series with specific article about close encounters between drones and airplanes:

“On the same day last month, airline pilots trying to land at two of the nation’s busiest airports got on their radios to report the unnerving sight of small rogue drones buzzing at high altitudes. In the first incident on May 29, the pilot of a commercial airliner descending toward LaGuardia Airport saw what appeared to be a black drone with a 10-to-15-foot wingspan about 5,500 feet above Lower Manhattan, according to a previously undisclosed report filed with the Federal Aviation Administration. In the second, two airliners separately approaching Los Angeles International Airport soared past what they described as a drone or remote-controlled aircraft the size of a trash can at an altitude of 6,500 feet, FAA records show”…

A snippet from part two of Whitlock’s series with specific article about military drones crashing in the US:

“Shortly after the day’s final bell rang and hundreds of youngsters ran outside Lickdale Elementary School with their book bags and lunchboxes, a military drone fell from the sky. The 375-pound Shadow reconnaissance drone skimmed the treetops as it hurtled toward the school in Jonestown, Pa. It barely missed the building, then cartwheeled through the butterfly garden and past the playground. The aircraft kept rolling like a tumbleweed and collided with a passing car on Fisher Avenue. People called 911. The rescue squad arrived in a hurry. Luckily, no one was hurt”…

A snippet from part one of Whitlock’s series with specific article about drones falling from the sky in war zones:

“More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation. Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act”…

A companion article to Whitlock’s series with quotes from pilots whose drones crashed:

“Drones are often called unmanned aircraft. But there is a lot of human drama when they crash. Drone pilots and other crew members swear, scream and yell at their remote-control video screens when the aircraft fly out of control. Those moments are often captured by audio recorders in ground control stations. Here’s a sampling of that dialogue, according to transcripts contained in Air Force accident investigation reports”…

A companion article to Whitlock’s series that talks about drones that crashed in Afghanistan:

“Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 isn’t the only large aircraft to vanish mysteriously without a trace. Four U.S. Air Force Predator drones have disappeared into thin air while flying over Afghanistan – never to be seen again. The still-missing, but presumed dead, aerial robots were among 400-plus large U.S. military drones involved in major accidents around the world between 2001 and 2013, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation”…

That’s all for now.

In order to establish some perspective, this post will quote a number of analyses of the redacted but released memo written by David Barron, who the Senate shamelessly approved to be judge, which gives the justifications for killing an American citizen by drone. Bolded parts are our emphasis.

Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Common Dreams, writes:

“The 41-page memo was penned in 2010 by David Barron, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and is addressed to attorney general Eric Holder. It draws heavily on a broad and controversial congressional act—the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force—to justify the killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi a year before his death…The 2001 AUMF…has been interpreted by the Obama administration to authorize military force against “Taliban or al-Qaida forces, or associated forces”—an ill-defined grouping that includes a host of people and organizations, many of them unknown to the public…The memo charges that Anwar al-Aulaqi had become a leader of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or an associated force and constituted an “imminent” threat to the U.S., and his capture was infeasible. Yet, information allegedly backing claims of imminent threat was redacted in the document, which was slashed by nearly a third. Furthermore, the memo leaves questions about who else the U.S. government believes it has the right to kill without trial.”

Brett Max Kaufman, a Legal Fellow of the ACLU’s National Security Project writes:

“Monday morning, a federal appeals court released a government memorandum, dated July 16, 2010, authorizing both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen, in Yemen. The publication of the Office of Legal Counsel memo comes, as the court noted, after a lengthy delay. The ACLU (along with the New York Times) has been fighting for this memo since we first asked for it in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in October 2011. Monday’s release by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is an important victory for transparency. But while the memo advances the public record in significant ways, it still does not answer many key questions about the government’s claimed authority to kill U.S. citizens outside of active battlefields. Here are several important takeaways from Monday’s release…Rather than more fully explain the government’s theory of “imminence,” the newly released memo fails to address it at all…The memo, signed by David Barron, then–acting chief of the OLC (and now a newly confirmed First Circuit judge), tells us that “[h]igh-level government officials” determined that al-Aulaqi constituted an “imminent” threat to the United States. But the memo does not explain how the government interprets that requirement, nor does the memo explain the evidentiary standard the officials must meet in order to satisfy it. Likewise, the memo does not address the circumstances that would make “capture infeasible,” and killing therefore permissible…the new memo does seem to indicate that its authorization for the targeted killing of al-Aulaqi was intended to be indefinite in duration, requiring only that the CIA and DOD continue to evaluate (without returning to the OLC) “whether changed circumstances” would make capture more feasible…Throughout the memo, Barron conditions important legal conclusions on “the facts represented to” the OLC by other departments of the executive branch…Until Monday, the government had argued that the CIA’s operational involvement in the targeted killing program was an official secret…the official unveiling of this fact should open the door to further disclosures about the CIA’s role in the program…Together, Monday’s release and the Second Circuit’s opinion make clear that the public is only just starting to understand the legal and factual basis for the government’s targeted killing program, as a great deal of information crucial to the public debate remains secret.”

Following this is an analysis from the deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union and director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, Jameel Jaffer in The Guardian:

Authored three years ago by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the 41-page memo contends that the president has broad power to carry out the targeted killing of terrorism suspects, even in geographic areas far removed from conventional battlefields…But despite the release of the drone memo, the American public still does not have the information it needs in order to evaluate the lawfulness and wisdom of its government’s policies. Indeed, to read through the memo is to be reminded of how successful the Obama administration has been at rationing even the most basic information. Large parts of the memo – almost a third of it – have been redacted…In one instance, the long sought-after drone memo references another legal memo that concluded that al-Awlaki’s American citizenship did not “preclude the contemplated lethal action.” From this reference, we can deduce that the OLC authored a separate drone memo assessing – and dispensing with – the proposition that an American citizen had the right not to be deprived of his life without some form of judicial process. But that earlier memo, treated by the executive branch as binding law, is still secret…But the release of the drone memo should not obscure the reality: we still know scandalously little about who the American government is killing, and why. Monday’s ruling was a step forward – a gesture toward transparency – but unless it leads to much, much more from the drone files, it will be only that: a gesture.

Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, interviewed on Democracy Now! said:

“Well, Amy, this memo’s release is long overdue. It’s critically important for transparency. But as we see from reading the memo itself, it’s by far from enough. And there are a couple of things that I think are most important. One is both what’s in the memo, and, two, what’s surprisingly not in the memo. With respect to what’s in the memo, as you said earlier, the justification for the killing of a U.S. citizen largely relies on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. Now, that authorization has to be read alongside the international law that regulates when the United States and any other country is or is not in an armed conflict. And one of the key things that this memo does is that it says that some of the limitations on when an armed conflict exists don’t have to apply. So it says that the things that we think of and that the law recognizes—you know, a certain level of duration of hostilities, a certain level of intensity of hostilities—those don’t have to be present. In essence, it reads away any kind of territorial limitation or temporal limitation for when war exists. And this has been one of the things we and others have been so long concerned about, which is the Obama administration’s broad interpretation of law of war authority, even when that does not exist… First of all, the white paper that was earlier released, or leaked, that talked about the administration’s definition of a continuing imminent threat, said that the threat did not have to include specific evidence of a plot that was actually about to take place in the immediate future. So, the real-world meaning of imminence is read away. And the memo itself—again, at least in the parts that have been disclosed—does not discuss this controversial, novel interpretation, nor does it discuss how that interpretation could possibly be lawful… Repeatedly, the memo’s authors say that the legal conclusions are based on factual representations made by the CIA, by the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. It also says that senior intelligence officials can make the determination about whether facts are justified to permit the killing. And this shows you just how dangerous it is not to have any independent judicial review before or after the fact, which is what the administration has argued and what this memo seeks to justify…We know from Senate Intelligence Committee disclosures that there are approximately 11 legal memos governing the targeted killing program. Four of those apparently relate to citizens; the others apparently relate to noncitizens…There are apparently seven memos that relate to the killings of noncitizens, although the administration itself has not confirmed that. And as much and as necessary as it is to know what standards apply to citizens, we also equally need to know what standards apply to noncitizens.”

Also, as Jeremy Scahill tweeted, for those defending the memo, it was drafted in July 2010, AFTER the US had attempted to kill Anwar Al-Awlaki:

Barrey Grey of World Socialist Website goes a bit far in saying that the drone memo makes the case for ‘presidential dictatorship’ and the beginning of impeachment of high-level US officials, but the analysis still should be shared:

The memo constitutes prima facie evidence of crimes against international law, the US Constitution, and the democratic rights of the American people. It could serve as a key exhibit in impeachment proceedings and criminal prosecutions against high-level American officials…The document is a travesty of legal and constitutional analysis. It begins with the desired aim—to justify the negation of the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of “due process” and sanction the arrogation of quasidictatorial powers by the executive branch—and employs a grab bag of sophistic and cynical arguments to arrive at the desired conclusion. The memo was written specifically to provide legal cover for the state murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born US citizen and Muslim cleric…Last month, the Senate confirmed the promotion of Barron to the First Circuit, with all but two Democrats voting in favor, including supposed NSA critics Mark Udall, Martin Heinrich and Ron Wyden…It is also striking that most of the redactions in the released document occur in the section dealing with the constitutional rights of US citizens…The memo repeatedly cites the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed three days after the 9/11 attacks, as legal support for any and all actions taken in the name of fighting terrorists, including the assassination of US citizens and other repressive measures against Americans…It also cites the 2004 Supreme Court ruling in Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld, even though the court ruled 8 to 1 against the Bush administration’s asserted right to detain people without trial or due process. Barron accepts uncritically all of the assertions of the government about Awlaki, his role as an “operational leader” of Al Qaeda and involvement in previous terror plots against the US, the “imminent” threat to Americans he supposedly represents, the “infeasibility” of capturing him, etc. in order to declare that the government can kill him without any independent trial of the facts or any opportunity for the victim to defend himself in a court of law. The presumption of innocence is a dead letter…The document is carefully worded so as not to limit the president’s asserted power to order the murder of Americans to the specific circumstances surrounding Awlaki. It states, for example, that the use of lethal forces is acceptable “at least” where government officials have determined capture is not feasible. And it defines “imminent” in such as way as to render the term meaningless, declaring that the government does not need to know “precisely when such attacks will occur.”…And in testimony last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Defense Department and State Department lawyers argued that the president has unlimited war powers and does not require even the fig leaf of congressional authorization…The arguments put forward in the memo released Monday—justifying the abrogation of basic rights, state murder of citizens and dictatorial powers on the grounds of national security and the requirements of war—are identical to those put forward by every military and fascist regime, from Pinochet to Hitler.”

Rania Khalek noted on Electronic Intifada that the drone memo cited the Israeli Supreme Court to justify killing American citizens:

“The Obama adminstration refused to disclose the legal reasoning behind the killing. But thanks to Freedom Information Act lawsuits by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a redacted version of the Department of Justice memo which outlines the Obama administration’s rationale for killing American citizens abroad without trial is now public.  Authored by David Barron — former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who has since been appointed by Obama to a federal judgeship — the 41-page document seeks to legitimize so-called targeted killings, a practice Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, vigorously condemned Israel for using against Palestinians during the second intifada…This makes it all the more ironic that the Obama administration’s kill memo cites an Israeli Supreme Court decision to justify al-Awlaki’s summary execution…the memo cites Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) v. Government of Israel, a 2006 Israeli Supreme Court decision that ruled that the targeted assassinations of hundreds of Palestinians since the start of the second intifada were legal and did not violate international law. The memo provides this as the basis for determining the infeasibility of al-Awlaki’s capture…It should not come as a surprise that the US is echoing Israeli rationale to validate its own belligerence in the “war on terror,” which bears a striking resemblance to Israel’s decades-long war on the Palestinians and its neighbors…In 2007, the Yale Law Journal warned in an editorial that as the “the world’s first judicial decision on targeted killings,” the Israeli ruling would weaken international law because it expanded the scope of who could be targeted for due-process free execution…Today, Israel’s assassinations in Gaza are so routine that barely anyone bats an eye. The same is true for drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, which have killed at least four Americans…What began as an Israeli method to suppress Palestinian resistance is now being used to kill people over a vast swath of territory with a population of hundreds of millions. This is what happens when countries like the United States and Israel are allowed to push the boundaries of international law with impunity.”

David Cole, who says David Barron is a ‘colleague’ of his, writes in The New York Review of Books a limited objection to the drone killings:

Now that we can finally see its contents, the biggest question is why the administration fought to keep it secret. The memo does more to help than to harm the administration. Critical questions remain about the legality of the September 2011 drone killing in Yemen of American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki that the memo authorized, largely because crucial details regarding application of the law to the facts of al-Awlaki’s case are redacted...But the memo offers a closely reasoned, thorough, and, most important, carefully limited defense of al-Awlaki’s killing. Had this memo been made public at the outset, the administration might well have avoided many of the questions that continue to swirl around the drone program and make it controversial worldwide. Transparency is often touted as a check on the abuse of power, and it is. But transparency can also legitimate acts that, taken behind closed doors, are illegitimate. In this instance, the administration’s insistence on secrecy undermined its own cause. So what does the memo tell us? In painstaking detail, it lays out the case for why killing al-Awlaki would be lawful under US statutes, the Constitution, and international law. It comprehensively addresses federal criminal laws that forbid the murder of US citizens abroad; the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, which forbid unreasonable seizures and bar the taking of life without due process; and the laws of war, which regulate the use of lethal force in armed conflict…In short, the memo reasons that while US law bars murder, or “unlawful killing,” of Americans overseas (as well as at home), when the president orders the use of lethal force to kill an enemy fighter in an armed conflict, the killing is not “unlawful.”…While the memo cited no precedents directly authorizing the use of lethal force against citizens, it noted that the Supreme Court had ruled in 2004 that the president was authorized, as an incident of war, to detain a US citizen as an enemy combatant captured fighting against us in Afghanistan. The power to kill enemy fighters, the memo reasoned, is as much an incident of war as the power to detain…On the constitutional question, the memo concluded that where a US citizen poses an imminent threat of violence or death to other US persons, where the basis for that judgment has been reviewed by “the highest officers in the Intelligence Community,” and where capture is not feasible, killing an enemy fighter without further procedural protections is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment and does not violate due process…In effect, the memo concluded that al-Awlaki posed a similar threat. It does not address, however, why due process could not have been provided in this case…Thus understood, the Justice Department memo has very narrow application, and does not give the president a blank check to kill “suspected terrorists” the world over…And the memo limits its authorization to an individual who had allegedly attempted past attacks and was said to pose an imminent threat of future attacks, and only where the use of force conformed to the law of war…Finally, and most troubling of all, there is no mechanism in place for independent testing of whether US practice matches the limits Obama has announced. Why can’t there be an assessment, at a minimum after the fact, as to the validity and consequences of each attack? The Israeli Supreme Court reviews each of Israel’s targeted killings, with appropriate deference to military judgment, to assure that they fall within legal bounds. We have no such review here, by a court or otherwise.

That review led me to an opinion by the editorial board of the ‘paper of record,’ the New York Times, condemning the memo:

“The Obama administration on Monday reluctantly released its justification for killing an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, whom it considered a terrorist, in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. But the rationale provides little confidence that the lethal action was taken with real care…Instead, the memo turns out to be a slapdash pastiche of legal theories — some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law — that was clearly tailored to the desired result. Perhaps the administration held out so long to avoid exposing the thin foundation on which it based such a momentous decision. The main theory that the government says allows it to kill American citizens, if they pose a threat, is the “public authorities justification,” a legal concept that permits governments to take actions in emergency situations that would otherwise break the law…The sheer power of drone strikes, several of which have killed many innocent bystanders, is in no way comparable to the kind of police shootings that the memo cites as precedent…There’s no explanation given in the memo for how the United States knew Mr. Awlaki was planning “imminent” mayhem, as the memo claims. It’s possible that this information was contained in the dozen or so pages that were redacted from the 41-page memo, which was written by David Barron, then an assistant attorney general who was recently appointed to a federal appellate court. The memo says only that Mr. Awlaki had joined Al Qaeda and was planning attacks on Americans, but that the government did not know when these attacks would occur…And the memo never questioned whether the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, which operate the drone programs, would properly follow international law…Blithely accepting such assurances at face value is why these kinds of killings are so troubling, and why we have repeatedly urged that an outside party — such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — provide an independent review when a citizen is targeted. How did the Justice Department know that capturing Mr. Awlaki was not feasible, or that the full force of a drone strike was necessary? This memo should never have taken so long to be released, and more documents must be made public. The public is still in the dark on too many vital questions.”

Tom Junod writes in Esquire magazine a view that defends drone attacks as necessary to “protect US Citizens” but says that the drone attacks are no doubt illegal:

There might not be anything very new in the memo that the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel produced in in 2010 to justify the killing Anwar Al-Awlaki, and that the Justice Department finally released yesterday in response to lawsuits brought by the ACLU and the New York Times.  But there is something very, very old. And that is murder...To a civilian with more than passing interest in the issue of targeted killing, what jumps out immediately is the memo’s attempt to grapple with the question not of whether the killing of a U.S. citizen without trial is constitutionally justifiable but whether it constitutes outright murder. And I do mean immediately.  The factual justification for killing Al-Awlaki that originally commenced the memo has been redacted.  But the memo — which was written by newly confirmed federal judge David Barron — begins its legal argument with this sentence: “We begin our legal analysis with a consideration of section 1119 of title 18, entitled ‘Foreign murder of United States nationals.’”…There have been many public defenses of the Obama Administration’s policy of targeted killing, mustered by the Administration’s emissaries from the State Department, the CIA, the Department of the Defense, the Department of Justice, and the White House itself….But none, to my knowledge, have ever acknowledged that the real question at issue in the killing of Al-Awlaki — and by extension drone killings in general — is the question of whether by killing him the White House was murdering him. Of course, Barron argues that it was not, and did not.  He argues that the very definition of murder, as the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought,” presupposes that such a thing exists as a lawful killing, and then he explains why the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki would be lawful.  Barron invokes something called the “public authority justification” to say that given the “maximal” powers granted the President by Congress when it passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in 2001, the killing of Al-Awlaki would not be “murder” any more than a police officer going very fast in pursuit of a criminal would be “speeding.” But in fact the specter of murder — or at least of assassination — is what has haunted U.S. drone policy from the start, given that many of those President Obama has signed off to kill are killed far away from any battlefield, and are often both unarmed and in the midst of carrying out the duties of what might be called daily life.  The killings may be useful in advancing the national interest; they may even protect U.S. citizens. But they are usually not carried out “in the heat and exercise of war” that makes killings on the battlefield legal…Barron struggles mightily to banish the specter of murder from the pre-emptive and non-judicial execution of Anwar Al-Awlaki.  He struggles so mightily that he uses the word murder 44 times in the course of the memo, until it becomes a drumbeat, and, finally — amidst all the redactions and all the secret law existing in empty spaces — the memo’s tell-tale heart.

Then there’s Marcy Wheeler in The Week magazine who calls the drone memo a ‘brazen executive power grab’:

“While there is still a lot we don’t know about the rationale to assassinate this American citizen, the memo does affirm that the Obama administration was eager to grant itself extraordinary powers that appear to be in direct conflict with the Constitution. The release of the memo has been a long time coming…The memo argued that Awlaki, whom the government alleged had helped plan the December 2009 underwear bomb attack on a Detroit-bound jet, was either a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force. That made him a legal target under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, Barron argued. Much of the memo considered whether a law prohibiting the murder of Americans overseas, 18 USC 1119, protected Awlaki. Barron uncontroversially argued that the law did not apply to the Department of Defense, because killing enemies was part of military service members’ official duties. That argument gets dicier when you consider the CIA, which had spearheaded the drone program. That’s partly because members of the CIA, unlike members of the military, do not count as a privileged combatants who can legally wage war. Much of Barron’s argument to give the CIA such powers remains redacted. Also redacted is a section laying out the government’s case against Awlaki, which is unfortunate, because there are inconsistencies in the government’s public argument that Awlaki orchestrated the UndieBomb attack. Importantly, the memo also doesn’t include the government’s discussion about what makes a terrorism suspect an “imminent threat,” and the lengths to which the government must go to try to capture the suspect before it is deemed infeasible — both central standards in the government’s claim to be able to kill Americans… Not only does the memo approve bypassing due process, but it sets the standard unbelievably low for a decision taken with a lot of advance notice…Either Barron dealt with the question of judicial review, but not the Treason Clause, in his first memo, or he never dealt with it, and DOJ added that section in the white paper to make the review look more reasonable. Either way, the guy who ignored the constitutional requirement about traitors — and in the process expanded executive power greatly — ended up getting a plush appointment to be a circuit court judge. It’s remarkable how lucrative denying the role of courts can be.”

Sarah Lazare wrote on Juan Cole’s website about the drone memo as well:

“The U.S. government on Monday partially released the formerly-classified Department of Justice “drone memo,” dated 2010, in which Obama administration lawyers argue they have the right to extra-judicially kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen…In the memo, which is addressed to attorney general Eric Holder, David Barron—then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel—argues that the targeted killing is legal “where, as here, the target’s activities pose a ‘continued and imminent threat of violence or death’ to U.S. persons, ‘the highest officers in the Intelligence Community have reviewed the factual basis’ for the lethal operation, and a capture operation would be infeasible.” Yet the drone memo was redacted before release, leading to the omission of key information, including alleged factual evidence for the government’s claim that al-Aulaqi posed a threat to the United States. Barron claims the killing is justified by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force…”We believe that the AUMF’s authority to use lethal force abroad also may apply in appropriate circumstances to a United States citizen who is part of the forces of an enemy authorization within the scope of the force authorization,” states the memo.”

Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei wrote in a press release for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that:

“The DOJ memo confirms that the government’s drone killing program is built on gross distortions of law. This forced transparency comes years late, long after the memo was drafted and used to justify the premeditated killing of a U.S. citizen without trial and far from any battlefield. Although the American public may now finally start having a more complete debate about this program, the Obama administration’s stonewalling has delayed this conversation for far too long. Since 2009, U.S. drone strikes may have killed more than 4,000 people – including children – and wounded many more outside of its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While today the U.S., the U.K., and Israel are the only countries known to have used killer drones, experts say that within ten years virtually every country on Earth will be able to build or acquire drones capable of firing missiles. The United States loosening and redefining international rules governing the use of force and war is ultimately not going to make anyone any safer.

Then there’s an article in The Hill newspaper which notes:

“Then-acting Assistant Attorney General David Barron, in the partially redacted 41-page memo, outlines the justification of the drone strike in Yemen to take out al-Awlaki, an alleged operational leader of al Qaeda. Barron wrote that al-Awlaki had taken up arms against his country, and it was necessary to take him out with a drone because he could have caused his nation harm… The memo details justification for a strike by either the Department of Defense or the CIA, which ultimately carried out the strike. The publicly available version of the memo begins on page 12. The CIA section is much more heavily redacted than the Defense Department section. The Justice Department concluded that al-Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship did not impose “constitutional limitations that would preclude the contemplated lethal action under the facts represented to us by DoD, the CIA, and the Intelligence Community.” The Justice Department found that some protections from the Fourth and Fifth Amendments likely still applied, granting him due process…The Justice Department also cited the Supreme Court when finding the Fourth Amendment protection against seizures has to be balanced against the importance of the government interest…The Justice Department found there is precedent for capturing and detaining a U.S. person abroad if that person is part of al Qaeda. The memo concluded, “it also authorizes the use of ‘necessary and appropriate’ lethal force against a U.S. citizen who has joined an armed force.’”

Col. Morris Davis, who is currently attorney but was the GITMO prosecutor from 2005 to 2007 writes in the Huffington Post and argues that the memo only has authority within the United States and not outside it (similar view as this article in The Daily Beast), a different perspective than everyone else and seems to trust in international law and procedures a lot:

“The news media and bloggers have covered the memo’s release extensively, particularly whether the administration’s position squares with the Constitution and U.S. laws. However, there are two areas that I believe are equally important that have been overlooked or ignored: the fact that the administration’s purported legal justification has no effect outside the United States and the conflation of the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the assessment of who has the right to kill outside the United States…Primary legal authority over a potential crime resides with whomever has jurisdiction over the site where the act occurred. A killing in France, for instance, would be governed primarily by French law and tried in a French court. There are some exceptions, like 18 U.S.C. Section 1119, discussed in both the OLC memo and the DOJ white paper, that give U.S. federal courts jurisdiction over the murder of a U.S. national abroad by another U.S. national if the country where the murder occurred lacks the ability to prosecute the case…In the context of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, the U.S. government’s view on the legality of his killing has no binding effect on whether it was legally justified under Yemeni law…The CIA is a civilian agency, separate and apart from the Department of Defense, and in most circumstances its employees would not qualify as lawful combatants…Large portions of the OLC memo are redacted, and perhaps those missing paragraphs provide the rationale for how the CIA is supposedly legally justified in conducting drone strikes, but the fact that the administration maintains two drone programs — one military and one civilian — raises the question: Why?””

The setup is familiar by now, if only because the image has long-since bled into pop culture ubiquity. A four-wheel-drive races across the desert floor somewhere in the badlands of eastern Yemen, a long wake of dust trailing behind in the baking air.

Unbeknownst to the five occupants of the vehicle, this scene exists also in cyberspace. The car’s precise location, its speed and bearing, a detailed dossier on one of the passengers and considered speculation on the others. A pixelated image of the tiny glittering speck is routed through a small constellation of satellites, through a ground station in central Australia, parsed through an operations centre in the United States, and bounced back again to the reaper drone wheeling two miles above. The feedback loop is seamless, conducted at the speed of light.

Time’s up. An anti-tank missile howls out of the sky. The vehicle detonates.

It will later be alleged that one of the dead is a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group who shares its political lineage with the network that flew passenger aircraft into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre in September 2001. Two things about terrorism were burned into the western collective consciousness on that bleak morning: terrorists kill indiscriminately, and they have casual regard for international law. The fiery catastrophe in downtown Manhattan casts long shadows even today.

Australia is a long way from Yemen. It is also well-insulated from the fierce debates that rage in the United States and halls of the United Nations about the wisdom and legality of US president Barack Obama’s radical expansion of drone warfare into half a dozen countries. So when it was revealed in April 2014 that one of the casualties of the drone strike in back-country Yemen was Australian and another a dual Australian–New Zealand citizen, we paused.

Journalists from the Australian press tried to piece the story together. They didn’t have much to go on: a terse statement from the Australian and New Zealand governments, and some brief comments from an unnamed intelligence source. The two Australians were alleged to have been placed on an Australian Federal Police watch list because of their associations with AQAP, and Julie Bishop, the foreign minister, sharply denied any prior knowledge of the operation that killed them.

Then… nothing. Over the horizon, the war on terror continues, and in wars, people are killed. Christopher Havard, formerly of Townsville, Queensland. Muslim bin John, formerly of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Australia got on with the business of the early 21st century. An unreasonably warm summer. A royal visit to Uluru, not far from the Pine Gap joint defence facility that probably transacted the extrajudicial death sentence last November. The harshest, most ideologically unhinged budget in modern history. The State of Origin came and went.

The time for Havard’s family to raise $30,000 to repatriate his remains ran out, and now the drone strike that killed two Australians is buried under the accumulated strata of news, gossip and sport laid down in successive months.

That is how our attorney-general would like it to remain: forgotten and inconsequential. In two estimates hearings in late May he took a brief respite from the doomed defence of his racial vilification amendments to address my questions on the killing of the Australians last summer. In six years of sharing a workplace with senator George Brandis, I’ve developed personal strategies to deal with his pompous blend of condescension and inadequacy. I must admit, they failed me the other night.

I asked whether the government was confident that such strikes are in fact legal at international law. The attorney-general replied “I am not aware that the Australian government has a view of legality of these matters in any event,” and later, “this has nothing to do with Australia”.

The rest of the conversation was the usual smug invocation of national security, the great blindfold through which the country shall not be permitted to see – for our own safety of course. That this is “nothing to do with Australia” demonstrates Brandis’ calculated ignorance: jointly operated installations like Pine Gap almost certainly play a central role in drone warfare in the Middle East and Africa, supposedly with the “full knowledge and concurrence” of Australian authorities.

The fact that finding yourself on an AFP watchlist – not charged with any crime in particular – can result in a death penalty meted out on the other side of the world, is bad enough. The US bureau of investigative journalism estimated more than a thousand civilians have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, including dozens of children. The real number of civilians killed in these assassinations is likely to be much higher, as the US military considers any male of fighting age who happens to be in the blast radius of a listed target to be a combatant, unless post-strike evaluation shows otherwise.

For targeted communities on the ground, being killed in a drone strike is indistinguishable from being killed by a cruise missile or a piloted warplane. Nothing exempts the operators of remote-piloted vehicles from either human rights law or the laws of war just because the technology is novel. In a speech in Pakistan in 2013, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon noted:

[T]he use of armed drones, like any other weapon, should be subject to long-standing rules of international law, including international humanitarian law … Every effort should be made to avoid mistakes and civilian casualties…

The framers of the UN Charter, working after the trauma of the second world war, laid down the modern legal foundation for non-aggression between states. We can hardly blame them for failing to foresee the emergence of stateless terror networks like Al Qaeda, the privatisation of war, or the relentless development of ever-more autonomous weapons systems.

The US government has relied on a combination of secrecy, remoteness, legal ambiguity and the overriding imperatives of the war on terror to insist that their drone strikes are lawful, do not amount to extrajudicial killings, and minimise civilian harm in all instances. The question for us is twofold.

First, the legal standard we accept from our ally is the standard we will be stuck with when unregulated swarms of weaponised Russian, Chinese, Iranian and Indonesian drones begin incinerating people in the name of their own legally dubious wars on “terror”.

Second, the march of technology is removing human agency further from the decision to strike. Serious civil society debates are now underway on the best path to formally ban fully-autonomous weapons, using some of the same legal tools applied to chemical and biological weapons.

The first step is to acknowledge that turning a blind eye to this conduct, on behalf of our ally the US – or anyone else – is wrong. Superpowers kill with little regard for international law. In the age of the drone, an increasingly porous and borderless world, what constitutes genuine human security is now an open question.

Originally posted in The Guardian

China’s military spending exceeded $145 billion last year as it advanced a program modernizing an arsenal of drones, warships, jets, missiles and cyber weapons, the Pentagon said on Thursday, offering a far higher figure than Beijing’s official tally.

The Pentagon’s estimate, using 2013 prices and exchange rates, was 21 percent above the $119.5 billion figure announced by China. It was detailed in an annual report to Congress that cited steady progress in Chinese defense capabilities.

It acknowledged that estimating Chinese spending can be difficult, in part because of “poor accounting transparency and incomplete transition from a command economy.”

China’s Defense Ministry, in a statement on its website, said it was “resolutely opposed” to the Pentagon report.

“Year after year the United States issues this so-called report on ‘Military and Security Developments in China,’ making preposterous criticisms of China’s normal defense and military building, exaggerating the ‘China military threat’, which is totally wrong,” it said.

“As for the detailed contents of this year’s U.S. report, we are currently assessing it, and will react further, depending on the situation.”

The report came just days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, using unusually strong language, accused Beijing of destabilizing the region in pursuit of territorial claims.

China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea and dismisses competing claims from Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Japan also has a territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.

The 96-page report said China was placing emphasis on preparing for potential contingencies in the South and East China Seas, noting an October drill named Maneuver 5 in the Philippine Sea.

The drill, the Pentagon said, was the largest Chinese Navy open-ocean exercise seen to date.

“China’s military investments provide it with a growing ability to project power at increasingly longer ranges,” the report said.

The United States last month charged five Chinese military officers and accused them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets, ratcheting up tensions between the two world powers over cyber espionage.

The Pentagon report renewed warnings over cyber intrusions.

“China is using its … capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense program,” it said.

The Pentagon also cited advances in Chinese drone technology. It pointed to a Defense Science Board report cautioning Beijing’s push “combines unlimited resources with technological awareness that might allow China to match or even outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems in the future.”

It noted that in September 2013, a “probable” Chinese drone was noted for the first time conducting reconnaissance over the East China Sea. China also unveiled details of four drones under development in 2013, including the Lijian, China’s first stealth drone, it said.

Originally posted on Reuters. The article mostly takes a US point of view but its still interesting.

Note: Lawmakers seem to be criticizing it for being NOT perfect enough & precise enough. Still, its an interesting art even.though it doesn’t really question the growing amount of drones (which it calls the “robotic revolution”).

A U.S. Navy plan for aircraft carrier-based drones has launched a dogfight in Washington over the role of the robotic planes in combat.

The Navy has asked contractors for reconnaissance drones — essentially spy planes, with only limited ability to carry out bombing missions behind enemy lines.

But key congressional leaders want cutting-edge warplanes, stealthy drones that can attack key targets in contested areas with little more than a mouse click. If they get their way, the program, which would produce the military’s first carrier-based drones, could end aviation as the Navy has known it, observers say.

“It could usher in a new era in which major strike missions are turned over to a machine. That will be difficult for many carrier aviators to swallow,” said Samuel D. Brannen, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Pentagon strategist.

The Navy’s plans to deploy the drones within the next decade came to an abrupt halt this month when key members of Congress said the program is shortsighted. Lawmakers halted all funding until the secretary of Defense can complete a top-to-bottom review.

Four of the nation’s largest military weapons makers are waiting to see how the skirmish plays out: Northrop Grumman Corp., Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. Much of these companies’ drone operations are based in Southern California, and they would welcome the work at a time when defense spending on weapons is expected to shrink.

The controversy heated up when the Navy first sent classified proposals for the drone program to four contractors. The industry was expecting a bold plan to build radar-evading aircraft capable of challenging bombing missions. But it was apparently not what they received.

Upon seeing the Navy’s conservative request for spy planes, leaders on the House Armed Services Committee questioned whether the Navy is being too restrictive.

“I feel very strongly that we can’t make a mistake on this program,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of a subcommittee that oversees Navy programs. “It’s going to be critical for decades to come.”

He believes Navy brass is hesitant to turn over strategic bombing missions in contested areas of the world — now carried out by seasoned fighter pilots — to drones.

Forbes said the Navy needs a next-generation drone that will overwhelm potential adversaries — such as China, South Korea and Russia — that have made multibillion-dollar investments in advanced missiles and radar detection.

Now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel must assess the requirements before funding of the drone program resumes. Under a provision tucked into the annual defense policy bill, Hagel will either sign off on the current plans or force the Navy to move closer to the stealthy, long-range strike drone that many in Congress desire. It’s a debate that has raged in Washington since the advent of drone technology: How much responsibility will be taken from pilots and given to machines?

“There’s a cultural issue there,” Forbes said. “We’ve had to have these arguments with the Pentagon before.”

He recalled having to push the Air Force to buy remotely piloted Predator drones in the 1990s. The Air Force was at first reluctant, but the program was fueled by pressure from local lawmakers, such as Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and now retired Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands).

The technology is now a centerpiece in the Obama administration’s national security strategy.

Although drones have been a major part of Air Force operations for more than a decade, the Navy has yet to experience such a robotic revolution.

Navy spokesman Joe Gradisher said drone aircraft, which probably would be controlled remotely from the carriers, would eventually perform many missions currently performed by manned aircraft, including bombing missions. But drones will have a secondary role.

“Unmanned enhances manned strike aircraft,” he said, “but doesn’t replace them as the primary strike force as part of the carrier air wing.”

The dispute over carrier drones can be traced to an industry demonstration last year of a drone performing crucial maneuvers with pilot-like precision.

The X-47B, a stealthy bat-winged drone built by Northrop Grumman, was catapulted off an aircraft carrier’s flight deck and soared above the Atlantic before returning for a landing. The historic feat was compared to the Navy’s first catapult of a manned aircraft, which occurred in 1915.

“It isn’t very often you get a glimpse of the future,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at the time. “The operational unmanned aircraft soon to be developed have the opportunity to radically change the way presence and combat power are delivered from our aircraft carriers.”

Now, there are questions about whether the Navy is going to deliver on that promise.

The cost of the program, known as Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, is estimated at as much as $5.9 billion through 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Plans for the Navy’s drone program come as Congress and the Pentagon are coping with budget uncertainty and expensive weapons systems already in the works.

The Navy has spent more than a decade preparing for its latest generation of manned warplane: the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The radar-evading jet, built by Lockheed, is scheduled to be a fixture on carrier decks when it becomes operational in 2019.

It’s only about halfway through its development plan and plagued by billions of dollars in cost overruns. There has also been a string of technical problems, including a redesign of its arresting hook, which is essential to landing on a carrier deck.

A deep-penetrating stealthy drone that could fly farther and longer could be seen as a potential challenger to the nearly $400-billion F-35 program. And the program has sweeping congressional support because it provides 127,000 direct and indirect jobs in 47 states and Puerto Rico.

“This could turn into a political food fight,” said Robert C. Martinage, formerly acting undersecretary of the Navy and now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Drones have disrupted the military’s usual way of doing things. And there’s a lot of pressure to get this program right.”

————
FOR THE RECORD:
This article lists South Korea as a potential adversary of the United States. It should have said North Korea.
————

Originally posted by the LA Times

This article in the New York Times is a bit old, from April, but its still relevant since it highlights work of different activists despite the paper being generally pro-establishment and not being very hard on Obama in this article. Still, its worth a read.

WASHINGTON — In Marvel’s latest popcorn thriller, Captain America battles Hydra, a malevolent organization that has infiltrated the highest levels of the United States government. There are missile attacks, screeching car chases, enormous explosions, evil assassins, data-mining supercomputers and giant killer drones ready to obliterate millions of people.

Its inspiration?

President Obama, the optimistic candidate of hope and change.

Five and a half years into his presidency, Mr. Obama has had a powerful impact on the nation’s popular culture. But what many screenwriters, novelists and visual artists have seized on is not an inspirational story of the first black president. Instead they have found more compelling story lines in the bleaker, morally fraught parts of Mr. Obama’s legacy.

“We were trying to find a bridge to the same sort of questions that Barack Obama has to address,” said Joe Russo, who with his brother, Anthony, directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” “If you’re saying with a drone strike, we can eradicate an enemy of the state, what if you say with 100 drone strikes, we can eradicate 100? With 1,000, we can eradicate 1,000? At what point do you stop?”

A scene from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” a new movie with topics like missile attacks, data-mining supercomputers and killer drones. Credit Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

Beyond “Captain America,” a virtual arts festival of films, books, plays, comics, television shows and paintings have been using as their underlying narratives the sometimes grim reality of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

The commando raid that Mr. Obama ordered to kill Osama bin Laden is the basis for the actions of the fictional President Ogden in the Godzilla comic books. Several episodes of CBS’s “The Good Wife” feature mysterious wiretaps of the main characters by the National Security Agency. Artists in California are protesting drones by sculpturing a Predator out of mud. In New York, playwrights are exploring disappointment in the pace of societal change in Mr. Obama’s America.

The public relations machinery of the White House assiduously tries to control Mr. Obama’s image and legacy, but there is nothing it can do to stop artistic interpretation of his policies. After inheriting a post-Sept. 11 surveillance state and security apparatus from President George W. Bush, Mr. Obama pulled back in some areas and expanded others. Artists have focused particularly on the N.S.A. spying revelations disclosed by Edward J. Snowden and the president’s “kill list” of terrorists targeted by drones.

“The drone wars are really one of Obama’s signature foreign policies,” said Trevor Paglen, a photographer whose fuzzy images of flying drones are exhibited in galleries around the world. “We are living in a moment that’s characterized by this mass surveillance. I think art can help us call attention to certain things. It can help contribute to the cultural vocabulary that we use.”

Past presidents have also seen their actions reflected in the culture of the day. Ronald Reagan’s crusade against Communism in Central America became fodder for 1980s movies such as “Red Dawn,” and Reaganomics inspired Alex P. Keaton, the conservative teenager played by Michael J. Fox on NBC’s popular sitcom “Family Ties.” Artists in the 1980s also used their canvases to protest the conservative cultural movement that Reagan embraced and nurtured.

In “Sorry,” a play in a series by Richard Nelson, a family is disillusioned with President Obama and his promises of change. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Bill Clinton’s White House inspired the NBC series “West Wing,” and the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was an irresistible story line for everything from cartoon strips to novels. When Mr. Clinton’s effort to capture a Somali warlord in Mogadishu went bad, the disaster became the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

The difference for Mr. Obama may be the gap between what his supporters expected and what they now see.

The artist Kara Walker set off a minor controversy in 2012 with a black-and-white drawing displayed at the Newark Public Library in New Jersey. The drawing included an image of Mr. Obama standing at a lectern beneath a burning cross. It is titled “The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos.”

In New York City, the playwright Richard Nelson’s series at the Public Theater explored the lives of family members who, among other things, become disillusioned with Mr. Obama and his promises of change.

“The arts are often a left or progressive community,” said Nato Thompson, the chief curator at Creative Time, a public arts group in New York City that sponsors and promotes art exhibitions around the country. “There are a lot of people being let down by a president they were very enthusiastic about. There’s a big sense of betrayal.”

An art installation, “We Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust,” takes on drones. Credit J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

“It’s affected the tone” of the art being produced, he added.

He continued, “It’s getting more cynical and desperate.”

Issues like the racial disparities in the nation’s prisons often become the raw material for paintings, poems, drawings and plays, Mr. Thompson said. “Where you have a black president but deeply racist policies are continuing like in the prison population, you have a lot of artists who are deeply interested in these contradictions,” he said.

But the most common artistic themes revolve around the surveillance and privacy issues.

On the campus of Occidental College in Los Angeles, the artists Nadia Afghani and Matt Fisher sculptured a full-size, 55-foot-wide MQ-1B Predator drone out of mud. In an accompanying manifesto titled “We Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust,” the artists say they are “proposing and modeling a possible act of resistance to the authoritarian machinery” of the drones.

An image of an N.S.A. listening station by Trevor Paglen, who focuses on issues of surveillance. Credit Trevor Paglen/Courtesy Metro Pictures

In the Captain America movie, a politician played by Robert Redford argues that using super-drones to pre-emptively kill 20 million people to save the planet’s other seven billion is an acceptable trade-off.

Anthony Russo, one of the directors, said the plot served dual purposes: creating an exciting narrative for a Hollywood action film while also giving people something deeper and more personally relevant to think about.

“That was very much our thinking in terms of trying to turn these helicarriers and Project Insight into the ultimate drone technology gone bad,” Mr. Russo said, referring to the movie’s aircraft carrier-size drones and a diabolical project to link the drones to a vast surveillance network. “We tried to come up with a fantasy expression or an allegorical expression of where those anxieties and problems can lead.”

Joe Russo said moviemakers and other artists had seized on the shadowy themes of Mr. Obama’s presidency because more was known about what the government was doing.

But Mr. Russo said that, in his view, Mr. Obama had been more transparent about some parts of his national security agenda, including drone strikes. In a speech last May, the president offered more detail than he had previously about the drone program and pledged to curtail it, with mixed results so far.

“Governments for thousands of years have enacted things that may not necessarily be in the best interests of the general populace or is offensive to the morality of the general populace,” Mr. Russo said. “Those things are typically hidden. In his administration, they have not been hidden.”

Which, he said, is good for creative tension. “That’s created a debate,” he said.

by Adam Smith of Vice News

Schoolchildren in West Wales are told they have a choice of sorts and it goes a little something like this: farmer, fisherman, drunk, drone pilot.

Some follow in their father’s footsteps, trying to make a living off the flood-prone land. It’s an unforgiving business but it can be a rewarding one. Others fish the Irish Sea for lobsters and prawns, or take to the offshore rigs where they drill for gas and oil.

Many simply slip away. Some head east while others go down the time-tested path of Tennent’s and Teachers — no one said this was a game of equals.

The brainy kids go to sixth-form in the shadow of ParcAberporth Technology Park, the whine of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) whispering seductively.

Those studying science are offered tours of the site and told about the lucrative opportunities for working with the latest in stealth weaponry. They might be promised the sky, but with around 50 people currently employed on the site it seems unclear just where the jobs are going to come from.

ParcAberporth, the UK’s only purpose-built testing site for UAVs, opened for business around ten years ago with the Welsh Government promising up to 1,000 jobs. It was here they had the first flight of Watchkeeper — the British Army’s latest unmanned aircraft. After 500 hours of flight time Watchkeeper is now in the final stage of testing before deployment and the operation has been shifted 180 miles to Wiltshire.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has just announced a new 2.5 million pound contract to continue testing UAVs at Aberporth.
But despite all the talk of “paying dividends to the local community” there is little to suggest the situation is going to change.

UAVs are often called drones — a crude term for something so complex, but then many feel they have reason enough to call them ugly. The word drone comes from the male honey bee whose sole purpose in life is to impregnate the queen.
The term also refers to workers, it’s a pejorative expression alluding to man’s capacity for indolence, after all, the male bee makes no honey. It’s worth noting that these are bees without a sting and once they’ve served their purpose they are expelled from the hive to die.

Two parallel meanings of the same word, conflicting definitions colliding in the West Wales countryside. When it comes to drones, efficiency is the word and the role of humans has been streamlined in almost every way.

There was a time when the military was one of the biggest employers in West Wales. With the RAF airbase dating back to the Second World War.

The site employed around 1,000 skilled workers trialing heavy artillery and missiles. Prince Charles and Winston Churchill were among the visitors to the base, which had its own cinema and football team. It also ran a popular apprenticeship scheme through which thousands of youngsters were trained.

Mike Ford, 72, studied and worked at the base testing Bloodhound missles. He now runs a website documenting its history. He said, “It was the making of me; I arrived a spotty faced teen and came out man who they’d trust with a guided missile. My whole career started there. The base had a very tight, close-knit community. Technical work took precedence over everything else. You couldn’t tear us away to visit the dentists. But that’s all gone now. When the Berlin Wall came down it changed everything. The Bloodhound testing stopped over night. The buildings were left empty for years before being torn down.”

“Business is slow around here, there’s a low population and it’s hard work so when the UAV testing was announced it was very exciting. But things seem to have gone quiet, they don’t seem to have gone everyone interested and quite a few of the bases are empty at the moment. I think there is still potential for job development but at the moment it’s just that.”

The RAF base closed in 1984 compounding the area’s dire employment situation. The site lay unused for about 15 years — a windswept testament to progress. Entrepreneur Ray Mann, 66, bought the neighbouring West Wales airfield in 2001 — just a month before the twin towers fell and everything changed.

Mann himself acknowledged that the horrors of the 11th of September that year and the subsequent war on terror created the “rapid need” to develop UAVs. Never one to miss a business opportunity this ex-pilot started negotiating with the MoD to begin tests of Watchkeeper on his airfield.

 

RAF Aberporth Football Team Junior Cup Winners, 1974. (Photo via)

The Welsh Government decided they wanted to get in on the act and ordered for the RAF camp to be demolished to make way for a “UAV center of excellence”. Politicians gave the go-ahead for 17 million pounds of public money to be pumped into the project with the promise of major job creation. But this hasn’t exactly been the case.

At present the site is thought to employ around 50 people, far short of the RAF station in its prime, not to mention failing to deliver the “major job creation” the area so badly needs.

Harry Rodgers, of local group Bro Emlyn for Peace and Justice, has been campaigning against ParcAberporth since it opened.

“It’s like a joke, except it isn’t funny.” He said to me. “The jobs haven’t materialised at all. The only jobs have been MoD, army jobs and even then we’re talking tens rather than hundreds. You’re looking at an economic disaster; the local community is every bit as devastated as when the air base first closed.”

The development might not have exactly resuscitated the ailing job market but it did ensure the town was the first place in Wales to get superfast broadband, so, hey — every cloud.

It was the nail in the coffin for the humble dial-up modem when homeowners were able to get online via the base’s high tech connection.

This was part of the infrastructure installed by defense technology and security company Qinetiq in 2009, as part of the MoD’s 847 million pounds project to develop Watchkeeper. Qinetiq, set up by the MoD before being privatized by Gordon Brown in 2003, got a 5 million pounds share of this contract.

The Watchkeeper drone’s maiden flight.

A year later on the April 17, 2010, Watchkeeper had its maiden flight, gliding quietly through the West Wales sky. The locals didn’t take too much notice, maybe they were too busy downloading porn or refreshing the Jobcentre Plus website.

The First Minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan, however, took the opportunity to announce the country was open for business — inviting security companies to test their drones at Parc Aberporth. He was taken up on his offer by a range of private companies keen to test the latest stealth technology over 3,320 square miles of land and sea.

This includes Selex Galileo whose Falco drone crashednear the base in 2009 after suffering a mechanical failure. Or maybe the shame of sharing its name with an Austrian rapper got too much for it. And Israeli company Elbit Systems, which has been criticised by Amnesty International for the use of its Hermes 450 drones on the Gaza strip. Despite these investments the number of jobs on the base remained very low.

Watchkeeper is now on theverge of graduating to hostile airspace after being given Release to Service status — the formal safety clearance required to fly in UK airspace. It will now be used for military exercises above Salisbury Plain, the last stage of testing before its deployment in war zones across the world. Campaigners claim it was the “incessant rain and high winds” that passes for weather in West Wales, which led the MoD to relocate.

The firm has started an apprentice training school at Boscombe Down and is currently courting students and graduates in Malvern, Worcester, “helping to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and technologists.”

A bloodhound missile crew. (Photo via)

It remains to be seen how the latest wave of MoD investments will affect Aberporth but the main issues remain unchanged.
Mark Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Ceredigion, put it best when he said, “Many promises were made and these have been in the pipeline for a very long time. But despite a lot of public money being spent, there is not much evidence of economic development on the ground.”

And with many of ParcAberporth’s steel-framed industrial units still standing empty the site is looking more and more like a 30 acre memorial to the collateral damage of a multibillion pound war machine — the generations of workers no longer a part of the process.

The armed forces, like the car industry before it, is hurtling unstoppably towards automation with skilled workers being fast replaced by robots.

This is the future of conflict and there will be clear winners.

It won’t be the unemployed workers taking home 56.80 pounds a week in income support after their military jobs vanish. Or the taxpayers who have already bankrolled a massive plan of government spending on UAVs which has topped 2B pounds.
It will be private business that benefits, businesses such as QinetiQ who made 72.6M pounds profit before tax in the first half of last year.

When you’re looking at those kind of returns then it’s obvious that when it comes to drones, we are very much in the early stages of what is sure to be a long and lucrative production line.

For some more so than others.

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