The Obama administration’s growing reliance on drones in the war on terror has attracted a great deal of attention, as of late.
Things became interesting two weeks ago when the NYT published an article emphasizing the President’s role in approving the secret kill list. As the piece noted, the administration
“in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
This is a convenient means of undercounting the number of civilian deaths, of course. But the underlying assumption—guilty and condemned to death unless proven innocent—should give us pause. However, the greater concern of Congress was whether the story was based on leaks to the press that could threaten national security.
Other news regarding the use of drones in counter-terrorism:
- Bruce Stokes (Der Spiegel) attributes the declining support for Obama and the US to the extensive use of drones.
- Ibrahim Mothana (NYT) claims that A.Q.A.P. is gaining strength in Yemen in response to the use of drones and the civilian casualties. “Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing. A new generation of leaders is spontaneously emerging in furious retaliation to attacks on their territories and tribes.”
On the domestic front, drones have popped up in a number of stories, some humorous (e.g., the confusion created by one drone in Washington DC, which was spectators thought was a UFO) others…not.
According to Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchieral (Wired): “There are 64 drone bases on American soil. That includes 12 locations housing Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, which can be armed.” The story includes a link to a map (from Public Intelligence) of current and future drone bases.
This week, Rand Paul (the Hill) has “introduced the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, which would require the government to get a warrant before using aerial drones to surveil U.S. citizens.” According to Paul:
”Like other tools used to collect information in law enforcement, in order to use drones a warrant needs to be issued. Americans going about their everyday lives should not be treated like criminals or terrorists and have their rights infringed upon by military tactics.”
Paul’s concerns are shared by the ACLU, which has a number of interesting pieces on its drone blog. One can only hope that Paul’s commitment to basic civil liberties will not place him in the minority of Senators. Alas, I don’t hold out much hope on this one. As we have seen in the past, crisis (real or perceived) drive the expansion of state power, and there appears to be a one-way ratchet.
Note: For those interested in the vast variety of drones and robotic devices currently being developed for military and security applications, there was a fascinating piece in the Economist’s Technology Quarterly that I highly recommend.