5 thoughts on “U.S. May Kill Iran Leaders With Predator Drone Strikes

  1. Do Drones Undermine Democracy?

    Published: January 21, 2012 [SUNDAY REVIEW]


    IN democracies like ours, there have always been deep bonds between the public and its wars. Citizens have historically participated in decisions to take military action, through their elected representatives, helping to ensure broad support for wars and a willingness to share the costs, both human and economic, of enduring them.

    In America, our Constitution explicitly divided the president’s role as commander in chief in war from Congress’s role in declaring war. Yet these links and this division of labor are now under siege as a result of a technology that our founding fathers never could have imagined.

    Just 10 years ago, the idea of using armed robots in war was the stuff of Hollywood fantasy. Today, the United States military has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial systems, popularly called drones. There are 12,000 more on the ground. Last year, they carried out hundreds of strikes — both covert and overt — in six countries, transforming the way our democracy deliberates and engages in what we used to think of as war.

    We don’t have a draft anymore; less than 0.5 percent of Americans over 18 serve in the active-duty military. We do not declare war anymore; the last time Congress actually did so was in 1942 — against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. We don’t buy war bonds or pay war taxes anymore. During World War II, 85 million Americans purchased war bonds that brought the government $185 billion; in the last decade, we bought none and instead gave the richest 5 percent of Americans a tax break.

    And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.

    For the first 200 years of American democracy, engaging in combat and bearing risk — both personal and political — went hand in hand. In the age of drones, that is no longer the case.

    Today’s unmanned systems are only the beginning. The original Predator, which went into service in 1995, lacked even GPS and was initially unarmed; newer models can take off and land on their own, and carry smart sensors that can detect a disruption in the dirt a mile below the plane and trace footprints back to an enemy hide-out.

    There is not a single new manned combat aircraft under research and development at any major Western aerospace company, and the Air Force is training more operators of unmanned aerial systems than fighter and bomber pilots combined. In 2011, unmanned systems carried out strikes from Afghanistan to Yemen. The most notable of these continuing operations is the not-so-covert war in Pakistan, where the United States has carried out more than 300 drone strikes since 2004.

    Yet this operation has never been debated in Congress; more than seven years after it began, there has not even been a single vote for or against it. This campaign is not carried out by the Air Force; it is being conducted by the C.I.A. This shift affects everything from the strategy that guides it to the individuals who oversee it (civilian political appointees) and the lawyers who advise them (civilians rather than military officers).

    It also affects how we and our politicians view such operations. President Obama’s decision to send a small, brave Navy Seal team into Pakistan for 40 minutes was described by one of his advisers as “the gutsiest call of any president in recent history.” Yet few even talk about the decision to carry out more than 300 drone strikes in the very same country.

    I do not condemn these strikes; I support most of them. What troubles me, though, is how a new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make. Something that would have previously been viewed as a war is simply not being treated like a war.

    THE change is not limited to covert action. Last spring, America launched airstrikes on Libya as part of a NATO operation to prevent Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government from massacring civilians. In late March, the White House announced that the American military was handing over combat operations to its European partners and would thereafter play only a supporting role.

    The distinction was crucial. The operation’s goals quickly evolved from a limited humanitarian intervention into an air war supporting local insurgents’ efforts at regime change. But it had limited public support and no Congressional approval.

    When the administration was asked to explain why continuing military action would not be a violation of the War Powers Resolution — a Vietnam-era law that requires notifying Congress of military operations within 48 hours and getting its authorization after 60 days — the White House argued that American operations did not “involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof.” But they did involve something we used to think of as war: blowing up stuff, lots of it.

    Starting on April 23, American unmanned systems were deployed over Libya. For the next six months, they carried out at least 146 strikes on their own. They also identified and pinpointed the targets for most of NATO’s manned strike jets. This unmanned operation lasted well past the 60-day deadline of the War Powers Resolution, extending to the very last airstrike that hit Colonel Qaddafi’s convoy on Oct. 20 and led to his death.

    Choosing to make the operation unmanned proved critical to initiating it without Congressional authorization and continuing it with minimal public support. On June 21, when NATO’s air war was lagging, an American Navy helicopter was shot down by pro-Qaddafi forces. This previously would have been a disaster, with the risk of an American aircrew being captured or even killed. But the downed helicopter was an unmanned Fire Scout, and the story didn’t even make the newspapers the next day.

    Congress has not disappeared from all decisions about war, just the ones that matter. The same week that American drones were carrying out their 145th unauthorized airstrike in Libya, the president notified Congress that he had deployed 100 Special Operations troops to a different part of Africa.

    This small unit was sent to train and advise Ugandan forces battling the cultish Lord’s Resistance Army and was explicitly ordered not to engage in combat. Congress applauded the president for notifying it about this small noncombat mission but did nothing about having its laws ignored in the much larger combat operation in Libya.

    We must now accept that technologies that remove humans from the battlefield, from unmanned systems like the Predator to cyberweapons like the Stuxnet computer worm, are becoming the new normal in war.

    And like it or not, the new standard we’ve established for them is that presidents need to seek approval only for operations that send people into harm’s way — not for those that involve waging war by other means.

    WITHOUT any actual political debate, we have set an enormous precedent, blurring the civilian and military roles in war and circumventing the Constitution’s mandate for authorizing it. Freeing the executive branch to act as it chooses may be appealing to some now, but many future scenarios will be less clear-cut. And each political party will very likely have a different view, depending on who is in the White House.

    Unmanned operations are not “costless,” as they are too often described in the news media and government deliberations. Even worthy actions can sometimes have unintended consequences. Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, was drawn into terrorism by the very Predator strikes in Pakistan meant to stop terrorism.

    Similarly, C.I.A. drone strikes outside of declared war zones are setting a troubling precedent that we might not want to see followed by the close to 50 other nations that now possess the same unmanned technology — including China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran.

    A deep deliberation on war was something the framers of the Constitution sought to build into our system. Yet on Tuesday, when President Obama talks about his wartime accomplishments during the State of the Union address, Congress will have to admit that its role has been reduced to the same part it plays during the president’s big speech. These days, when it comes to authorizing war, Congress generally sits there silently, except for the occasional clapping. And we do the same at home.

    Last year, I met with senior Pentagon officials to discuss the many tough issues emerging from our growing use of robots in war. One of them asked, “So, who then is thinking about all this stuff?”

    America’s founding fathers may not have been able to imagine robotic drones, but they did provide an answer. The Constitution did not leave war, no matter how it is waged, to the executive branch alone.

    In a democracy, it is an issue for all of us.

    Peter W. Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution and author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”


  2. The ‘willy-nilly’ drone doctrine
    By Erica Gaston and Christopher Rogers
    Thursday, March 1, 2012 – 2:00 PM

    Last weekend, the Associated Press released a study of ten drone strikes in Pakistan in the last 18 months. This is the most ambitious journalistic investigation of drones so far, which also does what the Obama administration has so far failed to do: to meaningfully investigate claims of civilian casualties and publicly evaluate why those killed were targeted.

    The study found that at least 138 militants were killed, while the remaining 56 were civilians and tribal police. It is difficult to extrapolate much from ten cases. But if the same pattern held true for other strikes, the civilian casualty rate would be far less than is commonly asserted in Pakistani public discourse — but also far higher than the Obama Administration has suggested previously. Senior counterterrorism official John Brennan has in the past suggested the civilian casualty rate was zero, whereas President Obama has described it as “few.” In contrast, Pakistani public discourse often suggests that most casualties of drone strikes are civilians. The AP article quotes prominent Pakistani public figure Imran Khan on drones: “Those who lie to the nation after every drone attack and say terrorists were killed should be ashamed.”

    The coverage of the AP study so far (and even the headline of the story itself) has largely focused on the discrepancy between the AP’s finding that mostly militants were killed in the drone strikes it examined, and the common assertion in Pakistani media and politics that drones are primarily killing innocent civilians. Inflated civilian casualty claims due to drones are certainly a problem in Pakistan. They not only distort public discourse and policy-making, but they also inhibit sound analysis of what is causing civilian casualties, and possible steps to prevent and mitigate civilian harm in the future. However, reading the AP reporting as only exposing the hot air behind bogus civilian casualty claims misses the real contribution this study makes to the overall debate about drones.

    The AP study is novel because it is based on something more substantial than the whispers of anonymous officials in the halls of Islamabad and Washington. AP took the time (and risk) to actually speak to those who knew the individuals killed, who saw the strike take place, and in some cases buried family members.

    What’s more, contrary to those who suggest that any ground reports will be hopelessly compromised by propaganda and anti-American bias, what the villagers interviewed told the AP smacks of truthfulness. If the local villagers were motivated to lie to inflate civilian casualties — as one of the anonymously cited intelligence officials in the AP story seems to suggest — they certainly gave AP the wrong impression. According to the 80 villagers AP interviewed, militants were the only victims in six of the ten strikes examined.

    And while the AP found that militants were killed more frequently than civilians, it did find civilian casualties in a number of strikes. This begs the question: if the AP is doing assessments like this, why isn’t the U.S. government? To the best of our knowledge, U.S. review of drone strikes consists of video footage before, during, and after the incident. For example, following one strike in which AP found that three women and two children were killed, the anonymous intelligence officials’ rebuttal was that women and children had not been observed prior to the strike. Certainly no public investigations of drone strike cases — of the type that typically follow allegations of civilian casualties by the U.S. military in Afghanistan — have been forthcoming.

    This is problematic because, while video surveillance can be an aide to investigation, it often presents an incomplete picture. Even with the best intelligence in the world, the conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan is murky, as are the activities and affiliation of individuals operating within it. Across the border in Afghanistan, where troops have years of experience with the terrain and the communities, and greater field intelligence and access, mistakes are regularly made. The Administration’s claims that such mistakes are almost impossible to avoid, or its attempts to dismiss claims to the contrary as propaganda alone, willfully disregards all the military has learned in its past ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    In addition, video surveillance is often not enough to determine who is a civilian or who is a combatant under international law. Under international law, members of an armed group that is party to the conflict, or civilians who directly participate in hostilities can be directly targeted. While there are ongoing international legal debates about what constitutes “direct participation,” the provision of food, shelter or medical care to one of the parties to a conflict, or mere association with one warring party does not constitute participation.

    In Afghanistan, our organization, Open Society Afghanistan, has had more access to investigate such cases, and found that civilians have sometimes been killed or detained because their proximity to insurgent groups led to a sort of “guilt by association.” Studies like the AP report raise concerns that the United States may be applying the same broad standards for direct participation in Pakistan. In one strike documented by the AP, 38 civilians and tribal police were reportedly killed at a public jirga — a level of civilian harm that U.S. intelligence officials disputed on the grounds that “the group targeted was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to al-Qaida,” according to the article. The AP analysis of the incident based on villagers’ accounts found that some militants were present but that the majority was comprised of civilians, tribal elders, and tribal police — many of whom may well have been armed given the cultural context and insecurity in Waziristan.

    The lack of transparency in the Obama’s Administrations’ drone policy have made it impossible to know how the U.S. government chooses its targets in any given incident, and thus difficult to get any real traction on important questions of civilian harm. The Obama Administration’s response to such concerns has ranged from outright denial to mere assertions that its strikes comply with international law (for example, in speeches by Legal Advisor Harold Koh and counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan). In a recent chat forum, President Obama dismissed the potential civilian harm from drones, as “not huge” concerns and assured those on the chat room that the U.S. use of drones was “judicious” and not “willy-nilly.” Such remarks were the most candid, but also disturbingly casual in addressing these critical concerns.

    The AP’s findings starkly illustrate where the Obama Administration is falling short on public accountability for civilian casualties. At the same time, reaction to the AP report demonstrates how the debate over the percentage of civilian casualties can distract attention from equally critical issues, specifically the complete lack of transparency and how the U.S. distinguishes between militants and civilians. The Administration’s closeted response to serious public concerns about its drone program does not befit its stated democratic values. Given the prominence of drones to U.S. national security policy, and the demonstrated consequences of these strikes, we need to move beyond the “willy-nilly” standard of killing.

    Erica Gaston is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in civilian casualty issues. Chris Rogers is also a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


  3. At CIA, a convert to Islam leads the terrorism hunt

    By Greg Miller, Published: March 25

    For every cloud of smoke that follows a CIA drone strike in Pakistan, dozens of smaller plumes can be traced to a gaunt figure standing in a courtyard near the center of the agency’s Langley campus in Virginia.

    The man with the nicotine habit is in his late 50s, with stubble on his face and the dark-suited wardrobe of an undertaker. As chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the past six years, he has functioned in a funereal capacity for al-Qaeda.

    Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, may be the most consequential but least visible national security official in Washington — the principal architect of the CIA’s drone campaign and the leader of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In many ways, he has also been the driving force of the Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killing as a centerpiece of its counterterrorism efforts.

    Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam.

    His defenders don’t even try to make him sound likable. Instead, they emphasize his operational talents, encyclopedic understanding of the enemy and tireless work ethic.

    “Irascible is the nicest way I would describe him,” said a former high-ranking CIA official who supervised the counterterrorism chief. “But his range of experience and relationships have made him about as close to indispensable as you could think.”

    Critics are less equivocal. “He’s sandpaper” and “not at all a team player,” said a former senior U.S. military official who worked closely with the CIA. Like others, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the director of CTC — as the center is known — remains undercover.

    Remarkable endurance

    Regardless of Roger’s management style, there is consensus on at least two adjectives that apply to his tenure: eventful and long.

    Since becoming chief, Roger has worked for two presidents, four CIA directors and four directors of national intelligence. In the top echelons of national security, only Robert S. Mueller III, who became FBI director shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has been in place longer.

    Roger’s longevity is all the more remarkable, current and former CIA officials said, because the CTC job is one of the agency’s most stressful and grueling. It involves managing thousands of employees, monitoring dozens of operations abroad and making decisions on who the agency should target in lethal strikes — all while knowing that the CTC director will be among the first to face blame if there is another attack on U.S. soil.

    Most of Roger’s predecessors, including Cofer Black and Robert Grenier, lasted less than three years. There have been rumors in recent weeks that Roger will soon depart as well, perhaps to retire, although similar speculation has surfaced nearly every year since he took the job.

    The CIA declined to comment on Roger’s status or provide any information on him for this article. Roger declined repeated requests for an interview. The Post agreed to withhold some details, including Roger’s real name, his full cover identity and his age, at the request of agency officials, who cited concerns for his safety. Although CIA officials often have their cover identities removed when they join the agency’s senior ranks, Roger has maintained his.

    A native of suburban Virginia, Roger grew up in a family where several members, across two generations, have worked at the agency.

    When his own career began in 1979, at the CIA’s southern Virginia training facility, known as The Farm, Roger showed little of what he would become. A training classmate recalled him as an underperformer who was pulled aside by instructors and admonished to improve.

    “Folks on the staff tended to be a little down on him,” the former classmate said. He was “kind of a pudgy guy. He was getting very middling grades on his written work. If anything, he seemed to be almost a little beaten down.”

    His first overseas assignments were in Africa, where the combination of dysfunctional governments, bloody tribal warfare and minimal interference from headquarters provided experience that would prove particularly useful in the post-Sept. 11 world. Many of the agency’s most accomplished counterterrorism operatives, including Black and Richard Blee, cut their teeth in Africa as well.

    “It’s chaotic, and it requires you to understand that and deal with it psychologically,” said a former Africa colleague. Roger developed an “enormous amount of expertise in insurgencies, tribal politics, warfare — writing hundreds of intelligence reports.”

    He also married a Muslim woman he met abroad, prompting his conversion to Islam. Colleagues said he doesn’t shy away from mentioning his religion but is not demonstrably observant. There is no prayer rug in his office, officials said, although he is known to clutch a strand of prayer beads.

    Roger was not part of the first wave of CIA operatives deployed after the Sept. 11 attacks, and he never served in any of the agency’s “black sites,” where al-Qaeda prisoners were held and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques.

    But in subsequent years, he was given a series of high-profile assignments, including chief of operations for the CTC, chief of station in Cairo, and the top agency post in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq war.

    Along the way, he has clashed with high-ranking figures, including David H. Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, who at times objected to the CIA’s more pessimistic assessments of those wars. Former CIA officials said the two had to patch over their differences when Petraeus became CIA director.

    “No officer in the agency has been more relentless, focused, or committed to the fight against al-Qaeda than has the chief of the Counterterrorism Center,” Petraeus said in a statement provided to The Post.

    Harsh, profane demeanor

    By 2006, the campaign against al-Qaeda was foundering. Military and intelligence resources had been diverted to Iraq. The CIA’s black sites had been exposed, and allegations of torture would force the agency to shut down its detention and interrogation programs. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government was arranging truces with tribal leaders that were allowing al-Qaeda to regroup.

    Inside agency headquarters, a bitter battle between then-CTC chief Robert Grenier and the head of the clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, was playing out. Rodriguez regarded Grenier as too focused on interagency politics, while Grenier felt forced to deal with issues such as the fate of the interrogation program and the CIA prisoners at the black sites. Resources in Pakistan were relatively scarce: At times, the agency had only three working Predator drones.

    In February that year, Grenier was forced out. Rodriguez “wanted somebody who would be more ‘hands on the throttle,’ ” said a former CIA official familiar with the decision. Roger was given the job and, over time, the resources, to give the throttle a crank.

    Grenier declined to comment.

    Stylistically, Grenier and Roger were opposites. Grenier gave plaques and photos with dignitaries prominent placement in his office, while Roger eschewed any evidence that he had a life outside the agency. Once, when someone gave him a cartoon sketch of himself — the kind you can buy from sidewalk vendors — he crumpled it up and threw it away, according to a former colleague, saying, “I don’t like depictions of myself.”

    His main addition to the office was a hideaway bed.

    From the outset, Roger seemed completely absorbed by the job — arriving for work before dawn to read operational cables from overseas and staying well into the night, if he left at all. His once-pudgy physique became almost cadaverous. Although he had quit smoking a decade or so earlier, his habit returned full strength.

    He could be profane and brutal toward subordinates, micromanaging operations, second-guessing even the smallest details of plans, berating young analysts for shoddy work. “This is the worst cable I’ve ever seen,” was a common refrain.

    Given his attention to operational detail, Roger is seen by some as culpable for one of the agency’s most tragic events — the deaths of seven CIA employees at the hands of a suicide bomber who was invited to a meeting at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009.

    An internal review concluded that the assailant, a Jordanian double-agent who promised breakthrough intelligence on al-Qaeda leaders, had not been fully vetted, and it cited failures of “management oversight.” But neither Roger nor other senior officers were mentioned by name.

    One of those killed, Jennifer Matthews, was a highly regarded analyst and protege of Roger’s who had been installed as chief of the base despite a lack of operational experience overseas. A person familiar with the inquiry said that “the CTC chief’s selection of [Matthews] was one of a great number of things one could point to that were weaknesses in the way the system operated.”

    Khost represented the downside of the agency’s desperation for new ways to penetrate al-Qaeda, an effort that was intensified under President Obama.

    Roger’s connection to Khost and his abrasive manner may have cost him — he has been passed over for promotions several times, including for the job he is thought to have wanted most: director of the National Clandestine Service, which is responsible for all CIA operations overseas.

    ‘A new flavor of activity’

    But current and former senior U.S. intelligence officials said it is no accident that Roger’s tenure has coincided with a remarkably rapid disintegration of al-Qaeda — and the killing of bin Laden last year.

    When Michael V. Hayden became CIA director in May 2006, Roger began laying the groundwork for an escalation of the drone campaign. Over a period of months, the CTC chief used regular meetings with the director to make the case that intermittent strikes were allowing al-Qaeda to recover and would never destroy the threat.

    “He was relentless,” said a participant in the meetings. Roger argued that the CIA needed to mount an air campaign against al-Qaeda “at a pace they could not absorb” and warned that “after the next attack, there would be no explaining our inaction.”

    Under Hayden, the agency abandoned the practice of notifying the Pakistanis before launching strikes, and the trajectory began to change: from three strikes in 2006 to 35 in 2008.

    A second proposal from the CTC chief, a year or so later, had even greater impact.

    “He came in with a big idea on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon,” said a former high-ranking CIA official involved in drone operations. “It was a new flavor of activity, and had to do with taking senior terrorists off the battlefield.”

    The former official declined to describe the activity. But others said the CTC chief proposed launching what came to be known as “signature strikes,” meaning attacks on militants based solely on their patterns of behavior.

    Previously, the agency had needed confirmation of the presence of an approved al-Qaeda target before it could shoot. With permission from the White House, it would begin hitting militant gatherings even when it wasn’t clear that a specific operative was in the drone’s crosshairs.

    Roger’s relentless approach meshed with the Obama mind-set. Shortly after taking office, Obama met with his first CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, and ordered a redoubled effort in the fight against al-Qaeda and the search for the terrorist group’s elusive leader.

    From 53 strikes in 2009, the number soared to 117 in 2010, before tapering off last year.

    The cumulative toll helped to crumple al-Qaeda even as CTC analysts finally found a courier trail that led them to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

    Roger does not appear in any of the pictures taken inside the White House situation room when bin Laden was killed last May. Officials said he stayed in place at CIA headquarters and barely allowed himself to exult.

    For all the focus on “kinetic” operations during Roger’s tenure, “he believes this is not a war you’re going to be able to kill your way out of,” said a former colleague. To him, “There is no end in sight.”

    When the bin Laden operation concluded, he stepped outside to smoke.

    Staff writer Julie Tate contributed to this report.
    The Washington Post.


  4. The Moral Case for DronesBy SCOTT SHANE

    14 July 2012

    FOR streamlined, unmanned aircraft, drones carry a lot of baggage these days, along with their Hellfire missiles. Some people find the very notion of killer robots deeply disturbing. Their lethal operations inside sovereign countries that are not at war with the United States raise contentious legal questions. They have become a radicalizing force in some Muslim countries. And proliferation will inevitably put them in the hands of odious regimes.

    But most critics of the Obama administration’s aggressive use of drones for targeted killing have focused on evidence that they are unintentionally killing innocent civilians. From the desolate tribal regions of Pakistan have come heartbreaking tales of families wiped out by mistake and of children as collateral damage in the campaign against Al Qaeda. And there are serious questions about whether American officials have understated civilian deaths.

    So it may be a surprise to find that some moral philosophers, political scientists and weapons specialists believe armed, unmanned aircraft offer marked moral advantages over almost any other tool of warfare.

    “I had ethical doubts and concerns when I started looking into this,” said Bradley J. Strawser, a former Air Force officer and an assistant professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School. But after a concentrated study of remotely piloted vehicles, he said, he concluded that using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.

    “You have to start by asking, as for any military action, is the cause just?” Mr. Strawser said. But for extremists who are indeed plotting violence against innocents, he said, “all the evidence we have so far suggests that drones do better at both identifying the terrorist and avoiding collateral damage than anything else we have.”

    Since drone operators can view a target for hours or days in advance of a strike, they can identify terrorists more accurately than ground troops or conventional pilots. They are able to time a strike when innocents are not nearby and can even divert a missile after firing if, say, a child wanders into range.

    Clearly, those advantages have not always been used competently or humanely; like any other weapon, armed drones can be used recklessly or on the basis of flawed intelligence. If an operator targets the wrong house, innocents will die.

    Moreover, any analysis of actual results from the Central Intelligence Agency’s strikes in Pakistan, which has become the world’s unwilling test ground for the new weapon, is hampered by secrecy and wildly varying casualty reports. But one rough comparison has found that even if the highest estimates of collateral deaths are accurate, the drones kill fewer civilians than other modes of warfare.

    AVERY PLAW, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, put the C.I.A. drone record in Pakistan up against the ratio of combatant deaths to civilian deaths in other settings. Mr. Plaw considered four studies of drone deaths in Pakistan that estimated the proportion of civilian victims at 4 percent, 6 percent, 17 percent and 20 percent respectively.

    But even the high-end count of 20 percent was considerably lower than the rate in other settings, he found. When the Pakistani Army went after militants in the tribal area on the ground, civilians were 46 percent of those killed. In Israel’s targeted killings of militants from Hamas and other groups, using a range of weapons from bombs to missile strikes, the collateral death rate was 41 percent, according to an Israeli human rights group.

    In conventional military conflicts over the last two decades, he found that estimates of civilian deaths ranged from about 33 percent to more than 80 percent of all deaths.

    Mr. Plaw acknowledged the limitations of such comparisons, which mix different kinds of warfare. But he concluded, “A fair-minded evaluation of the best data we have available suggests that the drone program compares favorably with similar operations and contemporary armed conflict more generally.”

    By the count of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, which has done perhaps the most detailed and skeptical study of the strikes, the C.I.A. operators are improving their performance. The bureau has documented a notable drop in the civilian proportion of drone casualties, to 16 percent of those killed in 2011 from 28 percent in 2008. This year, by the bureau’s count, just three of the 152 people killed in drone strikes through July 7 were civilians.

    The drone’s promise of precision killing and perfect safety for operators is so seductive, in fact, that some scholars have raised a different moral question: Do drones threaten to lower the threshold for lethal violence?

    “In the just-war tradition, there’s the notion that you only wage war as a last resort,” said Daniel R. Brunstetter, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine who fears that drones are becoming “a default strategy to be used almost anywhere.”

    With hundreds of terrorist suspects killed under President Obama and just one taken into custody overseas, some question whether drones have become not a more precise alternative to bombing but a convenient substitute for capture. If so, drones may actually be encouraging unnecessary killing.

    Few imagined such debates in 2000, when American security officials first began to think about arming the Predator surveillance drone, with which they had spotted Osama bin Laden at his Afghanistan base, said Henry A. Crumpton, then deputy chief of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, who tells the story in his recent memoir, “The Art of Intelligence.”

    “We never said, ‘Let’s build a more humane weapon,’ ” Mr. Crumpton said. “We said, ‘Let’s be as precise as possible, because that’s our mission — to kill Bin Laden and the people right around him.’ ”

    Since then, Mr. Crumpton said, the drone war has prompted an intense focus on civilian casualties, which in a YouTube world have become harder to hide. He argues that technological change is producing a growing intolerance for the routine slaughter of earlier wars.

    “Look at the firebombing of Dresden, and compare what we’re doing today,” Mr. Crumpton said. “The public’s expectations have been raised dramatically around the world, and that’s good news.”

    Scott Shane is a national security reporter for The New York Times.


  5. Kamikaze drones expand kill zone
    Posted on September 24, 2012 – 07:30 by Shane McGlaun

    The US military deploys drones for a wide variety of mission scenarios in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. The unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance and even destroy a hostile target.

    One of the more common drones currently deployed by the Pentagon is dubbed the Raven. This small, handheld drone is typically launched by a single soldier and then controlled remotely to gather real-time information.

    Unsurprisingly, the Raven is expected to serve as the paradigm for a next-gen drone that will be specifically designed to take direct action against targets. Dubbed the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS), the unmanned aerial vehicle weighs less than 5 pounds and will ultimately be capable of striking a target up to 6 miles away in 30 minutes or less.

    According to Wired Danger Room, the Army is more concerned about the drone’s weight rather than size, with official pre-solicitation documents emphasizing strict adherence to the former, as well as the ability to stay aloft for 30 minutes at a time. LMAMS will also have to be fairly quick, with Army specs stipulating a 6-mile range within 30 minutes or less.

    Interestingly, LMAMS seems somewhat similar to the Switchblade drone we discussed earlier this year. The major difference? How long the drone can fly. The Switchblade specs call for a 10-minute flight duration whereas LMAMS would offer 30 minutes in the air.


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