Tag Archives: Drones

Loss of drone program a momentum shift for the CIA

The Daily Beast reports that the CIA’s drone operations are being shifted to military control. That doesn’t so much mean the CIA is losing the ability to launch strikes with the remotely piloted aircraft, but that they will have to liase with the Pentagon to do so.

The move is reportedly part of a larger shift in the administration to reign in and centralize the nation’s ability to launch targeted strikes across the globe.

The policy shift is part of a larger White House initiative known internally as “institutionalization,” an effort to set clear standards and procedures for lethal operations. More than a year in the works, the interagency process has been driven and led by John Brennan, who until he became CIA director earlier this month was Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. Brennan, who has presided over the administration’s drone program from almost day one of Obama’s presidency, has grown uncomfortable with the ad hoc and sometimes shifting rules that have governed it.

 Cutting back on the CIA’s lethal operations is a shift in an agency culture that has, in the years since 9/11, seemed to be increasingly paramilitary in nature. Ironically, the newly-appointed director of the CIA, John Brennan, was historically the mastermind of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy – a policy that relied heavily on drones.

After the approval process for Brennan’s job as CIA director was rife with Congressional complaints about the lacking transparency of the administration’s use of drones, the executive branch seems to have received the message. With all American drone use coming out of the Pentagon, which falls under military and international law, the process for each strike will be uniform, if not more transparent.

The CIA, for its part, seems to be headed back into the shadows, serving as more of an ear and less of a fist for the American national security apparatus.

Moreover, Brennan has publicly stated that he would like to see the CIA move away from the kinds of paramilitary operations it began after the September 11 attacks, and return to its more traditional role of gathering and analyzing intelligence.

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Experts see promise in domestic drone use, privacy concerns delay rollout

A Yamaha RMAX unmanned helicopter in Japan, where such vehicles have been used increasingly for crop spraying over the past 20 years. Flickr user timtak.

A Yamaha RMAX unmanned helicopter in Japan, where such vehicles have been used increasingly for crop spraying over the past 20 years. Flickr user timtak.

More than a year after President Obama signed legislation that will allow drones to fly over American soil, regulators are far behind schedule and proponents are eager to develop what they say could be vital to American high-tech manufacturing and other industries.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, popularly known as “drones,” have been a controversial topic since they joined the American military arsenal, but a different set of factors is at play on the issue of domestic use. As civil liberties advocates, lawmakers and Federal Aviation Administration officials voice privacy concerns, others are touting the benefits the robotic aircraft could hold for uses in a wide variety of applications such as freight shipping, agriculture and disaster management.

Vince Ambrosia, who helped develop a NASA program that used drones to monitor forest fires over the western United States, said government agencies and private companies alike have seen the value the aircraft could provide. It’s just a matter of developing a logistical, regulatory and ethical framework around their use.

“This is just going to explode,” he said. “This is going to be the next big technology breakthrough. The technology is already in place, it’s just a matter of that framework allowing the use of those platforms.”

Currently, the FAA uses a Certificate of Authorization (COA) system, through which every unmanned aircraft flown over the U.S. must be individually approved for operation (this does not apply to hobbyists using small recreational UAVs). According to a Feb. 15, 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office, the FAA has issued 1,428 Certificates of Authorization since Jan. 2007. However, FAA reports released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation under a Freedom of Information Act request yielded only a few hundred certificates, so a comprehensive list of the various drone authorizations in the U.S. remains elusive.

Chris Mailey, vice president of knowledge resources at Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a Virginia-based non-profit advocacy group, said the FAA does not yet give Certificates of Authorization for commercial drone use.

“FAA does the COA process,” he said, “and they don’t approve commercial COAs, so either you have to be a government agency or research institution in order to get a COA.”

Last year’s legislation, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, was designed to change that. The bill, signed into law Feb. 15, 2012, required officials lay out the framework for the integration of drones into the National Airspace System, which regulates all air traffic over the U.S. The first step in this process mandated that the FAA designate six test ranges in American airspace within six months of the bill signing to “test and operate unmanned aircraft systems.” By Sept. 30, 2015, according to the legislation, drones should be fully integrated into American airspace.

But more than a year later, the FAA has not named the test areas. This is due in part to a delay in the process explained by a Nov. 1, 2012 letter from acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta to Congress.

“Our target was to have the six test sites named by the end of 2012,” he wrote. “However, increasing the use of UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] in our airspace also raises privacy issues, and these issues will need to be addressed as unmanned aircraft are safely integrated.”

On Feb. 14, 2013, six months after the initial deadline passed, the FAA began soliciting proposals for the test sites.

The FAA release announcing the solicitation did not clarify if the administration had taken any steps to address or study privacy issues since the Nov. 1 letter, but solicited public input on the subject.

“The FAA’s proposed privacy approach emphasizes transparency, public engagement and compliance with existing law,” it reads.

Despite these delays, and having missed their first deadline, FAA officials maintain that they can make the Sept. 2015 deadline.

“The FAA expects to meet all the mandates in the 2012 reauthorization,” spokeswoman Alison Duquette said in an email. She did not address questions about the FAA’s internal deliberations about privacy concerns.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is scheduled to meet with the FAA next week about the issue, but the purpose of the meeting is unclear. Committee spokesman Justin Harclerode failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.

Washington isn’t the only place where privacy concerns have kept drones grounded. In Virginia, lawmakers, also citing privacy concerns, passed legislation that will ban drones over the state for two years if Gov. Bob McDonnell signs it into law. Other states are considering similar legislation.

Proponents of the unmanned vehicles, which can range from small, low-flying quadrocopters to jet-powered planes with wingspans up to 116 feet, say the privacy issue is an important one, but shouldn’t keep drones out of American skies forever.

Missy Cummings, an MIT professor working with the Navy on an unmanned rescue helicopter, says privacy issues are nothing new.

“Your neighbor has been able to look into your house with high-powered zoom lenses for a long time,” she said. Unmanned aircraft, while they are equipped with high-powered optics, aren’t able to see any more than a similarly positioned human eye.

“I work a lot with police forces,” Cummings said. “You know whatever we’ve got going on with police helicopters, do you think they’re looking maybe not where they should? Yeah, they are.”

Drones are no different, she said.

While lawmakers and regulators struggle with these issues, a growing number of agencies and businesses are preparing to capitalize on the possibilities afforded by relatively cheap, automated flight.

“The thing about the big brother state is – and that’s the drumbeat I keep trying to get out there – is our focus is on drones as spy vehicles,” Cummings said. “And all this development is going on under the radar, you know drones as cargo planes, drones as rescue helicopters.”

The oft-mentioned fear of drone use over the U.S. is that of the Orwellian surveillance state, but Mailey of AUVSI said the law enforcement market is likely to be a small slice of a much larger pie.

The real money, he said, is in agriculture. Crop dusting and other aerial spray methods are very expensive, he said, largely because manned planes and helicopters must carry a pilot in them. The added weight ups fuel costs, and the cost of hiring a trained pilot makes crop dusting with piloted vehicles expensive and often inefficient, he said.

“The big sign we see is Japan,” he said. “What’s been happening in Japan in the last 20 years has been pretty telling.”

In Japan in 2011, 95 percent of aerial spraying was done with unmanned helicopters, according to Yamaha, the manufacturer of one such vehicle. In 1995, unmanned craft did just 8 percent of Japan’s crop spraying.

Beyond agriculture, Mailey said, energy companies are interested in using drones to monitor oil and gas pipelines that are expensive and difficult to monitor on the ground. Other proposed uses include wildlife monitoring, freight transport and even taco delivery. Essentially, Mailey said, it all boils down to economics.

“In the commercial world,” he said, “return on investment is going to be the big driver [of UAV markets].” If companies can get the same result for a lower cost and less risk, they’ll jump for the opportunity.

Mailey holds out hope that the FAA might meet it’s 2015 deadline, while Cummings says it likely won’t happen, but both agree that once the regulatory issues are figured out, drones will help companies and public agencies bring their costs down and perform new tasks manned aircraft couldn’t.

“By 2020,” Mailey said, “I expect the commercial [UAV] market in the U.S. to be bigger than the defense market.”

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NatSec News of the Week: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013

I didn’t get a chance to write any longer posts this week, but there were a few interesting stories from the past couple of weeks. Worth reading:

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Less cloak, more dagger for the CIA

The seal on the floor of CIA headquarters. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The seal on the floor of CIA headquarters. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The average CIA case officer at the height of the Cold War traveled alone, opting for inconspicuous movement around their area of operations over the ability to engage in combat. But now, as many CIA operations take place in combat zones – or at least areas where it isn’t a red flag to see a man with an assault rifle on a street corner – case officers are constantly surrounded by an “envelope” of security, provided by a small community of former U.S. Special Operations personell, according to a story in The Washington Post.

The CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS), the force officially charged with CIA security around the globe, is made up of 250 or more former U.S. Navy SEALs, Delta operators and even former SWAT team members from U.S. police departments. It’s made up of a mix of contractors and CIA staff.

At least half are contractors, who often earn $140,000 or more a year and typically serve 90- or 120-day assignments abroad. Full-time GRS staff officers — those who are permanent CIA employees — earn slightly less but collect benefits and are typically put in supervisory roles.

The high pay of a contractor is countered by the minimal benefits. One GRS contractor, Glen Doherty, was killed in the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks and received no benefits because he hadn’t set up a life insurance policy and didn’t have CIA benefits.

When Doherty died, he left debts that included loans on two houses in California, [his sister Kathleen] Quigley said. He had no life insurance. CIA officials told Doherty’s family that they had recommended companies willing to underwrite such policies, but that agency coverage was not available for contractors.

Quigley did not criticize the agency, but added: “It’s so sad for a guy like that to go out and have nothing to show for it, except, frankly, a lot of debt.”

The Post report comes amid growing concerns about the CIA’s drone program and the intelligence agency’s increasing role as a paramilitary force. The drone program, made up of between 30 and 35 armed drones, may expand by as many as 10 drones if the Obama administration approves an October request by then-CIA Director David Petraeus.

The cost of devoting increasing amounts of the CIA’s finite resources to lethality – a GRS contractor might make about $140,000 a year, which puts the total cost of the force into the tens of millions, and the drone program likely costs much more – is that those funds cannot be used for the CIA’s stated purpose: intelligence gathering.

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Washington Post: U.S. Special Forces setting up for the long haul, in D.C. and abroad

A three-part series in the Washington Post this week shed light on the U.S. counterterrorism apparatus as it is more than a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration and Congress took a number of actions to counter the forces that came to bear that day.

With the two resulting ground wars are drawing to a close – U.S. troops have been out of Iraq for 10 months and are slowly leaving Afghanistan – the government is establishing a counterterrorism system for the next decade.

With public opinion tilted against these more traditional wars and the limited efficacy of traditional forces against an enemy whose ideals can’t be drawn onto a map, a precision approach makes a lot of sense for the U.S. Covert operations by definition don’t make headlines as much as thousands of soldiers marching on a capital city, and drone strikes are both low-risk and deniable.

So American national security considerations are woven neatly into a “disposition matrix,” which lists every individual on an American kill list and magically generating every conceivable kill scenario for the individual, based on current intelligence and troop locations.

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.

Currently, the kingpin of American counterterrorism is an unelected official appointed without congressional confirmation: John O. Brennan.

What was once a disparate collection of tactics — drone strikes by the CIA and the military, overhead surveillance, deployment of small Special Forces ground units at far-flung bases, and distribution of military and economic aid to threatened governments — has become a White House-centered strategy with Brennan at its core.

The Post story details Brennan’s loosely defined job description and his close relationship to President Barack Obama. But despite the synergy within the current administration, officials are in the process of setting up a procedural framework that will outlast them using tools like the disposition matrix and consistent procedures.

“This needs to be sustainable,” one senior administration official said, “and we need to think of it in ways that contemplate other people sitting in all the chairs around the table.”
One part of the new set up is establishing a foothold in areas where al-Qaeda operates. With troops leaving Afghanistan and a very limited presence in Iraq, the U.S. turned to the tiny nation of Djibouti as a center of operations for its new breed of warfare.
At camp Lemonnier on the outskirts of Djibouti City, the capital city of the small, costal North African nation that borders Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the buzz of a Predator drone is a familiar sound. As part of an expansion of its duties, the base received eight of the drones in 2011. It has since become a launch point for drone activity over Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

The number of takeoffs and landings each month has more than doubled, reaching a peak of 1,666 in July compared with a monthly average of 768 two years ago, according to air-traffic statistics disclosed in Defense Department contracting documents.

 The human counterpart to the drone mission in Djibouti is the roughly 300 special operators who occupy the base alongside regular troops.

About 300 Special Operations personnel plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire. Most of the commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.
According to the Post, there are plans to expand the special operations presence at the base to upwards of 1,000 in the future, evidence of the shift in philosophy from overt “nation building” missions overseas to black ops smash-and-grabs reminiscent of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Questions remain about this new, more covert approach to national security. While the implications of long-term occupation are well-kn0wn both for native populations and the occupying force, the lack of clarity and constant fear that comes with living within a few hundred miles of a drone base could prove destructive to U.S. interests abroad. A recent report – Living Under Drones – by teams at New York University and Stanford outlined the implications of the drone war on native populations.
In The Post:

Side effects are more difficult to measure — including the extent to which strikes breed more enemies of the United States — but could be more consequential if the campaign continues for 10 more years.

“We are looking at something that is potentially indefinite,” Pillar said. “We have to pay particular attention, maybe more than we collectively have so far, to the longer-term pros and cons to the methods we use.”

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The Air Force has an intelligence problem: Too much of it

As the canopy of unmanned drones over the Middle East and elsewhere grows larger and more complex, the military faces an interesting problem. Before, if they sent a plane over enemy airspace to take pictures, there was a pilot in it. He was connected to that data, and knew what he saw. But when we’ve got hundreds of cameras in the sky without a corresponding human, we run into the problem. We have the data, but we can’t process it fast enough. Check this out, from The Economist:

During 2009, American drone aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan sent back around 24 years’ worth of video footage. New models being deployed this year will produce ten times as many data streams as their predecessors, and those in 2011 will produce 30 times as many.

The military can’t keep up, so they’re looking elsewhere for solutions. Their most recent stop: NASCAR. That’s right, AOL Defense says the guys who record thousands of people in multiple countries with flying unmanned vehicles are asking the guys who record people driving in circles for help.

Sports television has pioneered many of the techniques for marking and finding data in a video. For each NASCAR race they deploy a team of six or more data taggers, whose job is to watch the event and –with the help of directors — spot what’s interesting and immediately assign it a data tag. That lets directors quickly search through the video, pull the exciting crash, for example, pull it and do an instant replay or build a highlights video.

Real-time data tagging is a key way to get it done, but the Air Force doesn’t have six people for every one drone in the sky, and that’s what it would take. The technique could be integrated with others to provide a solution to getting through all this data. Other tips might come from Gordon Bell, the Microsoft researcher who is conducting an experiment on himself. Using the best technology available, Bell is recording every aspect of his life in real time.

Think about every moment of your day. Every text message, every tweet, email, phone conversation, real conversation, meeting, credit card transaction, everything. All of those are tangible data points that make up your life, and Bell is collecting his. Wired did a short profile on the project in 2009.

This trove includes Web sites he’s visited (221,173), photos taken (56,282), emails sent and received (156,041), docs written and read (18,883), phone conversations had (2,000), photos snapped by the SenseCam hanging around his neck (66,000), songs listened to (7,139), and videos taken by him (2,164). To collect all this information, he uses a staggering assortment of hardware: desktop scanner, digicam, heart rate monitor, voice recorder, GPS logger, pedometer, smartphone, e-reader.

Well according to The Guardian, Bell has the same data problem the Air Force does.

Dr Bell has now stored so much of his life on computer that he is in danger of forgetting how to remember. “I look at it as a surrogate memory,” he says. If he wants to recall something, he switches on and picks his way through days and months of information until he finds what he is after. It was all dreamt up at Microsoft’s Bay Area Research Centre in San Francisco, where Dr Bell works.

With video data, which isn’t easily searchable and is time-consuming to manually review, the problem is even worse.

 

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UAV pilot trainers discuss the implications of unmanned combat

Reaper

In a rare instance of journalistic access to the pilots behind America’s drone war, GlobalPost discusses the differences between unmanned and manned combat. After Wired last month brought up the issue of access to drone pilots, GlobalPost got an interview with three pilots at Holloman Air Force Base, where the remote pilots are trained.

The pilots brushed off the common criticism that they are too removed from the battle to properly consider the lives they may be taking.

The pilots said that it’s not just their aircraft that are misunderstood. They’re well aware of a public perception that pilots like them simply push a button to blithely drop bombs on people they’ve never seen in countries they’ve never visited, all from the comfort of their US air base.

Pilots at Holloman said they’re not surprised the public may have such a view, since even some experienced flyers arriving for training here have mistaken ideas about what it’s like to be the human element in a UAV. After all, these guys walk out the door of their simulated cockpits and go home to their families at the end of a work day.

In fact, the pilots’ take on the differences between manned and unmanned flight hints that it might be safer for everyone. No rushed decisions, no over-defensiveness out of fear.

“Your visibility is like looking through a soda straw because you’re just looking at one thing at a time, based on the capabilities of the camera, whereas in a real aircraft you can look around very easily,” he said.

But a simulated cockpit has distinct advantages as well. These pilots, who have all seen combat duty themselves in manned aircraft, said the safety allows them to do their job more effectively.

“You’re going slow and you’re not worried about ejecting or the environmental factors you have in a manned aircraft, your ability to really concentrate on exactly what’s happening is much better,” Brent said.

Mike agreed. “You’re not in a rush to make a decision because you’re not pressured by fuel or speed or anything like that,” he said.

 

But Yosef Lapid, a professor at Mexico State University who studies terrorism, said the dangers of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should be considered carefully.

“When you look at how the laws of war have emerged, there’s a sense that the underdog should have some decent chance of challenging,” he said. “I think these technologies violate that sense of justice.”

Lapid also worries about the long-term effects of using UAVs in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In all the countries where armed UAVs are flown, large protests have erupted among the civilian population, which has at times suffered enormous casualties.

“It’s important to ask that question … not only how many terrorists we’re eliminating but how many new terrorists we are creating,” he said.

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Iran says it hacked, brought down a U.S. drone, provides no evidence

UPDATE (12/8/2011): Iran has released video footage of Iranian officials inspecting what appears to be the downed drone.

Iran’s media outlets claim the nation’s military took control of a U.S. spy drone and brought it down within Iran. They’re attributing the grab to an electronic warfare unit that hacked the drone’s remote operating controls and brought it down softly so that the high-tech spy plane was mostly intact when the Iranian military got their hands on it.

Despite these claims, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that Iran actually took over one of the U.S. military’s most advanced drones (the one they claim to have is an RQ-170 — a rare drone made by Lockheed Martin that is more advanced than its more widely-seen counterparts) and brought it into a controlled crash within their own borders. David Axe explains:

Iran frequently announces it has shot down U.S. surveillance drones, but has not, to our knowledge, produced any evidence of the kills. Even if Tehran did bag itself an American war ‘bot, it might not be an RQ-170. The editors at Press TV undermined their credibility by running  the story with a photo of an entirely different drone than the Beast of Kandahar.

Equally dubious is Iran’s insistence that the RQ-170, if that’s what it is, was forced down largely intact by an Iranian army “electronic-warfare unit.” The implication is that the Iranians somehow jammed the command signal beamed to the drone by remote operators.

That’s a pretty big deal, if true. The Predator and Reaper, America’s most numerous attack and surveillance drones, are remotely-controlled via radio link by a pilot on the ground. If the link is broken, they’re designed to enter a holding pattern or even return home. But these failsafes aren’t perfect, as the Air Force discovered in 2009 when a Reaper drone went haywire and had to be shot down by an F-15. The Air Force and Navy have admitted that the control link represents a critical weakness and have worked hard to make drones more autonomous.

It’s not hard to be skeptical of a nation making claims that they’ve achieved something that the public isn’t even sure is technically possible, especially when said nation’s reputation for telling the truth is as tarnished (to put it kindly) as Iran’s. As tensions between the U.K. and Iran boiled over last week and the west is increasingly concerned about the country’s nuclear program, Iran’s claim to have shot down the drone could be an attempt to paint themselves as victims of western oppression — “We just want to have a clean, secure energy future and these allied nations to the west are coming down so hard on us it’s impossible.”

There hasn’t been any retaliatory action so far, but an Iranian official is quoted in The Washington Post as hinting at offensive action in retaliation to the discovery of the spy drone.

Hours after the incident, Iranian state TV news was showing only stock pictures of RQ-170 stealth drones, not images from the crash. An unnamed military official told the Fars News Agency that Iran’s response “will not be limited to the country’s borders.”

As Axe says above, those weren’t even the right drone photos.

If, however, Iran’s story is true, the loss of this intact technology could seriously limit the effectiveness of the RQ-170 in Iran and elsewhere, should the country’s military go public with specifications.

U.S. officials have given only vague information about the drone, its mission, or its status:

The U.S. military released a short statement later Sunday on the missing drone. “The [unmanned aerial vehicle] to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week,” it said. “The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.”

With a no photos, doubt that what Iran claims is even possible, and U.S. officials giving only vague information about what happened, the validity of Iran’s claims cannot be confirmed by anyone but Iran itself.

As we say here on the world wide web: Pics or it didn’t happen.

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As U.S. restricts access to drone base, public loses sight of program’s humanity

Drone

As America’s aerial drones make headlines, their operators — mostly working from a base in Nevada — don’t. An increase in security at Creech Air Force base over the last two years has left reporters outside the gates. With almost zero public access to drone operators, these menacing, faceless machines have been forced to speak for themselves. And they’re not known for their charm.

Wired Danger Room explains that access to the Air Force base has been more and more restricted due to new approval protocols for press seeking the once-common interim security clearance into the base. The new protocol causes the vast majority — if not all — of press requests to be denied.

The problem with this is that it almost completely removes the most important people in the drone war from the public eye.

What was lost? In a 2009 Frontline episode, we could drive to work with the pilot who prays for strength and wisdom. 60 Minutes caught the flicker of doubt in the eyes of the pilot confronted with the question, “What if you get it wrong?” Never mind the myth of the efficient killing machine. There are people who make the decision of whether to pull the trigger. There are stories to be told about these airmen who have the power over life or death.

When the U.S. launched this program in 2007, it welcomed journalists with open arms to help spread the word about the new technology. But about two years later, this access started fading.

Press visits to Creech were all but phased out in 2010. “Creech was unable to support media requests during this timeframe because of a high operations tempo and post 9/11 security concerns,” said Creech spokesperson Lt. Katherine Roling.

The increased operations tempo is understandable. With more ground troops in Afghanistan in need of support after Obama sent thousands more troops to secure the “graveyard of empires.”

Post 9/11 security concerns? Unless there was an event on Sept. 11, 2008 or 2009, she must be talking about 9/11/01, which was six years before the program launch and nine years before the tightened security.

Perhaps there is another reason reporters aren’t getting into the base.

Ironically, just as press access to the ostensibly open military drone program wound down, the government began to speak more and more about the supposedly super-secret CIA drone war. In 2009, then-CIA chief Leon Panetta declared that drones were “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.” By the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Washington Post wasdescribing the whiteboards used to keep track of pending operations and informants in the region. The CIA’s former top lawyer, John Rizzo, told Newsweek about the group of 10 agency lawyers who granted “approval for targeting for lethal operation.”

Perhaps the images on operators’ screens and burned into their memories at night are ones the military and CIA would rather keep from civilian television and computer screens.

As mission secrecy and operational security are clearly paramount, restricted access to the base is understandable from a military and intelligence standpoint. The casualty is the only link in the chain of command that reminds us that behind these buzzing death machines have a human behind them. A human who sees and feels and knows that under his/her finger is a life, who must decide if that is a life worth taking and then live with their decision.

Without the flicker of doubt in a pilot’s eyes, it’s hard to be sure there really is anything human between the massive military system and those weapons high in the sky.

Photo/Creative Commons/Flickr user CliffStreetPhotography

 

 

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