$100 a day as a retainer fee to serve as an assassin for President Clinton or President Trump?

 

ReaperMQ9

The US Air Force has been busy doling out US taxpayer cash, not only for the production of 30 more MQ-9 Reaper (read: death) drones by General Atomics, but also in the hopes of retaining drone operators willing to fly and fire missiles from them. The latest “incentive” being offered to RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) operators is $35,000 each year for the next five years. That’s about $100 a day, on top of their current salary. All that they have to do is not quit their job once their first contract term has expired. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Not so good to the drone and sensor operators who have abandoned the profession as a result of their profound regret (in some cases they suffer from PTSD) for having ever agreed to serve as government assassins in the first place. Brandon Bryant was offered more than $100K to continue on, and he declined. Rather than attempt to understand the moral basis for drone operator discontent, the USAF has decided that really what the operators preparing to bolt need is more money. Who could resist?

If $100 a day as a retainer fee seems like enough of a bonus to continue serving as an on-call government assassin, then perhaps some of these people will stay on. But it is extremely important for them to be fully aware of what they are agreeing to do for the next five years of their lives. President Barack Obama, the current commander in chief, will be leaving office soon. In all likelihood either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will assume the presidency and carry on the Obama tradition of dispatching terrorist suspects by drone. It’s much easier, politically, than conventional warfare (no flag-wrapped coffins, no condolence letters to write), and Obama has effectively normalized assassination by rebranding it as “targeted killing”.

In truth, “targeted killing” using Predator or Reaper drones differs from assassination in only two ways. First, missiles are being used to kill targets, rather than other implements of homicide (pistols, poisons, strangulation wires…). Second, unlike most black op assassinations carried out by hit squads in the twentieth century, drone strikes produce collateral damage alongside the obliterated target. Remarkably, many people have not recognized that those are the only two ways in which the stalking, hunting down and execution of human beings by governments has changed in the Drone Age.

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“This is war,” allegedly, because “weapons of war” are used to effect the deaths, and unintended deaths of civilians are caused at the same time. Never mind that, in contrast to regular combat situations, the soldier who pushes the button to launch a missile is not in any direct danger of physical harm, least of all at the hands of his target, who is usually located thousands of miles away and has no idea that he is about to die. Drone operators and sensors might develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but their lives are never on the line when they follow orders to kill.

Given the reality of what they are doing, the drone and sensor operators who accept the latest bribe are in effect agreeing to execute anyone designated by either President Clinton or President Trump as worthy of death. The new US president won’t have to say why, because Barack Obama never did. The drone program has always been secretive and opaque, under cover of national security. The release of the “playbook” (Presidential Policy Guidance or PPG) did nothing to assuage the concerns of critics who have for years been demanding transparency.

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All that we know with certainty now is that President Obama was wrong when he told a group of listeners during a GoogleTalk chat in January 2012 that “it’s not a bunch of folks in a room just making decisions.” That is, indeed, precisely what Barack Obama’s version of “due process” is. A massive, secretive, bureaucratic institution of killing, with no checks and balances and zero provision for revisiting death sentences handed down by anonymous officials (“folks in a room”) from behind closed doors, primarily on the basis of analysis (by “folks in a room”) of signals intelligence (SIGINT): metadata from cellphones and SIM cards, and drone video footage. Looks like a terrorist. Walks like a terrorist. Talks like a terrorist. Guilty as charged: send out the drones.

In some cases, bribed intelligence from informants on the ground (human intelligence or HUMINT) is used to supplement the electronic sources of “evidence” that the people being slaughtered truly deserve to die, along with anyone at their side at the time—the dreaded “associates”: taxi drivers, family members and friends, funeral or wedding attendees, first responders, the list goes on and on…

The problems with bribed intelligence from human sources are just as bad as the racial profiling inherent to SIGINT-based “signature strikes” or “crowd killing” of brown-skinned Muslims wearing turbans and carrying guns—or not. Hundreds of strikes have been carried out “outside areas of active hostilities” under Obama’s authorization. Today we know what happened when HUMINT was used to round up suspects for detention at Guantánamo Bay prison: most of the men incarcerated (86%) were innocent. “The worst of the worst” they were called at the time.

It is therefore very important for any drone operators and sensors considering the possibility of continuing on in their role as a professional assassin to recognize that they are agreeing to kill people who in many cases will be innocent of any wrongdoing—certainly any capital offense. Even worse, they are agreeing to serve as the henchman of a future president whom they may or may not believe to be either moral or good.

DonaldTrumpMany Americans have expressed concern that the Republican and Democratic parties have nominated candidates for the presidency who are wholly ill-suited for the task. In Trump’s case, we really have no idea what he will do. He’s the classic case of a “known unknown”. Some days he sounds like an isolationist ready and willing to put an end to US meddling in the Middle East; other days he sounds like Dr. Strangelove.

HillaryClinton2In Clinton’s case, we know precisely what she will do: send out the drones and expand and multiply the wars already raging in the Middle East. Amazingly, Hillary Clinton appears to believe that “third time’s a charm,” as she is calling for a repetition in Syria of the regime-change policy which failed so miserably in both Iraq and Libya.

On the drone front, Clinton surrogates have suggested that even nonviolent dissidents such as Wikileaks’ Julian Assange should be added to the US government’s hit list. Perhaps Clinton will try to outdo Obama (who executed US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki without trial), and Edward Snowden’s name will be added to the list as well. Not so far-fetched, given her evident antipathy toward technologically savvy whistleblowers…

Trump or Clinton? Who will the next US president be? Once having signed on the dotted line, drone operators and sensors will be expected to follow the orders of the commander in chief, whoever it may be. Maybe $100 a day as a retainer fee to serve as an on-call assassin isn’t such a good deal after all.

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2016 paperback edition with a new foreword available for pre-order at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Kill-Because-Can-Soldiering-Assassination/dp/1783605472?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_pap_swatch_0&sr=

 

Israel’s Compact Kamikaze Drones: Strategic Ineptitude or Simple Insanity?

 

 

HeroDrone

Israel has developed and is selling the new Hero-30 drone, which weighs in at a mere 7lbs and can be used to kill a target with less collateral damage than the more prevalent Predator and Reaper drones. The larger drones deliver Hellfire missiles to destroy entire groups of people in “crowd killing” and “signature strikes”—or a specific named target along with whoever happens to be around. The Hero-30’s manufacturer, uVision, has boasted that their creation is in great demand. I wonder why?

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used to talk with vim and verve about making the military leaner and meaner. Earlier strategists had come up with the bizarre idea of “suitcase nukes”, which always struck me as odd and self-sabotaging to the citizens of the nation supposedly being protected. Who in his right mind would propose the development of weaponry ideal for use by enemies against the very people who paid for its research, development and production?

Nuclear weapons small enough to carry around in a suitcase could easily be passed from one individual to another—that’s the whole point. But the twentieth-century history of Africa amply illustrates that the persons involved in the weapons trade are on the whole a fairly disreputable lot—perfectly willing to arm both sides of a conflict and watch the corpses pile up. The transfer of a suitcase nuke to a questionable customer, far from being preposterous, would be only one unscrupulous businessman away—provided only that he was confident that his customer would be deploying the weapon far, far away…

Small-scale nukes could be used by small groups of committed warriors against nuclear powers in acts of retaliation logically akin to the attacks of September 11, 2001, insofar as the tools of the hegemon would be deployed against the hegemon itself. Such innovative attacks, too, would be claimed to be intended to make the citizens funding the homicides of their government—and therefore complicit as “associates”—finally come to understand what others had suffered in wars painted as “just” and “necessary” by politicians.

In the Drone Age, similarly suitcase-sized UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) are now being produced and sold by the government of Israel to undisclosed clients as it sees fit. It is puzzling, to say the least, how any strategist could regard such weapons as useful to a government without recognizing that they might be even more so to their declared enemies, in Israel’s case, the Palestinians regarded as terrorists.

If we have learned anything from the history of the weapons industry, it is that the latest and greatest means to death developed by advanced states do not stay only in the hands of those who develop them. Every implement of homicide developed by a First World power ends up ultimately in the hands of the leaders of Third World client states, but also in the hands of the militants who are their enemies.

Saddam Hussein would never have been able to use chemical weapons against the Kurds without the development and provision to him of such means by the governments of nations considerably more technologically and industrially advanced than Iraq. Similarly, small factions are devoid of the capacity to produce sophisticated weapons and would not use them unless they were provided with pre-fabricated versions small enough to be transferred from one person to the next.

What could be better for a terrorist than the possibility of launching attacks without risking his personal demise? Fanatical jihadists are of course ready and willing to die for what they take to be a cause transcending their self. But if one act of “jihad” is good, then would not two be even better? Why not carry out multiple acts of retaliatory revenge before departing from the terrestrial world to unite finally with God? If one mass bombing is conceived by its perpetrator as a heroic act, then would it not be even better commit many attacks before making the final sacrifice?

Drones make it all possible: to kill multiple times without risking death. Small drones are the perfect weapon for factions and individual operators, both politically affiliated and those who dispatch persons at the behest of their boss, the person who pays them to kill. True, that description fits drone operators just as surely as it does hitmen.

As the Drone Age marches on (or should I say “spirals downward”), it seems reasonable to predict that more and more hitmen will be technicians who send out the poison or the bomb, or whatever specific means to death is deemed best under the circumstances, with next to no risk of detection. Should the death look like a heart attack? No problem: small drones are up to the task and can surely be rigged to deliver the needed means.

What could be worse than a weaponized small drone falling into the hands of “technicians” who work in organized crime? How about a small drone whose payload happens to be a small nuke—or the chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussein?

HeroDrone
HeroDrone
HeroDrone

 

 

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 3: The Logic of Targeted Killing; Chapter 7: The Operators; and Chapter 10: Death and Taxes

Why does Italy Need 156 Hellfire Missiles? Or: Lethal Creep 5.0

Italy

The latest beneficiary of DARPA’s ingeniousness and US taxpayer largesse appears to be the government of Italy, which has been clamoring for lethal drones since 2012, and was recently reported to be next in line to receive a cache of some of the latest and greatest implements of homicide developed by the United States. These munitions were produced for use in what the killers continue to refer to as “war”, despite the fact that drone operators run no risk of physical harm when they dispatch suspects in lands far away.

Yes, the US government has acceded to the Italian government’s request and will be furnishing them with 156 Hellfire missiles, which can be attached to their two Reaper drones (UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles) to realize the potential implied by the very name ‘Reaper’. Yes, now Italy, too, along with the United States and Britain, will be among the Western states “blessed” with lethal drones and prepared for … what exactly?

One has to ask: why does Italy need to have 156 Hellfire missiles ready to deploy by Reaper drones? Is Italy at war with any other nation? Or will the Italian government be using these slick implements of homicide to follow the examples of US President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who eliminated countrymen deemed by their analysts behind closed doors “evil terrorists” and “high-value targets”? No need to capture, contain, indict and try suspects for treasonous crimes in the Drone Age. Due process and the separation of government powers are so twentieth century!

By the fall of 2011, President Obama had authorized the execution by lethal drone of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (among others) located in Yemen. By August 2015, Prime Minister Cameron had authorized the execution of British citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, located in Syria, despite the fact that capital punishment is prohibited by British law and the EU Charter. Not that Cameron had much to worry about, with the US government standing by his side (remember the bond of brothers Tony Blair and George W. Bush?) and praising the fact that Cameron, too, had now effaced the line formerly distinguishing blacks ops from “just war”.

These days it’s simple to transform an illegal act of assassination—undertaken by deniable operators before the Drone Age—into what politicians the world over are willing to call an act of war. It suffices to deploy a missile rather than a strangulation wire, an exploding cigar, a poisoned meal, or a good old-fashioned pistol! One must own that this has been quite a feat of political léger-de-main.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once asked Colin Powell (a top military official at that time): “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” It’s an incontestable maxim of practical rationality that one not squander large sums of money on useless stuff. In the case of munitions, there’s no point in having them at all unless one is ready and willing to use them, particularly when they have no power to deter anyone from doing anything—as in the case of nuclear warheads, at least according to advocates of their development throughout the Cold War.

Weaponized drones do not and cannot deter anyone from doing anything—aside from talking with other community members or perhaps associating in groups for public events such as weddings and jirgas—because they are deployed at the culmination of secretive deliberations wholly immune from critique. Virtually anyone could be on the hit lists generated by government-contracted analysts and based on hearsay from shady, bribed informants and circumstantial evidence derived from cell phone data and SIM cards, etc. As Ernest Hemingway once said about cats: “One [associate] just leads to another…”

So what will Italy do with its Hellfire-missile-equipped Reapers? No doubt they will do their best to find some Italians holed up somewhere in a tribal region of some hotbed of conflict—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Egypt, … the list continues to lengthen—and seize this historical opportunity to do what in centuries past was deemed illegal: to execute citizens without trial and without even charging them with crimes. In the Drone Age, political leaders are capitalizing on the latest military-industrial-congressional-media-academic-pharmaceutical-logistics complex boom: the creation of lethal drones which must be used in order to rationalize their purchase.

Political leaders with access to lethal drones kill because they can, and also because this form of homicide has been christened “smart war” by the first Drone Nation, the United States of America. The members of the once small club of nations whose leaders succumb to the temptation to dispatch annoying dissidents with no judicial process whatsoever can be expected to continue on until nearly everyone in the Western world is complicit. Ximena Ortiz has incisively termed this strange twenty-first-century phenomenon “the Third Worldization of America”, and it is has already infected Britain. Italy is next in line.

The more nations complicit, the more difficult it will become—reaching eventually the point of being impossible—to bring any of the lot before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for violating international law. Among the protocols essentially abandoned by the self-styled drone warriors are the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which persons suspected of wrongdoing must be provided with the opportunity to defend themselves against the claims made by persons in positions of power that they deserve to die.

It’s a slippery slope, and the Italian government, which admirably took to task the CIA for their illegal rendering and torture of Osama Mustafa Hussan, finding the perpetrators guilty as charged back in 2009, appears poised to let bygones be bygones in the case of summary execution without trial. Surely someone in Italy recognizes that the remote-control killing of suspects is infinitely worse than prolonged detention without charges and “enhanced interrogation”. The persons detained at Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba were horribly wronged, but they were not whacked with impunity by “drone warriors” under the preposterous presumption that all suspects are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone, maintained by the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, is ready for take off at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan in this June 29, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 1: Drone Nation; Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; Chapter 10: Death and Taxes; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants do

An automated assassin is an automated assassin by any other name

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British Prime Minister David Cameron recently got in on the drone killing game by dispatching two of his countrymen and labeling the homicides acts of “national defense”. Would the homicides have been accepted without protest if the Prime Minister had enlisted a contract killer to sneak into the homes of British nationals and use strangulation wires to eliminate them while they were lying in bed asleep? Or would that not obviously constitute extrajudicial execution, doubly illegal under British law and the EU Charter, both of which prohibit capital punishment?

Now that Cameron has succeeded in strapping on his Hellfire missile holster with little response from the British public, he has decided to acquire even more lethal drones, doubling the country’s current arsenal. He will switch out the Reaper drones now in the RAF armory to make room for a new model. To ensure that no one puts up a fuss, he’s decided to call them “Protector” rather than Predator or Reaper drones, whose name unequivocally expresses their intended purpose: to kill human beings.

These machines are used not only to fire on targets, but also to hunt them down, making it impossible for them to escape alive. The targets are not permitted to surrender, as soldiers on the ground would be required to allow enemy soldiers to do. “No immediate threat” means “no killing” for a human combat soldier, who is subject to court martial and criminal charges when he opts to slay a person posing no clear and present danger to any person present.

In the Drone Age, the warriors “take no prisoners”, following the lead of US President Barack Obama, whose signature policy is “kill don’t capture”. The suspected targets (militants, insurgents, terrorists or just plain allegedly “evil” people) are incapable of laying down their arms before their killer, the drone lurking over their head, in most cases because they are not bearing any arms at all when they are obliterated. They are typically not threatening other human beings with death and so could not be legally terminated by another human being on the ground. The question therefore must be addressed: how can it be right to kill people using lethal drones, if it would be wrong for a human contract killer to do the same to unarmed persons walking down the street?

The practice of remote-control killing became a standard operating procedure because it was normalized by the US government after years of covert actions, which, carried out under cover of State Secrets Privilege, were never the subject of debate. The time has arrived for the populace of countries whose leaders wield or condone the use of lethal drones (as the German government does by permitting drone killing to be orchestrated from Ramstein Air Force base) to wake up to the reality of what is being done with their money under a pretext of national defense.

Calling summary execution without trial “protection” merely masks the reality, making it more politically palatable, just as calling the unintended victims “collateral damage” hides from the people paying for the deaths the horror of what has been done in their name.

WeKillBecauseWeCanLaurieCalhoun

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 3: The Logic of Targeted Killing; Chapter 10: Death and Politics; Chapter 11: Death and Taxes; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do

Drone Swarms Now Ready to Deploy: How will they be used by the US Military?

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The first swarm of fifty drones managed by a single operator was successfully tested this past week. “Gee, that’s neat.” Techies seem pretty excited about the news. Others might wonder: “Why would anyone want to launch and manage fifty drones simultaneously?”

Swarms have been developed for the US Navy and are touted as important for providing 360 degree situational awareness in the theater of combat. Of course, today’s “no boots battlefields” have no US soldiers on them at all. In fact, one of the main reasons for the development of robotic and semi-robotic means of warfare is to spare human soldiers the risk of death.

The most likely immediate application of these new swarms will therefore be to have them sweep in and provide a better look at the buildings and groups about to be taken out by missiles launched from larger drones. Perhaps they will offer badly needed assistance in avoiding the slaughter of women, children, and hostages. Unfortunately, greater “situational awareness” will do nothing to circumvent the problem of distinguishing innocent suspects from empirically indistinguishable evil terrorists.

The current approach, simply defining all military-age males as fair game for slaughter, ignores the possibility of nonthreatening men such as journalists, doctors, farmers, storekeepers, teachers, and many others, in so-called hostile areas. The assumption appears to be that all of those men are leading dual lives. Deep down inside, they must all terrorists. Why else would they be located in hostile territories?

The journalists who courageously penetrate these areas to investigate the depredation caused by drone strikes are all propagandists and “Al Qaeda media fronts”. The farmers and shopkeepers are “associates” who feed the terrorists. The doctors are “associates” who treat the terrorists. The teachers are “associates” who recruit children to take up the jihad cause, often to avenge the deaths of their fathers “splashed” by Hellfire missiles.

Previous generations of drones were not initially weaponized, but later they came to be. Given the lethal centrism of the US government, the next logical step for swarms will be to weaponize them for combat deployment. Now that the killing of human beings is sought as an end in itself, and a “take no prisoners” stance has been wholeheartedly embraced by political elites, it’s hard to believe that swarms will not be armed and deployed to kill. The only real question is: How?

The size of Zephyr drones is quite small relative to the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones, to which Hellfire missiles are conveniently affixed. Will tiny micro-missiles be developed? Or will swarms be weaponized to disperse chemicals or perhaps cluster bombs? The sky is the limit, given the development of so many creative means of homicide by the ever-innovative weapons industry. Configurationally, drone swarms bear some similarity to cluster bombs, which fire deadly chain-reaction munitions over large areas, killing or maiming numerous people with a single launch. Perhaps the swarms will be weaponized with chemical agents of some sort.

Whatever the ammunition to be fired from swarms of drones, it seems safe to say that somewhere in the dark entrails of DARP someone with a hefty grant is working on it right now. About the lethal future of drone swarms, there can be little doubt.

WeKillBecauseWeCanLaurieCalhoun

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; and Chapter 11: Death and Taxes