The American Bear


I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some questions. I’d start with “how many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” and “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly, “how many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

… I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again, it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to, not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one of year leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life – at home and abroad – will continue.

I think much ink has been spilled on these terms [terrorism and terrorist], which are fairly ideological, and I find them suspect, particularly when coming from people for whom terrorism expertise has become a career. Karim, who asked me this question, however, is not one of these people. What I found interesting about Karim’s statement, in which he calls Obama and Bush “terrorists,” is that he changes how these terms are often deployed. Usually, when these words are thrown out, they are used to refer to the violence of non-state actors. Waziris, more generally, have been consistently dehumanized not only by the governments of the US and Pakistan but also by western media. They are constantly marked as suspect. So, when Karim calls the heads of the US state, Obama and Bush, “terrorists”, he turns this terrorism talk on its head. He implies that we, as tax-paying, voting citizens are complicit in a chain of terrorism that is the calculated, systematic work of a superpower. He points out the very obvious but little stated fact that this superpower is bombing Waziris while the latter sit in their own homes. He notes that terrorism also comes in the form of advanced-weapons systems. Our technological prowess doesn’t make our violence any more humane. It makes it all the more horrifying. Madiha Tahir

Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes Cited in Report

In the telling of some American officials, the C.I.A. drone campaign in Pakistan has been a triumph with few downsides: In more than 300 missile attacks there since 2008, dozens of Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and the pace of the strikes, which officials frequently describe as “surgical” and “contained,” has dropped sharply over the past year.

But viewed from Miram Shah, the frontier Pakistani town that has become a virtual test laboratory for drone warfare, the campaign has not been the antiseptic salve portrayed in Washington. In interviews over the past year, residents paint a portrait of extended terror and strain within a tribal society caught between vicious militants and the American drones hunting them.

“The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah. “Only they know when and where they will strike.”

Their claims of distress are now being backed by a new Amnesty International investigation that found, among other points, that at least 19 civilians in the surrounding area of North Waziristan had been killed in just two of the drone attacks since January 2012 — a time when the Obama administration has held that strikes have been increasingly accurate and free of mistakes.

The study is to be officially released on Tuesday along with a separate Human Rights Watch report on American drone strikes in Yemen, as the issue is again surfacing on other fronts. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a vocal critic of the drone campaign, is to meet with President Obama in the White House. And on Friday, the drone debate is scheduled to spill onto the floor of the United Nations, whose officials have recently published reports that attacked America’s lack of transparency over drones.

But nowhere has the issue played out more directly than in Miram Shah, in northwestern Pakistan. It has become a fearful and paranoid town, dealt at least 13 drone strikes since 2008, with an additional 25 in adjoining districts — more than any other urban settlement in the world.

Even when the missiles do not strike, buzzing drones hover day and night, scanning the alleys and markets with roving high-resolution cameras.

… Every week the streets empty for a day as army supply trucks rumble through. The curfew is strictly enforced: several children and mentally ill residents who have strayed outside have been shot dead, several residents said.

In the aftermath of drone strikes, things get worse. Many civilians hide at home, fearing masked vigilantes with the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen Khorasan, a militant enforcement unit that hunts for American spies. The unit casts a wide net, and the suspects it hauls in are usually tortured and summarily executed.

Journalists face particular risks. In February, gunmen killed Malik Mumtaz Khan, the president of the local press club. Some blame Pakistani spies, while others say the Taliban are responsible.

Meanwhile state services have virtually collapsed. …

… [The] new Amnesty International report, which examines the 45 known strikes in North Waziristan between January 2012 and August 2013, asserts that in several cases drones killed civilians indiscriminately.

Last October, it says, American missiles killed a 68-year-old woman named Mamana Bibi as she picked vegetables in a field close to her grandchildren. In July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.

Ms. Bibi’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, and two of her injured grandchildren are due to travel to the United States next week to speak about their experiences.

“The killing of Mamana Bibi appears to be a clear case of extrajudicial execution,” said Mustafa Qadri, the report’s author, in an interview. “It is extremely difficult to see how she could have been mistaken for a militant, let alone an imminent threat to the U.S.”

FBI, cops put drones aloft without updating privacy guidelines | McClatchy DC

The FBI and numerous other local and federal law enforcement agencies are #exploring the use of drones – unmanned aircraft — to conduct surveillance and crime scene examinations without risking the lives of pilots.

But in an interim, partially classified audit report released on Thursday, September 26th, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is raising a big caution flag. His audit team asked, in essence, “Did anyone think about Americans’ privacy rights?”

The drones weigh less than 55 pounds, and they can buzz over homes and businesses with cameras trained on activity below. They cost just 25 bucks an hour to operate – a tiny fraction of the $625 hourly cost of choppers and other manned aircraft.  Some agencies are experimenting with infrared cameras for nighttime use.

Between 2004, when the Justice Department acquired its first drone, and May of this year, the FBI and three other department components spent $3.7 million buying the drones, 80 percent of the money coming from the bureau, which already has them in use.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms plans to deploy drones soon, while the Drug Enforcement Administration and United States Marshals Service acquired them for testing, but haven’t yet decided to use them domestically, the IG says.

Officials of the FBI and ATF told the auditors they see no need to develop specialized privacy protocols, and they don’t see any practical difference in using the drones for surveillance versus manned aircraft.

But the agency watchdogs concluded that a consistent department policy may be needed for the use of small drones, which can hover covertly in areas where people might expect privacy and remain there far longer than a traditional aircraft could.

UK detention of Reprieve activist consistent with NSA's view of drone opponents as 'threats' and 'adversaries' | Glenn Greenwald

… [P]erceiving drone opponents as “threats” or even “adversaries” is hardly new. Top secret US government documents obtained by the Guardian from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”.

The entry is part of a top secret internal US government website, similar in appearance to the online Wikipedia site. According to a June interview with Snowden in Hong Kong, the only individuals empowered to write these entries are those “with top secret clearance and public key infrastructure certificates”, special access cards enabling unique access to certain parts of NSA systems. He added that the entries are “peer reviewed” and that every edit made is recorded by user.

One specific entry discusses “threats to unmanned aerial vehicles”. It lists various dangers to American drones, including “air defense threats”, “jamming of UAV sensor systems”, “terrestrial weather”, and “electronic warfare employed against the command and control system”.

But alongside those more obvious, conventional threats are what the entry describes as “propaganda campaigns that target UAV use”.

Under the title “adversary propaganda themes”, the document lists what it calls “examples of potential propaganda themes that could be employed against UAV operations”.

One such example is entitled “Nationality of Target vs. Due Process”. It states:

Attacks against American and European persons who have become violent extremists are often criticized by propagandists, arguing that lethal action against these individuals deprives them of due process.”

In the eyes of the US government, “due process” – the idea that the US government should not deprive people of life away from a battlefield without presenting evidence of guilt – is no longer a basic staple of the American political system, but rather a malicious weapon of “propagandists”. The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, among many other groups, havemade exactly that argument against the US drone targeting program (“the US government’s killings of US citizens Anwar Al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011 violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law”).

Another paragraph from the NSA entry complains that the phrase “drone strike” is a “loaded term”, as it “connote[s] mindless automatons with no capability for independent thought” and thus “may invoke an emotional reaction”. This, the document asserts, “is what propaganda intends to do”.

Although the document at one points suggests that some drone opposition may come from “citizens with legitimate social agendas”, the section on “adversary propaganda themes” includes virtually every one of the arguments most frequently made in the US against the US drone policy, including that the threat of terrorism is small when compared to other threats, that drone strikes intensify rather than curb the risk of terrorism by fueling anti-American animus, and that drones kill too many civilians.

Sorry about all the propaganda these last few years. Wait, what’s that?

To most of the world, opposition to drones is the norm, with a 2012 Pew poll finding overwhelming opposition in virtually every country surveyed. But for the US and its loyal servants called “UK officials”, such views are evidently reflective of national security threats or even, in London now, suggestive of “terrorism”.

US seeks Libyan permission for drone attacks, says source

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—A high-ranking Libyan official has told to Asharq Al-Awsat that Libyan authorities have opposed “intense American pressure” to allow the US to use military drones in eastern Libya. The requests are based on US intelligence that organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda are operating in the area.

“American authorities requested an agreement with us over operations to target extremists on Libyan territory,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “But until now, no decision has been made.”

Speaking from the Libyan capital during a telephone conversation with Asharq Al-Awsat, he added that “there are currently military and political communications between Tripoli and Washington to this end, but we have not given our consent until now. It is hard to arrive at a decision, especially as the Americans do not share their information and intelligence sources.”

The source added that a bilateral agreement that would allow the US to perform drone strikes in the eastern Libya would not be an easy one, because the Libyan people would not tolerate any government that approved such strikes, regardless of the context.

The former Libyan minister of defense Mohamed Al-Barghathi confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat before his resignation last month that his country would not grant permission for US drones to launch attacks against extremist bases within Libyan territory, adding that he believed this was the task of the Libyan security forces.

Local residents in the eastern city of Benghazi have witnessed unidentified aircraft flying at low altitude over the past few weeks. This has increased speculation that the United States is conducting surveillance of suspected extremist sites in the region.

Drone Crashes on Florida Highway


July 18, 2013

Air Force Drone Crash Closes Remote Florida Highway

Associated Press

July 17, 2013

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) — An Air Force drone being tested at a nearby base crashed on takeoff Wednesday near a remote stretch of a Florida Panhandle highway. Officials say no one was injured but the road would be closed into Wednesday night.

The Air Force closed Highway 98 west of Panama City and east of Mexico Beach because of possible fires from the crash. Officials said the drone has a limited, 24-hour battery life and would be inactive after the battery depleted.

According to an Air Force fact sheet, the QF-4 is tested at nearby Tyndall Air Force Base and at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The plane is a modified F-4 Phantom aircraft, which has been in use since the 1950s.

Public information officials at Tyndall released a brief statement about the crash and declined to answer specific questions about the drone or the reason for the crash.

James Lewis is a military technology expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and said the QF-4 was likely used for target practice by Tyndall’s F-22 Raptor pilots.

"It is an older fighter plane they have modified for use as a target," Lewis said. “The QF-4 is not a drone in the way we normally think of drones. It is not used for anything other than to be shot down. It is an old aircraft that would otherwise be sold for scrap."

The Air Force fact sheet said the plane is controlled remotely, simulates enemy aircraft maneuvers and missiles are fired at it. An explosive device in the plane destroys it if it becomes uncontrollable, the fact sheet said.

Highway 98 hugs the Gulf Coast and is a popular route for tourists looking for scenic drive from Panama City to Florida’s Big Bend region.

It was an old drone. Don’t worry - this won’t happen when the new fairy godrobots are protecting us from evildoers.

(Source: matthewaid)

Border Patrol Drone Fleet Straying Far From The Borders When Not Being Loaned Out To Whatever Agency Comes Asking | Techdirt

“How much spying on Americans is too much spying?” is the question no one seems to be asking, unless prompted by document leaks or a handful of legislators. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has had access to drones for a few years now, mainly using them to (you guessed it) patrol the borders. The immigration legislation that is working its way through Congress seeks to expand the CBP’s drone armada … [and] the CBP has been acting as a drone lending library, loaning out its drones to other government agencies. [++]

ISI Chief: Pakistan Has ‘Understanding’ With US on Drone Strikes |

Buried in a several-hundred page leaked report on the US raid on Abbotabad, former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha confirmed that the Pakistani government has a long-standing “understanding” with the Obama Administration about US drone strikes.

Pasha confirmed that while the Pakistani civilian government regularly complains about the drones in public, they have privately acquiesced to the US on the strikes, believing they were “useful” despite being hugely unpopular.

Recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to revoke any “tacit” agreements with the US on drone strikes, but since those agreements were never written down in the first place, the US has assumed the public complaints are just part of the narrative.

Pasha confirmed that at this point it would be difficult to convince the US that the “understanding” no longer applies, and that it would’ve been much easier if Pakistan had simply rejected the strikes in the first place instead of trying to retroactively retract a secret deal.

Mark Mazetti revealed a similar agreement (essentially the CIA is operating as an assassin-for-hire for the ISI in return for access to Pakistani airspace) in April in the New York Times: A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood.

Customs & Border Protection Logged Eight-Fold Increase in Drone Surveillance for Other Agencies | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Recently released daily flight logs from Customs & Border Protection (CPB) show the agency has sharply increased the number of missions its 10 Predator drones have flown on behalf of state, local and non-CPB federal agencies. Yet, despite this increase—eight-fold between 2010 and 2012—CBP has failed to explain how it’s protecting our privacy from unwarranted drone surveillance.

EFF received the three years of flight logs, a 2010 “Concept of Operations” report about the Predator program, and other records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the agency. In that lawsuit we asked for specific information on the agency’s program to loan out its drones to local, state and federal agencies.

According to the documents, CBP already appears to be flying drones well within the Southern and Northern US borders, and for a wide variety of non-border patrol reasons. What’s more — the agency is planning to increase its Predator drone fleet to 24 and its drone surveillance to 24 hours per day / 7 days per week by 2016.

As the Concept of Operations report notes, CBP’s goal is that its drone data will be “persistently available” (p. 21) and interoperable (p. 29) — not just within CBP, but to other agencies, and also possibly to other countries. CBP plans that its “UAS will provide assured monitoring of entities along land borders, inland seas, littorals and high seas with sufficient frequency, continuity, accuracy, spectral diversity, and data content to produce actionable information.” (p. 29)

Daily Predator Flight Logs Detail Scope of CBP Drone Flights for Other Agencies

CBP’s three years of daily flight logs detail when, where and how the agency flew its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies. These logs show a marked increase in drone flights over the years. In 2010, CBP appears to have flown its Predators about 30 times on behalf of other agencies, but this number increased to more than 160 times in 2011 and more than 250 times in 2012.

While CBP blacked out important information about dates, geographic location of flights, and, in most cases, agency names, these logs do provide some insights into the agency’s drone program. For example, we’ve learned that CBP conducted drone surveillance for law enforcement agencies ranging from the FBI, ICE, the US Marshals, and the Coast Guard to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the North Dakota Army National Guard, and the Texas Department of Public Safety. These missions ranged from specific drug-related investigations, searches for missing persons, border crossings and fishing violations to general “surveillance imagery” and “aerial reconnaissance” of a given location.

CBP also flew its drones for non-law enforcement agencies and missions. The logs show that CBP conducted extensive “electro-optical, thermal infrared imagery and Synthetic Aperture Radar” surveillance of levees along the Mississippi River and river valleys across several states, along with surveillance of the massive Deep Water Horizon oil spill and other natural resources for the US Geological Survey, FEMA, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the Department of Natural Resources, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Yet even these missions raise red flags. While the goal of each may be to gather useful environmental information, the drones necessarily also collect information on the people living within those areas—and we’ve seen no policies describing limitations on how the information is used or whether it’s shared with law enforcement agencies like the FBI or ICE.

Report Details CBP’s Plans to Increase Surveillance Capabilities, Expand Operations, and Possibly Add Weapons to Drones

CBP also released to EFF a 2010 “Concept of Operations” report for its drone program. This document provides significant detail about CBP’s program, including the three major operational locations in which the agency flies its drones, the Predators’ on-board surveillance technologies, and CBP’s “far-term” goals for the program.

The report notes that CBP’s Predators have highly sophisticated, high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), color video, and electron optical (EO) and infrared (IR) cameras, and are capable of performing Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Targeting and Acquisition (“RSTA”) on and tracking of multiple moving and stationary targets of interest in both clear and adverse weather. CBP hopes to improve its surveillance capabilities in the future so that its sensor “point target resolution” increases to “well below one foot.”

The report also notes that CBP plans to make its drones and the data gathered through its drone surveillance even more widely available to outside agencies. For example, CBP plans to share data on a near real-time basis, possibly “via DOD’s Global Information Grid (GIG)/Defense Information Systems Network.” CBP also plans that “joint DHS and OGA [other government agency] combined operations will become the norm at successively lower organizational hierarchical levels[,]” which will, presumably, reduce the already limited oversight for CBP’s drone-loan program.

The Border Patrol Wants to Arm Drones | The Atlantic Wire

Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation from the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol indicate that the agency is close to finalizing payload standards for its drone aircraft. Among the things the CBP might want to use in its unmanned aircraft: “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets.

… A fact sheet provided by the agency notes the current capabilities of the aircraft, including electro-optical/infrared sensors and “Surface Search Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator.” The specific drone rolled out in 2009 was loaded with “the Raytheon MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System (with electro-optical, infrared, laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities) and Synthetic Aperture Radar.” Raytheon describes the capabilities of the MTS-B: “provides long-range surveillance, high-altitude target acquisition, tracking, rangefinding, and laser designation for the HELLFIRE missile and for all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions.” You can see the surveillance systems at work in this video, shot at the Mexican border; obviously, the CBP drones aren’t HELLFIRE equipped [YET, ed.].

… The prospect, then, is this. Predator aircraft patrolling the Mexican (and Canadian) border equipped with “non-lethal” weapons and advanced targeting systems. The EFF notes in its blog post:

However, this is the first we’ve heard of any federal agency proposing using weapons on drones flown domestically. That CBP has, without broader public discussion, considered this step—combined with the fact that the agency (with Congress’ blessing, if the immigration bill is approved (pdf, p. 92)) is planning to sharply increase the number of drones it flies—should cause serious concern for Americans.

(We assessed the effectiveness of the CBP’s recent expansion of its resources on the border last month. There hasn’t been a correlation between increased resources and more apprehensions.)

… Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney for the EFF, told The Atlantic Wire by phone Tuesday afternoon, it’s not just the CBP that uses these drones. The FOIA request stems from a lawsuit filed by Lynch after a 2011 Los Angeles Times article that indicated the agency was sharing its aircraft with other agencies at all level of government. Among the ones she identified off the top of her head: the Coast Guard, the FBI, the U.S. Marshalls, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety. The drone’s surveillance capability “is what we’re actually focused on,” Lynch said, but the possibility of using weapons stood out. “This is the first I’ve seen any mention of any plans to weaponize any drones that fly domestically,” she said. “I haven’t seen this anywhere else.”

See also: Customs & Border Protection Logged Eight-Fold Increase in Drone Surveillance for Other Agencies

FBI director Robert Mueller said the government has used surveillance drones in the U.S. — though ‘in a very, very minimal way, very seldom” — at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. ‘It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,’ Mueller said before the judiciary committee. ‘It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.’ He said he did not know what happens to the images the drones capture.

The Government Is Spying on America with Drones, Too

Cool. So it’s nothing to worry about then. Thanks for the talk, Dad Bob.