Can Killer Drones Be Turned on America? 50 Countries Are Trying to Get Their Hands on Military Drone Technology -- What Will They Do With It?
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Someday soon, you'll be checking your new Clear Skies app as a routine part of your preparations to go out for the evening. First, you'll look at your smart gizmo to read your latest email to make sure there hasn't been any change in plans. A quick glance at Facebook lets you see who’ll be joining your group of friends at the bar. Weather and traffic apps inform you of what to wear and what route to take. Twitter will tell you about any major news developments you should be retweeting to your tweeps to prime the conversational pump over drinks.
And your new Clear Skies app will let you know if any unmanned drones are hovering 12 miles up in the stratosphere with your head in their sights.
Sound like science fiction? Isn't drone surveillance and remote kills a problem just for people in the undeveloped regions of the world where life is cheap, collateral damage a daily hazard, and violations of national sovereignty the norm rather than the exception?
No doubt, people in the United States felt the same way about nuclear weapons during that brief period after 1945 when only one country in the world possessed the explosive new technology. Then, on August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, and Americans no longer felt quite so confident. Indeed, the United States began to experience a pervasive nuclear dread, with children practicing "duck and cover" in the classroom, parents digging out bomb shelters in the backyard, and the thought of fiery apocalypse never far from the thoughts of a bewildered and terrified populace.
Today, the United States maintains a near monopoly on military drone technology, with only Israel and Britain also deploying these systems. But the landscape is rapidly changing. As David Cortright at the University of Notre Dame points out, more than 50 countries are developing or buying drone systems, including China and Iran, and even non-state actors want in on the business. The United States is now using drones to patrol borders and collect information about Mexican narcotraffickers. U.S. law enforcement agencies are also eager to use the technology against criminals on U.S. soil, with Texas sheriffs leading the way. Unmanned drones are already used in Japan, Australia, and other countries for such civilian activities as crop dusting and lifeguarding.
Soon, the skies will be very crowded indeed. And the sound of drones that have become part of everyday life in "areas of concern" will someday become part of everyone's life, as ubiquitously intrusive as flat-screen TVs and annoying ringtones. Perhaps these unmanned aerial vehicles will simply pick you out of a crowd so that the police department can hit you up for unpaid parking tickets or your spouse's lawyer can verify adultery and grounds for divorce. But that assumes that drones will be seamlessly integrated into the fabric of legal and social norms, a technology no different from tasers or the Police National Computer.
But what's happening today in Pakistan is beyond the law. It's not even subject to the rules of war. The drone wars that the Obama administration has inherited from the Bush years – and expanded dramatically – are conducted by the CIA. The spy agency doesn't need to abide by the Geneva Conventions or acquire congressional approval for its actions. It doesn't bother with niceties such as national sovereignty. And, in contrast to other agencies that only dabble in falsehood, breaking the law and not telling the truth are integral to the operations of the CIA.
Here’s but one example. Back in June, Obama's top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan announced that drone strikes haven't resulted in any civilian casualties over the past year. “There hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, [the] precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop,” he said. That's more than 600 militants killed since May 2010 and not a single noncombatant among them.