The Obama administration is again allowing the CIA to use drone strikes to secretly kill people that the spy agency does not know the identities of in multiple countries - despite repeatedstatements to the contrary.
That’s what we learned this week, when Nasir al-Wuhayshi, an alleged leader of al-Qaida, died in a strike in Yemen. While this time the CIA seems to have guessed right, apparently the drone operators didn’t even know at the time who they were aiming at - only that they thought the target was possibly a terrorist hideout. It’s what’s known as a “signature” strike, where the CIA is not clear who its drone strikes are killing, only that the targets seem like they are terrorists from the sky.
The joke was that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers – but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
It was so controversial that, in 2013, President Obama announced new “rules” for drone strikes that tightened requirements for when the CIA or any government agency could attempt to kill someone and were, in theory, meant to be the end of signature strikes. One of the rules was that a drone target had to be an “imminent threat” to the US and there had to be a near certainty that civilians would not be killed. (One would assume it’s close to impossible to call someone an “imminent threat” when you don’t even know who that person is.) (...)
This is a joint investigation with the German news magazine Der Spiegel.
A TOP-SECRET U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.
Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. (...)
DJI previously stated to The Verge that it programmed its drones to stop flying when they reached a certain distance from airports. Using the GPS, DJI can track a drone's position at all time and establish which zones are off limits. But this would mark the first time DJI is preventing flight over a metro area.
"DJI will release a mandatory firmware update for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision+ to help users comply with the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/8326, which restricts unmanned flight around the Washington, DC metropolitan area," the company wrote in a press release this morning. "The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, DC and extends for a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) radius in all directions. Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace."
DJI also said "the restriction is part of a planned extension of DJI’s No Fly Zone system that prohibits flight near airports and other locations where flight is restricted by local authorities. These extended no fly zones will include over 10,000 airports registered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and will expand no fly zones to ensure they cover the runways at major international airports."
The drone industry is actually in agreement with Obama that more regulation is needed. Congress is on board as well, as evidenced during a recent hearing. The real hurdle has been the FAA, which has moved slowly to establish new rules. The agency has been mandated by Congress to provide an update by this year, but has so far given no indication of when it might arrive.
I'm totally loving my cheap ($40) little drone. Reading recommendations it's good to get an inexpensive one first since you'll certainly end up crashing it - and then you can think about more expensive ones later.
But, man, it's cool. I sent it straight up into the air, over the tops of my redwoods, and birds started attacking it. I got vertiginous and powered it down. Now I'm practicing gliding it a foot or so off the floor and zooming through obstacles.
Two thumbs up.
Here's someone's video:
Or you can just burn the $40 and fly it over my house.
Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent news organisation based at City University, London, has found that only 12% of victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan could be identified as militants.
In a report, released by the organisation on Thursday, researchers also found that fewer than 4% of those killed have been identified as members of al Qaeda.
Officials in Argentina have used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to locate undeclared mansions in a crackdown on rich tax evaders. The roots of their suspicions that something was amiss were in properties registered as empty lots in a wealthy Buenos Aires area, about 10 miles south of the city, according to a report in The Telegraph, and they sent out $10,000 drones equipped with cameras to take pictures of the properties. Resulting snapshots were of luxurious houses and swimming pools. The Telegraph reported that all in all, tax inspectors found 200 mansions and 100 swimming pools that had not been declared. The missing taxes amount to over $2 million from the hidden mansions and the owners face big fines.
Drone use in South America has been expanding, reported Nick Allen, the Daily Telegraph's US West Coast correspondent, and have been dispatched to support investigations such as identifying routes used by drug smugglers, monitoring crops, and looking for archaeological sites.
The U.S. is not the major provider of drone technology to South America. A number of countries have made use of drone technology from Israel, among other interesting developments. W. Alejandro Sanchez, senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), said In a report last year in Upside Down World, "The most basic surveillance drones are small and cost about $600 from a company in Mexico." The prices get higher, he said, "but not as much as most people expect, especially when compared to the cost of a helicopter. Anyone thinking drones are financially unattainable for less developed countries hasn't looked at the latest models."
Upside Down World added that drones are convenient, economical and unlike helicopters and other manned aircrafts, need less maintenance, less fuel, and "less risk to human life in potentially dangerous operations – all while drone prices drop with each passing year." A COHA report earlier this year also recognized that drones can be applied to beneficial use. "Brazil has deployed Israeli-made drones to monitor the Amazon rainforest and crack down on environmental crimes (such as illegal logging and pillaging of natural resources). Moreover, archaeologists in Peru want to utilize the high-resolution cameras on drones for exploration of designated targets because these machines provide a resourceful "eye in the sky" for archaeological digs." (...)
(...) Italian photojournalist Massimo Berruti has been photographing victims of American drone strikes, most of them from the tribal areas, since 2011. The Pakistan Army and militant groups restrict access to North Waziristan, so Berruti can only photograph his subjects when they are able to leave the area. In most cases, he has found, people who have survived drone attacks have little left in the way of support. “Their lives are wiped out, their houses destroyed, their families killed,” Berruti says. “Even if the government provided aid, this kind of loss is not refundable.”
(...) The records were provided to The Washington Post by Reprieve, a London-based human rights organization that has worked in Yemen to document civilian casualties of the U.S. drone campaign.
Kat Craig, a legal director for the group, said the records undermine U.S. claims “that the victims of this drone attack were anything other than civilians” and said the size of the payouts suggest that the Yemeni government — among the poorest in the Middle East — is being reimbursed by the United States.
The records indicate that families of those killed were each given Yemeni currency worth approximately $60,000, with smaller amounts paid to those who sustained injuries or whose vehicles were damaged or destroyed. “In Yemen, that is a life-changing amount of money,” Craig said. “I can’t believe those types of figures would be initiated by the Yemeni government.”
U.S. officials declined to comment on the Dec. 12 strike or any U.S. role in the payments but acknowledged offering money to victims and their families when civilians are injured or killed.
“Although we will not comment on specific cases, were non-combatants killed or injured in a U.S. strike, condolence or other ex gratia payments, such as solatia, may be available,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House, said in an e-mailed statement. She also said the U.S. government “takes seriously all credible reports of non-combatant deaths and injuries” and seeks “to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimize such risk to non-combatants.”
Other U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity denied any U.S. involvement in the payments.
Yemeni officials also declined to discuss the Dec. 12 strike or the payments, but a Yemeni government official who viewed the Reprieve documents said they appeared to be authentic.
The records make no mention of the United States or its use of armed drones to carry out strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group’s Yemen-based affiliate is known.
Nevertheless, the documents serve as the only public record associated with the highly classified U.S. drone campaign in Yemen and offer new details of a strike that remains the focus of debate within the United States.
U.S. military officials have defended the attack and indicated that a subsequent investigation determined that al-Qaeda-linked operatives — and no civilians — were killed.
U.S. officials have said that both the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center, which was directed by the White House to review the operation, concluded that civilians were probably injured or killed.
The U.S. military has since abided by a Yemen-imposed suspension of JSOC’s authority to conduct strikes in the country. U.S. officials indicated that the restriction is being reconsidered, but for now only the CIA has authority to launch lethal strikes in Yemen. (...)