Nobody’s innocent in this shit. — Body of Lies
Terry Gross today examines the CIA’s secret drone program in which remotely controlled, unmanned planes target terror suspects in Pakistan and elsewhere. She interviewed Jane Mayer, a political journalist based in Washington, D.C. who wrote about the program in the October 26 issue of the New Yorker.
Unlike the military’s publicly acknowledged drone program in Afghanistan and Iraq (above) — where pilots fly the drones out of Las Vegas — the CIA’s campaign doesn’t operate in support of U.S. troops on the ground. Instead, it’s a secret program run partly by private contractors, such as Xe (formerly Blackwater), and run out of Northern Virginia.
According to a new study by the New America Foundation, the number of drone strikes has gone up dramatically since Obama became President.
According to Mayer, the C.I.A.’s program is aimed at terror suspects around the world. It operates in places where U.S. troops are not based. The program is classified as covert, and the C.I.A. declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed. Reportedly, the Pakistan and US government develop a jointly approved list of high-value targets.
GROSS: So you quote Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, who you recently profiled in The New Yorker, you quote him as saying the Predator program is the only game in town. What does he mean?
Ms. MAYER: What’s he’s saying is we can’t get these people any other way. It’s the only game in town, and in fact the CIA is – I mean to give them their due, they have had a tremendous run of killing important al-Qaida figures. They say that more than half of the top 20 people that they’ve wanted to get a hold of they have now killed through using this program, mostly in the last year, really. So they’ve been knocking them off one by one and they feel pretty good about it for, you know, good reasons.
But at the same time, I think what is worth thinking about here is there’s a tendency with a success like that to say, wow, if you can get, you know, more than half of the top 20 al-Qaida leaders, why don’t we expand this and go for some other bad guys? And that’s what we’re seeing now.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand, says Mayer. With public disenchantment mounting over the U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan, many in Washington support an even greater reliance on Predator strikes.
The Predator features synthetic aperture radar, video cameras and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) which can be distributed in real-time both to the front line soldier and to the operational commander, or worldwide in real-time via Ku-band satellite links. The General Atomics Lynx SAR (synthetic aperture radar) can include ground moving target indicators and the Athena radar tag technology.
Electronic “SIM-card transmitters” placed near targets by tribesmen working for bounties may account for the drones’ success in taking out dozens of high value al-Qaeda and Taliban targets.
Because of the CIA program’s covert status, there’s “no visible system of accountability in place,” writes Jane Mayer and a sharp increase in the number of reported drone strikes has raised questions about the political consequences. The United States should be more forthright about how many civilians die in its overseas wars, and exercise more caution with unmanned drone attacks, according to one United Nations human rights envoy.
Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) or “combat drones” differ from ordinary UAVs, in that they are designed to deliver weapons. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center, at Wright Patterson, near Dayton, Ohio, integrates and disseminates measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) collected from radar, electro-optical, and infrared sensors.
There’s no denying unmanned planes can be effective. But you have to wonder if it’s just a matter of time before the technology is used against us. Perhaps worse, any civilization, shaken to the core by weapons of mass destruction, could find themselves considering a similar domestic program, perhaps combining cellular sigint collection from UAVs with directed energy weapons. The TASER eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP) can fit in a 12-gauge shotgun.
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