Monday, January 18, 2016

Drones: We Need Debate, Not Sound Bites

It's an election year in the US. National security is becoming a top issue. Everyone's talking about ISIS, and terrorism. The evolving US militarism is bubbling just below the surface.

Okay: let's put the question on the table.

REAL debate is not the 3-ring circus that you see on TV during prime time,
full of personalities and ad hominem attacks, but rather a knowledge- and
research-based exchange of argument and counterargument directed at
focused analysis of a specific question. Passion and competition, yes,
but, more than anything else, debate is an exercise in critical thinking!

Let's hear some real debate: Is military action the solution? Is violence the way to fight violence? Are we going to "drone" our way to a peaceful world?

Before we let some politician get away with a cheap sound bit, let's subject the question to real scrutiny:

Does the use of drones really offer countries like the US the best solution for addressing violent threats?

Let's see a real debate.

Related posts

Anyone who has had to write a speech knows that the hardest part is to land on the main idea. Once you've got that right, the rest practically writes itself.

(See "The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence." on Scarry Thoughts.)

A virus is able to be so successful precisely because it (most of the time) doesn't kill its host. I can't help thinking that we simply are not being intelligent about how to respond to violence. How might recognizing the "viral" nature of violence help us to respond to it more intelligently?

(See Violence: Taking Over Like a Virus on Scarry Thoughts.)

We can now entrust all the dirty work -- including war -- to robots. (Or can we?)

(See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones on Scarry Thoughts.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

FOUR WE WILL REMEMBER: Former Drone Operators Speak Out Against Drone Killings

This post is a kind of stake in the ground, a time capsule, to remind us in the months and years ahead that in the fall of 2015 we were talking about the four drone operators who stood up and spoke out against US drone killings.

Let us hope that in the days ahead there are so many that we won't be able to remember what it was like when there were just these brave few.

(AND let's hope that we have all helped bring a quick reversal of the apparent persecution of these whistleblowers: see "Obama’s War on Truth. USAF Drone Operators 'Who Blew the Whistle'")

In the meantime please sign and share the petition to Protect the Drone Assassination Program Whistleblowers!

"Former US military drone operators discuss their experiences at the Guardian
offices in New York on Tuesday [September 17, 2015]."
See: "Life as a drone operator: 'Ever step on ants
and never give it another thought?'

(Photograph: Simon Leigh for the Guardian)

The following letter is reproduced from an original posted online:

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Secretary Ashton B. Carter
Department of Defense

Director John O. Brennan
Central Intelligence Agency

Dear President Obama, Secretary Carter and Director Brennan:

            We are former Air Force service members. We joined the Air Force to protect American lives and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.

            When the guilt of our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life became too much, all of us succumbed to PTSD. We were cut loose by the same government we gave so much to ­­ sent out in the world without adequate medical care, reliable public health services, or necessary benefits. Some of us are now homeless. Others of us barely make it.

            We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country’s leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program. We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home. Such silence would violate the very oaths we took to support and defend the Constitution.

            We request that you consider our perspective, though perhaps that request is in vain given the unprecedented prosecution of truth­tellers who came before us like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. For the sake of this country, we hope it is otherwise.


Brandon Bryant
Staff Sergeant
MQ­1B Predator Sensor Operator
SERE Instructor Trainee
USAF Joint Special Operations Command
3rd Special Operations Squadron
Disabled Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran
Founder of Project RED HAND

Cian Westmoreland
Senior Airman
RF Transmissions Systems
73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron
Disabled Afghanistan Veteran
Project RED HAND's Sustainable Technology Director

Stephen Lewis
Senior Airman
MQ­1B Predator Sensor Operator
USAF Joint Special Operations Command
3rd Special Operations Squadron
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

Michael Haas
Senior Airman
MQ­1B Predator Sensor Operator Instructor
USAF Air Combat Command
15th Reconnaissance Squadron
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

See their website: Project Red Hand.

Related links:

The Guardian: "Life as a drone operator: 'Ever step on ants and never give it another thought?'

Pressconference on Livestream

The Intercept: Former Drone Operators Say They Were “Horrified” By Cruelty of Assassination Program

DEMOCRACY NOW - November 20, 2015 - Exclusive: 2 Air Force Vets Speak Out for First Time on Why They Want the Drone War to Stop

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

DRONE NATION: Putting the Killing Out of SIght, Out of Mind?

Are we falling behind in our effort to resist the growing convergence of robotics and war?

Having been at it for about 3-1/2 years, No Drones Network campaigners are becoming more and more aware that the greatest challenge of drones is that they operate "out of sight" . . . and once they're out of sight, they tend to be "out of mind."

Drones operate "out there" somewhere, and the US citizenry is encouraged to ignore them and go on with their lives. Whatever you do, don't think about drones. And certainly don't think deeply . . . .

People have trouble focusing on the problem of drones.  And that's just the way the government likes it. (See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

The antidote is active and creative agitation: activism that encourages people to think.

What are the creative ways that people around the country and around the world are helping people think deeply about what is being done with drones?

I've added a few links below. Please expand this list by using the comments section.

Why GROUNDED Is Soaring: Putting Drone Dilemmas In Your Face
Level Up, Step Up, Grow Up, Man Up . . . Wake Up
"The Predator" in Chicago - Good Friday, 2013 - "A Passion Play for the Drones Era"
GOOD KILL: Struggling to Bring the Truth of Drone Killing Out of the Shadows
ROBOTIC KILLING: What could possibly go wrong? (Ask a kid)
A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones
The Apostle's Creed as a Focus for Thinking About Drones
"Everyday Suspects": Chicago Exhibition Delves Into Drone Invasion of Everyday Life
Time for a History Lesson? (Invoking Guernica)

Update: October 14, 2015

Plenty of schools are now teaching kids about drones. (Just google "high school curriculum drones".)

There seems to be a lot of "gee-whiz" fascination with the technology. (Hey, it's STEM, right?) But do these how-to courses on drones even begin to touch ethical questions?

One valuable exception seems to be this study guide: "A Field Guide to Teaching Agency and Ethics: The West Wing and American Foreign Policy," especially "Sample Lesson 2: Targeted killings, agency, and ethics."

Update: October 15, 2015

Like the answer to a prayer, today The Intercept published "The Drone Papers." EVERYONE please read...think about...write about...and SHARE. More about "The Drone Papers" in this space soon . . . .

Update: October 19, 2015

An art installation by Jim Shaw. "Labyrinth" and "Guernica": I wonder how many viewers will make the effort to tease out the parallels -- and contrasts -- between these two works.

(See Time for a History Lesson? (Invoking Guernica) on Scarry Thoughts)

Update: October 20, 2015

Drone killings is a topic that the mainstream media avoids. Project Censored has named US drone killings of civilians the 3rd most important under-reported story of 2015:

"Since President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, an estimated 2,464 people have been killed by drone strikes targeted outside of the United States’ declared war zones; this figure was posted in February 2015 by Jack Serle and the team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism . . .  (More on Project Censored . . . )"

(I'm grateful for the coverage of Project Censored in the East Bay Express for bringing this to my attention.)

Update: December 1, 2015

Philosopher and cultural critic Laurie Calhoun points out in her essay, "Bribery and the Unraveling of Moral Fiber in the Drone Age," "There have always been people willing to murder people in exchange for thick wads of cash, but in centuries past, they were generally considered to be disreputable hitmen . . . ."

"Have we forgotten our humanity in the pursuit of vengeance and
security?" Former Drone Operators Speak Out Against Drone Killings
But something's changed.

Four former drone operators who have blown the whistle on the US drone assassination program: FOUR WE WILL REMEMBER: Former Drone Operators Speak Out Against Drone Killings.

What does this mean?

Update: December 12, 2015

Carol Anne Grayson reports on her blog: "Thursday 10th December 2015, human rights lawyers from Reprieve launched a Drone Compensation Report regarding victims of US drone strikes at Margala, Pakistan vowing to seek justice for those affected." (See "Pakistan: Drone Compensation Launch held at Margala to support victims of US strikes")

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times reports, "Air Force proposes $3-billion plan to vastly expand its drone program."

COMMENTS PLEASE! What are the creative ways that people around the country and around the world are helping people think deeply about what is being done with drones?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ROBOTIC KILLING: What could possibly go wrong? (Ask a kid)

Massachusetts Peace Action contest winners

Earlier this year, Massachusetts Peace Action sponsored a contest for posters and videos from local students to be used in promoting the April Peace and Planet events in New York City.

The results were impressive. I was particularly struck by this video:

The whole problem with the NPT, summed up in two minutes and thirty-nine seconds!

The lesson for me: if we want someone to help us explain an antiwar message, maybe we should ask a kid.

The movement against drone killing and drone surveillance could benefit from imaginative, no-holds-barred, tech-savvy, explorations of the problem.  The more people -- especially young people -- we get talking about this, the better!

The problem we're up against is that drones are portrayed as an out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution to military action, and so the general public is happy to simply not worry about it.

Just imagine what would happen if we could ask kids to think about the question . . .

Robotic killing: 
What could possibly go wrong?

How can we interest educators in schools across the country in asking the question: "Robotic killing: What could possibly go wrong?"

What do Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk say? "Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity," they say in a joint letter by concerned scientists. (See Ban Killer Robots Before They Take Over, Stephen Hawking & Elon Musk Say)

Related posts

We can now entrust all the dirty work -- including war -- to robots. (Or can we?)

(See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones  )

With drones, people become just dots. "Bugs." People who no longer count as people . . . .

(See Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt? )

The panopticon was a prison design that reversed the old paradigm, in which prisoners were stored away, "out of sight, out of mind," and instead arrayed them in a way in which they could be observed as efficiently as possible by the fewest number of managers.

(See Drones, 1984, and Foucault's Panopticon)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dealer: "The military folks have hijacked the U.S. drone"

Is there an opportunity for people who support civilian uses of drones to make common cause with people who oppose drone killing and drone surveillance?

from @TheDroneDealer:
"The military folks have hijacked the U.S. drone industry
most of us want to do positivie things with drone tech
I'm not sure the police can handle the responsibility
they need to reach out to their communities"

Comments please!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Opponents of Drone Killing Go to Nevada Desert to "Shut Down Creech!" in March

Shut Down Creech! protesters
(See more photos on the Shut Down Creech! website.)
Join activists from across the country and around the world to Shut Down Creech! March 4-6, 2015 at Creech Air Force Base, Indian Springs, Nevada, for a national mobilization of nonviolent resistance to shut down killer drone operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan,Yemen, Somalia, and everywhere.

April 2014, CODEPINK Resisting Drones at Creech,
memorializing the victims on pink paper drones.
(See more photos on the Shut Down Creech! website.)
(See the full program of the multi-day mobilization on the Shut Down Creech! website.)

The convergence is sponsored by . . .

CODEPINK: Women for Peace
Nevada Desert Experience (NDE)
Veterans For Peace (VFP)
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV)
. . . and more (see full list)


Activists from across the country will be converging there:

John Amidon: "Please join us March 4 - 6 to Shut Down Creech!" on No Drones New York State

Kathy Kelly: "Let's rehabilitate CREECH!" on No Drones Illinois


and invite friends

Social media: Tweet, RT, Favorite
#ShutDownCreech posts on Twitter

Plan your participation via

One People One Earth . . . Stop Drone Attacks!
 (See more photos on the Shut Down Creech! website.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014


"Dozens of aerial drones were on display...
at the Chinese air show in Zhuhai." (NYT - 11/27/2012)
The United States is very good at starting things . . . but seldom considers three moves ahead, much less how it will all end.

Drones are a case in point.

Now people are starting to talk about the problem of global drone proliferation. Here are some resources.

Arms Control Association: "Drone Proliferation Tests Arms Control"

April, 2014 - "As the U.S. government winds up an interagency review of rules governing the export of large drones, the conflicting goals of nonproliferation and commerce are creating a new test of the 27-year-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)."

The Atlantic: "8 Questions the World Faces as Lethal Drones Proliferate: Today's answers will affect how other countries pursue targeted killing in the future"

March 12, 2014 - "Sooner or later, countries other than the United States may start killing people with drones as frequently as we do. If and when that happens, Americans are likely to regret the norms President Obama has established around targeted and semi-targeted killing . . . . " "Nine facts about armed drones"

May 13, 2014 - "The virtual monopoly that the United States had on armed drones a decade ago is evaporating . . . . "

Action on Armed Violence infographic: "Global drone wars: current combat drones and their proliferation"

"Once countries like China start exporting [drones], they're going to be everywhere really quickly . . . . "

Global Post Special Report: "The Drone Age: Why we should fear global proliferation of UAVs"

"Inside the world’s biggest air shows in Singapore, Dubai and Paris, leading weapons manufacturers gather to sell their lethal wares in the global marketplace, and nothing is selling these days like drones . . . ."

Council on Foreign Relations Special Report: Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation

June 26, 2014 - "The Obama administration should pursue a strategy that places clear limits on its own sale and use of armed drones lest these weapons proliferate and their use becomes widespread. These are the central findings of a new report by CFR Douglas Dillon Fellow Micah Zenko and Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow Sarah Kreps."

"Although only five countries have developed armed drones—the United States, Britain, Israel, China, and Iran—several other countries have announced their own programs . . . ."

(See also "The Drone Invasion Has Been Greatly Exaggerated: Why sensationalizing drone proliferation is going to kill our ability to control them" and "Drone Proliferation: Three Things to Know")

Related posts

No matter how you feel about the inherent challenges posed by drone technology . . . whether or not you recognize that drone attacks resulting in innocent deaths are an enormous ethical and practical problem . . . whether or not you are concerned that even "successful" drone attacks constitute extrajudicial executions (i.e. are war crimes) and are not "self-defense" as claimed by the Obama Administration . . . whether or not you care about the simple surveillance implications of drone use . . . doesn't it seem like a good idea to SLOW DOWN with the proliferation of drone technology? Lest we end up regretting it later?

(See The Drone-Pandora Connection (and I'm not talking about music) )

Today, it may seem quaint to think about the role that trains played in the cataclysms of the 20th century. Could something as simple as a bunch of trains, once set in motion, possibly put people on a course they couldn't reverse? And yet . . . what if I told you that the hyper-organized planners of the U.S. government have a timetable to make 100 drone bases operational in our country in the near future?

(See War By (Drone Base) Timetable? )

Beyond recognizing the inherent contradictions of "pre-emptive violence," we must confront an urgent problem related to technology: the automation of "pre-emptive violence" -- e.g. via drone technology -- is leading to a spiral (or "loop" or "recursive process") that we may not be able to get out of.

(See When "Pre-emptive Violence" Is Automated ....)