Pentagon report justifies deployment of military spy drones over the U.S.

The Pentagon has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade according to a new report.

The Pentagon has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade, but the flights have been rare and lawful, according to a new report.

The report by a Pentagon inspector general, made public under a Freedom of Information Act request, said spy drones on non-military missions have occurred fewer than 20 times between 2006 and 2015 and always in compliance with existing law.

The report, which did not provide details on any of the domestic spying missions,  said the Pentagon takes the issue of military drones used on American soil “very seriously.”

The Pentagon has publicly posted at least a partial list of the drone missions that have flown in non-military airspace over the United States and explains the use of the aircraft. The site lists nine missions flown between 2011 and 2016, largely to assist with search and rescue, floods, fires or National Guard exercises.

A senior policy analyst for the ACLU, Jay Stanley, said it is good news no legal violations were found, yet the technology is so advanced that it’s possible laws may require revision.

us-drones“Sometimes, new technology changes so rapidly that existing law no longer fits what people think is appropriate,” Stanley said. “It’s important to remember that the American people do find this to be a very, very sensitive topic.”

Other federal agencies own and operate drones. The use of unmanned aerial surveillance (UAS) drones over the USA surfaced in 2013 when then-FBI director Robert Mueller testified before Congress that the bureau employed spy drones to aid investigations but in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom.”

The inspector general analysis was completed March 20, 2015, but not released publicly until last Friday.

It said that with advancements in drone technology along with widespread military use overseas, the Pentagon established interim guidance in 2006 governing when and whether the unmanned aircraft could be used domestically. The interim policy allowed spy drones to be used for homeland defense purposes in the U.S. and to assist civil authorities.

But the policy said that any use of military drones for civil authorities had to be approved by the Secretary of Defense or someone delegated by the secretary. The report found that defense secretaries have never delegated that responsibility.

The report quoted a military law review article that said “the appetite to use them (spy drones) in the domestic environment to collect airborne imagery continues to grow, as does Congressional and media interest in their deployment.”

Military units that operate drones told the inspector general they would like more opportunities to fly them on domestic missions if for no other reason than to give pilots more experience to improve their skills, the report said. “Multiple units told us that as forces using the UAS capabilities continue to draw down overseas, opportunities for UAS realistic training and use have decreased,” the report said.

A request for all cases between 2006 and 2015 in which civil authorities asked the military for use of spy drones produced a list of “less than twenty events,”  the report said. The list included requests granted and denied.

The list was not made public in the report. But a few examples were cited, including one case in which an unnamed mayor asked the Marine Corps to use a drone to find potholes in the mayor’s city. The Marines denied the request because obtaining the defense secretary’s “approval to conduct a UAS mission of this type did not make operational sense.”

Shortly before the inspector general report was completed a year ago, the Pentagon issued a new policy governing the use of spy drones. It requires the defense secretary to approve all domestic spy drone operations. It says that unless permitted by law and approved by the secretary, drones “may not conduct surveillance on U.S. persons.” It also bans the use of armed drones over the United States for anything other than training and testing.

, USA TODAY

President Obama Reportedly Told His Aides That He’s ‘Really Good At Killing People’

This will not go over well for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

According to the new book “Double Down,” in which journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann chronicle the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama told his aides that he’s “really good at killing people” while discussing drone strikes.

Peter Hamby of The Washington Post noted the moment in his review of the book.

The reported claim by the commander-in-chief is as indisputable as it is grim.

Obama oversaw the 2009 surge in Afghanistan, 145 Predator drone strikes in NATO’s 2011 Libya operations, the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and drone strikes that killed the Pakistani Taliban leader and a senior member of the Somali-based militant group al-Shabab this week.

His administration also expanded the drone war: There have been 326 drone strikes in Pakistan, 93 in Yemen, and several in Somalia under Obama — upwards of 4,000 people overall — compared to a total of 52 strikes under George Bush.

In 2011 two of those strikes killed American-born al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki and his American-born, 16-year-old son within two weeks.

Under Obama U.S. drone operators began practicing “signature strikes,” a tactic in which targets are chosen based on patterns of suspicious behavior and the identities of those to be killed aren’t necessarily known. (The administration counts all “military-age males” in a strike zone as combatants.)

Furthermore, the disturbing trend of the “double tap” — bombing the same place in quick succession and often hitting first responders — has become common practice.

Obama has also embraced the expansion of capture/kill missions by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) after it developed into the primary counterterrorism tool of the Bush administration.

One JSOC operator told investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of “Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield,” that global operations under Obama became “harder, faster, quicker — with the full support of the White House.”

Scahill, who also made a “Dirty Wars” documentary, told NBC News that Obama will “go down in history as the president who legitimized and systematized a process by which the United States asserts the right to conduct assassination operations around the world.”

Needless to say, a lot of  innocent people  have  been killed  along with combatants.

So although President Obama has proven to be “really good at killing people,” the demonstration has not necessarily been noble.

US drone strikes could be classed as war crimes, says Amnesty International

Joint report with Human Rights Watch judges US attacks in Yemen and Pakistan to have broken international human rights law

US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign against suspected terrorists in Pakistan may have committed war crimes and should stand trial, a report by a leading human rights group warns. Amnesty International has highlighted the case of a grandmother who was killed while she was picking vegetables and other incidents which could have broken international laws designed to protect civilians.

The report is issued in conjunction with an investigation by Human Rights Watch detailing missile attacks in Yemen which the group believes could contravene the laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and Barack Obama’s own guidelines on drones.

The reports are being published while Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, is in Washington. Sharif has promised to tell Obama that the drone strikes – which have caused outrage in Pakistan – must end.

Getting to the bottom of individual strikes is exceptionally difficult in the restive areas bordering Afghanistan, where thousands of militants have settled. People are often terrified of speaking out, fearing retribution from both militants and the state, which is widely suspected of colluding with the CIA-led campaign.

There is also a risk of militants attempting to skew outside research by forcing interviewees into “providing false or inaccurate information”, the report said.

But Amnesty mounted a major effort to investigate nine of the many attacks to have struck the region over the last 18 months, including one that killed 18 labourers in North Waziristan as they waited to eat dinner in an area of heavy Taliban influence in July 2012. All those interviewed by Amnesty strongly denied any of the men had been involved in militancy. Even if they were members of a banned group, that would not be enough to justify killing them, the report said.

A house in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan destroyed by a drone missile in 2008. Eighteen people including Islamist militants were killed. Photograph: Reuters

A house in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan destroyed by a drone missile in 2008. Eighteen people including Islamist militants were killed. Photograph: Reuters

Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions,” the report said. It called for those responsible to stand trial.

The US has repeatedly claimed very few civilians have been killed by drones. It argues its campaign is conducted “consistent with all applicable domestic and international law”.

The Amnesty report supports media accounts from October last year that a 68-year-old woman called Mamana Bibi was killed by a missile fired from a drone while she was picking okra outside her home in North Waziristan with her grandchildren nearby. A second strike minutes later injured family members tending her.

If true, the case is striking failure of a technology much vaunted for its accuracy. It is claimed the remote-controlled planes are able to observe their targets for hours or even days to verify them, and that the explosive force of the missiles is designed to limit collateral damage. As with other controversial drone strikes, the US has refused to acknowledge or explain what happened.

Amnesty said it accepts some US drone strikes may not violate the law, “but it is impossible to reach any firm assessment without a full disclosure of the facts surrounding individual attacks and their legal basis. The USA appears to be exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the region to evade accountability for its violations,” it said.

In Yemen, another country where US drones are active, Human Rights Watch highlighted six incidents, two of which were a “clear violation of international humanitarian law”. The remaining four may have broken the laws of armed conflict because the targets were illegitimate or because not enough was done to minimise civilian harm, the report said.

It also argued that some of the Yemen attacks breach the guidelines announced by Obama earlier this year in his first major speech on a programme that is officially top secret. For example, the pledge to kill suspects only when it is impossible to capture them appears to have been ignored on 17 April this year when an al-Qaida leader was blown up in a township in Dhamar province in central Yemen, Human Rights Watch said.

An attack on a truck driving 12 miles south of the capital Sana’a reportedly killed two al-Qaida suspects but also two civilians who had been hired by the other men. That means the attack could have been illegal because it “may have caused disproportionate harm to civilians”.

The legal arguments over drones are extremely complex, with much controversy focusing on whether or not the places where they are used amount to war zones.

Amnesty said some of the strikes in Pakistan might be covered by that claim, but rejected a “global war doctrine” that allows the US to attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world.

“To accept such a policy would be to endorse state practices that fundamentally undermine crucial human rights protections that have been painstakingly developed over more than a century of international law-making,” the report said.

by  in Islamabad

Drones are taking to the skies in the U.S.

Federal authorities step up efforts to license surveillance aircraft for law enforcement and other uses, amid growing privacy concerns.

WASHINGTON — While a national debate has erupted over the Obama administration’s lethal drone strikes overseas, federal authorities have stepped up efforts to license surveillance drones for law enforcement and other uses in U.S. airspace, spurring growing concern about violations of privacy.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, far more than were previously known. Some 327 permits are still listed as active.

Operators include police, universities, state transportation departments and at least seven federal agencies. The remotely controlled aircraft vary widely, from devices as small as model airplanes to large unarmed Predators.

The FAA, which has a September 2015 deadline from Congress to open the nation’s airspace to drone traffic, has estimated 10,000 drones could be aloft five years later. The FAA this week solicited proposals to create six sites across the country to test drones, a crucial step before widespread government and commercial use is approved.

Local and state law enforcement agencies are expected to be among the largest customers.

Earlier this month, TV footage showed a midsized drone circling over the bunker in southeast Alabama where a 65-year-old gunman held a 5-year-old boy hostage. After a tense standoff, an FBI team stormed the bunker, rescued the boy and shot his captor. Authorities refused to say who was operating the AeroVironment drone, which has a 9-foot wingspan.

In Colorado, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office has used a fixed-wing drone to search for lost hikers in the mountains, and a helicopter drone to help crews battling fires. Flying manned planes or helicopters would cost at least $600 an hour, explained Ben Miller, who heads the program.

“We fly [drones] for less than $25 an hour,” Miller said. “It’s just a new way to put a camera up that’s affordable.”

Big-city police departments, including Los Angeles, have tested drones but are holding back on buying them until the FAA issues clear guidelines about operating in congested airspace, among other issues.

“You’ve got to take baby steps with this,” said Michael Downing, the LAPD deputy chief for counter-terrorism and special operations.

Los Angeles Police Department officials went to Simi Valley in December, he said, to watch a demonstration of a helicopter-like device that measured about 18 inches on each side and was powered by four propellers. It could fly about 90 minutes on its battery.

Downing said the LAPD was “pursuing the idea of purchasing” drones, but wouldn’t do so unless the FAA granted permission to fly them, and until the department could draw up policies on how to keep within privacy laws.

If the LAPD bought drones, Downing said, it initially would use them at major public events such as the Oscars or large protests. In time, drones could be flown to track fleeing suspects and assist in investigations. Tiny drones could even be used to fly inside buildings to shoot video if a suspect has barricaded himself within.

drone_attack_Obama_090123_mnIn theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.

That’s the problem, according to civil liberties groups. The technology is evolving faster than the law. Congress and courts haven’t determined whether drone surveillance would violate privacy laws more than manned planes or helicopters, or whether drone operators may be held liable for criminal trespassing, stalking or harassment.

“Americans have the right to know if and how the government is using drones to spy on them,” said Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has called for updating laws to protect privacy.

A backlash has already started.

In Congress, Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) introduced privacy legislation Thursday that would require police to get a warrant or a court order before operating a drone to collect information on individuals.

“We need to protect against obtrusive search and surveillance by government and civilian use,” Poe said in a telephone interview. A similar bill failed last year.

Legislatures in 15 states are considering proposals to limit drone use. The City Council in Charlottesville, Va., passed a resolution on Feb. 4 barring local police from using drones — which they don’t yet have — to collect evidence in criminal cases.

In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn ordered police to return two Draganflyer X6 helicopter drones earlier this month after privacy advocates and others protested. The police said they had hoped to use them for search-and-rescue operations.

Federal agencies fly drones to assist in disasters, check flood damage, do crop surveys and more. U.S. Customs and Border Protection flies the largest fleet, 10 unarmed Predators, along the northern and southern borders to help track smugglers and illegal immigrants.

In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Marshals Service tested two small drones in remote areas to help them track fugitives, according to law enforcement officials and documents released to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. The Marshals Service abandoned the program after both drones crashed.

Except in rare cases, the military is barred from using drones in U.S. airspace to conduct surveillance or pursue individuals. No state or federal agency has proposed arming domestic drones with weapons, but the prospect has raised alarms in Congress and elsewhere.

In response to a question during an online Google chat Thursday, President Obama said drones had never been used to kill “an American citizen on American soil.”

“The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture terrorists in the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan,” Obama said.

No drone was sent up to help find suspected killer Christopher Dorner after his truck was found burning near Big Bear Lake on Feb. 7, said Al Daniel, an officer in the aviation division of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. But Customs and Border Protection transmitted secure video from a Pilatus PC-12 plane to police commanders on the ground.

Despite a massive manhunt, Dorner vanished and authorities speculated he had escaped to Mexico. Five days later, however, he was found in a snowbound cabin near his truck and died after a shootout and fire.

The long delay, and the embarrassing fact that Dorner was hiding close by the police command post, sparked sharp criticism of police tactics and abilities.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said an aerial drone might have helped find Dorner more quickly.

“The search would have been much wider and quicker because you’d have an unmanned aircraft looking,” he said. “You can cover more ground.”

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More Drones, Marines to Libya, But Did They Ever Leave?

Apparently, there is nothing so permanent as a temporary US war

LibyaThe Obama administration has ordered military reinforcements to Libya following the attack on the US consulate building this week, but the truth is drones had never left Libya’s skies and US Marines have been carrying out missions on the ground since the end of NATO’s war there last year.

The US suspects al-Qaeda affiliates were involved in starting the attack on the US consulate in Libya, which killed the American ambassador and three others, and has not only started an FBI investigation into the incident, but has ordered more drones to surveil Libya, as well as up to 50 additional US Marines and US warships equipped with Tomahawk missiles off the northern coast.

But the Defense Department told Wired‘s Danger Room that the drones never left, despite the fact that the NATO air war in Libya came to an end almost a year ago.

“Yes, we have been flying CAPs [combat air patrols] since the war ended,” said Army Lt. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. These have apparently been done for surveillance purposes with the consent of the new Libyan government.

Similarly, the 50 additional US Marines being sent to Libya won’t exactly be new. One of the four Americans killed in this week’s consulate attack told ABC News last month he was working with the State Department on an intelligence mission to find  some of the hoards of weapons strewn about the country following the collapse of Muammar Gadhafi’s regime.

The late economist Milton Friedman was famous for saying that there is nothing so permanent as a government temporary program. He was referring to domestic policies and bureaucracies, but the same principle applies here. When the US government engages in military action abroad, the tendency is for such military engagements to remain open-ended, in keeping with America’s long history of spreading its military across the entire globe.

by John Glaser

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