Archive for Arms Proliferation


Derp from above

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As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill makes its way through the Senate this week, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have been arguing for new rules that would limit cargo pilots’ flight time to nine hours between rests. We don’t want any accidents.

“Fatigue is a killer,” Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who executed the 2009 emergency airliner landing in the Hudson River, told a press conference. Then again, if you are a drone pilot in the business of deliberately killing people, working six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day is not a problem.

The drone program remains controversial and has its detractors and defenders. Al Jazeera English this week published the confessions of former Air Force drone technician, Cian Westmoreland. He and three other former operators last year called on the president to stop the program, calling the strategy “self-defeating,” one that propagates anti-US hatred. Not to mention his own nightmares:

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The Running Imam

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More tales of the drone wars.

Citizen, now you can do your part to fight international terrorism from the comfort of your own MQ-9 Reaper drone console. Citing “lack of appropriately cleared and currently qualified MQ-9 pilots,” the Air Force is now hiring civilian contractors to fly the patrols in “global hot spots,” reports the L.A. Times:

For the first time, civilian pilots and crews now operate what the Air Force calls “combat air patrols,” daily round-the-clock flights above areas of military operations to provide video and collect other sensitive intelligence.


Civilians are not allowed to pinpoint targets with lasers or fire missiles. They operate only Reapers that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, known as ISR, said Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command.

So that’s comforting. Still:

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Death by Drone: What a pitch for Verizon

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Finding your way around in The Intercept’s labyrinthine “The Drone Papers” is disorienting. By design, one supposes. The effect of reading through this account of America’s assassination program — ahem, “targeted killings” — is akin to the complaint of drone operators that watching targets via drone-mounted surveillance cameras is like “looking through a soda straw.”

Like any good techies, the military seems obsessed with power, speed and accuracy. They are “enamored by the ability of special operations and the CIA to find a guy in the middle of the desert in some shitty little village and drop a bomb on his head and kill him,” according to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. And obsessed in particular, with eliminating “blink“:

A “blink” happens when a drone has to move and there isn’t another aircraft to continue watching a target. According to classified documents, this is a major challenge facing the military, which always wants to have a “persistent stare.”

The conceptual metaphor of surveillance is seeing. Perfect surveillance would be like having a lidless eye. Much of what is seen by a drone’s camera, however, appears without context on the ground. Some drone operators describe watching targets as “looking through a soda straw.”

Credit Tolkien with the conceptual metaphor of the lidless eye. (I’m sure a reader will correct me.)

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What about the rights of irresponsible gun owners?

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This dropped into the in-box yesterday from MoveOn:

I’m a gun-owning evangelical Christian Republican. I campaigned against President Obama two times. But after the Oregon shooting, I agree with him: we need responsible gun legislation in America.

That’s why I’ve decided to team up with MoveOn. And boy, I didn’t see that coming. But I believe MoveOn has the guts and grit it’s going to take to reach and mobilize responsible gun owners across the political spectrum, including more than 22,000 MoveOn members, to rally support for executive actions by President Obama that could reduce gun-related tragedies.

Now wait just a gosh-darn minute. Isn’t it the American Way, isn’t it our God-given right to be irresponsible gun owners, to go out in a blaze of glory or with a hearty, “Hey, watch this!”? Because Freedom?

If you haven’t noticed, David Waldman — @KagroX, über-patriot — has been celebratin’ the heroic exploits of uninfringed Real Americans in his Twitter feed under the hashtag #GunFAIL. It just seems fitting to acknowledge the fine job he’s doing. Irresponsible gun owners have 2nd Amendment rights, too.

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Like that could happen

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Privacy advocates worry that military drones could soon be used to spy on Americans. An activist friend trying to get reporters to publicize how the military plans for its squadrons of Predators, Reapers, etc. to share the National Airspace System (NAS) with private and commercial aircraft is greeted with the kind of skepticism one might have gotten a few years ago for suggesting the NSA was bulk-collecting Americans’ phone records. Like that could happen.

Others have worried about hackers hijacking unmanned or commercial aircraft and, say, flying them into buildings. Like that could happen.

According to Der Spiegel last week, IT expert Chris Roberts has shown what, in theory, could happen with commercial airliners:

According to the FBI document, which was first made public by the Canadian news website APTN, Roberts was able to hack into the onboard entertainment systems — manufactured by companies such as Panasonic and Thales — of passenger planes such as the Boeing 737, the Boeing 757 and the Airbus A320. He did so a total of 15 to 20 times between 2011 and 2014. To do so, he hooked his laptop up to the Seat Electronic Box (SEB) — which are usually located under each passenger seat — using an Ethernet cable, which is unsettling enough.

But Roberts may also potentially have used the SEB to hack into sensitive systems that control the engines. In one case, he may even have been able to manipulate the engines during flight. He says that he was able to successfully enter the command “CLB,” which stands for “climb,” and the plane’s engines reacted accordingly, he told the FBI, according to the document.

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Don’t fear the Reapers

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First MQ-9 Reaper arriving at Creech AFB, March 2007
By United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

But who’s counting? As Digby pointed out last night, there is a lot less precision to these “precision” drone strikes than meets the monitors of drone pilots at Creech Air Force Base. The government can’t even keep count of how many Americans they’ve killed. The Guardian reports:

The targets of the deadly drone strikes that killed two hostages and two suspected American members of al-Qaida were “al-Qaida compounds” rather than specific terrorist suspects, the White House disclosed on Thursday.

The lack of specificity suggests that despite a much-publicized 2013 policy change by Barack Obama restricting drone killings by, among other things, requiring “near certainty that the terrorist target is present”, the US continues to launch lethal operations without the necessity of knowing who specifically it seeks to kill, a practice that has come to be known as a “signature strike”.

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Your Friends in Moyock, NC

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At Timestamp 19:45.


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Shutting down Skynet

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You know you’re in trouble when life starts resembling a Schwarzenegger movie. What with economic insecurity, huge income disparity, severe drought in California, massive NSA surveillance, a virtual
war on the poor, police firing on unarmed civilians, and a population pacified with reality TV, The Running Man (1987) comes to mind. In a dystopian, near-future police state, Ah-nold gets framed as “The Butcher of Bakersfield” after a police helicopter crew (following orders) fires on food rioters.

But that was 2017. Today, the Air Force is hot to open your friendly skies to its large Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk, and Sentinel drones. A few weeks ago, I wrote about that at Crooks and Liars. The press focus has been on the FAA’s congressionally mandated commercial drone testing, yet “there is no funding from FAA to support the test sites.” Plus, everywhere you look, the people involved in the testing program seem to include Department of Defense, ex-military, Air National Guard, or members of the defense industry. I wrote:

It’s not that commercial drones aren’t of interest to the private sector. Ask Amazon. But the military and U.S. defense contractors want access to civilian airspace for testing exportable military hardware and for keeping their drone pilots’ skills sharp. Several drone testing programs are fashioned as university research programs and appear as civilian efforts. That might be understandable after George W. Bush’s speech about drones attacking civilians with “chemical and biological weapons,” and after revelations about widespread domestic surveillance here and abroad.

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Commercializing Our Air Force Or Militarizing Our Commerce?

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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, NV, one of several test sites promoted by the state.

We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. – Pres. George W. Bush, Cincinnati, OH, October 7, 2002

That was the first time many of us heard the term “unmanned aerial vehicles.” Ticking off a litany of bogus reasons for invading Iraq, Bush hoped we would collectively wet our pants in fear of unmanned drones over America unleashing death from above. That was then. This is now.

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No joy in joystick

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The Air Force seems to have a problem retaining drone pilots. They are quitting faster than new ones can be trained, writes Pratap Chatterjee at Alternet:

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war — by remote control — is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward’s war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Burnout may be a factor. Whereas pilots for manned Air Force aircraft log 300 hours per year, the drone warriors can spend 900-1,800 flying drones in circles, working “either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” according to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh.

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