Drone Warfare in America

What would Obama supporters think if they learned that their beloved President was running far-to-the-authoritarian-right of arch-hawk Charles Krauthammer on one particular civil liberties issue?

Sadly, the answer is that most Obama supporters probably wouldn’t feel very much at all, because support for Obama has always been predominantly emotion-driven (he promised change “you can believe in”, not “change that I can logically convince you will be beneficial“).

But I digress. Charles Krauthammer weighed in on FOX yesterday to telegraph his opposition to bringing drone warfare to the skies of America.

Krauthammer said:

I’m going to go hard left on you here, I’m going ACLU. I don’t want regulations, I don’t want restrictions, I want a ban on this. Drones are instruments of war. The Founders had a great aversion to any instruments of war, the use of the military inside even the United States. It didn’t like standing armies, it has all kinds of statutes of using the army in the country.

I would say that you ban it under all circumstances and I would predict, I’m not encouraging, but I am predicting that the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.

The Founders were deeply opposed to the militarisation of civil society. There is all kinds of aversions to it and this is importing it because, as you say, it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s silent. It’s something that you can easily deploy. It’s going to be, I think the bane of our existence. Stop it here, stop it now.

And this is a big deal. A recent report by Micah Zenko noted:

Worried about the militarization of U.S. airspace by unmanned aerial vehicles? As of October, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had reportedly issued 285 active certificates for 85 users, covering 82 drone types. The FAA has refused to say who received the clearances, but it wasestimated over a year ago that 35 percent were held by the Pentagon, 11 percent by NASA, and 5 percent by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And it’s growing. U.S. Customs and Border Protection already operates eight Predator drones. Under pressure from the congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus — yes, there’s already a drone lobby, with 50 members — two additional Predators were sent to Texas in the fall, though a DHS official noted: “We didn’t ask for them.” Last June, a Predator drone intended to patrol the U.S.-Canada border helped locate three suspected cattle rustlers in North Dakota in what was the first reported use of a drone to arrest U.S. citizens.

But I’m going to go even further than the threat to civil liberties: I am fairly certain that the militarisation of U.S. airspace by drones is itself a huge national security threat. While Zenko notes that drones “tend to crash”, the downing of a U.S. drone over Iran late last year — supposedly via an Iranian hack — seems to suggest that it is possible for drones to be commandeered by hackers or hostile powers. And if that’s not the case today, then it almost certainly will be tomorrow. Putting drones into the air above the United States is like going to sleep on a bed of dynamite. It’s an invitation to anyone to try and commandeer a plane, possibly one stocked with high-tech weaponry.

The Federal government would do well to quit groping Grandma at the TSA checkpoint, and start worrying about the potential negative side-effects of systems they are putting into place. All the TSA security theater in the world cannot stop a determined hacker from commandeering a drone.

Charles Krauthammer is right (and after the Iraq invasion which he championed I never thought I would say that): it could be the bane of our existence. Stop it here. Stop it now.

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This is How Liberty Dies

Although America’s nuclear-armed frenemies don’t like it, it appears Obama’s drone warfare, his civil authoritarianism, and his broken campaign promises are quite popular with Americans.

From the Washington Post:

The sharpest edges of President Obama’s counterterrorism policy, including the use of drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists abroad and keeping open the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, have broad public support, including from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to close the brig in Cuba and to change national security policies he criticized as inconsistent with U.S. law and values, has little to fear politically for failing to live up to all of those promises.

The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He pledged during his first week in office to close the prison within a year, but he has not done so.

Obama has also relied on armed drones far more than Bush did, and he has expanded their use beyond America’s defined war zones. The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s drone policy, which administration officials refuse to discuss, citing security concerns.

Obama is expanding drone warfare and surveillance further still — into the United States. Current Federal Aviation Authority estimates suggest that drones deployed over the United States will grow from just over 300 today to over 30,000 by 2020.

I wonder if the American public will be so supportive after 8 years of expanding drone warfare and surveillance in their own skies?

It is surprising to me — given America already amassed the biggest debt in history during this latest imperial binge — that Americans are still cheering. But, I suppose, selling expensive military interventionism and the curtailment of civil liberties to a gung-ho, juiced-up public has many historical antecedents. It also happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….