Drone Fallacy: A Brief History and A Bittersweet Farewell

Readers may be wondering what has been happening with this blog over the past couple of months, so below is a brief update as to this blog’s current status and its future.

The Drone Fallacy started out as an independent study project planned in my junior college year to assess US drone strike policy and frame it in the larger context of overreaching and unwarranted state power. The core idea here is that drone strikes represent merely one example of state abuses in the course of a very long and checkered history. This history exists as a result of systemic problems endemic to the US  social, economic, and political structure.

A concomitant thread of evaluation that I incorporated into this blog is that of mainstream media coverage of such abuses. Sometimes, it is lacking and by necessity misleading. Other times, coverage of important issues is entirely omitted from the news (I guess it just wasn’t “fit to print”).  Again, this is reflective of the way US society is structured on a whole, and is a topic that has been explored in greater detail by other scholars and commentators.

There are other themes that I have tried to expound that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog: race, political ideologies, state surveillance, and the domestic/foreign binary are a few that immediately spring to mind. However, the central theme of this blog being drones severely restricted my freedom to explore these topics in other, perhaps more illuminating contexts. The Snowden NSA-leaks are a clear example of all the things I wish to discuss as a political commentator but the lack of any real relevance to drones (with the exception of some nebulous parallels regarding surveillance) made my few posts about it an almost uncomfortable fit for the Drone Fallacy.

The end of the school year in which I embarked on this quest marked a convenient time for me to take a break from writing here and take stock of the experience thus far. I also happened to be doing a lot of other things over the summer period completely unrelated to drones, leaving me little time to write about this topic. I continue to follow news and developments about drones, and the direction of the mainstream discourse on it. Blogging was no longer a top priority however, save for the few scattered posts one will find on the front page.

This upcoming school year will be a marked change in the range of academic discourses i will have my fingers in. Political developments will continue to be a cornerstone of my intellectual curiosity, but I am branching out and exploring other topics that have always been interests of mine – however peripheral. I am not becoming less politically involved so much as more academically engaged, albeit in disparate fields. As a result, as of writing I no longer plan to update the Drone Fallacy. I am considering merging this blog with a new blog that will incorporate everything I have studied and learned here whilst giving me the freedom to explore other political topics of interest. In short, I am broadening the specialization of my publicly-available work from drones to general political commentary.

When that time comes, readers who find there way here will be automatically redirected to the new site. Consider it the next incarnation of one curious political agent’s research and writing. In the meantime, I highly encourage interested readers to continue following this particular topic. My Links posts provide some insight on the sources I use to inform myself – hopefully they may be of some assistance to others.

Finally, I will be adding a contact form both as a page and within this post as well, for those of you who are interested in reaching out to me. I am typically quite good about responding to emails so please do not hesitate to write me.

It has been a thrilling ride. Until next time.

-ramesses

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Links Concerning Edward Snowden [part 2]

I expect to continue posting with regards to the Snowden case. This will not take the place of the ongoing discourse about drones, but I would like to point out that drones are only one example of a state policy that cannot remain unchallenged by vigilant citizens. Although, in keeping up with all of the developments concerning drones I have yet to really delve into an ugly history of US imperialism – the context within which policies like drone strikes become possible – it is impossible to ignore the obvious fact that drone strikes are a mere continuation of an existing trend and not an aberration. Expect to see something from me exploring the logic of drone strikes within that history in the near future.

Europe furious, ‘shocked’ by report of U.S. spying CNN

U.S. taps half-billion German phone, internet links in month-report Reuters

Germany prepares to charge UK and US intelligence over fresh bugging allegations Independent

Lawmakers Letter to NSA CommonDreams

NSA collected US email records in bulk for more than two years under Obama Glenn Greenwald

The top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant Glenn Greenwald and James Ball

Government Officials Use The Media To Anonymously Make Case Against Edward Snowden HuffPo

NSA Leaks Are Said to Have Changed the Ways Al Qaeda Talks, but How Much? Atlantic Wire

Lying about the Necessity of State Surveillance for Domestic Security

Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, testified before Congress on Wednesday defending their dragnet surveillance programs. Alexander contended that the data mined helped prevent “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11,” a point that was then challenged by Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall – both of whom serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Sen. Wyden and Udall asserted that “all of the plots that [Alexander] mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods.”

A survey released today seems to confirm those suspicions. The New America Foundation paired up with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School to examine cases of “homegrown jihadist and non-jihadist” terrorism that have occurred since 9/11. The data shows that only in two cases is NSA surveillance responsible for helping to foil a suspected terrorist plot, while of the remaining 30 cases, at least 29 can be attributed to conventional policing. Peter Bergen, director of the New America Foundation wrote in his capacity as CNN’s national security analyst that, “traditional law enforcement methods have overwhelmingly played the most significant role in foiling terrorist attacks.”

With that argument having been thrown out the window, one wonders what rationalization the Obama administration might come up with next to justify their immense and overreaching surveillance apparatus.

Links: June 19, 2013 (Snowden + Drones)

Regarding Edward Snowden – There are a lot of obvious parallels between the recent developments surrounding Snowden’s NSA leaks and the particular discourse found at The Drone Fallacy. I will elaborate further on the links and the relevance of Snowden’s leaks to understanding both state surveillance and the general phenomenon of unmonitored and excessive state policies – concerning both domestic and foreign populations. In the meantime, here are some links concerning Snowden’s case that I have found helpful. Most of the links are from the Guardian, where Glenn Greenwald first broke the story.

The Leaks:

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily GG

Obama orders US to draw up overseas target list for cyber-attacks GG

NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others GG

Boundless Informant: the NSA’s secret tool to track global surveillance data GG

Commentary:

On Prism, partisanship and propaganda GG

ON WHISTLEBLOWERS AND GOVERNMENT THREATS OF INVESTIGATION GG

Fisa court oversight: a look inside a secret and empty process GG [on its relation to drones, see this article]

Minimization in the Age of Cyberwar emptywheel

The Truth: The NSA Has Been Working on Domestic Spying for Ten-Plus Years  emptywheel

So the NSA Is ‘Only’ Collecting Metadata? You Should Still Worry Wired

NSA surveillance is an attack on American citizens, says Noam Chomsky Guardian

Drones:

FBI Admits It Surveils U.S. With Drones Wired

U.S. aerospace companies seek to reassure public on drones Reuters

General Atomics to Sell Unarmed Predator Drones to Foreign Countries USNews

China’s Latest Discount Product: Drones Atlantic

Obama’s Former Legal Adviser Urges U.S. To ‘Discipline Drones’ NPR

Drone ‘Signature Strike’ Witness Responds To Obama Speech: ‘I Don’t Trust A Single Word’ HuffPo

Foreign buyers eye Chinese drones People’s Daily Online

Facing Drone Gap, Europe Plays Catch-Up on Capabilities and Ethics World Politics Review

Illegal Drone Business Thrives in US Tech News Daily

Military Suppliers Push for Europe-Made Drone NYT

Drone Sales Flourish in a Time of Austerity NYT

Plea against drones: Petition filed in SC to halt drone attacks in FATA IHT

Pakistan should do more to check drones Pakistan Observer

Drones making things worse, UN toldNation

Imran Khan urges Pakistan to take steps to halt US drone attacks AFP

Why Drones Fail Foreign Affairs

Are drones along the border (all day, every day) cost-effective? LA Times

The brave new world of ‘drone journalism’ Telegraph

Pakistan summons envoy after U.S. drone strike kills nine Reuters

O’Reilly And Powers Get In Shouting Match Over Drones: We Shouldn’t Attack The Enemy Because ‘They Might Get Mad?’ Mediaite

 

Bonus:

Disposable Drones Will Collect Data by Surfing Along with Hurricanes IEEE Spectrum

Drone Fallacy Update

As one might deduce from the date of my last post, I have taken something of a break from writing at The Drone Fallacy for the past month. This has been rather unintentional – I have been doing a lot of moving back and forth, and that coupled with the end of the school year hasn’t left any time to spare for writing. Things should settle somewhat over the coming weeks so be on the lookout for regular updates here [you can follow me on twitter @DroneFallacy to get instant notifications of any new posts]. 

Links: May 6, 2013

British military has 500 drones Guardian

Drones are deadly and dangerous – and not just to terrorists Lawrence Wilkerson for Al Jazeera

New jihadi magazine appeals for help against drones Reuters

Drone cargo helicopters prove worth in Afghanistan, leading way to civilian uses McClatchy

Links: May 2, 2013

US drone strikes being used as alternative to Guantánamo, [BUSH] lawyer says Guardian

For the First Time, Brits Launch Drone Strike From Home Wired

Navy Launches Its First Drone Squadron NPR

IDF drone crashes near Gaza border Times of Israel

Living in Terror Under a Drone-Filled Sky in Yemen Atlantic

As US drone strikes rise in Yemen, so does anger AP

Drone victim: U.S. strikes boost al-Qaida recruitment Salon [interview with Farea al-Muslimi, who testified before Congress on the 23rd of April]

Drones and the YPC Report Adam Baron

No One Wants the Pentagon’s Gigantic Hydrogen-Powered Drone Wired

Robert Jay Lifton: How, and Why, the Media Have Failed on Drone War  Nation

No-Fly Zone: How “drone” safety rules can also help protect privacy  Slate

A young Yemeni writer on the impact and morality of drone-bombing his country Glenn Greenwald

‘The Point of No Return’: Should Robots Be Able to Decide to Kill You On Their Own? Rolling Stone

UK sends underwater drones to Gulf for anti-mines exercise Guardian

Bonus:

Meet Drone Shield, an ambitious idea for a $70 drone detection system ArsTechnica

Tiniest Drone Takes Off, Sort Of National Geographic

University concludes aerial drone usage The Daily Princetonian

10 Reflections on Drones (Part I) HuffPo [by Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, mentioned above in the Nation article]

 

Blowback, Boston, and the Lessons Learned for US Drone Strikes

While there are many elements of the response to the Boston Marathon bombing worth highlighting in relation to this blog’s ongoing coverage of drones and mainstream drone discourse, I would like to focus today on the UN rapporteur Richard Falk’s remarks about “blowback” and the subsequent response to his commentary.

Falk wrote an article on his blog a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing in which he challenged the “dominant reactions” found in mainstream political discourse. In particular, Falk was weary of the sort of reaction easily observed in the wake of 9/11, which he described as “holy wars fevers” in full embrace of Islamophobia. Instead, Falk strongly encouraged a meditative moment of self-scrutinizing in response to the bombing – for which he found hopeful signs in the immediate aftermath:

Listening to a PBS program hours after the Boston event, I was struck by the critical attitudes of several callers to the radio station: “it is horrible, but we in this country should not be too surprised, given our drone attacks that have killed women and children attending weddings and funerals in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Another caller asked “is this not a kind of retribution for torture inflicted by American security forces acting under the authority of the government, and verified for the world by pictures of the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib?” And another asked, “in light of the authoritative reports of officially sanctioned torture as detailed in the 577 page report of a task force chaired by two former senators, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, and containing senior military and security officials, has not the time come to apply the law to the wrongdoers during the Bush presidency”?

The Boston Marathon bombings were a fitting departure point for the rest of Falk’s discussion, as he then segued into a very general assessment of US foreign policy. Falk spoke of the “American global domination project” without much specifics – with the exception of US complicity in the continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories [not surprising given his work at the UN on that topic]. Falk concluded his commentary with a remark that has since been adduced as evidence of his ostensible point that the US government is ultimately responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings: “We should be asking ourselves at this moment, how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?”

Falk’s article has since generated a remarkable outpouring of hostility towards his rather common-sense observations. Admittedly, much of this hostility has to do with unforgivable misinterpretations of his commentary. For instance, in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, the Israeli defense group UN Watch accuses Falk of “justifying” the Boston Marathon bombings on the basis of US foreign policy and then “blaming the Boston bombings on the Jewish state.” It doesn’t take much more than a sober reading of Falk’s article to find that he makes no such assertions anywhere in the piece. For her part, Rice tweeted:

Falk has also drawn the ire of at least one Congressional representative – Mike Kelly (R-PA) – who has since circulated a letter to Moon and to Obama condemning Falk for his “despicable comments blaming the U.S. and Israel for the horrific Boston Marathon terrorist bombings.” The letter continues:

We condemn Falk for his offensive belief that the Boston attack was justified because “[t]he American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post- colonial world” and his suggestion that the U.S. may “experience worse blowbacks” if it does not “rethink [its] relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.”

What’s remarkable in all of this, besides the fact that Falk never so much as hinted at these arguments, is that the surviving Tsarnaev brother, when confessing to his role in the bombing, made explicitly clear his motivations:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has specifically cited the U.S. war in Iraq, which ended in December 2011 with the removal of the last American forces, and the war in Afghanistan, where President Obama plans to end combat operations by the end of 2014.

[Notice how desperately WaPo is trying to downplay these two horrendous events by describing them in terms of when they end(ed). A more realistic approach may be to describe the wars in terms of the tens of thousands of individuals killed or maimed, the millions of lives displaced and destroyed, and the total destruction of two nations.]

In light of this, what might account for this visceral rejection of the idea of blowback – itself a term coined by the CIA to describe the potential unintended consequences of their overthrow of elected Iranian prime minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh? What is it about US politicians and pundits that makes the idea of American culpability so anathema to our mainstream discourse? In his analysis of the “demonization” of Falk, Jeremy R. Hammond opines:

One is just not supposed to tell the public that U.S. foreign policy results in what intelligence analysts call “blowback”. This is a forbidden truth, reminiscent of the 2007 presidential debate when Rudy Giuliani condemned Ron Paul for making the completely uncontroversial statement that the 9/11 attacks were “blowback” for U.S. foreign policy, to which Dr. Paul replied by standing firm and repeating the uncomfortable truth before the audience. It is a point that Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, Alec Station, has also made in a commentary on the Boston bombings published at Foreign Policy Journalin which he remarks that “it is blatantly obvious from the evidence the authorities have presented to date that the attackers were motivated by what the U.S. government does in the Muslim world”.

To add my own observations, I would contend that the fear of self-criticism stems from a deeply rooted insecurity about the truth of American policy as it pertains to the rest of the world. Politicians and their sycophantic cheerleaders in the mainstream media do whatever they can do maintain the illusion that America is a benevolent, graceful superpower policing the world and stopping injustice anywhere it can. It’s missteps and its blunders are always excusable as well-intentioned slip-ups. Meanwhile, the world at large is generally an unsafe place in which jealous enemies attack us because they are fundamentally evil and “hate our freedoms,” which in turn justifies the aforementioned global policing. Social psychologists define this as a fundamental attribution error – one which (coincidentally) serves the holders of power in this country remarkably well, and establishes an illusion that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It isn’t much of a leap to see how this argument relates to drones. Just last week, a Yemeni by the name of Farea al-Muslimi testified in front of Congress that whenever his friends and neighbours think of the US “they think of the fear they feel at the drones over their heads. What the violent militants had failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” And in January, US General Stanley McChrystal and former top commander in Afghanistan told Reuters

“The resentment created [by drone strikes] is much greater than the average American appreciates…[drones add to] the perception of American arrogance that says, ‘We can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.”

If we cannot appreciate the candour of our critics, and insist on clinging blindly to self-delusions about the decent nature of the American state and its policies, what hope do our hapless victims in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere have?

Links: April 26, 2013

Senate Immigration Bill Calls For a Drone-Patrolled Border ABC News

Israeli military shoots down drone Yahoo

Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing [Senate Judiciary Hearing]

Senate Hearing on Drone Warfare CommonDreams

Drone Fallout: Decoding the arrest of General Musharraf NewsVandal

DRONES OVER THE HOMELAND: HOW POLITICS, MONEY AND LACK OF OVERSIGHT HAVE SPARKED DRONEPROLIFERATION, AND WHAT WE CAN DO [Report] Center for International Policy

 

 

 

 

 

Links: April 21, 2013

A Reporter Asked Jay Carney If Air Strikes That Kill Civilians Are ‘Considered Terrorism’ Business Insider

After Airstrike, Afghan Points to C.I.A. and Secret Militias NYT

Ex-Pakistani President Musharraf admits secret deal with U.S. on drone strikes CNN

Transferring CIA Drone Strikes to the Pentagon CFR

Industry: Drones Could Have Helped Boston Marathon Bombing Responders US News

Red Cross chief urges caution over covert drones TBIJ

US Resumes Trend of Drone Attacks on Yemen Common Dreams

Killing Terrorists, Creating More NYT

In Swat Valley, U.S. drone strikes radicalizing a new generation CNN

Drone strikes:

Yemen officials: US drone kills 2 militants AP

Latest reported US strikes: Pakistan April 17 & Yemen April 17 TBIJ

4 ‘militants’ killed in US drone strike in Pakistan The Long War Journal

 

More:

Israeli official says drones could replace planes Business Week