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.



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


On Prism, partisanship and propaganda 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


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



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]. 

Hearts, Minds and Dollars: Condolence Payments in the Drone Strike Age

by Cora Currier, April 5 2013

The U.S. drone war remains cloaked in secrecy, and as a result, questions swirl around it. Who exactly can be targeted? When can a U.S. citizen be killed?

(U.S. Army photo)Another, perhaps less frequently asked question: What happens when innocent civilians are killed in drone strikes?


In February, during his confirmation process, CIA director John Brennan offeredan unusually straightforward explanation:  “Where possible, we also work with local governments to gather facts, and, if appropriate, provide condolence payments to families of those killed.”

There’s little documentation of where and how such payments are being made. The government has released almost no information on civilian casualties sustained in drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the military in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Officials maintain they have been “in the single digits” in recent years, while independent researchers put the total for the past decade in the hundreds.

Certainly, though, drone strikes and condolence payments make for a striking match: The technological apex of war combined with an age-old method of compensating loss.

Such condolence payments featured prominently in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are now embraced by many military commanders and by human rights advocates, some of whom are pushing for a system to govern what had been an ad hoc practice for most of the 20th Century: recognizing the dignity of life, even during war, and even with what might seem like a mere token  acknowledgement.

The history of condolence payments

Condolence payments may be rooted in ancient custom, but they are a relatively recent addition to the terms and conduct of modern warfare. Neither U.S. nor international humanitarian law requires them, and they aren’t, in technical terms, an admission of wrongdoing.

In fact, the Army regulation on such payments (which are also called solatia) describes them as “an expression of sympathy toward a victim or his or her family,” in keeping with local custom. According to Center for Civilians in Conflict, an advocacy organization, the U.S. tradition of such payments dates back to the Korean War.

Foreign civilians have long had some recourse for compensation through the Foreign Claims Act, which permitted payments for damages caused by U.S. troops.

But the law doesn’t cover anything that happens during active combat – a significant exception in situations where U.S. troops are on the ground, intermingled with civilian populations. The line between combat and non-combat isn’t always clear. And even when soldiers feel their actions were justified, it is often to their advantage to recognize the harm done.

“Under the law of war, you can kill civilians, as long as their deaths are proportional to immediate military gain,” said Gary Solis, a professor at Georgetown Law. “But as a nation, we recognize it’s important to gain the trust of the people. As the complexion of war has changed, the significance of these payments has too.”

Condolence payments came to be seen as a key part of the battle for “hearts and minds” in Iraq and Afghanistan. But their implementation began slowly, and was marred by inconsistency. The U.S., after pressure from military lawyers and other advocates, allowed payments fairly early on in the Iraq War. But in Afghanistan, they were not approved until 2005.

“It wasn’t always popular with the soldiers, who would say, ‘We’re at war,’” said retired General Arnold Gordon-Bray, who led the 2nd Brigade of the Army’s 82ndAirborne Division in the first months of the invasion of Iraq. “But I would say, ‘We are going to leave, and the only thing that’s going to remain is the perception of America.’”

Gordon-Bray described scraping together cash for informal payments before they were officially approved, and before Congress funded a cache of spending money for condolences, humanitarian assistance, and other “goodwill” projects. (In Afghanistan, the military continues to distinguish between those congressionally funded “condolence payments” and “solatia,” which come out of a unit’s operating funds.)

Even once the payments were officially authorized, the policy for implementing them wasn’t clear or standardized and not all units paid them. For the local Iraqi population, there was often a lack of awareness about such payments and confusion about how to receive them.

Gordon-Bray said his team sometimes sought out surviving family members after a death. Soldiers also left cards behind after operations explaining how families could make claims.  Other times, the onus was on the victims to identify the unit that had caused the damage, to collect evidence, and to bring it to the military’s attention.

A military lawyer who served early on in Iraq told Congress in 2009 he occasionally had to turn down claims for lack of funds. He also said “two Iraqis who suffered substantially the same harm in different areas of the city would be treated very differently depending on what office they went to inside Baghdad to file their claim. [The] lack of standard rules really caused a lot of heartache.”

There is little public documentation of condolence payments, though some batches of claims have been released. The details in those claims are scant, but often revealing about the relationship between soldiers and civilians. 

One record, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, authorizes $1000 for “a Solatia payment for a lady whose son was killed by coalition forces.” He had been shot in downtown Kabul when troops fired to disperse a crowd. An email noted the mother had been given “a complete runaround” in tracking down compensation.

In 2006, soldiers fired on a taxi that did not slow down at a military checkpoint in Iraq, killing a woman inside. The military determined the checkpoint wasn’t adequately marked, and her family received a large payment, of $7,500.

“It’s hard to digest that the value of a human life is a few thousand dollars,” said Gordon-Bray, the general in Iraq. “But you know that in their economic situation, it is the equivalent of much more, and you feel better.”

Today in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon spokesman, condolence payments can be up to $5,000 for a death or injury, or $5,000 for property damage. Greater amounts can be approved in certain cases. In fiscal year 2012, the U.S. made 219 payments, totaling $891,000, according to a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. (Solatia are not included in those figures.)

“The people we meet don’t talk about the money so much as how they felt when they shook someone’s hand—the recognition,” said Erica Gaston, a senior program officer for the United States Institute for Peace, who works on Afghanistan issues.

According to Gaston and other advocates, it wasn’t until 2008 that payments became commonplace among U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, as part of a new emphasis on counterinsurgency.

Marla Keenan, managing director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, said that that year saw a “strategic shift to ‘hearts and minds,’ which started to change the way commanders viewed condolence payments. It was a tool they could use to deal with populations.”

In 2007, General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. forces in Iraq, described the tactical element of condolence payments: “The quicker you can do it, the more responsive you can seem to be…the more concerned you are, the more valuable it is, and the more helpful it is to your operation.”

General James Conway, of the Marine Corps, was a bit blunter: “It doesn’t make anything right. It does make it a little better from a public relations perspective.”

Despite this embrace by military commanders, the payment systems can still seem improvised and imperfect.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has tried several times to create a permanent set of rules and dedicated source of funding for condolence payments.

“Senator Leahy believes we need legislation to authorize it which gives discretion to field commanders and includes guidelines so the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every time the U.S. military is deployed in combat,” said Tim Rieser, his foreign policy aide.

Beyond Afghanistan

Should condolence payments become more codified, it is unclear how many, if any of those rules and requirements would apply to the world of targeted killings off the traditional battlefield. To date, the U.S. has yet to acknowledge any particular instance where a civilian was killed as a consequence of a drone strike outside Afghanistan – let alone if that person’s family was compensated.

Pentagon spokesman Bill Speaks said that “the Department of Defense has not made solatia payments” in Yemen or Somalia, where the U.S. has acknowledgedmilitary action. The CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen remain officially secret.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon would comment further on Brennan’s statement about condolence payments. The CIA also declined to comment.

There are occasional reports of condolence payments in Yemen and Pakistan, but the U.S. role in those payments — if there was one — remains unclear.

In Pakistan, officials paid roughly $3,000 to the families of more than 30 people killed in a March 2011 strike. Last September, after a drone strike in Yemen killedas many as 14 civilians, families of the victims blocked roads and demanded compensation. According to the Washington Post, the Yemeni government publicly apologized and offered “101 guns to tribal leaders in the area as a symbolic gesture.” Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula reportedly sent its own offers of condolence. (The embassies of Yemen and Pakistan did not respond to questions about condolence payments.)

In recent months several former military and diplomatic leaders have expressed concern about reliance on drones to target terror suspects, and potential “blowback” from the program. A focus on targeting militants overlooks broad resentment of U.S. military actions, they said, echoing the issue that strained U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. also sends vast amounts of aid and provides counterinsurgency trainingto countries where it is hunting Al Qaeda-linked militants.  Foreign aid to Pakistan includes earmarks for assistance to civilians harmed by military operations. That’s in part to acknowledge the impact of the U.S. presence in the region, said Rieser, Senator Leahy’s aide.

“But of course there is a limit to what we can do in a country whose government with which we often disagree, in a remote and dangerous region where implementing any program is difficult,” he said.

The Obama administration is reportedly planning to shift control of the targeted killing campaign to the military, which officials said could bring greater transparency and accountability (with a notable exception for strikes in Pakistan, which the CIA will continue to handle.) Brennan has also said recently the U.S. “should acknowledge it publicly” when civilians were killed.

The pace of drone strikes has dropped off drastically in recent months, with just two reported in Pakistan in the past month. How civilian deaths will be handled in a more transparent future remains to be seen.

“The U.S. could open up the ability to make these payments in any theater,” said Keenan, of Civilians in Conflict. “But in order to do it effectively, the U.S. has to engage on the ground. The whole point is acknowledging the harm.”

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America May Soon Start Drone Strikes In Two More ‘Non-Battlefield’ Countries

by Michael Kelley, April 03 2013

Iraqi officials requested U.S. drones strikes near their border after al-Qaeda-linked jihadists ambushed a Syrian convoy in Iraq earlier this month, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Diaa Hadid of the Associated Press report.

The CIA is already collecting intelligence on the same militants in Syria for possible drone strikes, U.S. officials recently told Ken Dilanian and Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times.

Micah Zenko, a research fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, writes that “President Obama should also ask himself if the United States wants to open up a fifth front in its campaign of non-battlefield targeted killings, outside of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and The Philippines.”

Syria would make that six. And as far as the U.S. State Department is concerned, the extremists on the border fall under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), including those who killed 48 Syrian soldiers and eight Iraqis as well as the dominant Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.

The LA Times notes that CIA targeting officers for Syria have formed a unit with colleagues who were tracking Al Qaeda operatives and fighters in Iraq.”

Two Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that the jihadi groups are sharing temporary military training camps in desert valleys along the 375-mile Syrian-Iraqi border, adding that militants in Syria were increasingly crossing into Iraq.

“For these guys,” one regional security analyst told the AP, “the border between Iraq and Syria is not even a real thing.”

Deemed terrorists by the State Department, Jabhat al-Nusra controls much of northeast Syria, including the city of al Raqqa, which is the sixth largest city in Syria and the first to fall into rebel hands.

The convoy attack seemingly confirmed the sharing of logistics, intelligence, and weapons between the groups.

A U.S. official official told the AP that the U.S. was waiting to respond to Iraq until the top level of Iraqi leadership makes a formal request.

A former CIA officer who worked in Iraq put it another way to the LA times:

If we do this, why don’t we start droning people in [the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group] Hezbollah? It opens the door for a lot of other things.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/us-considers-drones-in-iraq-and-syria-2013-4#ixzz2PT7PeUQE

As It Spied on Occupy Wall Street, Department of Homeland Security Fixated on Media Coverage

By Pam Martens: April 3, 2013 

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly Inside the Surveillance Center in Lower Manhattan. The Center Is Staffed Jointly By NYPD and Wall Street Employees

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) has released new documents it obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The documents show that DHS, the sprawling Federal agency ostensibly created to combat terrorism after the September 11 attacks, routinely spies on peaceful First Amendment activities and required daily briefing on the extent of media attention being given to Occupy Wall Street activities. 

Media coverage both inside and outside of New York City was of concern to DHS. On October 7, 2011, a special agent sent a memo to inquire about Kansas City, asking: “Has there been any media attention given to the Occupy KC protests?” 

A DHS employee expressed concern in an October 27, 2011 memo that Federal Protective Service personnel, a division of DHS, may have been caught on camera, writing:  “Was there media coverage of the events last night which may show FPS involvement?” 

As we previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security funded a high-tech, joint spy center in the heart of Wall Street where too-big-to-fail bank personnel work alongside NYPD officers to spy on the activities of Occupy Wall Street protesters as well as law abiding citizens on the streets. When the acclaimed CBS news program, 60 Minutesbecame aware of the joint spy center, it presented a fawning program on its presence in lower Manhattan, neglecting to mention that Wall Street personnel were bizarrely spying on citizens alongside law enforcement personnel. 

The new documents released by PCJF also show that DHS was interested in the Occupy movement’s ability to gain momentum through social media. In an October 2011 memo, an agent wrote:

“A distinct feature of OWS is how it was born from online organization and continues to use social media to spread its message, organize further protests, and keep protesters connected. OWS and the broader Occupy Together movement that organizes protests in other cities use services such as Twitter, Tumblr, Meetup, and Facebook to this end, as well as having set up a live video feed of the OWS encampment in New York. Announcements, videos, and images are all collected and disseminated via these social networks as well as on the OWS Web site.”

Another memo notes:

“Social media and the organic emergence of online communities have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement. In New York, OWS leaders have also formed ad hoc committees to organize protesters and manage communications, logistics, and security. The OWS encampment in Zucotti Park features a medical station, distribution point for food and water, and a media center complete with generators and wireless Internet. Organizers hold general assembly meetings twice a day and a have established committees and working groups including an Internet Working Group and a Direct Action Committee, which plans protest activities and works to maintain peaceful and controlled demonstrations. This high level of organization has allowed OWS to sustain its operations, disseminate its message, and garner increasing levels of support.”

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of PCJF, commented as follows on the emerging pattern illustrated by the documents her organization is unearthing:  

“This production of documents, like the FBI documents that the PCJF received in December 2012, is a window into the nationwide scope of DHS and FBI surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement. Taken together, the two sets of documents paint a disturbing picture of federal law enforcement agencies using their vast power in a systematic effort to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations. The federal agencies’ actions were not because Occupy represented a ‘terrorist threat’ or a ‘criminal threat’ but rather because it posed a significant grassroots political challenge to the status quo.”

April is Anti-Drone Action Month in the US

A mural of the Bread for All Catholic Worker bakery in Rochester, NY, painted at the request of bakery manager Peg Gefell by Sue Shickler, Shawn Dunwoody and Kathy Smith. Photo by Peg Gefell

A mural of the Bread for All Catholic Worker bakery in Rochester, NY, painted at the request of bakery manager Peg Gefell by Sue Shickler, Shawn Dunwoody and Kathy Smith. Photo by Peg Gefell

The Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare is coordinating a month of anti-drone actions across the US in April [There is a list of actions in different cities and a sign-up sheet available here].

The “April Days of Action” will target numerous components of the infrastructure that facilitate US drone policy – including military bases, universities involved in research related to drone use, and companies who manufacture drones. This groundswell of opposition to drones is not limited to domestic drone surveillance (which i’ve repeatedly pointed out is fundamentally racist), but includes opposition to drone warfare killing people abroad.

I will be closely following these actions and diligently covering them here at The Drone Fallacy.