Senator Shines Some Sunlight on U.S. Killer Drone Ops

13.02.09

Categorie: Accountability, Pakistan, Robots |

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Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said on the record yesterday that the CIA operates Predator armed drones from a base inside Pakistan. The Washington Post reported the base’s existence nearly a year ago, but Feinstein’s comments “marked the first time a U.S. official had publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land,” The Chicago Tribune pointed out.

The blogosphere is all abuzz over the news. “My complete and utter disdain for this senator,” one commenter wrote at Information Dissemination. “So much for OPSEC,” was the title of ID‘s post.

Here’s why Feinstein’s (old) news is a good thing, in my opinion.

The American people should know in which countries we, as a nation, are bombing and killing people — and which nations we’ve cajoled into hosting the bombers. If that makes it harder for the CIA and military to do their jobs, fine. It’s a small price to pay for the only form of oversight that really, truly matters: democracy.

Next, can Feinstein confirm for us where else we’re engaged in covert air wars, and brief us on some of the details? How many air strikes have we launched in Somalia? What about the Philippines — has U.S. involvement in that country’s counter-insurgency included air strikes? If so, were any civilians killed, as they undoubtedly were in Somalia?

Robot aircraft are all the rage in the U.S. military, and for good reason. They promise to save American air power from the U.S. Air Force’s incompetent force management. But there’ve been some nasty side effects. For one, robots such as Predator and Reaper (pictured) are small, silent and require a minimal maintenance team, allowing you to operate them in places where larger, more powerful manned aircraft would represent a political liability. The advent of killer drones has enabled the U.S. military and CIA to run lethal air campaigns without a lot of people noticing.

That’s bad. It’s all too easy to push ethical boundaries when nobody’s watching.

So open up those verbal floodgates, Senator, and shine some sunlight on our secretive air wars.

(Photo: BW Jones)

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5 Responses to “Senator Shines Some Sunlight on U.S. Killer Drone Ops”

  1. “If that makes it harder for the CIA and military to do their jobs, fine. It’s a small price to pay for the only form of oversight that really, truly matters: democracy.”

    As you forget who is it that lays their life on the line constantly to secure this freedom. We’re all in this together, Mr Axe.

  2. [...] February 13th, 2009 | Crime and Terror News Is the CIA’s controversial drone war on Pakistani militants actually being flown out of Pakistan itself? That’s the apparent bombshell dropped Thursday by Senator Diane Feinstein, during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a king-sized security breach, or a ho-hum replay of the press has already reported. Yesterday, Pakistan’s former prime minister became the latest in a long line of high-ranking officials to publicly blast America, for using drone attacks on militants inside their country. On the same day, in a hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building, Sen. Feinstein “expressed surprise at Pakistani opposition to the ongoing campaign of Predator-launched CIA missile strikes,” according to the L.A. Times. “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,” she said. Which is news to many Pakistanis. Their President has called the strikes — more than 40 in the past year –  “counterproductive”; their prime minister, “intolerable.” Pakistan’s army has practiced shooting down the drones. Much of this has been shadow-play, part of a supposed “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement between Islamabad and Washington. American officials are supposed to stay mum about the attacks, and their Pakistani only complain so much — while sneaking peeks at the drone surveillance feeds. But at least there was some shred of plausible deniability. Now, Ed Morrisey predicts, “the Pakistani public will almost certainly demand an end to these Predator flights, which have been highly successful at decimating terrorist leadership in inaccessible areas of the Pakistani frontier.  Without that kind of tactic available, we will have to fall back to more intrusive and potentially less effective overflights from Afghanistan…  At the very least, Feinstein has just complicated the diplomatic situation for Barack Obama by an order of magnitude.” Not so, says Feinstein’s office. All the Senator did was reference a March, 2008 Washington Post article, which said that “the Predator strikes [are being] launched from bases near Islamabad and Jacobabad in Pakistan.” Still, a newspaper article can be publicly shrugged off; a statement from the head of the Senate’s intelligence committee, not so much. And that’s a “good thing,” writes David Axe. “The American people should know in which countries we, as a nation, are bombing and killing people — and which nations we’ve cajoled into hosting the bombers. If that makes it harder for the CIA and military to do their jobs, fine. It’s a small price to pay for the only form of oversight that really, truly matters: democracy.” Is he right? Talk it over in the comments. [...]

  3. X says:

    “The American people should know in which countries we, as a nation, are bombing and killing people — and which nations we’ve cajoled into hosting the bombers. If that makes it harder for the CIA and military to do their jobs, fine. It’s a small price to pay for the only form of oversight that really, truly matters: democracy.”

    We are not a democracy, Mr. Axe. We are a federal republic, one that elects representatives for us who we then entrust with our nation’s secrets.

    The democratic oversight of classified activity is the job of Senator Feinstein’s and her committee, not yours, and not ours.

    I will freely admit that we classify too much in our country. But there is a line, and this has crossed it.

  4. [...] The logistical problems have perhaps overshadowed a more fundamental ethical concern. Some critics have protested the use of military-style systems for border patrol and other homeland security missions, saying it represents a “militarization” of what should be strictly peaceful functions. “This specific technology has connotations of the ‘global war on terror,’ and military maneuvers in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Ben Muller, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “Canadians are likely to perceive the introduction of these technologies within this sort of frame of reference.” [...]

  5. [...] Drone for Hollywood Access. Wired Danger Room: Chief U.S. drone maker tapped out. War is Boring: Senator Shines Some Sunlight On U.S. Killer Drone Ops World Politics Review: Pakistan Drone Campaign Might Expand Despite Risks War is Boring: Pakistan [...]

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