Policy Deflection on Drones

On Monday it was widely reported that on Sunday the FAA had proposed new rules on the use of commercial drones which would ground Amazon’s delivery plans if the “line of sight” rule goes into effect.

NPR reported on what some of the rules are and could have been.

commercial operators would have to go through a three-step certification process. First, the aircraft must be registered with the FAA. Second, the operator has to be cleared by the Transportation Security Administration, and then they have to pass a written FAA test. Andrew Amato is editor of dronelife.com.

ANDREW AMATO: My biggest concern is, between getting a registration number and getting vetted by TSA – you know, how long is that going to take? How long is this process of becoming a certified pilot going to take?

BURNETT: Amato is relieved the FAA did not propose treating unmanned aerial vehicles like airplanes. So operators will not have to get a private pilot’s license, and the aircraft won’t have to obtain an FAA airworthiness certificate. Amato says he’s also relieved the FAA rules don’t restrict their burgeoning industry. Drones are being used to inspect towers, bridges and levees – to look at farmers’ fields and to photograph real estate from the air.

But then on Tuesday I saw this report from the Telegraph

I started to freak out on Twitter

From the Telegraph article

Armed drones are a cornerstone of Washington’s battle against extremists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, although they remain hugely controversial and opponents say they frequently kill or maim civilians.

continued

The statement did not say which countries would be customers, but several allies are eager to get their hands on the hardware, with The Washington Post citing Italy, Turkey and the Persian Gulf.

 

So far, the United States has sold its armed drones only to close ally Britain, the newspaper said.

continued

Unarmed military drones, used primarily for intelligence, have been sold to a larger number of countries, including Nato allies, the Post said.

after the article embeds this propaganda video we learn this

The loosening of restrictions on armed drones was announced days after the Federal Aviation Authority said it would place strict rules on the commercial use of drones.

The “drone porn” video is of an General Atomics Aeronautical Systems armed drone blowing up clearly marked military targets. The first target is a tank (1:22) the second target is clearly military hardware at 3:15, incoming missiles (3:57) and the missile launcher at 4:12. Later I found they are the contractor in a proposed sale of 4 reaper drones (plus lots of other weapons and military equipment totaling $339 million) to Holland. Remember that the depiction in the video of drones striking clearly military targets like tanks and easily defined military buildings, this is almost never the case in real drone strikes. How are people really targeted for drone strikes? The Intercept reported last year that 

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

continued

Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

ProPublica adds (citing Emptywheel) more about signature drone strikes back when current CIA Director John Brennan was being nominated for the job in 2013.

Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period.

 

The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual.

continued

One unnamed former military official claimed last year that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.”

 

Conversely, strikes in which little information emerges on who was killed could be failed attempts to hit specific individuals. (According to the New Yorker, it took as many as 16 strikes to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.)

 

The outcomes of strikes are often disputed. In one apparent signature strike two years ago, unnamed U.S. officials told the Associated Press that they had targeted a group that “was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to Al Qaeda, and all ‘acted in a manner consistent with AQ (Al Qaeda)-linked militants.’” The U.S. said about 20 militants were killed. But Pakistani officials said it had been a meeting of tribesmen and villagers provided evidence to the AP that 38 civilians were killed.

Josh Greenman of the NY Daily News asked a scary question (but most have already established the answer to civilians owning military equipment is no)

Others noted the legal problems with America’s drone program, as we export it to others.

Others wondered who wouldn’t get drones (interesting to note that America got it’s drone program from Israel)

America may not give Egypt drones, but it has given Egypt plenty of other weapons, and America is not the only source where Egypt can get drones

China has its own ambitious drone programme and has exported drones to at least nine countries, including Pakistan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while it is also in talks with Saudi Arabia and Algeria for sales, according to Chinese state media.

As everyone reported that the new FAA proposed commercial drone rules would ground Amazon delivery, State Department announced it’s selling armed drones to other countries. My first thought was remembering stories about when other countries started deciding it’s necessary to start droning Americans as national security threats to their countries like we do in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc

And the war against ISIS is good for business (and Reuters article)

“For us it’s a bit of a call to arms,” Chief Executive Officer Ian King said on a media call after London-based BAE posted 2014 earnings.

what were BAE’s 2014 profits?

Europe’s No. 1 defense company revealed a 12 percent annual drop in earnings before interest, tax and amortization to 1.7 billion pounds ($2.6 billion), before items.

draw-down in Afghanistan hurting revenue

Sales slumped 8.5 percent to 16.64 billion pounds as a result of a 600 million-pound hit from exchange-rate changes and lower volumes in the Land & Armaments unit, where demand has dropped with the exit from Afghanistan. Prior-year figures were padded out by an agreement to escalate pricing on the Saudi Typhoons under the so-called Salam contract.

and don’t forget that we have to pay “stressed” drone pilots more
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2 Responses to Policy Deflection on Drones

  1. sayrick206 says:

    I never really considered how the U.S. issued new guidelines for selling UAS abroad only a few days after the FAA rules come out – it’s certainly an interesting coincidence. I do know that there have been talks about loosening UAS restrictions to NATO allies and other partners for years (and in all honesty these new changes don’t amount to much, rather clarify the U.S.’s interpretation on existing rules) – a modern F-16 that we sell to Egypt is far more deadly than the unarmed Predator XP UAS that will likely be sold to the UAE in the coming months. Will be interesting to see what happens going forward and how many UAS the U.S. sells abroad.

    Like

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