Tag Archives: Drones

Deadly US drone strike violated civilian protections promised by Obama

deadly us drone strike yemen Deadly US drone strike violated civilian protections promised by Obama

The United States may have killed up to 12 civilians during a drone strike in Yemen last year, possibly violating both international law and the Obama administration’s own targeted killing policy, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
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While US officials have claimed the December 2013 strike only killed members of Al-Qaeda, witnesses of the incident told HRW that the US actually ended up targeting a wedding procession. The witnesses said everyone killed and injured was a civilian.

For its part, the report found that the group targeted was indeed a wedding convoy, though it also allowed for the possibility that militants – whose identities are still unknown – were part of the group. Regardless, the report suggests that at least some civilian casualties were involved.

At least 12 men were killed as a result of the four Hellfire missiles launched at 11 vehicles, while another 15 were injured. Both US and Yemeni officials have also stated that the primary target of the strike, an Al-Qaeda leader named Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, was not killed and managed to escape.

“We asked both the Yemeni and the U.S. authorities to tell us which of the dead and wounded were members of militant groups and which if any were civilians,” report author Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at HRW, said to the Associated Press. “They did not reply to this question.”

“While we do not rule out the possibility that [Al-Qaeda] fighters were killed and wounded in this strike, we also do not rule out the possibility that all of those killed and wounded were civilians.”

Either way, the report stated that if the United States failed to differentiate between noncombatants and militants before carrying out the strike, it may have violated international law “by causing civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage.”

Additionally, the attack may have violated the targeted killing policy detailed by President Barack Obama in May 2013, in which he stated the need for “near certainty” that civilians would not be harmed by a strike. The US “has also failed to demonstrate that the alleged target was present, could not feasibly have been arrested, or posed a ‘continuing and imminent threat’—three other US policy requirements,” the report stated.

Three unnamed US officials told the AP the government has conducted two investigations of its own into the incident, both of which confirmed its initial claim: that only militants were killed in the strike. These reports have not been released to the public.

“When we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly,” Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, told the AP. “In situations where we have concluded that civilians have been killed, the U.S. has made condolence payments where appropriate and possible.”

Still, Hayden wouldn’t confirm or deny whether any of those affected by this particular strike have received compensation.

In its report, HRW urges the US to conduct a transparent investigation into the incident, hold individuals accountable for any wrongdoing, and properly compensate the affected parties.

“The US refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration’s compliance with its own targeted killing policy,” Tayler said in a statement. “All Yemenis, especially the families of the dead and wounded, deserve to know why this wedding procession became a funeral.”

Meanwhile, updated figures by the New America Foundation have also shed light on American drone activity in Yemen. Since 2002, drone strikes in the country have killed between 78 and 84 civilians, with another 30-50 deaths that cannot be classified. With more than 900 total strikes carried out, somewhere between 600 and 800 enemy combatants have been killed. With the singular exception of one 2002 strike, all have been carried out by the Obama administration.

Source: RT

US considering new drone bases in Central Asia

Us consider drone base in central asia US considering new drone bases in Central Asia

To continue counter-terrorism operations abroad after the imminent exit of American troops from Afghanistan, the United States is reportedly pursuing plans to put US drones inside air bases in Central Asia.
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The Department of Defense is expected to withdraw all or most of the US soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, significantly shrinking the size of the Pentagon’s physical footprint there for the first time in over 12 years. Along with eliminating boots on the ground, though, the US will also be walking away from the bases that for years have housed the unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that are responsible for administering lethal missile strikes against suspected insurgents in neighboring Pakistan.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the US is considering moving their drones to air bases elsewhere in Central Asia. Amidst international condemnation, however, relocating the controversial program is likely to come not without opposition.

Citing unnamed US officials, Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud reported for the Times that the covert American drone strikes carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency could cease as a result of relinquishing bases in Afghanistan near its demarcation line with Pakistan.

Currently, the Times reporters wrote, CIA analysts rely substantially on human intelligence collected by those in the region willing to provide American authorities with information on suspected extremists. Collaborated with other data, that intelligence is used by the CIA to carry out lethal drone strikes against alleged Al-Qaeda members and other targets in the volatile parts of neighboring Pakistan.

“They pay people to place GPS trackers on cars or buildings to help guide the drone-launched missiles,” the journalists wrote.

At the same time, though, the spy agency also needs the Pentagon to stay close to Pakistan because, according to the Times’ sources, “The CIA cannot fly drones from its Afghan drone bases without US military protection.” Once that protection is impossible, the Times reported, “[t]he CIA’s targeted killing program thus may prove a casualty of the bitter standoff with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over whether any US troops can remain in Afghanistan after 2014.”

With the future of the CIA’s abilities in Pakistan now up in the air, the US is reportedly pursuing bases elsewhere in the region that would allow covert drone strikes to still be carried out against area insurgents.

“If the bases are evacuated, the CIA fleet of armed Predator and Reaper drones could be moved to airfields north of Afghanistan,” the Times reported, citing unnamed US officials who did not identify possible locations.

Afghanistan is immediately surrounded on the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but the US is likely still unwelcomed in at least one of those locales — in 2005, author Brian Glyn Williams told the Times, Uzbekistan evicted the CIA’s drones from a base there.

Joshua Kucera, an Istanbul-based writer for The Bug Pit website, wrote on Monday that choosing any of those three nations, in his opinion, “would have serious downsides from the US’s perspective.”

“Tajikistan is highly susceptible to Russian pressure, and the Kremlin is surely not inclined to let the US reestablish its military presence in Central Asia,” he wrote. “Uzbekistan might be willing to host a base and is relatively immune to Russian pressure, but is a bit of a bete noire in Washington and setting up a drone base there would surely face resistance from human rights-inclined members of Congress. And Turkmenistan would have some of the same problems as Uzbekistan, but also has a proudly held neutrality that would seem to preclude hosting US drones.”

Despite Kucera’s claims about Tajikistan, though, the LA Times’ reporting suggests there is a very real possibility that the CIA may soon ship its drones there. Just last month, the paper reported, the commander of the US special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia visited Tajikistan for talks on “issues of bilateral security cooperation” and “continued military cooperation,” according to a US Embassy statement from that country’s capital city, Dushanbe.

Coincidentally, Kucera added, the US Defense Intelligence Agency just advertised for a job for an intelligence officer to be posted in Dushanbe to work on “short and long term analysis of military capabilities, infrastructure or political-military issues.”

Regardless of what happens in Afghanistan, however, the CIA’s secret drone program has a chance of coming across another roadblock: President Barack Obama has repeatedly touted a plan that would transfer UAVs away from the spy agency and fully into the hands of the Pentagon, but those efforts have been halted by members of Congress who oppose losing the covert program.

Source: RT

Use of NSA metadata to find drone targets kills civilians – Greenwald

nsa headquarters Use of NSA metadata to find drone targets kills civilians – Greenwald

The US is relying upon NSA metadata to identify targets for drone strikes, reports the Intercept. A former NSA operative said the tactic is flawed and the agency targets phones “in the hopes that the person on the other end of the missile is the bad guy.”
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Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden and testimonies from former Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) members, Glen Greenwald and colleague Jeremy Scahill have revealed the extent which the US military is using NSA intel to establish targets for drone strikes in an article in the Intercept.

The most common tactic employed by the NSA is known as ‘geolocation’, which entails locking on to the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist. A former drone sensor operator with the US Air Force, Brandon Bryant, told the Intercept that using the metadata led to inaccuracies that killed civilians.

The NSA uses a program called Geo Cell to follow potential targets and often do not verify whether the carrier of the phone is the intended target of the strike.

“It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people – we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy,”
 Bryant told the Intercept – the nascent news site created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to “to hold the most powerful governmental and corporate factions accountable.”

Over the past five years the NSA “has played an increasingly central role in drone killing,” but the growing reliance on metadata to find insurgents is also targeting civilians. The analysis of the electronic surveillance leaves a lot of room for error and can kill “the wrong people.”

Moreover, the lack of operatives on the ground in Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan means the JSOC is often not able to confirm the identity of the targets.

‘Gilgamesh’ and ‘Shenanigans’

Instead of accessing cellphone metadata through cell phone towers and internet service providers, the NSA uses a program called Gilgamesh. To be able to track the cellphones of potential targets a special device known as a ‘virtual base-tower transceiver’ has to be installed on the drone. The transceiver emits a signal that forces the target’s mobile to lock into the NSA’s system, allowing the target to be tracked to within 30 feet of their location.

As well as Gilgamesh, the NSA has developed a program known as ‘Shenanigans’ that acts like a giant cyber vacuum cleaner. A pod on an aircraft downloads massive amounts of information from any wireless networks, smart phones, computers, or other electronic devices that are within range.

Bryant told the Intercept the “JSOC acknowledges that it would be completely helpless without the NSA conducting mass surveillance on an industrial level.”

Noting that innocent people have “absolutely” been killed in these strikes, Bryant said that some terrorists have got wise to geo-tracking and have developed a number of tricks to elude the NSA. Taliban groups, he said, had been known to purposely distribute SIM cards among their organization to muddle trackers.

“They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” said Bryant, adding the targets “might have been terrorists, or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.”

The classified data paints a very different picture of the targeted killings to Washington’s stance on the matter. The White House maintains the strikes are conducted with the utmost precision and all possible measures are taken to minimize civilian casualties.

Last year President Obama claimed “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

Jesse Ventura goes off the grid ‘so that the drones can’t find me’

jesse ventura says he s hidin from drones Jesse Ventura goes off the grid so that the drones cant find me

Surveillance drones haven’t started hovering outside and above the homes of Americans in masses just yet, but former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura claims he’s left the United States just in case.
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Ventura, a 62-year-old professional wrestler-turned-politician, says his new Ora TV program ‘Off the Grid’ is being filmed in secret somewhere in Mexico where the all-seeing eye of American unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, don’t have a chance of finding him.

Speaking to CNBC on Tuesday from an “undisclosed location” south of the border, Ventura said there was a reason he doesn’t reveal his each and every movement.

“I’m off the grid. I move about with my TV show so that the drones can’t find me and you won’t know exactly where I am,” Ventura said.

According to Ventura, his Ora TV program will continue to broadcast “as long as we have solar power and we can reach the satellite.”

“I view the United States, today, much like East Berlin. And I’m off the grid. I’ve tried for 20 years to warn the country about the Democrats and Republicans, and nobody’s listening,” he said

“I now view the United States from the outside, and I don’t like what I see,” added Ventura, who won Minnesota’s gubernatorial election back in 1998. “You know what the favorite T-shirt was off the grid down here a couple years ago? A picture of [former President] George Bush, and it said weapon of mass destruction. Is that the way we want the United States portrayed throughout the world? I don’t think so.”

Ventura’s remarks on CNBC came only days after he made a similar comment to veteran broadcaster Larry King on the newsman’s own Ora TV production, Politicking.

“I can’t do this show and talk about what I want to talk about in the United States,” Ventura said of ‘Off the Grid.’ “They are locked down up there,” he said, again from an undisclosed location.

Ventura equated his online-only program as being a twenty-first century version of Radio Free Europe, the US-sanctioned network that shared a western take on the news of the world among the people of communist countries after the second World War.

“Remember Radio Free Europe? This is Internet Free America with Jesse Ventura,” he told King. “Broadcasting across the grid, off the grid, back to the United States, Jesse is allowed speak freely without drones hovering over his head and tracking him down,” the ex-governor insisted.

And according to Ventura, his new endeavor is also helping to employ Mexicans who might otherwise attempt to permeate the jobs market in America, much to the chagrin of the perpetually unemployed.

“I’m a job creator,” Ventura said during the CNBC segment on Tuesday. “And I’m not only creating jobs, putting Mexicans to work, I’m stopping them from running across the border now and taking our jobs, because my whole staff said that if I wasn’t down here, and I didn’t have them, they’d be coming up to America, looking for jobs.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration has projected that upwards of 30,00 drones will be deployed in American airspace by the end of the decade, and law enforcement agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already relying on unmanned aerial vehicles to track down dangerous criminals. Should Ventura decide to return, though, then he may want to consider crossing back into the US at Mexico’s border with California: lawmakers there advanced a measure last week that would outlaw warrantless drone surveillance in most instances. The US Department of Homeland Security will likely nevertheless continue to use drones to patrol that very same international crossing, but a mishap off of California’s Pacific Coast last last month lowered the number of DHS drones to only nine: a tenth UAV was crashed a few miles from San Diego after an on-board malfunction was detected, destroying the multi-million-dollar aircraft.

Source: RT

Over 300 US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 – leaked official data

drone 11 Over 300 US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 – leaked official data

Top-secret documentation collected by Pakistani field officers gives detailed information on 330 US drone strikes that have occurred in Pakistan since 2006. The CIA-run program is estimated to have killed 2,371 people.

From solitary individuals riding on horseback to mountain hideouts crammed with people, the CIA drone program has had no shortage of targets in the Islamic Republic, according to newly released information obtained by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).
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The most complete official record of American drone activity in Pakistan yet published provides an account as to the time and place of each strike, even including in some cases the identity of the homeowners.

The document is unique in that it provides a “strike-by-strike account,” opening the window on Pakistan’s view of each incident with that of other authorities.

Strangely, the retrieved data stops recording civilian casualties after 2008, while even failing to mention details of civilian deaths that have been widely acknowledged by the Pakistani authorities. It also inexplicably excludes information from the year 2007.

The news watchdog said the leaked documents are based on information filed to the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Secretariat each evening by local Political Agents in the field. However, TBIJ noted that the leaked documents are just one of several sources of information the Pakistani government has on US drone activity in the country.

paki 1 Over 300 US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 – leaked official data

 

‘Naming the dead’

Last July, TBIJ published the first part of the document, which detailed US drone strikes in the northwest tribal areas of Pakistan between 2006 and late 2009.The information showed that Islamabad was aware of hundreds of civilian casualties – even in incidences where it had officially refused to acknowledge such deaths had occurred.

In the first part of the report, 746 people are listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the victims are said to be civilians, 94 of which are thought to be children. From 2009 to Sept. 2013, it is estimated that 1, 625 people were killed by drone strikes, a figure that closely matches those of the TBIJ.

The London-based journalism watchdog emphasized that some entries in the report included ambiguous language, hinting that possible civilian deaths are being deliberately concealed.

On March 17 2011, for instance, a meeting of tribal elders fell victim to a US drone strike that left 41 people killed. The attack was condemned by Pakistani officials. The report, however, only states that ‘it is feared that all the killed were local tribesmen’.

TBIJ says it has repeatedly found evidence of civilian deaths in strikes where local media have used ambiguous terms, such as ‘villagers,’ ‘people’ and ‘local tribesmen’.

Another entry in the documents suggests problems with identifying exactly who is considered a ‘militant’. For a strike on April 12 2010, it shows 14 deaths and three wounded, noting: ‘The killed militants also include a 12 years [sic] old child.’

‘Whatever is happening, if this document is anything to go by, it’s clear the Pakistan government’s investigations are not adequate,’ Mustafa Qadri, a researcher for Amnesty International Amnesty, told the journalism watchdog. ‘First, this table does not appear to be telling us the whole truth about casualties.

‘Secondly, what steps have Pakistan authorities taken to assist civilians caught up in these strikes like access to medical services or provide them with remedies such as access to justice or compensation? … It doesn’t seem to be the case that this record keeping is carried out so that the Pakistan state can better assist people caught up in these strikes.’

The data also gives little information on other details, such as which organisation the killed are said to have belonged to, or even the names of those killed. Even in instances when senior militants are reportedly killed, they are rarely identified by name.

As TBIJ discovered with its Naming the Dead report, the overwhelming majority of those killed in drone strikes remain unidentified: only about one in five victims have so far been identified by name.

paki2 Over 300 US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 – leaked official data

 

Drone backlash

Amid growing evidence showing that US drone strikes are not as ‘surgical’ as the Pentagon believes them to be, US officials continue to downplay the collateral damage connected with its drone campaign.

In a report dated August 11, 2011, the New York Times quoted US officials, who spoke on the condition anonymity, that the US Drone program “has killed more than 2,000 militants and about 50 noncombatants since 2001,” a hit-miss ratio that the paper described as a “stunningly low collateral death rate by the standards of traditional airstrikes.”

The findings of the document are at odds with CIA Director John O. Brennan’s claim in June 2011 that that for almost a year, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”

The enduring belief in the flawless execution of aerial drone technology, which allows military personnel to take out enemy combatants, often many miles away from the action, is not without its critics. Indeed, some of them are members of the US military itself.

“What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” retired General Stanley McChrystal said in an interview earlier this month. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”

McChrystal said the use of drones creates a “perception of American arrogance that says, ‘Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.’”

Meanwhile, Islamabad has so far refused to confirm the authenticity of the latest leaked information obtained by TBIJ, but it is not refuting the document’s claims of high civilian deaths.

‘I am not in a position to authenticate the veracity of this report, but the facts that are being revealed are something which is not new,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Choudhry told Voice of America. ‘We have always said that drone strikes cause civilian casualties.’

Source: RT

First American arrested with help from drone is sentenced

drone 1 First American arrested with help from drone is sentenced
 
A North Dakota farmer who was the first US citizen to be arrested in a situation where law enforcement had help from a drone has also become the first to be convicted and sentenced, thanks in part to an unmanned aerial vehicle.
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rodneybrossart First American arrested with help from drone is sentenced
 
Rodney Brossart, a cattle rancher, was sentenced to three years in prison, although two and a half years of that sentence were suspended, for terrorizing police officers in 2011. Six cows wandered onto Brossart’s property near Grand Forks, North Dakota and, when he refused to return the cattle to his neighbor, a SWAT team was called in to disband the police standoff.

When the situation was still unresolved 16 hours later the SWAT team called in a Predator drone that was on loan from the Department of Homeland Security. The drone quickly identified Brossart’s location, as well as that of his three sons on the 3,600 acre property, and notified police when it was safe to make an arrest.

Five family members were taken into custody and Brossart has claimed he was tased during the incident. He was found not guilty of stealing the cows but was sentenced Tuesday because of the armed standoff, in part because officials played surveillance video taken from the drone in court.

The case garnered national attention because it was believed to be the first in which a drone was used as such an essential part of the investigation and aftermath.

We put a tactical operational plan together this afternoon and we implemented it and everything went as planned for us, so we’re very pleased that we did end with a peaceful resolution this evening,” Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke told WDAZ-TV at the time.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, has obtained records which reveal that Customs and Border Patrol Predator drones flew 700 missions over the US in the years between 2010 and 2012 on behalf of the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and various local police departments.

Bruce Quick, Brossart’s attorney, told US News and World Report that the use of the drone was illegal because it was “dispatched without judicial approval or a warrant” and that tasing Brossart equated to “guerilla-like police tactics.”

US District Judge Joel Medd has defended the use of drones in the case, saying in 2012 that “there was no improper use of an unmanned aerial vehicle” and that the drone “appears to have had no bearing on these charges being contested here.”

Judge Medd was more blunt at sentencing this month, unloading on Brossart in court for his actions.

This case should have never happened,” he said. “Chalk it up to stubbornness, to stupidity, to being at odds with your neighbors or any combination of those. We should never have been here if the cows would have just been returned.”

Source: RT

US Customs grounds drone fleet after $12 million unmanned aircraft crashes off of California

Drone US Customs grounds drone fleet after $12 million unmanned aircraft crashes off of California

The United States Customs and Border Protection has grounded an entire fleet of drones, the agency admitted on Tuesday, after a mechanical function the night before forced a crew to crash an unmanned aircraft valued at $12 million.
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A spokesperson for the CBP said in a statement Tuesday that the drone, a maritime variant of the Predator B, was deliberately crashed into the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, California after it encountered problems shortly after 11 p.m. local time late Monday.

“The crew determined that the UAS would be unable to return to where it originated in Sierra Vista, Arizona, and put the aircraft down in the water,” the spokesman, Michael Friel, told reporters.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the decision to bring down the aircraft was made by the Predator’s remote crew after they discovered that the drone’s onboard generator failed during an otherwise routine patrol mission off the California coast, and that the backup battery lacked the sufficient power needed to keep it in the air. The Los Angeles Times reported that the drone broke apart on impact, and Connie Terrell, petty officer and spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, told reporters that her agency erected a “buffer zone” off of the California coast following the crash so the CBP could recover what remained of the aircraft.

According to Reuters, the crew was still unsure of what exactly caused the mechanical failure as of Tuesday afternoon.

Prior to Monday’s incident, the CBP operated a fleet of ten drones that are operated regularly in order to patrol the US border with Mexico. That number diminished by one after this week’s crash, the agency has temporarily grounded the rest of their arsenal as a precaution while an investigation is launched to determine what exactly went wrong with the unmanned aircraft.

The CBP has been flying Predator B drones to patrol the region since 2005, and in fiscal year 2012 the fleet logged a total of 5,700 flying hours. Each craft can stay airborne for 20 hours at a time and may reach a height of 50,000 feet.

“The CBP UAS program focuses operations on the CBP priority mission of anti-terrorism by helping to identify and intercept potential terrorists and illegal cross-border activity,” the agency says on their website. “The Predator B’s capability to provide high-quality streaming video to first responders, and to assess critical infrastructure before and after events, makes it an ideal aircraft to support emergency preparations and recovery operations.”

Monday night’s crash marked the first time the CBP lost a drone since 2006, when an operating crew error caused a Predator to crash over Arizona only a few months after the program first started. When the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the incident, they determined that “the CBP was providing a minimal amount of operational oversight” ahead of the crash.

The use of unmanned aircraft have exploded across the US in the years since, and last year the Federal Bureau of Investigation admitted for the first time on record of administering a fleet of their own unmanned vehicles. The Federal Aviation Administration expects to have rules in place that will allow for the widespread use of drones in the domestic airspace by the end of 2015, but industry experts and privacy advocates are still struggling to find a way to ensure UAVs can soar freely without interrupting other air traffic or invading the privacy of the American people.

Monday’s crash comes two months after the US Navy lost a drone off the coast of San Diego. A Navy drone also crashed during a training mission in Maryland one year earlier.

Source: RT