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Droning on



Yesterday morning, I joined C-SPAN's Washington Journal to discuss the US's use of drones in military and counterterrorism operations abroad, as well as their usage by domestic law enforcement agencies. Interestingly enough, as I was making the argument that the US should openly discuss the program, President Obama's adviser for counterterrorism was defending the program in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. In my opinion, the opportunity to capitalize on explaining and defending this program to the US public and to the nations where the strikes occur has long since passed.



READER COMMENTS: "Droning on"

Posted by Devin Leonard at May 1, 2012 2:52 PM ET:

Good job on C-span Bill. I agree that the President and the CIA and administration should have been explaining this "drone" stuff to the American people and to people abroad a long time ago. Especially the fact that as of now, very few civillians are being killed contrary to what the Pakistani liars proclaim.

Posted by sundoesntrise at May 1, 2012 3:44 PM ET:

Drones have also been used a bit in Libya. What does anybody know about that? I have only found limited info.

Also, how long does video footage of strikes stay on the war planes? Do they get rid of it after a while? Or does it stay there forever in an archive?

Posted by gary siebel at May 1, 2012 4:47 PM ET:

Still plenty of time; they are just starting to warm up. It's going to get worse when all nations have them, even your next door neighbors. No hedge will be tall enough!

However, it may be appropriate to get away from describing them as "unmanned." I say that because the term lends itself to the idea the devices are strictly computer operated (which will happen some day -- eg traffic and weather drones), which would lessen their support from the public. In fact they are remotely operated aircraft, not drones; people can fly them by day and enjoy the Strip, or wherever, when they are off "work" at night.

Chinese are aiming for the ultimate drone platform: space.

Posted by Knighthawk at May 2, 2012 11:15 PM ET:

Well done Bill.

Posted by jhenry1728 at May 4, 2012 8:58 AM ET:

@sundoesntrise- Info on the use of drones in Libya is out there. Probably the most noteworthy strike was toward the end of the war when a drone fired on Qaddafi's convoy and was followed up by a French airstrike, leading to his capture and eventual death.

As a caveat here, I'm not a lawyer, but I know a couple.

As for the use of drone, Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), in US airspace, numerous hurdles are in place before the "big brother" line is crossed. First off, operating UAS in the National Air Space (NAS) requires a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA. This requires a small mountain of paperwork and is very, very limited. UAS operations have been limited to restricted airspace, mostly military bases and disaster locations, such as the severe flooding in North Dakota years ago. Cities and states throughout the US have tried programs involving drones, most of them have not worked out. But, Congress has mandated that the FAA begin to open the NAS to drones by 2015. Rules have already been adjusted for airframes weighing less than 50 pounds.

The second part of the issue is the surveillance of US persons. As Bill put it in the video, this is a government policy/ privacy issue and a part of the overall dialogue on privacy. Ideally, a warrant would be required to conduct drone surveillance and be able to use that information in the prosecution of a case. Any information/ intelligence not relevant to a criminal case could be argued to fall under criminal intelligence rules and be destroyed immediately to five years, depending on state, local, or tribal laws and policies. The case against the cattle rustlers in the north will be interesting to watch, especially any argument involving the 4th Amendment.

As for the international/ transnational law side, the Geneva Conventions specifically excludes non-uniformed combatants to include terrorists and mercenaries. Since these groups and individuals are operating across defined national borders, it is the responsibility of that "host" nation to keep those combatants out. For instance, a group of bad guys attack in Afghanistan and cross the border into Pakistan. Ideally, (I know) Pakistan is supposed to keep them out (not provide covering fire and conduct attacks on ANA/ISAF). Thus, allowing these combatants into that nation allows that other military force to conduct operations across that border. Ideally, this is supposed to increase dialogue between those nations. Ideally. (Ask Iraq how that is going with Turkey.)

My 2 cents.

Now that is droning on.