Homeless in Arizona

Radio Controlled Airplane Drones


Obstacles may delay drones' access to U.S. skies


Obstacles may delay drones' access to U.S. skies

Sept. 18, 2012 04:42 PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Difficult to resolve safety and security obstacles may prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from meeting a deadline to allow civilian drones routine access to U.S. skies within three years, according to a report released Tuesday by a government watchdog.

The FAA is under pressure from Congress, industry and other government agencies to open domestic airspace to unmanned aircraft so that they can perform a seemingly endless list of tasks that are too expensive or too risky to use aircraft with human pilots. Industry forecasts have pegged the potential worldwide market for commercial and military drones at nearly $90 billion over the next decade, more than half of that in the U.S.

The FAA has already missed one deadline in a law passed by Congress last February requiring the agency to develop a system for civilian drones to fly safely in airspace, the report by the General Accounting Office said. The law requires FAA to fully integrate drones into airspace currently limited to manned aircraft by Sept. 30, 2015, and sets several interim deadlines for the agency to meet before then.

While FAA has made some progress in meeting those deadlines, "it is uncertain when the national airspace system will be prepared to accommodate" civilian drones, the report said.

For example, the law required the agency to establish a program by last month to allow unmanned aircraft access to the national airspace at six test sites around the country. The GAO said FAA is working on setting up the program, but has been delayed by concerns that data collected by the drones may violate people's privacy.

FAA officials have also been working for the past five years on regulations to allow commercial use of small drones, which are generally defined as weighing less than 55-pounds and flying at altitudes under 4,000 feet. The agency has drafted regulations that were initially expected to be published late last year, but have been repeatedly delayed. FAA officials told the GAO that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's office is still reviewing the draft. Proposed regulations now aren't expected to be published until next year, and it's unclear if the agency will be able to meet Congress' deadline August 2014 for the publication of final regulations, the report said.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency "is working to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft," including "gaining a better understanding of operational issues, such as training requirements, operational specifications and technology considerations."

The agency is also trying to establish the six test sites "as quickly as possible" while addressing privacy concerns, she said in an email.

Among other difficult-to-resolve issues is how to ensure drones won't collide with manned aircraft since there isn't a pilot on board that can "see and avoid" another plane, the report said. The potential for interruption in signals used by operators on the ground to control drones is also a concern.

Mug shot and arrest record extortions???

Here is an interesting article about a company that gets public records and photos of people that have been arrested, posts the public record and photos on the internet shaming the people, and then shakes the people down to pay a fee to get their photos and arrest record data removed from their web site.

Yes, it is certainly legal, but is it ethical?

And of course as the article says most of these arrests are not for real crimes that hurt people, but for victimless "drug war" crimes that didn't hurt anyone.

Ch*nga La Migra!!!

According to this article Illegal migrants across U.S. taking protests to defiant new level.

ACLU questions CIA's drone use


ACLU questions CIA's drone use

Case leaves judges questioning secretiveness

by Frederic J. Frommer - Sept. 20, 2012 10:49 PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Federal appeals court judges Thursday questioned the CIA's efforts to block information on the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists.

A lower court federal judge sided with the CIA last year and dismissed a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking records about the use of drones. In response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, the CIA had refused to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records.

At a hearing on its appeal of the lower court ruling, the ACLU told the three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia that several high-ranking officials, from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta to President Barack Obama, have publicly acknowledged the use of drones.

The government has argued that such statements do not specifically refer to the CIA's involvement in drones.

But Judge Merrick Garland cited a speech this year by President Barack Obama's counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, in which Brennan said the government targets terrorists with drones, and uses the "full range" of the government's intelligence capabilities.

"Isn't that an official acknowledgment that the CIA is involved with the drone program?" asked Garland, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Stuart F. Delery, acting assistant attorney general, said Brennan's statement wasn't sufficient to tie the drone program to the CIA because the intelligence community has 17 agencies.

Garland said that the government was asking the court to say "the emperor has clothes, even when the emperor's boss" says the emperor doesn't have clothes.

Judge David Tatel, another Clinton appointee, asked about a 2010 comment that Panetta made to ABC News when he was CIA director: "... the more we continue to disrupt al-Qaida's operations, and we are engaged in the most aggressive operations in the history of the CIA in that part of the world, and the result is that we are disrupting their leadership."

Delery replied that Panetta did not specifically mention drones.

Delery pointed to a declaration made in June by John Bennett, director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, in another FOIA case pending in New York City in which the ACLU is seeking information about the targeted killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen.

In that declaration, Bennett said that in light of speeches made by senior U.S. officials on the subject of killing al-Qaida leaders, the CIA conducted a search for records responsive to the ACLU's request in the New York case.

"Based on that search, it has determined that it can now publicly acknowledge that it possesses records responsive to the ACLU's FOIA request," he said.

But he said the spy agency can't provide the number, nature or categorization of those records without disclosing information protected under FOIA exemptions.

Delery said that the question of whether the CIA has documents on drones is "not where we're drawing the line."

Drone strikes in Pakistan have killed many civilians


Drone strikes in Pakistan have killed many civilians, study says

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

September 24, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Far more civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas than U.S. counter-terrorism officials have acknowledged, a new study by human rights researchers at Stanford University and New York University contends.

The report, "Living Under Drones," also concludes that the classified CIA program has not made America any safer and instead has turned the Pakistani public against U.S. policy in the volatile region. It recommends that the Obama administration reevaluate the program to make it more transparent and accountable, and to prove compliance with international law.

"Real people are suffering real harm" but are largely ignored in government or news media discussions of drone attacks, said James Cavallaro of Stanford, one of the study's authors.

Cavallaro said the study was intended to challenge official accounts of the drones as precise instruments of high-tech warfare with few adverse consequences. The Obama administration has championed the use of remotely operated drones for killing senior Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, but the study concludes that only about 2% of drone casualties are top militant leaders.

The CIA and Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, declined to comment.

The report says 130 people were interviewed by researchers in Pakistan over a nine-month period, including 69 survivors or family members of victims. The interviews took place in Pakistan outside the dangerous tribal areas. The researchers relied on a Pakistani human rights group, Foundation for Fundamental Rights, to find interview subjects.

Allegations of large numbers of civilian deaths have dogged the drone effort in Pakistan since its inception in 2004 under President George W. Bush. Under President Obama, drone strikes have emerged as the core element of a U.S. strategy aimed at disrupting and eliminating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas, where militants have taken refuge to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

The drone strikes have soured relations with Pakistan, which has complained about civilian deaths and infringements on its sovereignty. The Obama administration has said that drone strikes have killed few, if any, civilians.

The study authors did not estimate overall civilian casualties because of limited data, Cavallaro said. But it cites estimates by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has reported extensively on drone strikes, of 474 to 884 civilian deaths since 2004, including 176 children.

In April, Obama's top counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, described civilian casualties from drone strikes as "exceedingly rare." [And I wonder what the definition of "exceedingly rare" is according to the Obama Administration? I bet it's a lot like the definition of sex that Clinton and Monica gave us] Brennan said the drone program has reduced danger to U.S. pilots, limited civilian casualties and helped prevent deeper U.S. military involvement overseas.

In January, Obama in effect acknowledged the drone program when he said the U.S. must be "judicious in how we use drones."

The Times reported in June that lawmakers from both parties who serve on congressional oversight committees are convinced the CIA takes great care to avert civilian casualties. The committee members said independent tallies, including those by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, are often based on local news reports that are wrong. Committee staffers review video and records associated with each strike.

Cavallaro said the report decided to give more credence to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report rather than an analysis by the Long War Journal, a website that monitors drone strikes, which estimated 138 civilians killed since 2006. The site relies too heavily on anonymous and Pakistani government sources, Cavallaro said.

The study challenges official versions of three attacks between 2009 and 2011, including a drone strike on March 17, 2011, that killed an estimated 42 people. The gathering was a jirga, a meeting of elders, called to settle a dispute over a chromite mine, the report says.

According to the report, most of those killed were civilians, including elders and auxiliary police. Only about four known members of a Taliban group attended, the study says, citing survivors and news accounts. U.S. officials insisted that all the dead were militants, the report says.

The authors recommend that the U.S. Justice Department publicly state the legal basis for targeted killings by drones and the criteria for "signature strikes," those authorized against armed men who fit the profile of militants. The report says the strikes violate international law because, in part, the government has not proved the targets are direct threats to the United States.


Times staff writer Ken Dilanian contributed to this report.

CIA wants drones to kill with

CIA wants drones so it can be the judge, jury and executioner??

Fair trial. Ask the CIA if you deserve a "fair trial" and they will tell you that you won't get a fair trail if they decide you are a criminal. The CIA will give you a fair chance to run from a drone launched missile if they decide to execute you for crimes you have allegedly committed.

I can only wonder when the DEA will be requesting drones to executed suspected drug dealers with!


CIA seeks to expand drone fleet, officials say

By Greg Miller, Published: October 18

The CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said.

The proposal by CIA Director David H. Petraeus would bolster the agency’s ability to sustain its campaigns of lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and enable it, if directed, to shift aircraft to emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa or other trouble spots, officials said.

If approved, the CIA could add as many as 10 drones, the officials said, to an inventory that has ranged between 30 and 35 over the past few years.

The outcome has broad implications for counterterrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to being an organization focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorism suspects abroad.

In the past, officials from the Pentagon and other departments have raised concerns about the CIA’s expanding arsenal and involvement in lethal operations, but a senior Defense official said that the Pentagon had not opposed the agency’s current plan.

Officials from the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon declined to comment on the proposal. Officials who discussed it did so on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of the subject.

One U.S. official said the request reflects a concern that political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa has created new openings for al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

“With what happened in Libya, we’re realizing that these places are going to heat up,” the official said, referring to the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. No decisions have been made about moving armed CIA drones into these regions, but officials have begun to map out contingencies. “I think we’re actually looking forward a little bit,” the official said.

White House officials are particularly concerned about the emergence of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, which has gained weapons and territory following the collapse of the governments in Libya and Mali. Seeking to bolster surveillance in the region, the United States has been forced to rely on small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes.

Meanwhile, the campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen has heated up. Yemeni officials said a strike on Thursday — the 35th this year — killed at least seven al-Qaeda-linked militants near Jaar, a town in southern Yemen previously controlled by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the terrorist group’s affiliate is known.

The CIA’s proposal would have to be evaluated by a group led by President Obama’s counter­terrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, officials said.

The group, which includes senior officials from the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, is directly involved in deciding which alleged al-Qaeda operatives are added to “kill” lists. But current and former officials said the group also plays a lesser-known role as referee in deciding the allocation of assets, including whether the CIA or the Defense Department takes possession of newly delivered drones.

“You have to state your requirements and the system has to agree that your requirements trump somebody else,” said a former high-ranking official who participated in the deliberations. “Sometimes there is a food fight.”

The administration has touted the collaboration between the CIA and the military in counterterrorism operations, contributing to a blurring of their traditional roles. In Yemen, the CIA routinely “borrows” the aircraft of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command to carry out strikes. The JSOC is increasingly engaged in activities that resemble espionage.

The CIA’s request for more drones indicates that Petraeus has become convinced that there are limits to those sharing arrangements and that the agency needs full control over a larger number of aircraft.

The U.S. military’s fleet dwarfs that of the CIA. A Pentagon report issued this year counted 246 Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks in the Air Force inventory alone, with hundreds of other remotely piloted aircraft distributed among the Army, the Navy and the Marines.

Petraeus, who had control of large portions of those fleets while serving as U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, has had to adjust to a different resource scale at the CIA, officials said. The agency’s budget has begun to tighten, after double-digit increases over much of the past decade.

“He’s not used to the small budget over there,” a U.S. congressional official said. In briefings on Capitol Hill, Petraeus often marvels at the agency’s role relative to its resources, saying, “We do so well with so little money we have.” The official declined to comment on whether Petraeus had requested additional drones.

Early in his tenure at the CIA, Petraeus was forced into a triage situation with the agency’s inventory of armed drones. To augment the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al-Qaeda terrorist plots, Petraeus moved several CIA drones from Pakistan to Yemen. After Awlaki was killed in a drone strike, the aircraft were sent back to Pakistan, officials said.

The number of strikes in Pakistan has dropped from 122 two years ago to 40 this year, according to the New America Foundation. But officials said the agency has not cut back on its patrols there, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden and a dwindling number of targets.

The agency continues to search for bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and has carried out dozens of strikes against the Haqqani network, a militant group behind attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The CIA also maintains a separate, smaller fleet of stealth surveillance aircraft. Stealth drones were used to monitor bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Their use in surveillance flights over Iran’s nuclear facilities was exposed when one crashed in that country last year.

Any move to expand the reach of the CIA’s fleet of armed drones probably would require the agency to establish additional secret bases. The agency relies on U.S. military pilots to fly the planes from bases in the southwestern United States but has been reluctant to share overseas landing strips with the Defense Department.

CIA Predators that are used in Pakistan are flown out of airstrips along the border in Afghanistan. The agency opened a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula when it began flights over Yemen, even though JSOC planes are flown from a separate facility in Djibouti.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

Police use of drones concerns activists


Police use of drones concerns activists

Justin Berton

Updated 10:57 p.m., Thursday, October 18, 2012

Imagine a day when an unmanned aircraft can follow a homicide suspect driving on Interstate 880 and silently track him to his hideout in the East Bay.

Police say that day is coming - possibly by next year. Remote-controlled aircraft known as drones will help their efforts to fight crime and make officers safer, and save taxpayers from the rising costs of fueling and maintaining helicopters.

Critics, however, worry that law enforcement's use of the flying cameras will result in privacy abuses and open the door to the unwarranted surveillance of residents and, eventually, entire neighborhoods.

Imagine a day, they say, when an unmanned aircraft silently follows a resident from his front door to work under the guise of community policing.

On Thursday, civil rights attorneys and antidrone activists gathered outside Oakland City Hall to criticize an Alameda County Sheriff's Office plan to buy the high-tech gadgets. It would be among the first law enforcement agencies in the state to do so.

Deputies tested the machines two months ago and have applied for a federal grant that could bring the first aerial device to the county by 2013.

Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesman for the sheriff, said deputies would deploy a drone only in emergencies, just as the department uses helicopters today.

New tool, same rules

The drone's cameras could give officers an aerial view of unfolding crime scenes such as hostage situations, or track dangerous suspects who flee into backyards or wooded areas, Nelson said. Instead of fueling a $3 million helicopter, officers could remotely launch a battery-powered drone that costs $50,000 to $100,000.

The 4-pound model tested by deputies, loaded with high-definition cameras, zipped through the air at a height of 400 feet for several hours without having to be recharged.

"We could use them in search-and-rescue operations," Nelson said, "which could save someone's life."

Critics suspicious

For all the good intentions, Sheriff Gregory Ahern incited privacy advocates this week when he said he would also use the unmanned devices to scout for marijuana farms and characterized such work as "proactive policing." Critics view that as code for spying on large swaths of territory, such as high-crime neighborhoods.

"It will become integrated into their everyday police tactics," said Rachel Herzing, an activist with Critical Resistance, a national group that advocates for alternatives to imprisonment. "A few years ago, we didn't see tanks or armored vehicles in the streets of Oakland. Now we see it and it's become almost normal."

Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, echoed the concern that local police were purchasing military tools normally reserved for war and had not come up with a worthy rationale for deploying drones.

"When law enforcement has dangerous and powerful tools in their arsenal, they'll use them," Lye said. "The invitation to abuse this tool is enormous."

Use is spreading

Domestic agencies and private groups have dramatically increased their use of drones in recent years, just as the military has come to rely on them in wars.

Fire crews in some states use drones in wildlands to see what a blaze is doing behind the firewall. Environmentalists use them to monitor animals in remote areas. State law enforcement agencies in Texas and Arizona have purchased planes to monitor the U.S.-Mexican border.

The use of drones by local law enforcement agencies is still rare, but experts agree a push of federal money and a drop in the cost of the technology will give hundreds of local police departments the incentive to start using the planes in coming years.

Legal issues

The rise of the machines is certain to lead to legal battles down the road, said Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at San Francisco's Center for Democracy and Technology.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that what's viewable from the air is fair game for police, Dempsey said. But if a drone tails a suspect for an extended period, the courts may want police to obtain a search warrant, he said.

Dempsey said the technology was outpacing the law books, and that "this issue is headed straight for the Supreme Court."

Trevor Timm, a spokesman with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said his group wanted local police departments to work with privacy advocates to draft regulations on when drones could be used.

"We want to make sure there are robust rules in place before they fill up the skies of the Bay Area," Timm said. "Right now, it's cheap, it's easy, and there's no rules of the road. It could get out of control very fast."

Justin Berton is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: jberton@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @justinberton

Naval robots check for mines, map and survey


Naval robots check for mines, map and survey

By Janet McConnaughey Associated Press Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:30 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- An eel undulating through coastal waters, powered by batteries, checks for mines. A jellyfish is actually a surveillance robot, powered by the atoms around it. Fins pick up intelligence while propelling a robot bluegill sunfish.

The Office of Naval Research is supporting baby steps toward these science-fiction-sounding robo-fish.

“We, as engineers, haven’t created anything that swims nearly as well as a very basic fish,” said Drexel University’s James Tangorra, who is working on a robotic bluegill.

Partners at Harvard and the University of Georgia are studying the actual fish; he uses their findings to engineer imitations. “There are great things we can learn from fish. … The way they propel themselves; the way in which they sense water.”

Ultimately, the Navy wants “the next generation of robotics that would operate in that very Navy-unique underwater domain,” said Jim Fallin, a spokesman for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, which is doing separate work in San Diego. One aspect is finding long-lived power sources to let drones loiter a long time to collect information, he said.

Possible uses include spying, mapping, and mine detection and removal.

The Navy is not the only agency paying for such research. In 2007, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency offered small business innovation research money for an underwater robot that could navigate rivers, inlets, harbors and coastal waters to check for general traffic, obstacles, things on and under the bottom, and “specific vessels of interest.”

The naval research studies are more basic. The grants aren’t aimed as much at creating drones as at understanding how things move forward underwater, said project manager Robert Brizzolara.

The Navy uses torpedo-shaped drones and tethered vehicles to detect mines and map the ocean floor. But propellers and jets can be easily tracked on radar and sonar. Robots modeled after water creatures could be both more efficient and harder to detect, and could move through perilous waters without endangering people, researchers say.

So far, the institutions pursuing robo-sea creatures number just a few. MIT has a pike, a sea turtle and two generations of Charlie the Robotuna. Michigan State is working on a school of fish.

One aim is outdoing nature, at least as far as swimming goes, Brizzolara said.

Secret American Drone Warfare Base in Africa


National Security

The Permanent War

Secret ops expand at U.S. base

Remote U.S. base at core of secret operations

By Craig Whitlock, Published: October 25

This is the third of three articles.

DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti — Around the clock, about 16 times a day, drones take off or land at a U.S. military base here, the combat hub for the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

This transcript recounts the moments before the crash of an armed drone in Djibouti on May 17, 2011. Four others have crashed since drone traffic was stepped up at the clandestine U.S. base.

Some of the unmanned aircraft are bound for Somalia, the collapsed state whose border lies just 10 miles to the southeast. Most of the armed drones, however, veer north across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, another unstable country where they are being used in an increasingly deadly war with an al-Qaeda franchise that has targeted the United States.

Camp Lemonnier, a sun-baked Third World outpost established by the French Foreign Legion, began as a temporary staging ground for U.S. Marines looking for a foothold in the region a decade ago. Over the past two years, the U.S. military has clandestinely transformed it into the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone, a model for fighting a new generation of terrorist groups.

The Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the legal and operational details of its targeted-killing program. Behind closed doors, painstaking debates precede each decision to place an individual in the cross hairs of the United States’ perpetual war against al-Qaeda and its allies.

Increasingly, the orders to find, track or kill those people are delivered to Camp Lemonnier. Virtually the entire 500-acre camp is dedicated to counterterrorism, making it the only installation of its kind in the Pentagon’s global network of bases.

Secrecy blankets most of the camp’s activities. The U.S. military rejected requests from The Washington Post to tour Lemonnier last month. Officials cited “operational security concerns,” although they have permitted journalists to visit in the past.

After a Post reporter showed up in Djibouti uninvited, the camp’s highest-ranking commander consented to an interview — on the condition that it take place away from the base, at Djibouti's lone luxury hotel. The commander, Army Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, answered some general queries but declined to comment on drone operations or missions related to Somalia or Yemen.

Despite the secrecy, thousands of pages of military records obtained by The Post — including construction blueprints, drone accident reports and internal planning memos — open a revealing window into Camp Lemonnier. None of the documents is classified and many were acquired via public-records requests.

Taken together, the previously undisclosed documents show how the Djibouti-based drone wars sharply escalated early last year after eight Predators arrived at Lemonnier. The records also chronicle the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to further intensify drone operations here in the coming months.

The documents point to the central role played by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which President Obama has repeatedly relied on to execute the nation’s most sensitive counterterrorism missions.

About 300 Special Operations personnel plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire. Most of the commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.

Other counterterrorism work at Lemonnier is more overt. All told, about 3,200 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors are assigned to the camp, where they train foreign militaries, gather intelligence and dole out humanitarian aid across East Africa as part of a campaign to prevent extremists from taking root.

In Washington, the Obama administration has taken a series of steps to sustain the drone campaign for another decade, developing an elaborate new targeting database, called the “disposition matrix,” and a classified “playbook” to spell out how decisions on targeted killing are made.

Djibouti is the clearest example of how the United States is laying the groundwork to carry out these operations overseas. For the past decade, the Pentagon has labeled Lemonnier an “expeditionary,” or temporary, camp. But it is now hardening into the U.S. military’s first permanent drone war base.

Centerpiece base

In August, the Defense Department delivered a master plan to Congress detailing how the camp will be used over the next quarter-century. About $1.4 billion in construction projects are on the drawing board, including a huge new compound that could house up to 1,100 Special Operations forces, more than triple the current number.

Drones will continue to be in the forefront. In response to written questions from The Post, the U.S. military confirmed publicly for the first time the presence of remotely piloted aircraft — military parlance for drones — at Camp Lemonnier and said they support “a wide variety of regional security missions.”

Intelligence collected from drone and other surveillance missions “is used to develop a full picture of the activities of violent extremist organizations and other activities of interest,” Africa Command, the arm of the U.S. military that oversees the camp, said in a statement. “However, operational security considerations prevent us from commenting on specific missions.”

For nearly a decade, the United States flew drones from Lemonnier only rarely, starting with a 2002 strike in Yemen that killed a suspected ringleader of the attack on the USS Cole.

That swiftly changed in 2010, however, after al-Qaeda’s network in Yemen attempted to bomb two U.S.-bound airliners and jihadists in Somalia separately consolidated their hold on that country. Late that year, records show, the Pentagon dispatched eight unmanned MQ-1B Predator aircraft to Djibouti and turned Lemonnier into a full-time drone base.

The impact was apparent months later: JSOC drones from Djibouti and CIA Predators from a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula converged over Yemen and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric and prominent al-Qaeda member.

Today, Camp Lemonnier is the centerpiece of an expanding constellation of half a dozen U.S. drone and surveillance bases in Africa, created to combat a new generation of terrorist groups across the continent, from Mali to Libya to the Central African Republic. The U.S. military also flies drones from small civilian airports in Ethiopia and the Seychelles, but those operations pale in comparison to what is unfolding in Djibouti.

Lemonnier also has become a hub for conventional aircraft. In October 2011, the military boosted the airpower at the base by deploying a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets, which can fly faster and carry more munitions than Predators.

In its written responses, Africa Command confirmed the warplanes’ presence but declined to answer questions about their mission. Two former U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the F-15s are flying combat sorties over Yemen, an undeclared development in the growing war against al-Qaeda forces there.

The drones and other military aircraft have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared.

Since January 2011, Air Force records show, five Predators armed with Hellfire missiles crashed after taking off from Lemonnier, including one drone that plummeted to the ground in a residential area of Djibouti City. No injuries were reported but four of the drones were destroyed.

Predator drones in particular are more prone to mishaps than manned aircraft, Air Force statistics show. But the accidents rarely draw public attention because there are no pilots or passengers.

As the pace of drone operations has intensified in Djibouti, Air Force mechanics have reported mysterious incidents in which the airborne robots went haywire.

In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.

“After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”

Prime location

Djibouti is an impoverished former French colony with fewer than 1 million people, scarce natural resources and miserably hot weather.

But as far as the U.S. military is concerned, the country's strategic value is unparalleled. Sandwiched between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Camp Lemonnier enables U.S. aircraft to reach hot spots such as Yemen or Somalia in minutes. Djibouti’s port also offers easy access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

“This is not an outpost in the middle of nowhere that is of marginal interest,” said Amanda J. Dory, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa. “This is a very important location in terms of U.S. interests, in terms of freedom of navigation, when it comes to power projection.”

The U.S. military pays $38 million a year to lease Camp Lemonnier from the Djiboutian government. The base rolls across flat, sandy terrain on the edge of Djibouti City, a somnolent capital with eerily empty streets. During the day, many people stay indoors to avoid the heat and to chew khat, a mildly intoxicating plant that is popular in the region.

Hemmed in by the sea and residential areas, Camp Lemonnier’s primary shortcoming is that it has no space to expand. It is forced to share a single runway with Djibouti’s only international airport, as well as an adjoining French military base and the tiny Djiboutian armed forces.

Passengers arriving on commercial flights — there are about eight per day — can occasionally spy a Predator drone preparing for a mission. In between flights, the unmanned aircraft park under portable, fabric-covered hangars to shield them from the wind and curious eyes.

Behind the perimeter fence, construction crews are rebuilding the base to better accommodate the influx of drones. Glimpses of the secret operations can be found in an assortment of little-noticed Pentagon memoranda submitted to Congress.

Last month, for example, the Defense Department awarded a $62 million contract to build an airport taxiway extension to handle increased drone traffic at Lemonnier, an ammunition storage site and a combat-loading area for bombs and missiles.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Congress explaining the emergency contract, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that 16 drones and four fighter jets take off or land at the Djibouti airfield each day, on average. Those operations are expected to increase, he added, without giving details.

In a separate letter to Congress, Carter said Camp Lemonnier is running out of space to park its drones, which he referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and other planes. “The recent addition of fighters and RPAs has exacerbated the situation, causing mission delays,” he said.

Carter’s letters revealed that the drones and fighter aircraft at the base support three classified military operations, code-named Copper Dune, Jupiter Garret and Octave Shield.

Copper Dune is the name of the military’s counterterrorism operations in Yemen. Africa Command said it could not provide information about Jupiter Garret and Octave Shield, citing secrecy restrictions. The code names are unclassified.

The military often assigns similar names to related missions. Octave Fusion was the code name for a Navy SEAL-led operation in Somalia that rescued an American and a Danish hostage on Jan. 24.

Spilled secrets

Another window into the Djibouti drone operations can be found in U.S. Air Force safety records.

Whenever a military aircraft is involved in a mishap, the Air Force appoints an Accident Investigation Board to determine the cause. Although the reports focus on technical questions, supplementary documents make it possible to re-create a narrative of what happened in the hours leading up to a crash.

Air Force officers investigating the crash of a Predator on May 17, 2011, found that things started to go awry at Camp Lemonnier late that night when a man known as Frog emerged from the Special Operations compound.

The camp’s main power supply had failed and the phone lines were down. So Frog walked over to the flight line to deliver some important news to the Predator ground crew on duty, according to the investigators’ files, which were obtained by The Post as part of a public-records request.

“Frog” was the alias chosen by a major assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command. At Lemonnier, he belonged to a special collection of Navy SEALs, Delta Force soldiers, Air Force commandos and Marines known simply as “the task force.”

JSOC commandos spend their days and nights inside their compound as they plot raids against terrorist camps and pirate hideouts. Everybody on the base is aware of what they do, but the topic is taboo. “I can’t acknowledge the task force,” said Baker, the Army general and highest-ranking commander at Lemonnier.

Frog coordinated Predator hunts. He did not reveal his real name to anyone without a need to know, not even the ground-crew supervisors and operators and mechanics who cared for the Predators. The only contact came when Frog or his friends occasionally called from their compound to say it was time to ready a drone for takeoff or to prepare for a landing.

Information about each Predator mission was kept so tightly compartmentalized that the ground crews were ignorant of the drones’ targets and destinations. All they knew was that most of their Predators eventually came back, usually 20 or 22 hours later, earlier if something went awry.

On this particular night, Frog informed the crew that his Predator was returning unexpectedly, 17 hours into the flight, because of a slow oil leak.

It was not an emergency. But as the drone descended toward Djibouti City it entered a low-hanging cloud that obscured its camera sensor. Making matters worse, the GPS malfunctioned and gave incorrect altitude readings.

The crew operating the drone was flying blind. It guided the Predator on a “dangerously low glidepath,” Air Force investigators concluded, and crashed the remote-controlled plane 2.7 miles short of the runway.

The site was in a residential area and fire trucks rushed to the scene. The drone had crashed in a vacant lot and its single Hellfire missile had not detonated.

The Predator splintered apart and was a total loss. With a $3 million price tag, it had cost less than one-tenth the price of an F-15 Strike Eagle.

But in terms of spilling secrets, the damage was severe. Word spread quickly about the mysterious insect-shaped plane that had dropped from the sky. Hundreds of Djiboutians gathered and gawked at the wreckage for hours until the U.S. military arrived to retrieve the pieces.

One secret that survived, however, was Frog’s identity. The official Air Force panel assigned to investigate the Predator accident couldn’t determine his real name, much less track him down for questioning.

“Who is Frog?” one investigator demanded weeks later while interrogating a ground crew member, according to a transcript. “I’m sorry, I was just getting more explanation as to who Frog — is that a person? Or is that like a position?”

The crew member explained that Frog was a liaison officer from the task force. “He’s a Pred guy,” he shrugged. “I actually don’t know his last name.”

The accident triggered alarms at the upper echelons of the Air Force because it was the fourth drone in four months from Camp Lemonnier to crash.

Ten days earlier, on May 7, 2011, a drone carrying a Hellfire missile had an electrical malfunction shortly after it entered Yemeni airspace, according to an Air Force investigative report. The Predator turned back toward Djibouti. About one mile offshore, it rolled uncontrollably to the right, then back to the left before flipping belly up and hurtling into the sea.

“I’ve never seen a Predator do that before in my life, except in videos of other crashes,” a sensor operator from the ground crew told investigators, according to a transcript. “I’m just glad we landed it in the ocean and not someplace else.”

Flying every sortie

The remote-control drones in Djibouti are flown, via satellite link, by pilots 8,000 miles away in the United States, sitting at consoles in air-conditioned quarters at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.

At Camp Lemonnier, conditions are much less pleasant for the Air Force ground crews that launch, recover and fix the drones.

In late 2010, after military cargo planes transported the fleet of eight Predators to Djibouti, airmen from the 60th Air Force Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron unpacked the drones from their crates and assembled them.

Soon after, without warning, a microburst storm with 80-mph winds struck the camp.

The 87-member squadron scrambled to secure the Predators and other exposed aircraft. They managed to save more than half of the “high-value, Remotely Piloted Aircraft assets from destruction, and most importantly, prevented injury and any loss of life,” according to a brief account published in Combat Edge, an Air Force safety magazine.

Even normal weather conditions could be brutal, with summertime temperatures reaching 120 degrees on top of 80 percent humidity.

“Our war reserve air conditioners literally short-circuited in the vain attempt to cool the tents in which we worked,” recalled Lt. Col. Thomas McCurley, the squadron commander. “Our small group of security forces personnel guarded the compound, flight line and other allied assets at posts exposed to the elements with no air conditioning at all.”

McCurley’s rare public account of the squadron’s activities came in June, when the Air Force awarded him a Bronze Star. At the ceremony, he avoided any explicit mention of the Predators or Camp Lemonnier. But his narrative matched what is known about the squadron’s deployment to Djibouti.

“Our greatest accomplishment was that we flew every single sortie the Air Force asked us to fly, despite the challenges we encountered,” he said. “We were an integral part in taking down some very important targets, which means a lot to me.”

He did not mention it, but the unit had gotten into the spirit of its mission by designing a uniform patch emblazoned with a skull, crossbones and a suitable nickname: “East Africa Air Pirates.”

The Air Force denied a request from The Post to interview McCurley.

Increased traffic

The frequency of U.S. military flights from Djibouti has soared, overwhelming air-traffic controllers and making the skies more dangerous.

The number of takeoffs and landings each month has more than doubled, reaching a peak of 1,666 in July compared with a monthly average of 768 two years ago, according to air-traffic statistics disclosed in Defense Department contracting documents.

Drones now account for about 30 percent of daily U.S. military flight operations at Lemonnier, according to a Post analysis.

The increased activity has meant more mishaps. Last year, drones were involved in “a string of near mid-air collisions” with NATO planes off the Horn of Africa, according to a brief safety alert published in Combat Edge magazine.

Drones also pose an aviation risk next door in Somalia. Over the past year, remote-controlled aircraft have plunged into a refugee camp, flown perilously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital, according to a United Nations report.

Manned planes are crashing, too. An Air Force U-28A surveillance plane crashed five miles from Camp Lemonnier while returning from a secret mission on Feb. 18, killing the four-person crew. An Air Force investigation attributed the accident to “unrecognized spatial disorientation” on the part of the crew, which ignored sensor warnings that it was flying too close to the ground.

Baker, the two-star commander at Lemonnier, played down the crashes and near-misses. He said safety had improved since he arrived in Djibouti in May.

“We’ve dramatically reduced any incidents of concern, certainly since I’ve been here,” he said.

Last month, the Defense Department awarded a $7 million contract to retrain beleaguered air-traffic controllers at Ambouli International Airport and improve their English skills.

The Djiboutian controllers handle all civilian and U.S. military aircraft. But they are “undermanned” and “over tasked due to the recent rapid increase in U.S. military flights,” according to the contract. It also states that the controllers and the airport are not in compliance with international aviation standards.

Resolving those deficiencies may not be sufficient. Records show the U.S. military is also scrambling for an alternative place for its planes to land in an emergency.

Last month, it awarded a contract to install portable lighting at the only backup site available: a tiny, makeshift airstrip in the Djiboutian desert, several miles from Lemonnier.

A CIA veteran transforms U.S. counterterrorism policy

Wow! America has turned into a police state as evil as any police state the world has ever seen. Sure we haven't murdered as many people as the Nazis, Soviets or Red Chinese, but give Obama and the next guy time and we very well could.


A CIA veteran transforms U.S. counterterrorism policy

By Karen DeYoung, Published: October 24

This is the second of three articles.

In his windowless White House office, presidential counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is compiling the rules for a war the Obama administration believes will far outlast its own time in office, whether that is just a few more months or four more years.

The “playbook,” as Brennan calls it, will lay out the administration’s evolving procedures for the targeted killings that have come to define its fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It will cover the selection and approval of targets from the “disposition matrix,” the designation of who should pull the trigger when a killing is warranted, and the legal authorities the administration thinks sanction its actions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

“What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria, and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions — we’re talking about direct action, lethal action — so that irrespective of the venue where they’re taking place, we have a high confidence that they’re being done for the right reasons in the right way,” Brennan said in a lengthy interview at the end of August.

A burly 25-year CIA veteran with a stern public demeanor, Brennan is the principal architect of a policy that has transformed counterterrorism from a conventional fight centered in Afghanistan to a high-tech global effort to track down and eliminate perceived enemies one by one.

What was once a disparate collection of tactics — drone strikes by the CIA and the military, overhead surveillance, deployment of small Special Forces ground units at far-flung bases, and distribution of military and economic aid to threatened governments — has become a White House-centered strategy with Brennan at its core.

Four years ago, Brennan felt compelled to withdraw from consideration as President Obama’s first CIA director because of what he regarded as unfair criticism of his role in counterterrorism practices as an intelligence official during the George W. Bush administration. Instead, he stepped into a job in the Obama administration with greater responsibility and influence.

Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency. Still, during Brennan’s tenure, the CIA has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and opened a new base for armed drones in the Arabian Peninsula.

Although he insists that all agencies have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions, making differing perspectives available to the Oval Office, Brennan wields enormous power in shaping decisions on “kill” lists and the allocation of armed drones, the war’s signature weapon.

When operations are proposed in Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, it is Brennan alone who takes the recommendations to Obama for a final sign-off.

As the war against al-Qaeda and related groups moves to new locations and new threats, Brennan and other senior officials describe the playbook as an effort to constrain the deployment of drones by future administrations as much as it provides a framework for their expanded use in what has become the United States’ permanent war.

“This needs to be sustainable,” one senior administration official said, “and we need to think of it in ways that contemplate other people sitting in all the chairs around the table.”

There is widespread agreement that Obama and Brennan, one of the president’s most trusted aides, are like-minded on counterterrorism policy.

“Ever since the first couple of months, I felt there was a real similarity of views that gave me a sense of comfort,” Brennan said. “I don’t think we’ve had a disagreement.”

But the concentration of power in one person, who is unelected and unconfirmed by Congress, does not sit well with critics.

To many in the international legal community and among human rights and civil liberties activists, Brennan runs a policy so secret that it is impossible for outsiders to judge whether it complies with the laws of war or U.S. values — or even determine the total number of people killed.

“Brennan says the administration is committed to ‘greater transparency,’ ” Human Rights Watch said in response to a speech he gave in May about drones. But despite “administration assertions that ‘innocent civilians’ have not been injured or killed, except in the ‘rarest of circumstances,’ there has been no clear accounting of civilian loss or opportunity to meaningfully examine the administration’s assertions.”

Although outsiders have criticized the policy itself, some inside the administration take issue with how Brennan has run it. One former senior counterterrorism official described Brennan as the “single point of failure” in the strategy, saying he controls too much and delegates too little.

A former top Defense Department official sounded a similar note. “He holds his cards incredibly close,” he said. “If I ask for the right one to be seen, he’ll show it to me. But he’s not going to show me everything he’s got in his hand.”

Michael E. Leiter, who headed the National Counterterrorism Center until mid-2011, described Brennan as a forceful leader and “a critical player in getting this president comfortable with the tools of the trade.”

Leiter said that he and Brennan “disagreed not infrequently” on fleeting issues, including interpretations of a piece of intelligence or how to respond to a specific threat. But there was a more significant issue: Leiter said Brennan was less focused on root causes of radicalization, in part because of how Brennan and the White House defined his job.

Leiter was one of the few people who allowed his name to be used among the nearly dozen current and former senior national security officials interviewed for this article. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity under restrictions imposed by the administration or because they were not authorized to discuss certain issues.

For each of Brennan’s critics, there are many associates who use the words “moral compass” to describe his role in the White House. It is Brennan, they say, who questions the justification for each drone attack, who often dials back what he considers excessive zeal by the CIA and the military, and who stands up for diplomatic and economic assistance components in the overall strategy.

Brennan’s bedrock belief in a “just war,” they said, is tempered by his deep knowledge of the Middle East, Islam and the CIA, and the critical thinking forged during a classic Jesuit education.

Some White House aides describe him as a nearly priest-like presence in their midst, with a moral depth leavened by a dry Irish wit.

One CIA colleague, former general counsel John Rizzo, recalled his rectitude surfacing in unexpected ways. Brennan once questioned Rizzo’s use of the “BCC” function in the agency’s e-mail system to send a blind copy of a message to a third party without the primary recipient’s knowledge.

“He wasn’t joking,” Rizzo said. “He regarded that as underhanded.”

Brennan, 57, was born in the gritty New Jersey town of North Bergen, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan. His Irish-immigrant parents, now in their early 90s, were strict and devout Catholics, traits his brother Tom said Brennan embodied from an early age. “It was almost like I had two fathers,” Tom Brennan said.

John Brennan’s formative experiences at Fordham University, where he earned a degree in political science, included a summer in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, and a junior year at the American University in Cairo, where he studied Arabic and the region that would dominate his intelligence career and greatly influence his White House tenure.

In 1980, soon after receiving a master’s degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin, Brennan answered a CIA recruitment ad in a newspaper. By the middle of the decade, he had spent two years in Saudi Arabia and was among the agency’s leading Middle Eastern analysts.

“He was probably the hardest-working human being I ever encountered,” said a former senior CIA official who worked for Brennan on the Middle East desk. Brennan, he said, was regarded as insightful, even imaginative, but had a seriousness that set him apart.

In 1999, after a second tour in Saudi Arabia as CIA station chief, he returned to headquarters as chief of staff for then-Director George J. Tenet. In 2001, he became deputy executive director, just months before a team of al-Qaeda operatives — most of them from Saudi Arabia — used four hijacked U.S. airliners to kill nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11.

‘I . . . do what I think is right’

Brennan’s belief in his competence and probity has sometimes led to political blind spots. Tenet tapped him in 2003 to build the new CIA-based Terrorist Threat Integration Center to bridge pre-Sept. 11 intelligence gaps. But Brennan was bypassed by the Bush administration a year later for two key jobs — head of the National Counterterrorism Center and deputy to the new director of national intelligence — largely because of his criticism of the Iraq war.

As a private citizen after leaving government, Brennan spoke publicly about counterterrorism controversies of the day. He defended the CIA’s rendition of suspected terrorists as “an absolutely vital tool” but described waterboarding as within “the classic definition of torture.” Brennan also criticized the military as moving too far into traditional intelligence spheres.

His career in government appeared to be over until he was invited in late 2007 to join the nascent presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Although Obama and Brennan did not meet until after the election, their first conversation during the transition revealed profound harmony on issues of intelligence and what the president-elect called the “war against al-Qaeda.”

But when Brennan’s name circulated as Obama’s choice to head the CIA, he again came under political fire — this time from liberals who accused him of complicity in the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures under Bush. Spooked by the criticism, Obama quickly backtracked and Brennan withdrew.

“It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration such as preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding,” he wrote in an angry withdrawal letter released to the media.

Several former intelligence colleagues said that, although Brennan had criticized the CIA interrogation methods after he left the government, they could not recall him doing so as a senior executive at the agency.

Brennan was given responsibility in the White House for counterterrorism and homeland security, a position that required no Senate confirmation and had no well-defined duties. At the outset, colleagues said they wondered what his job would be.

But to a young administration new to the secret details of national security threats and responsibilities, Brennan was a godsend.

And for the man passed over for other posts, it was vindication. “I’ve been crucified by the left and the right, equally so,” and rejected by the Bush administration “because I was not seen as someone who was a team player,” Brennan said in the interview.

“I’m probably not a team player here, either,” he said of the Obama administration. “I tend to do what I think is right. But I find much more comfort, I guess, in the views and values of this president.”

Brennan and others on the inside found that Obama, hailed as a peacemaker by the left and criticized by the right as a naive pacifist, was willing to move far more aggressively than Bush against perceived extremists.

Yemen is a ‘model’

From the outset, Brennan expressed concern about the spread of al-Qaeda beyond South Asia, particularly to Yemen, according to administration officials involved in the early talks.

U.S. counterterrorism policy had long been concentrated on Pakistan, where the Bush administration had launched sporadic CIA drone attacks against senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Within two years, Obama had more than tripled the number of strikes in Pakistan, from 36 in 2008 to 122 in 2010, according to the New America Foundation.

Eventually, Obama and Brennan decided the program was getting out of hand. High-value targets were becoming elusive, accusations of civilian deaths were rising, and strikes were increasingly directed toward what the angry Pakistanis called mere “foot soldiers.”

But with Pakistan’s adamant refusal to allow U.S. military operations on its soil, taking what was considered a highly successful program out of CIA hands was viewed as counterproductive and too complicated. Although CIA strikes in other countries and military strikes outside Afghanistan require Obama’s approval, the agency has standing permission to attack targets on an approved list in Pakistan without asking the White House.

Although the administration has “wrestled with” the Pakistan program, it was always considered an initiative of the previous administration, a senior official said. In Yemen, the Obama team began to build its own counterterrorism architecture.

The turning point came on Christmas Day in 2009, when a Nigerian trained by Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group, penetrated post-Sept. 11 defenses and nearly detonated a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.

In the wake of the failed attack, Brennan “got more into tactical issues,” said Leiter, the former NCTC head. “He dug into more operational stuff than he had before.”

Brennan made frequent visits to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, its closest neighbor and the dominant regional power. He used his longtime contacts in the region to cement a joint U.S.-Saudi policy that would ultimately — with the help of Yemen’s Arab Spring revolt — bring a more cooperative government to power. He often spoke of the need to address “upstream” problems of poverty and poor governance that led to “downstream” radicalization, and pushed for economic aid to buttress a growing military and intelligence presence.

Yemen quickly became the place where the United States would “get ahead of the curve” on terrorism that had become so difficult to round in Pakistan, one official said. As intelligence and military training programs were expanded, the military attacked AQAP targets in Yemen and neighboring Somalia using both fixed-wing aircraft and drones launched from a base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

Despite Brennan’s professed dismay at the transformation of the CIA into a paramilitary entity with killing authority, the agency was authorized to operate its own armed aircraft out of a new base in the Arabian Peninsula.

Beginning in 2011, discussions on targeting, strikes and intelligence that had been coordinated by a committee set up by Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were gradually drawn into the White House under Brennan, who, according to several accounts, struggled to pare back increasingly expansive target lists in Yemen. At one meeting last year, one senior official said, Obama weighed in to warn that Yemen was not Afghanistan, and that “we are not going to war in Yemen.”

Today, Brennan said, “there are aspects of the Yemen program that I think are a true model of what I think the U.S. counterterrorism community should be doing” as it tracks the spread of al-Qaeda allies across Northern Africa.

As targets move to different locations, and new threats “to U.S. interests and to U.S. persons and property” are identified in Africa and elsewhere, Brennan described a step-by-step program of escalation. “First and foremost, I would want to work through local authorities and see whether or not we can provide them the intelligence, and maybe even give them some enhanced capability, to take action to bring that person to justice,” he said.

For those governments that are “unwilling or unable” to act, he said, “then we have an obligation as a government to protect our people, and if we need then to take action ourselves . . . we look at what those options are as well.”

In late August, Brennan said he saw no need “to go forward with some kind of kinetic action in places like Mali,” where al-Qaeda allies have seized control of a broad swath of territory. Since then, Brennan and other officials have begun to compare the situation in Mali to Somalia, where drone and other air attacks have supplemented a U.S.-backed African military force.

An opaque process

Where Obama and Brennan envision a standardized counterterrorism program bound by domestic and international law, some others see a secretive killing machine of questionable legality and limitless expansion.

Many civil libertarians and human rights experts disdain claims by Brennan and others that the drone program has become increasingly transparent, noting that the administration has yet to provide even minimal details about targeting decisions or to take responsibility for the vast majority of attacks.

“For more than two years, senior officials have been making claims about the program both on the record and off. They’ve claimed that the program is effective, lawful and closely supervised,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said last month in appealing repeated court refusals to force the administration to release more information.

Some critics have described it as immoral, rejecting the administration’s claims that few civilians have been among the nearly 3,000 people estimated to have been killed in drone attacks. There is ample evidence in Pakistan that the more than 300 strikes launched under Obama have helped turn the vast majority of the population vehemently against the United States.

None of the United States’ chief allies has publicly supported the targeted killings; many of them privately question the administration’s claim that it comports with international law and worry about the precedent it sets for others who inevitably will acquire the same technology.

To the extent that it aspires to make the program’s standards and processes more visible, the playbook has been a source of friction inside the administration. “Other than the State Department, there are not a lot of advocates for transparency,” one official said. Some officials expressed concern that the playbook has become a “default” option for counterterrorism.

The CIA, which declined to comment for this article, is said to oppose codifying procedures that might lock it into roles it cannot expand or maneuver around in the future. Directors at most national security agencies agree on targeting rules that are already in place, an official close to Brennan said. But “when it’s written down on paper, institutions may look at it in a different way.”

The CIA, which is preparing a proposal to increase its drone fleet, considers Brennan “a rein, a constrainer. He is using his intimate knowledge of intelligence and the process to pick apart their arguments that might be expansionary,” a senior official outside the White House said.

Two administration officials said that CIA drones were responsible for two of the most controversial attacks in Yemen in 2011 — one that killed American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a prominent figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and a second a few days later that killed his 16-year-old son, also an American citizen. One of the officials called the second attack “an outrageous mistake. . . . They were going after the guy sitting next to him.”

Both operations remain secret and unacknowledged, because of what officials said were covert- action rules that tied their hands when it came to providing information.

Some intelligence officials said Brennan has made little substantive effort to shift more responsibility to the military. But Brennan and others described a future in which the CIA is eased out of the clandestine-killing business, and said the process will become more transparent under Defense Department oversight and disclosure rules.

“Deniable missions” are not the military norm, one official said.

Said Brennan: “I think the president always needs the ability to do things under his chief executive powers and authorities, to include covert action.” But, he added, “I think the rule should be that if we’re going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that.”

One official said that “for a guy whose reputation is focused on how tough he is on counterterrorism,” Brennan is “more focused than anybody in the government on the legal, ethical and transparency questions associated with all this.” By drawing so much decision-making directly into his own office, said another, he has “forced a much better process at the CIA and the Defense Department.”

Even if Obama is reelected, Brennan may not stay for another term. That means someone else is likely to be interpreting his playbook.

“Do I want this system to last forever?” a senior official said. “No. Do I think it’s the best system for now? Yes.”

“What is scary,” he concluded, “is the apparatus set up without John to run it.”

Greg Miller and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Sharpshooter in helicopter murders suspected drug smugglers

I have said a number of times I wonder when the US government will start using drones on American soil to murder suspected drug dealers with drone missile strikes.

From this article where the cops are using a sharpshooter in a helicopter to murder suspected drug smugglers in Texas I suspect the day when they will be using drones to do the same thing isn't far away.


Trooper fired from chopper to stop truck, kills 2


Associated Press

LA JOYA, Texas (AP) — A Texas state trooper who fired on a pickup truck from a helicopter and killed two illegal immigrants during a chase through the desert was trying to disable the vehicle and suspected it was being used to smuggle drugs, authorities said Friday.

The disclosure came a day after the incident that left two Guatemalan nationals dead on an isolated gravel road near the town of La Joya, just north of the Mexico border.

State game wardens were the first to encounter the truck Thursday. After the driver refused to stop, they radioed for help and state police responded, according to Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Mike Cox.

When the helicopter with a sharpshooter arrived, officers concluded that the truck appeared to be carrying a "typical covered drug load" on its bed and was travelling at reckless speeds, police said.

After the shots were fired and the truck's tires blown out, the driver lost control and crashed into a ditch. State police said a preliminary investigation revealed that the shots fired from the helicopter struck the vehicle's occupants.

Eight people who were in the truck were arrested. At least seven of them were also from Guatemala. No drugs were found.

The Guatemalan consul in McAllen, Alba Caceres, told The Associated Press that the surviving witnesses told her "one died immediately, the other was apparently taken to a hospital and died on the way."

The sharpshooter was placed on administrative leave, a standard procedure after such incidents.

An expert on police chases said the decision to fire on the truck was "a reckless act" that served "no legitimate law enforcement purpose."

"In 25 years following police pursuits, I hadn't seen a situation where an officer shot a speeding vehicle from a helicopter," said Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina. Such action would be reasonable only if "you know for sure the person driving the car deserves to die and that there are no other occupants."

In general, he said, law enforcement agencies allow the use of deadly force only when the car is being used as a weapon, not "just on a hunch," Alpert added.

The Texas Department of Public Safety referred questions about its policy governing the use of deadly force to its general manual, which says troopers are allowed to use such force when defending themselves or someone else from serious harm or death. Shooting at vehicles is justified to disable a vehicle or when deadly force is deemed necessary.

Other law enforcement agencies that patrol the border say they have similar limits on the practice.

For instance, federal Customs and Borders Protection agents "are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law enforcement partners and innocent third parties," agency spokesman Doug Mosier said.

But a report presented Thursday to the United Nations by the American Civil Liberties Union said shootings and excessive force by Customs and Border Protection agents on the border have left at least 20 individuals dead or seriously hurt since January 2010.

Of those, eight cases involved agents responding to reports of people throwing rocks. Six involved people killed while standing on the Mexican side of the border.

In recent years, Texas state police have increased their presence in the border area, deploying more agents, more helicopters and more boats to patrol the Rio Grande.

Troopers are regularly involved in high-speed pursuits, often chasing drug smugglers into the river and back to Mexico.

Agency Director Stephen McCraw has said state police were pushed into that role because the federal government's efforts to secure the border have been insufficient.

Diplomats quickly began their own investigation into the chase.

The head of the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen said she is demanding federal and state authorities provide an explanation.

"I am baffled. I can't understand how this could happen," Caceres said. "I understand that the agents are doing their job, that they are protecting their border. But if there is someone who is responsible for this, he has to pay."

The Guatemalans started their journey 19 days ago near Guatemala City, with plans to stay with friends and relatives in New York, New Jersey and Houston, she said.

They were covered with a tarp, but as the car sped away from the game warden and the helicopter, the men "were having lots of trouble holding on to that tarp, Caceres said. "They must have seen them."

Iran, Saying Aircraft Trespassed, Confirms Drone Shooting Episode

American Empire violates Iran's airspace with drones???

I once worked with a guy who was in the Air Force during the cold war. He said the US Military routinely sent jets to violate the Soviet and China airspace to test the defenses of those countries during the cold war.

He said that occasionally when one of the American planes got shot down they would put out a press release saying the American plane accidentally strayed into Soviet Airspace and was shot down, despite the fact that the violation was 100 percent intentional and also routine. And they would tell the family of the pilot who was shot down the same lie.


Iran, Saying Aircraft Trespassed, Confirms Drone Shooting Episode


Published: November 9, 2012

TEHRAN — Iran’s defense minister on Friday confirmed that Iranian warplanes had fired shots at an American drone last week but said they had taken the action after the unmanned aircraft had entered Iranian airspace.

The assertions by the defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, were the first acknowledgment from Iran that the episode had happened. He spoke less than 24 hours after the Pentagon first disclosed the shooting, involving two Iranian jet fighters and the American aircraft, a Predator surveillance drone based in Kuwait, during what American officials described as a routine surveillance mission on Nov. 1 in international airspace over the Persian Gulf.

It was the first time that Iranian aircraft have been known to fire at an American drone, one of the many ways that the United States has sought to monitor developments in Iran over more than three decades of estrangement between the two countries. The United States said it had protested the shooting via the United States interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, and had warned the Iranians that the drone flights would continue.

The American officials said the Predator had been flying 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coast. General Vahidi did not specify where the episode took place, but his assertion that it was in Iranian airspace presented a possible new complication to quiet diplomatic efforts by both countries to engage in direct talks following President Obama’s re-election.

General Vahidi’s version of events also differed with the Pentagon version in another way: He said the two Iranian planes, which the Pentagon had identified as Russian-made Su-25 jets known as Frogfoots, belonged to the Iranian Air Force. The Americans had said the two planes were under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose activities are routinely more aggressive than the conventional Air Force.

General Vahidi, whose account was reported by the Iranian Labor News Agency and other media outlets, said that last week an unidentified plane had entered Iranian airspace over its waters in the Persian Gulf. He said the intruder had been “forced to escape,” after action by Iran’s air force.

It is unclear why Iranian officials had kept the episode a secret. It also is unclear, from the Iranian account, whether the warplanes had sought to down the drone and missed, or had fired warning shots to chase it away.

A lawmaker, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s parliament, also said the American aircraft had trespassed.

“Early last week, a U.S. drone which had violated Iran’s airspace received a decisive response by the armed forces that were stationed in the region,” he said in a Friday interview with the Young Journalist Club, an Iranian semiofficial news agency.

Mr. Jokar said the drone had been on a spying mission. “The U.S. drone entered our country’s airspace with an aim to gather information because there is no other justification,” he said.

The Predator’s sensor technology is so sophisticated that it could have monitored activities in Iran from the distance cited by the Pentagon officials in their account.

The Iranian firing on the aircraft had been completely legal, Mr. Jokar said. “Any violation against Iran’s airspace, territorial waters and land will receive a strong response by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, Iranian state television ran “breaking news” banners during regular programming saying that the country will confront any foreign aircraft violating its airspace. But there was no specific reference to the Predator drone.

“Iran pledges ‘firm response to any air, ground and sea aggression’ ” and “Iran says will confront any foreign aircraft violating its airspace,” one news item on a ticker read. A presenter for state television’s English language channel Press TV said that Iran was making this statement “in the face of threats of military action, from Israel mainly.”

Two commanders also gave interviews on Friday stressing Iran’s right to defend itself. “Defenders of the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a decisive response to any air, land and naval attacks,” the deputy commander of Iran’s armed forces, Massoud Jazayeri, told the Fars News Agency, which is headed by a former officer of the Revolutionary Guards.

“If any foreign flying objects enter our country’s airspace, the armed forces will confront them,” he said.

Another officer, the commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base, told the state Islamic Republic News Agency his forces are capable of countering “all threats.”

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

Pakistan secretly tries to develop armed drones


Pakistan secretly tries to develop armed drones

By Sebastian Abbot Associated Press Mon Nov 19, 2012 12:09 AM

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Pakistan is secretly racing to develop its own armed drones, frustrated with U.S. refusals to provide the aircraft.

One of Islamabad’s closest allies and Washington’s biggest rivals, China, has offered to help by selling Pakistan armed drones. But industry experts say there is still uncertainty about the capabilities of the Chinese aircraft.

The development of unmanned combat aircraft is especially sensitive in Pakistan because of the widespread unpopularity of the hundreds of U.S. drone strikes against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the country’s rugged tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government denounces the CIA strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, though senior civilian and military leaders are known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past. Pakistani officials also call the strikes unproductive, saying they kill many civilians and fuel anger that helps militants recruit additional fighters — allegations denied by the U.S.

Pakistan has demanded the U.S. provide it with armed drones, claiming it could more effectively carry out attacks against militants. Washington has refused because of the sensitive nature of the technology and doubts that Pakistan would reliably target U.S. enemies.

Inaugurating a defense exhibition in the southern city of Karachi last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf indicated Islamabad would look for help from Beijing in response to U.S. intransigence.

Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy

In this article it seems like Emperor Obama wanted to set the rules for Emperor Romney's drone murders in case Obama lost the election.


Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy


Published: November 24, 2012 162 Comments

WASHINGTON — Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials.

The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But with more than 300 drone strikes and some 2,500 people killed by the Central Intelligence Agency and the military since Mr. Obama first took office, the administration is still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified.

Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.

Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.

More broadly, the administration’s legal reasoning has not persuaded many other countries that the strikes are acceptable under international law. For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.

But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies wherever they are found.

Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American drone strikes.

The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for compiling “kill lists” and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.

“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.

Mr. Obama himself, in little-noticed remarks, has acknowledged that the legal governance of drone strikes is still a work in progress.

“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making,” Mr. Obama told Jon Stewart in an appearance on “The Daily Show” on Oct. 18.

In an interview with Mark Bowden for a new book on the killing of Osama bin Laden, “The Finish,” Mr. Obama said that “creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come.”

The president expressed wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to policy makers. “There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems,” he said.

Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for targeted killing, the program remains officially classified. In court, fighting lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times seeking secret legal opinions on targeted killings, the government has refused even to acknowledge the existence of the drone program in Pakistan.

But by many accounts, there has been a significant shift in the nature of the targets. In the early years, most strikes were aimed at ranking leaders of Al Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States. That is the purpose Mr. Obama has emphasized, saying in a CNN interview in September that drones were used to prevent “an operational plot against the United States” and counter “terrorist networks that target the United States.”

But for at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan.

In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.

“Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an attack, they were not an imminent threat to the United States,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the strikes. “We don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are.”

Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown. In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.

Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.

Many people inside and outside the government have argued for far greater candor about all of the strikes, saying excessive secrecy has prevented public debate in Congress or a full explanation of their rationale. Experts say the strikes are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part because of allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties, which American officials say are exaggerated.

Gregory D. Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia,” argues that the strike strategy is backfiring in Yemen. “In Yemen, Al Qaeda is actually expanding,” Mr. Johnsen said in a recent talk at the Brookings Institution, in part because of the backlash against the strikes.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan-born analyst now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the United States should start making public a detailed account of the results of each strike, including any collateral deaths, in part to counter propaganda from jihadist groups. “This is a grand opportunity for the Obama administration to take the drones out of the shadows and to be open about their objectives,” he said.

But the administration appears to be a long way from embracing such openness. The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail.

Drones change ‘Top Gun’ culture of Air Force

Drones called RPAs or Remotely Piloted Aircraft


Drones change ‘Top Gun’ culture of Air Force

By Jim Michaels USA Today Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:48 PM

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada - Inside a plain beige trailer, a pair of aviators stare intently at a bank of computer screens. Air conditioners hum loudly in the background.

The sensor operator zooms in on an object on the ground more than 14,000 feet below. The pilot moves a joystick, turning a drone that’s miles away and flying at a sluggish 120 mph over the Nevada desert as part of an exercise to find a downed pilot.

“It’s an odd shape, but I don’t see any movement,” the drone pilot says before pushing the joystick and moving on. Air Force policy prohibits identifying drone pilots by name.

It’s not like strapping into an F-16 and exceeding the speed of sound, but drones like these are overshadowing fighters and bombers that for decades have been the mainstay of America’s unchallenged air superiority.

The rise of drone warfare has meant a dramatic cultural shift for the Air Force, whose leadership has for decades been dominated by officers who made their mark flying combat aircraft.

Nellis Air Force Base is the home of the Air Force’s elite Top Gun school for fighter pilots. Drone pilots share space here and have their own tactics course.

The drones fly from small trailers not far from a flight line where fighter jets regularly roar down the runway and climb sharply over mountains surrounding the base.

Drones were initially dismissed by many pilots as nothing more than video games, and it took prodding from the Pentagon before the Air Force embraced the aircraft. Today, the Air Force pins more wings on new drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots.

The smallish aircraft, fitted with powerful cameras for surveillance and sometimes missiles for airstrikes, play a critical role in Afghanistan. They provide 24/7 surveillance of the battlefield and have the ability to hit precise targets.

The Air Force has embraced drone pilots without reservations. The drone pilots get nicknames, or call signs, and stride the halls of the Air Force Weapons School in flight suits like any other pilots.

It’s important symbolism, officers say.

“They’re 100 percent accepted and integrated,” says Air Force Lt. Col. Cedric Stark, a helicopter pilot and squadron commander at Nellis.

Air Force officers blanch at using the word drone, which they say suggests it is a dumb aircraft that flies itself. The accepted term is remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA. The message is that pilots control the aircraft, even if from a remote location.

“We don’t just give call signs to any guy who walks in the door,” says Lt. Col. Joseph Campo, head of the RPA program at the Weapons School.

Some pilots say the Air Force embraces the drones at the expense of manned aircraft.

“I guarantee you there is not a fighter pilot around who wants to fly a drone,” says Dan Hampton, a former Air Force officer who has written a memoir about his exploits as a fighter pilot. “I don’t want to orbit over a point for 12 hours and take pictures.”

J.D. Wyneken, director of the American Fighter Aces Association, says the older generation of pilots view drone operators as less than true pilots.

In the view of many aces, “just the very idea of a pilotless aircraft is dishonorable,” Wyneken says.

To be an ace, a pilot has to shoot down five or more aircraft during an aerial duel. There are about 300 surviving aces in the USA. They could be the last.

“We may be on verge of building our last manned fighter,” said Charles Wald, a retired Air Force general and former fighter pilot who is director of Deloitte, a consulting firm.

Few officers deny that drones are essential to the wars the United States fights. Drone strikes against al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and elsewhere have killed scores of terrorists, according to the Obama administration, which has ramped up drone operations.

Drones were used extensively in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They can loiter for hours over a target, transmitting vital video surveillance to troops on the ground.

“There is a demand for ISR that is almost insatiable,” Stark says, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance supplied by drones.

Because of increased drone usage, the Air Force has boosted the number of drone pilots. They make up 8.5 percent of Air Force pilots, up from 3.3 percent in 2008, according to the Air Force.

Drones were initially required to be operated by fighter, bomber and other pilots, but two years ago the service created a separate training pipeline designed specifically for training drone pilots. They get only limited training in manned aircraft before learning how to pilot an RPA.

The younger generation of officers is attracted to drones, seeing them as the future. Last year, drones flew more combat hours than manned aircraft.

“The truth of the matter is remotely piloted aircraft are carrying the vast majority of the workloads in terms of kinetic operations,” says Lt. Col. John McCurdy, director of the RPA program at the Air Force Academy. He said he has seen a steady increase in the number of students interested in the program.

Even some pilots of manned aircraft are having second thoughts.

About 25 percent of the 244 pilots who were ordered to fly drones after basic flight training have indicated they want to stay with the remotely piloted aircraft instead of returning to manned aircraft, the Air Force says.

“I’ve talked to people who transferred over who said they like the RPA platform because they are finally getting a chance to engage the enemy,” says Air Force Col. Kent McDonald, a flight surgeon who has studied the effects of stress on drone pilots.

Officers say the drone pilots have the drive and aggressiveness of fighter jocks but not the swagger. Col. Robert Garland, commander of the Air Force Weapons School, which teaches pilots from a number of aircraft, including RPAs, says he emphasizes being “humble and approachable.”

Many officers don’t miss the old swagger.

“You shouldn’t necessarily associate brash and cockiness with courage or … performance,” Wald says. “It was kind of fun to be that way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you were the best at anything.”

The pilots coming into the drone program have grown up with computers and video games. Drone pilots sit in ground stations that resemble a cross between a cockpit and a video game. There are computer monitors, video screens and joysticks for controlling the aircraft and camera. The pilots often communicate through texting.

“This cockpit is built for this generation of multitaskers,” says Col. Bill Tart, director of the Air Force’s RPA Task Force.

The demand for surveillance from ground forces has placed a lot of pressure on RPA pilots, sensor operators and analysts.

“The RPA platform can be much more stressful in terms of just the amount of information that they have to consistently be aware of,” says Wayne Chappelle at the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Pilots say it can’t be compared to the stress they feel when a missile heads toward their aircraft or when they are making violent turns in a dogfight. Fighter pilots can be killed in action, or taken prisoner if they have to bail out of a damaged aircraft. Not so drone pilots.

“It’s as stressful as any tedious job,” says John Hope, executive director of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association. “When you tell a guy who flew an F-105 over Vietnam that this guy is stressed out, he doesn’t see it.”

The Air Force does not award valor medals for flying drones, but the service is considering issuing special awards for RPA missions. Officers insist that flying RPAs is real combat — not a video game.

RPA pilots say they face a unique stress because they see the enemy in a more personal way than a pilot flying at 500 mph. Drone pilots may watch a target for days, seeing him interact with his family and go about the routine of his daily life, before launching a missile to kill him.

Afterward, an RPA pilot may watch the funeral for the target, Tart says.

“This is not a video game at all,” he says.

Some analysts worry that the Air Force’s rush to incorporate drones may leave the country vulnerable in the future if the United States squares off against an enemy with a sophisticated air defense system.

Slow-moving drones cannot defend themselves against missiles and other attacks. That hasn’t been a problem in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the United States enjoys nearly unrivaled air superiority. But if the United States has to penetrate sophisticated air defenses, it will need fighter pilots in manned aircraft.

“How would a drone handle a dogfight?” Hampton says.

Drone crashes mount at civilian airports


Drone crashes mount at civilian airports

By Craig Whitlock, Published: November 30

The U.S. Air Force drone, on a classified spy mission over the Indian Ocean, was destined for disaster from the start.

An inexperienced military contractor in shorts and a T-shirt, flying by remote control from a trailer at Seychelles International Airport, committed blunder after blunder in six minutes on April 4.

He sent the unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drone off without permission from the control tower. A minute later, he yanked the wrong lever at his console, killing the engine without realizing why.

As he tried to make an emergency landing, he forgot to put down the wheels. The $8.9 million aircraft belly-flopped on the runway, bounced and plunged into the tropical waters at the airport’s edge, according to a previously undisclosed Air Force accident investigation report.

The drone crashed at a civilian airport that serves a half-million passengers a year, most of them sun-seeking tourists. No one was hurt, but it was the second Reaper accident in five months — under eerily similar circumstances.

“I will be blunt here. I said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening again,’ ” an Air Force official at the scene told investigators afterward. He added: “You go, ‘How stupid are you?’ ”

The April wreck was the latest in a rash of U.S. military drone crashes at overseas civilian airports in the past two years. The accidents reinforce concerns about the risks of flying the robot aircraft outside war zones, including in the United States.

A review of thousands of pages of unclassified Air Force investigation reports, obtained by The Washington Post under public-records requests, shows that drones flying from civilian airports have been plagued by setbacks.

Among the problems repeatedly cited are pilot error, mechanical failure, software bugs in the “brains” of the aircraft and poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers.

On Jan. 14, 2011, a Predator drone crashed off the Horn of Africa while trying to return to an international airport next to a U.S. military base in Djibouti. It was the first known accident involving a Predator or Reaper drone near a civilian airport. Predators and Reapers can carry satellite-guided missiles and have become the Obama administration’s primary weapon against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Since then, at least six more Predators and Reapers have crashed in the vicinity of civilian airports overseas, including other instances in which contractors were at the controls.

The mishaps have become more common at a time when the Pentagon and domestic law-enforcement agencies are pressing the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. civil airspace to surveillance drones.

The FAA permits drone flights only in rare cases, citing the risk of midair collisions. The Defense Department can fly Predators and Reapers on training and testing missions in restricted U.S. airspace near military bases.

The pressure to fly drones in the same skies as passenger planes will only increase as the war in Afghanistan winds down and the military and CIA redeploy their growing fleets of Predators and Reapers. Last year, the military began flying unarmed Reapers from a civilian airport in Ethiopia to spy in next-door Somalia.

In a Nov. 20 speech in Washington, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the Pentagon would expand its use of the unmanned attack planes “outside declared combat zones” as it pursues al-Qaeda supporters in Africa and the Middle East.

“These enhanced capabilities will enable us to be more flexible and agile against a threat that has grown more diffuse,” Panetta said.

The Air Force says that its drones are safe and that crash rates have declined as the military fine-tunes the new technology. Mishap rates for Predators have fallen to levels comparable to F-16 fighter jets at same stage in their development, according to the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

‘Backlash and repercussion’

In Djibouti, five Predators have crashed since the Air Force began ramping up drone operations there to combat terrorist groups in nearby Yemen and Somalia.

Many of the mechanical breakdowns have been peculiar to drones.

On May 7, 2011, an armed Predator suffered an electrical malfunction that sent it into a death spiral about a mile offshore from Djibouti City, the capital, which has about 600,000 residents. “I’m just glad we landed it in the ocean and not someplace else,” a crew member told investigators.

Ten days later, another Predator missed the runway by nearly three miles and crashed near a residential area. The aircraft was carrying a live Hellfire missile, but it did not detonate and no one was injured.

Another close call came March 15, 2011. An armed Predator came in too steep and fast for landing, overshot the runway and slammed into a fence.

Investigators attributed that accident to a melted throttle part, but they also blamed pilot error. They said the remote- control pilot was “inattentive” and “confused” during the landing. Because he was isolated inside a ground-control station, the report added, he did not notice the wind rush or high engine pitch that might have warned a pilot in a manned aircraft to slow down.

In Djibouti, the Air Force drones operate from Camp Lemonnier, a fast-growing U.S. military base devoted to counterterrorism. The base is adjacent to Djibouti’s international airport and shares a single runway with passenger aircraft.

That has led to miscommunications and tensions with Djiboutian civil aviation officials. One unidentified U.S. officer told investigators last year that he often had to sternly remind his fellow troops that civilians were in charge of the site.

“There is a need to understand the urgency that this airport doesn’t belong to us,” he said. “Every time that we cause a delay or they miss flight times and connecting flights, there’s a big backlash and repercussion.”

In addition to the five Predator wrecks in Djibouti, the officer said he had witnessed three emergency landings that narrowly avoided catastrophe. “I have no illusions that this won’t happen again, whether it’s an MQ-1 or otherwise,” he said, referring to the military code name for a Predator.

Meanwhile, U.S. drone crews complained to investigators about the Djiboutian air-traffic controllers, saying they speak poor English, are “short- tempered” and are uncomfortable with Predators in their airspace.

According to the crew members, the Djiboutian controllers give priority to passenger planes and order drone pilots to keep their aircraft circling overhead even when they are dangerously low on fuel.

Big Safari

The operation started with four Reapers that spied on pirates at sea and terrorism suspects on land in Somalia, about 800 miles away. It was also an experiment to test new technology for operating the drones.

Normally, Reapers and Predators are flown through satellite links by pilots based in the United States, while local ground crews handle the takeoffs and landings. In the Seychelles, however, the flights did not require a satellite link; details of the new technology remain classified.

Starting in September 2011, records show, the U.S. Air Force took the unusual step of outsourcing the entire operation to a Florida-based private contractor, Merlin RAMCo. By then, the Seychelles operation had dwindled to two Reapers after the other aircraft were redeployed.

The military drew up the surveillance missions, but Merlin RAMCo hired its own remote-control pilots, sensor operators and mechanics, and dispatched them to the islands.

The arrangement was overseen at a distance by the Air Force’s secretive 645th Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The unit, also known as Big Safari, develops and acquires advanced weapons systems — many of them classified — for Special Operations Forces.

A spokesman for the Big Safari program declined to comment on the Reaper operations in the Seychelles or its contract with Merlin RAMCo, citing “security concerns.” Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, said the service does not “currently” use contractors to fly drones on “combat operations,” but he declined to elaborate.

Merlin RAMCo, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is a privately held company that was incorporated in 2006, records show. The firm’s vice president and general manager, Robert A. Miller Jr., did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

The company supports Air Force missions and other government contracts with more than 80 employees at 14 locations in the United States and five sites overseas, according to the Air Force.

The contractor was subjected to little direct oversight in the Seychelles, records show. The Air Force posted two officials on the islands to coordinate flights and serve as a liaison with the contractor, but neither had experience operating drones.

Underscoring the secrecy of the operation, neither official was allowed to have a copy of Big Safari’s contract with Merlin RAMCo.

“You can imagine it’s awful hard to hold somebody accountable for compliance with a contract that you physically can’t see,” one of the Air Force representatives told investigators.

The other liaison officer told investigators that the whole idea of outsourcing drone flights made him uneasy. “In hindsight, it appears it may not have been the best way to conduct business,” he said.

Seychelles program halted

After Merlin RAMCo took charge, the two Reapers deployed to the Seychelles quickly became hobbled by problems.

In November 2011, the Air Force liaison officers grounded the drones after discovering that they had not received required mechanical upgrades. Just days after the aircraft resumed flying, on Dec. 13, one of the Reapers ran into trouble.

Two minutes after takeoff, the engine failed. The pilot was unable to restart it and tried to execute an emergency landing. But the aircraft, which was not armed at the time, descended too quickly and landed too far down the runway. It bounced past a perimeter road, over a rock breakwater and sank about 200 feet offshore.

Investigators blamed the crash on an electrical short and concluded that the pilot made things worse by botching the landing.

In February, the remaining Reaper was struck by lightning while in flight. The crew was able to steer it home safely, but mechanics grounded the plane for a month to make repairs.

A few days after resuming operations, a different Merlin RAMCo pilot, with limited experience in takeoffs and landings, erred in every way imaginable during the brief flight before crashing the Reaper. Contractors worked for days to fish all the parts out of the water.

The Seychelles and U.S. governments announced a suspension of drone flights afterward, but they didn’t mention that there wasn’t much choice — no intact Reapers were left on the island. U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who met with Seychelles officials a few days later, pledged a “thorough and fully transparent” investigation of the crash.

The accidents, nonetheless, stirred worry among some islanders. In a letter to the Seychelles Nation newspaper, resident James R. Mancham questioned whether civil aviation officials had “seriously examined the implications” of allowing drones to fly from Seychelles International Airport.

“What guarantee do we have that never will one of these drones crash upon or collide with an approaching or departing plane or crash on the air-control tower itself?” Mancham wrote.

Tom Saunders, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Africa Command, said the Air Force has not flown drones from the Seychelles since April. He declined to comment on whether it planned to resume the flights.

Jean-Paul Adam, the foreign minister of the Seychelles, said the U.S. military has not shared the results of the crash investigations. He said the U.S. government has indicated that it would like to restart the operations but has not said when.

Adam cautioned that the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority would need to review the investigation results but said his government was amenable toward a return of the drones.

“The two crashes were obviously of concern,” he said in a telephone interview. “But I would say the approach we’ve had with the United States has been one of good cooperation.”

Navy denies Iran’s claim of captured U.S. drone

Navy denies Iran’s claim of captured U.S. drone over Persian Gulf


US Navy spokesman: All US drones in Mideast ‘accounted for’ after Iran capture claims

By Associated Press, Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 7:27 AM

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran claimed Tuesday it had captured a U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf— even showing an image of a purportedly downed craft on state TV — but the U.S. Navy said all its unmanned aircraft in the region were “fully accounted for.”

The conflicting accounts still leave the possibility that the drone claimed by Iran, a Boeing-designed ScanEagle, could have been plucked from the sea in the past and unveiled for maximum effect following escalating tensions over U.S. surveillance missions in the Gulf.

The U.S. Navy says all of its drone unmanned aircraft are accounted for. Iran claims it captured one drone. Iranian State TV showed pictures of what was said to be the drone.

The U.S. Navy says all of its drone unmanned aircraft are accounted for. Iran claims it captured one drone. Iranian State TV showed pictures of what was said to be the drone.

Other countries in the region — such as the United Arab Emirates — also have ScanEagle drones in their fleets.

Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said ScanEagles operated by the Navy “have been lost into the water” over the years, but there is no “record of that occurring most recently.”

The Iranian announcement did not give details on the time or location of the claimed drone capture.

It’s certain, however, to be portrayed by Tehran as another bold challenge to U.S. reconnaissance efforts in the region. Last month, the Pentagon said a drone came under Iranian fire in the Gulf but was not harmed. A year ago, Iran managed to bring down an unmanned CIA spy drone possibly coming from Afghanistan.

Iran also has recently alleged repeated airspace violations by U.S. drones, which Washington denies.

“The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region,” said Salata. “Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized waters and airspace.”

Iran claimed it captured the drone after it entered Iranian airspace. A report on state TV quoted the navy chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying the Iranian forces caught the “intruding” drone, which had apparently taken off from a U.S. aircraft carrier.

“The U.S. drone, which was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard’s navy air defense unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace,” Fadavi said. “Such drones usually take off from large warships.”

Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel, showed two Guard commanders examining what appeared to be an intact ScanEagle drone. It was not immediately clear if that was the same drone Iran claimed to have captured.

In the footage, the two men then point to a huge map of the Persian Gulf in the background, showing the drone’s alleged path of entry into Iranian airspace.

“We shall trample on the U.S,” was printed over the map in Farsi and English next to the Guard’s emblem.

If true, the seizure of the drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and U.S. drones in the past two years.

Last month, Iran claimed that a U.S. drone had violated its airspace. Pentagon said the unmanned aircraft came under fire — at least twice but was not hit — and that the Predator was over international waters.

The Nov. 1 shooting in the Gulf was unprecedented, and further escalated tensions between the United States and Iran, which is under international sanctions over its suspect nuclear program. Tehran denies it’s pursuing a nuclear weapon and insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.

In late 2011, Iran claimed it brought down a CIA spy drone after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which is equipped with stealth technology, was captured almost intact. Tehran later said it recovered data from the top-secret drone.

In the case of the Sentinel, after initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed it had been monitoring Iran’s military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.

The U.S and its allies believe Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and cancer treatment.

Iran meanwhile, has claimed advanced in drone technology.

In November, Iranian media reported that the country had produced a domestically-made drone capable of hovering. Earlier, Iran said it obtained images of sensitive Israeli bases taken by a drone that was launched by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and downed by Israel.

Iran also claimed other drones made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years. Israel has rejected the Iranian assertions.


Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Get ready: Drones will come to Bay Area


Get ready: Drones will come to Bay Area

Chip Johnson, Chronicle Columnist

Updated 8:29 pm, Monday, December 17, 2012

If everything goes according to plan, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office will soon have a drone, a small unmanned aircraft, to aid with crowd control, search-and-rescue missions and other law enforcement duties that could use a set of eyes in the air.

Think of it as the newest tool for law enforcement. Not surprisingly, not everyone is happy about this.

The chief concern of critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, is that the drones threaten the privacy rights of everyday citizens.

The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission went as far as to propose a ban, a "No Drone Zone" in Berkeley airspace for all but hobbyists.

But despite the commission's stern stance, in the not-too-distant future the skies above American cities will host unmanned flying vehicles.

As an Oakland resident, I'd like to propose that all future law enforcement drone flyovers planned for Berkeley instead be rerouted here. We need all the help we can get.

In Oakland, residents are concerned that there aren't enough law enforcement eyes to watch out for them. We already use technology to help detect and trace gunfire. We're endeavoring to make downtown Oakland a place with more cameras perched on building ledges than pigeons. The city has a program to aid private businesses to install their own systems.

The truth is that personal privacy was breached by modern technology nearly 20 years ago, and there's no going back.

There's little you can't see for yourself online, and if nudity advocates in Berkeley and San Francisco had their way over the years, there would be little you couldn't see just walking down the street.

However, the potential applications for unmanned aircraft are boundless. Desired in Oakland

In Oakland, Police Chief Howard Jordan supports their use for law enforcement because the flying machines - which federal guidelines limit to 55 pounds or less - can serve as a force multiplier in a city whose officers are outnumbered, outgunned and too often out-maneuvered by the bad guys. "If they're used to assist us in fighting crime, locating hazardous materials, search-and-rescue efforts and catching the bad guys, I have no problem using them," Jordan said.

He dismissed the privacy issue, noting that many law enforcement agencies already possess helicopters equipped with advanced sensory systems.

"A helicopter can already do the same thing - but they cost three times as much to operate," Jordan said.

The sheriff's department has requested a little more than $30,000 to purchase a drone, but the plan requires a public hearing process and final approval by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which last week tabled the matter because of vigorous voices raising privacy concerns.

"The (unmanned aircraft systems) are a tool that we're going to use for mission-specific events," said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a sheriff's department spokesman. "We've used remote-controlled robots for more than a decade, and they too are specific tools used for specific jobs."

It's particularly interesting to see Berkeley in the middle of the latest potential government threat on personal privacy, but certainly not because it's out of character. Irony in Berkeley

It's because in a UC Berkeley lab just a couple of miles away from Berkeley City Hall, Karl Hedrick, a professor of mechanical engineering, is working with his team at the Center for the Collaborative Control of Unmanned Vehicles on the next generation of unmanned flight: autonomous aircraft tasked and equipped to search for anything from a gas leak to a lost hiker. It could fly to the target, avoiding dangerous obstacles, conduct a search, collect data and return - all without any remote operation.

"They are very good at surveillance, and if it was just controlling traffic or chasing the bad guys, I don't think the public would have too much of a problem with that," Hedrick said.

I sure hope not, because their arrival is inevitable.

Chip Johnson's column appears in The San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday and Friday. E-mail: chjohnson@sfchronicle.com

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