“The strategic question not addressed is whether the current program has reached a point of diminishing returns. We might be just as safe relying on other measures to stop attacks on the U.S. — good intelligence sharing with other countries, strong border controls and vigilance within the country.
I’m all for drone strikes if there’s no downside. But in this case there’s a huge downside — we are making it more difficult for governments and Muslims that can cooperate with us against Al Qaeda to do so, and this cooperation is the key to long-term victory over Al Qaeda…
There is also another, long-term question that needs to be asked: Is killing leaders and followers of a hostile organization in large numbers outside a combat zone because we have the technical capacity to do so something we should be showing the world how to do? Are we creating some kind of a monster that could turn against us when the technology is available widely, as all technologies are.”
Dennis C. Blair, former director of national intelligence, on what remains to be done as part of NYT’s piece titled, Assessing Obama’s Counterterrorism Record.
There are other interesting assessments at the link but this one stood out because of that final question, are we creating some kind of a monster that could turn against us? The question is loaded but my response with any new technology is, of course, yes. The potential to create monsters with new technologies is always there but as Dan Trombly notes, drone technology does not alter the overall game very much,
Drones make very little difference in the ability of policymakers to militarize U.S. foreign policy approaches. They are insufficient for action in military impermissive airspace, and they are almost always used alongside manned assets, and they are always used alongside covert ground or proxy forces. This is why I greatly admire the work of national security journalists (the first coming to mind being Jeremy Scahill and Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady) who sketch out not simply the new hotness that is killer robots, but the full spectrum of direct and indirect methods that are by necessity and by preference used along side drone attacks, such as SOF, manned platforms, naval assets, spies, mercenaries, unsavory foreign security services, militias, warlords, and even terrorists previously targeted by the U.S. to attack America’s real and imagined enemies in places like Yemen and Somalia.
Winslow Wheeler seems to agree at the end of his 5 part piece for Time on the MQ-9 Reaper drone.
The wide and enthusiastic popularity for Reaper, and other drones, in the Defense Department, the Executive branch, Congress, the mainstream media and think tanks is not rationally explained by Reaper’s poor to mediocre performance on the operating dimensions measured here over the past week.
Instead, the drone’s unique characteristic — that it is manned from the ground not the air — cloaks it in a technology that seems to intrigue policy makers. It gives them a self-perceived license to employ the system over ambiguous or hostile territory (such as Pakistan, and Iran) . The consequences of that use, while not addressed in this series, appear significant and controversial, and will become moreso in the future. An empirical study of the relevant data by a fully independent entity, including all classified data, is clearly in order.
Reaper’s unique attribute has charmed technologists who proclaim that a revolution in warfare is at hand when the data clearly demonstrate otherwise.
I’m also puzzled by Dennis Blair’s first question because to the best of my knowledge the US has been one of the leaders over the last century in “killing leaders and followers of a hostile organization in large numbers outside a combat zone because [they] have the technical capacity to do so”, that is directly or indirectly.
Also related: One of the stories today at The Wall St. Journal is about how the US intends to arm Italy’s drones in “a move that could open the door for sales of advanced hunter-killer drone technology to other allies…” In addition, “lawmakers who question the planned deal say the decision to “weaponize” Italy’s unarmed surveillance drones could make it harder for the U.S. to deny similar capabilities to other…” I guess this is how you make the technology widely available.
Also related: Will armed drones be policing American cities? [io9] Apparently the “Federal Aviation Administration has allowed several police departments to use drones across the U.S…” One department is “considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its drone.” I guess it depends on how you define us and what us you deem worth protecting from the monster you’ve created.
Note: Outside of 3D printing, I can’t think of something that’s as “cool” and “geeky” at the moment as making your own drone. [DIY Drone, granted these aren’t General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones]