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November 6, 2011 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Multiple missteps led to drone killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Pentagon investigation into the friendly fire deaths of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, looked into the first U.S. casualties caused by a drone attack. 'The incident raised a series of broad questions: How did the battalion's new rules for handling Predator strikes affect the decision to strike? Was the missile fired too quickly? Did the system built to help commanders make better decisions break down again?'

'The decision to fire a missile from one of the growing fleet of U.S. unmanned aircraft is the result of work by ground commanders, pilots and analysts at far-flung military installations, who analyze video and data feeds and communicate by a system of voice and text messages.

In addition to the platoon taking fire that morning in Helmand province's Upper Sangin Valley, the mission involved Marine Corps and Air Force personnel at four locations: Marines of the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion at Alcatraz, the drone crew in Nevada, the analyst in Indiana and a mission intelligence coordinator at March Air Reserve Base in California.

Senior officers say drone technology has vastly improved their ability to tell friend from foe in the confusion of battle. But the video can also prompt commanders to make decisions before they fully understand what they're seeing.

In February 2009, a crew operating a drone over Afghanistan misidentified a civilian convoy as an enemy force. The Predator pilot and the Army captain who called in the airstrike disregarded warnings from Air Force analysts who had observed children in the convoy. At least 15 people were killed.

Adding layers of personnel like the analyst in Indiana to cut down on errors also comes at a price: It may slow down the decision to strike when American lives are at risk.

The 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion operated in one of the most violent parts of Afghanistan, an area where drones patrolled virtually nonstop. It had recently revised its procedures to speed up Predator strikes, seeking to prevent "delay of missions by injection of comments" from the Distributed Ground System — military terminology for analysts like the one in Indiana.'
posted by VikingSword (107 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This situation will never get better without changing the calculus behind the decision making process, IE the life of one US soldier being worth more than an entire convoy or building or even town of potential civilians. That will not end until we lose the idea of American Exceptionalism which, well....I'm not optimistic.
posted by nevercalm at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


The story of 16-year-old Pakistani Tariq Aziz offers a little perspective on the effectiveness of drone strikes. There are hundreds more like him, too.
posted by swift at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Drone
1. A male bee, especially a honeybee, that is characteristically stingless, performs no work, and produces no honey. Its only function is to mate with the queen bee.

2. An idle person who lives off others; a loafer.

3. A person who does tedious or menial work; a drudge

posted by infini at 12:58 PM on November 6, 2011


I'm gonna be a typical optimistic1 American here : I'll give it five to ten years before a law enforcement drone kills an American citizen on American soil2, while being operated by agents located in another state.

I retain the option that said agents might be civilian subcontractors, not simply federal agents. In fact, we should really just outsource operating said law enforcement drones, foreign labor being so much cheaper. Iraq has quite low wages and tight relations with defense contractors, I hear.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:01 PM on November 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


In the future, scandals will break that drones are killing drones.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:15 PM on November 6, 2011


Friendly fire incidents have been part of warfare since we started throwing rocks at each other 50 000 years ago. I would bet that the introduction of remotely piloted drones won't reduce the incident rate at all.
posted by PenDevil at 1:21 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This shit needs to stop. This incident highlights one ofthat many reasonswonderful why this isentire the case.

Bottom line: war is plenty dehumanizing enough without it being conducted via remote control from the safety of a stateside military base.

If it were up to me, disagreements between nations would be settled personally by the warmongers-in-chief, Lincoln-style: broadswords in a pit.
posted by Scientist at 1:22 PM on November 6, 2011


There was an interesting story about how drone attacks on Iraqi civilians, which were exposed by wikileaks' cablegate, contributed dramatically to the timely U.S. withdraw from Iraq, but I've lost the link.

We might also ask ourselves why the CIA gets to play with UAVs, when the air force makes so much more sense.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:22 PM on November 6, 2011


My phone seems to have mangled my comment into near-incoherence. I meant to say: "This incident highlights one of the many reasons why this is the case." I don't know where the rest of that garbled stuff came from.
posted by Scientist at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's about time someone did a movie where crims have a drone with some sort of attack capability and controlled via web. It'd be a like a modernish remake of parts of the 1980s Tom Selleck film Runaway, with the remote controlled car bombs.

I'm not saying this would be a good movie, but it could be a movie.
posted by biffa at 1:32 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Despite the usual knee jerk hysteria, friendly fire incidents - and civilian casualties - have been greatly reduced through better technology and are notable now because of their rarity. Such incidents are sadly inevitable in warfare however and will never be reduced to zero, but the whole focus of the military is on reducing them to an absolute minimum. It's estimated that 75,000 French infantry were killed by allied artillery in the great war, for example.
posted by joannemullen at 1:36 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ernst Jünger warned that as the distance between soldier and war increased, military discipline will decrease. Eventually, as he saw it, we will wage wars without discipline, without control. We will war, uncontrolled. We will war out of control.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:36 PM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the alternative to using drones is using live soldiers, I think we can see why drones will continue to be used. This seems a trend started when sticks were replaced with spears, then arrows, bullets, etc. Nobody is going to revert for the sake of good sportsmanship.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2011


Another great movie idea is where the drones become sentient and renounce war to run a seafood joint in the Florida Keys while learning about what it means to be human and one of them falls in love with a garbage truck.
posted by Renoroc at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


Honestly, every time I hear about drone attacks, I'm pulled back to Roger Waters' Amused To Death album and specifically his song The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range. It's not actually about drone attacks, but the sentiment remains the same: it's pretty fucking easy to hunt down people and shoot things at them when you're in a dark room on the other side of the world operating a joystick like a video game.

See also: the flawed but prescient Barry Levinson movie Toys.
posted by hippybear at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are there statistics comparing the collateral damage from drone strikes versus men with guns?
posted by floam at 1:50 PM on November 6, 2011


Despite the usual knee jerk hysteria, friendly fire incidents - and civilian casualties - have been greatly reduced through better technology

I am not sure I buy "knee jerk hysteria" for the observation that we appear to be blowing up a lot of civilians with flying remote-controlled robots.
posted by brennen at 1:50 PM on November 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'd be very interested to read the human factors analysis of what went wrong here - obviously a lot of holes in the swiss cheese had to line up for something as bad as this to happen.
posted by squorch at 1:53 PM on November 6, 2011


It's estimated that 75,000 French infantry were killed by allied artillery in the great war, for example.

And it's estimated that over 100,000 civilians have died in the Iraq war alone. Those stats are collaborated among multiple sources, including the Iraqi Health Ministry, WHO, Iraq Body Count project, etc. Those estimates are probably on the low side too, since most of them only include a reduced time range of the war.

but the whole focus of the military is on reducing them to an absolute minimum.

Hilarious, because every other thread about drone use the emphasis from supporters seems to be on reducing American soldier casualties. You can't have it both ways.
posted by formless at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Despite the usual knee jerk hysteria,


I am not sure I buy "knee jerk hysteria"

see
posted by infini at 1:57 PM on November 6, 2011


Meant corroborated, not collaborated.
posted by formless at 1:58 PM on November 6, 2011


formless: And certainly even a greater number of civilians died. I think his point was, 75,000 is a lot of friendly-fire deaths.
posted by floam at 1:59 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's been persistent rumours backed up by court documents suggesting the targeting software in mark II drones was hacked / faulty. Certainly it caused IBM to step in & buy out the two fractious companies to the tune of billions.


Then there's that small case of computer viruses. What depresses me most about that article is the standard of the tech - they're not piloting these things in a full surround simulator, they're using three monitors, two of which are tiny. Less SF, more 80's Wargames. (See: green/red LED bank).
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 2:05 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll give it five to ten years before a law enforcement drone kills an American citizen on American soil2, while being operated by agents located in another state.

I have to disagree. Any one who knows anything about drone technology and use of force standards for police would know that this is incredibly unlikely.

First, it is impossible with current technology to aim a firearm bullet from a drone. I really don't see how it would be possible. They would have to have a swivel mounted weapon that they could aim from a moving drone, from very, very far away. Remember, the range of a hellfire missile is 8 kilometers, and the weapon is a fire and forget weapon, with its own internal guidance. The target is painted from a mile or more away with a laser designator and the weapon is fired. The missile guides itself at that point. To fire a gun from a drone would be far more difficult. There will be exactly zero use of hellfire missiles on drones in the US. In my work I have never heard of police firing from helicopters. A quick Google search turned up no evidence of it, either. It is dangerous.

More importantly the situations in which this could occur are incredibly limited. It is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to fire at a person who is not a danger to others.

From CALEA 1.3.1--the standard law enforcement accreditation standards:

a. For the protection of life, an officer may use deadly force when necessary in the defense of himself from death or serious injury and when in the defense of another person, unlawfully attacked, from death or serious injury.

For deadly force to be allowed in such a situation, you would have to have a pretty convoluted set of circumstances. Basically, a person would have to have a gun aimed at them by another party and a drone with a rifled weapon on board able to see the perpetrator, have a clear line of sight, and be able to safely shoot at the person.

In otherwords, not gonna happen.

But one will crash into something and kill people on the ground or in the air. It is a near certainty given the crowded airspace of the US.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:06 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am not sure I buy "knee jerk hysteria" for the observation that we appear to be blowing up a lot of civilians with flying remote-controlled robots.

A lot?

Cite?

The numbers are all over the lot.
A January 2011 report by Bloomberg stated that civilian casualties in the strikes had apparently decreased. According to the report, the U.S. Government believed that 1,300 militants and only 30 civilians had been killed in drone strikes since mid-2008, with no civilians killed since August 2010.[494]

On 14 July 2009, Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution stated that although accurate data on the results of drone strikes is difficult to obtain, it seemed that ten civilians had died in the drone attacks for every militant killed. He suggested that drone strikes may kill "10 or so civilians" for every militant killed, which would represent a civilian to combatant casualty ratio of 10:1.

The New America Foundation believes that between zero and 18 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since 23 August 2010 and that overall civilian casualties have decreased from 25% of the total in prior years to an estimated 6% in 2010. The Foundation estimates that between 277 and 435 non-combatants have died since 2004, out of 1,374 to 2,189 total deaths.[215]

According to a report of the Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Center (CMC), as of 2011, more than 2000 persons have been killed, and most of those deaths are of innocent civilians. The CMC termed the CIA drone strikes as an "assassination campaign turning out to be revenge campaign", and showed that 2010 was the deadliest year so far as regards casualties resulting from drone attacks, with 134 strikes inflicting over 900 deaths.[495]

According to the Long War Journal, as of mid-2011, the drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 had killed 2,018 militants and 138 civilians.[496] The New America Foundation stated in mid-2011 that since 2004 2,551 people have been killed in the strikes, with 80% of those militants. The Foundation stated that 95% of those killed in 2010 were militants.[497]
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism based on extensive research found in mid-2011 that at least 385 civilians were among the dead, including more than 160 children.[498]
The CIA has claimed that the strikes conducted between May 2010 and August 2011 killed over 600 militants and did not result in any civilian fatalities; this assessment has been criticized by Bill Roggio from the Long War Journal and other commentators as being unrealistic. Unnamed American officials who spoke to the New York Times claimed that, as of August 2011, the drone campaign had killed over 2,000 militants and approximately 50 noncombatants.[11]
posted by Ironmouth at 2:12 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


As for friendly fire, deaths are way, way down over time.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:15 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ernst Jünger warned that as the distance between soldier and war increased, military discipline will decrease. Eventually, as he saw it, we will wage wars without discipline, without control. We will war, uncontrolled. We will war out of control.

An interesting argument, but does it ring true? One can argue that the story of humanity is one of warring uncontrolled, regardless of technology. Are humans warring out of control any more than we have ever done?

And it's estimated that over 100,000 civilians have died in the Iraq war alone.

The distinction here involves friendly fire incidents rather than civilian deaths.

It seems to me the advantage of drones is that there is greater potential not only for committing fewer friendly troops to dangerous conditions, but also for putting fewer civilians in danger by allowing the use of more discriminating weaponry/methods. I've wondered if the reaction to drone accidental casualties, both civilian and friendly fire, are the result in part to the presumption that drones are necessarily more discriminating and generally a positive development than more conventional means, such as lobbing bombs from afar. While the potential is there, it clearly isn't quite as developed as we all would like to see. Perceptions may count for far more than actual numbers.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:16 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The story of 16-year-old Pakistani Tariq Aziz offers a little perspective on the effectiveness of drone strikes. There are hundreds more like him, too.

The drone mentality
posted by homunculus at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Bureau of Investigative Journalism based on extensive research found in mid-2011 that at least 385 civilians were among the dead, including more than 160 children.

Greenwald:

As I’ve noted before, the statistical methodology used by the Bureau to count innocent victims is the most conservative possible, meaning the numbers are almost certainly much higher.
posted by Trurl at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


First, it is impossible with current technology to aim a firearm bullet from a drone.

US Army Test Flying Robot Sniper (from 2009)

For deadly force to be allowed in such a situation, you would have to have a pretty convoluted set of circumstances. Basically, a person would have to have a gun aimed at them by another party and a drone with a rifled weapon on board able to see the perpetrator, have a clear line of sight, and be able to safely shoot at the person.

In otherwords, not gonna happen.


What kind of make believe world do you live in where the powerful don't abuse their power?
posted by deanklear at 2:34 PM on November 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


In a related story, today would have been Pat Tillman's 35th birthday.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:36 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think his point was, 75,000 is a lot of friendly-fire deaths.

One interesting bit I read (in reference to the Second World War rather than the First) was that veteran infantry were actually more willing than green soldiers to call in danger close artillery and accept the increased number of friendly fire casualties because they knew that their total casualties would be lower as the enemy would be greatly attrited by the artillery fire.

The drone incident in question seems similar. The units on the ground have been asking for drones to fire more quickly even knowing that increases the risk of friendly fire incidents because the guys in the mud believe it will reduce their overall casualties. They may in fact be correct.

They likely aren't, however, taking in to account the increased risk of civilian casualties. Because you generally have trouble taking that in to account when you're being shot at or blown up regularly. Which is why you don't send soldiers into these situations in the first place unless absolutely necessary.
posted by Justinian at 2:41 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are an awful lot of things robot can do that humans cannot Ironmouth. And I'd figured we're talking deaths from less lethal weapons anyways, probably close support hovering UAVs aiding crowd control, drug arrests, or border security.

I'm amused by this idea that policing could be outsources to poorer, or more authoritarian, countries through law enforcement by UAVs, what a wonderful way for powerful groups to keep populations in line.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:58 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth wrote: It is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to fire at a person who is not a danger to others.

Yes, but it might be done by accident - as happens every day. Alternatively, it might be done by an agency operating under the authority of the Commander in Chief as part of the war powers, and you wouldn't even be able to challenge its legality.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:28 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The logical end of drone technology is the ability of the governments who use it - and/or certain individuals within them - to kill any person anywhere on earth with impunity, with any counter-attacks (against personnel who will then be solely "defensive/law enforcement", since the robots do the killing) being defined as terrorism
posted by crayz at 3:29 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


First, it is impossible with current technology to aim a firearm bullet from a drone.

US Army Test Flying Robot Sniper (from 2009)

For deadly force to be allowed in such a situation, you would have to have a pretty convoluted set of circumstances. Basically, a person would have to have a gun aimed at them by another party and a drone with a rifled weapon on board able to see the perpetrator, have a clear line of sight, and be able to safely shoot at the person.

In otherwords, not gonna happen.

What kind of make believe world do you live in where the powerful don't abuse their power?


I dont live in a make-believe world. I'm a civil-service employment lawyer who has focused on law enforcement cases. I've represented multiple officers in use of force cases. I live in the actual real world of police use of force cases. If you have actual, real-world experience from direct exposure to lethal force cases, i'd love to hear about it.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:09 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK Ironmouth, $20 says a drone cop quadcopter tazes a bro before November 6, 2021
posted by crayz at 4:11 PM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


OK Ironmouth, $20 says a drone cop quadcopter tazes a bro before November 6, 2021

Let's sweeten it to $200.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:13 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, $200 in 2021 nominal dollars
posted by crayz at 4:18 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth wrote: It is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to fire at a person who is not a danger to others.

Yes, but it might be done by accident - as happens every day. Alternatively, it might be done by an agency operating under the authority of the Commander in Chief as part of the war powers, and you wouldn't even be able to challenge its legality.


Incorrect. First--i do this for a living. There's a law called the Posse Comatis Act that expressly prohibits use of military as law enforcement in the US.

Second, on what basis do you say that a citizen could not challenge such an act? There's no basis in US law for such a claim in the US. In the US anyone--an undocumented worker, anyone could challenge such a claim on fourth amendment grounds. There exists no legal doctrine that says that a military act against a civilian on US soil is not reachable by civil suit. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 133 for an example of a military policeman sued by a civilian for a fourth amendment case.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:25 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Done.

However i will side bet $200 that the first persons killed by a drone in the US will be the result of an aviation accident of some kind. This is a real danger.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:29 PM on November 6, 2011


In the US anyone--an undocumented worker, anyone could challenge such a claim on fourth amendment grounds.

And the (federal) government lawyers would utter the magic phrase "national security," and the courts will roll over and dismiss the case.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:38 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Drone Passenger Plane!
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:03 PM on November 6, 2011


In the US anyone--an undocumented worker, anyone could challenge such a claim on fourth amendment grounds.

And the (federal) government lawyers would utter the magic phrase "national security," and the courts will roll over and dismiss the case.


Huh? You simply do not understand the law in this area. The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of military forces for policing.

seriously, just read the cases.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:22 PM on November 6, 2011


However i will side bet $200 that the first persons killed by a drone in the US will be the result of an aviation accident of some kind.

I would be quite surprised if that hasn't happened already, at least if you include things like the various QF's as drones.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:25 PM on November 6, 2011


Huh? You simply do not understand the law in this area.

Actually, I do, and judging by recent history, my take is correct. Lately, the federal government has been all too eager to claim that "national security" prevents the introduction of evidence crucial to the other side's case, and courts have been all too willing to roll over absent any real or compelling security interest.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:32 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's difficult to take a great deal of comfort in the rule of law in an era where the New York Times is suing the government over secret interpretations of the PATRIOT act that they will not reveal to the public.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:42 PM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Huh? You simply do not understand the law in this area.

Actually, I do, and judging by recent history, my take is correct. Lately, the federal government has been all too eager to claim that "national security" prevents the introduction of evidence crucial to the other side's case, and courts have been all too willing to roll over absent any real or compelling security interest.


Are you a barred US attorney? Are you aware of the facts behind the assertions of the state secrets privilege?

Not a one involves the use of a drone. Not one involves the use of a military aircraft or anything involving military issues at all. The doctrine has only been asserted in 27 cases. Bush did abuse the privilege, using the privilege 23 times. There would be no reason why asserting the privilege would occur in a case involving the use of a military aircraft to kill US civillans on US soil. Such use is per se illegal under 18 U.S.C. section 1385, which reads:
Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
if you have some actual information supporting your position, let me know. But you are grossly misinformed.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:56 PM on November 6, 2011


Ironmouth wrote: There's a law called the Posse Comatis Act that expressly prohibits use of military as law enforcement in the US.

Unless it's authorised by an act of Congress or the color of the US Constitution - the same sort of authority that lay behind the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki. It can be part of the War on Terror or it can be something apparently innocuous like the Insurrection Act.

Here's the law; I've bolded the significant bit.
18 U.S.C. § 1385. Use of Army and Air Force as posse comitatus

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:09 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the Posse Comitatus Act specifies the Army and Air Force, not the Navy or Marines. These are only included by regulation under 10 U.S.C. § 375:
The Secretary of Defense shall prescribe such regulations as may be necessary to ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel) under this chapter does not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.
So all it would take is for the Secretary of Defense to change the regulations and call in the Marines. But note that 10 U.S.C. § 375 doesn't mention the Coast Guard. That's under the Department of Homeland Security, which is why the Coast Guard can carry out law enforcement duties generally. But, I hear you ask, surely the Coast Guard couldn't carry out operations inland? Ah, I respond, look at its plentiful authority under 6 U.S.C. § 468. I bolded the really interesting bit:
(2) Homeland security missions
The term “homeland security missions” means the following missions of the Coast Guard:
(A) Ports, waterways and coastal security.
(B) Drug interdiction.
(C) Migrant interdiction.
(D) Defense readiness.
(E) Other law enforcement.
So it looks as though the Coast Guard can carry out inland law enforcement without even a change in regulations!

My apologies for going on at length, but I thought you'd enjoy learning it - after all, you do this for a living!
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:25 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth wrote: There's a law called the Posse Comatis Act that expressly prohibits use of military as law enforcement in the US.

Unless it's authorised by an act of Congress or the color of the US Constitution - the same sort of authority that lay behind the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki. It can be part of the War on Terror or it can be something apparently innocuous like the Insurrection Act.

Here's the law; I've bolded the significant bit.
18 U.S.C. § 1385. Use of Army and Air Force as posse comitatus

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.


here's the hypo:

I'll give it five to ten years before a law enforcement drone kills an American citizen on American soil2, while being operated by agents located inTh another state.

al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen.

Constitutional rights do not even apply to all persons in areas controlled by the United States. See Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922) (no constitutional jury trial guarantee even in Puerto Rico, a US controlled territory. and the Insular Cases.

In fact, only one case has ever been heard on extraterritorial application of the fourth amendment, and it did not cover the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment, which is the seizure part. In re Terrorist Bombings, US Embassies, E. Africa, 552 F.3d 157 (2nd Cir., 2008). No case has ever reached the question of extraterritorial seizure (which the killing of al-Awlaki is under the law. If you have better cites. let's see them.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:32 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Joe, there's no provision that says a US citizen on US soil does not have access to the courts if he or she is seized (in this case hit by a missile) by military personnel. That's the point. Where are you getting that?

hello Padilla. December 18, 2003, the Second Circuit found that the President has no inherent authority as commander in chief to seize or hold American citizens without a right to trial.

This is basic stuff here.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:37 PM on November 6, 2011


Are you a barred US attorney?

Appeals to authority? I'd expected better. The facts speak for themselves. Pontificating about how the law should be enforced (and there, we probably agree) is, sadly, not as relevant as it should be.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:19 PM on November 6, 2011


Incorrect. First--i do this for a living. There's a law called the Posse Comatis Act that expressly prohibits use of military as law enforcement in the US.

Dude! How many laws, treaties, agreements, and constitutional rights do your Feds need to break before you stop believing fairy tales?! How many more US citizens need to be killed by the Feds for you to start suspecting you've been believing things that are simply not true.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:24 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


What kind of make believe world do you live in where the powerful don't abuse their power?

A courtroom in the United States.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:00 PM on November 6, 2011


Look, we can start from the simple idea that it would be illegal to kill an American with a drone, but we have already seen lawyers with fetishes for authoritarianism can find a way to say it is in fact legal. They would do the same if the Al Qaeda terrorist (he will be one, but there won't be any trial) was in the US instead, the law says what the people with guns and money say it says.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:06 PM on November 6, 2011


I'm a civil-service employment lawyer who has focused on law enforcement cases. I've represented multiple officers in use of force cases. I live in the actual real world of police use of force cases. If you have actual, real-world experience from direct exposure to lethal force cases, i'd love to hear about it.

Let's take a few steps back. First, you claimed that "it is impossible with current technology to aim a firearm bullet from a drone." Despite the fact that the US military has been testing working units since 2009. But that's just your style, I guess: you speak before you gather any facts on the matter.

According to you, the hypothetical is this:
I'll give it five to ten years before a law enforcement drone kills an American citizen on American soil, while being operated by agents located in another state
Now you've claimed that that the Posse Comitatus Act means that this could never happen. In your words:
There's a law called the Posse Comatis Act that expressly prohibits use of military as law enforcement in the US.
With my awesome research powers, I reached all the way into the second sentence of the first paragraph on the WikiPedia entry for Posse Comitatus, which states:
Its intent [of Posse Comitatus] (in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807) was to limit the powers of local governments and law enforcement agencies from using federal military personnel to enforce the laws of the land. Contrary to popular belief, the Act does not prohibit members of the Army from exercising nominally state law enforcement, police, or peace officer powers that maintain "law and order"; it simply requires that any orders to do so must originate with the United States Constitution or Act of Congress.
So, not only are you completely and utterly wrong, but there have already been cases where the military has killed US citizens during police action. From Major General (Ret.) James D. Delk during the 1992 LA Riots:
The second shooting incident turned out to be by far the most important. A gang member had taunted Guardsmen from the division's support command, telling them he was coming back to kill them that night. This was a rather common threat, but this man was not kidding. He returned in his car after curfew and attempted to run them down. They jumped out of the way, but were not fast enough. One Guardsman was hit, but not seriously. The gang member drove off for a while before returning for his second attempt. When he refused to stop, the Guardsmen fired about 10 rounds at his tires in an attempt to stop him. When it was clear he was determined to run Guardsmen down, they finally used deadly force and killed him with one bullet in the. shoulder and two in the head.
I have no idea how someone with case law experience in this area — if you in fact have it — is so colossally misinformed. But I'm starting to think that I could make a good living as a lawyer, if you're representative of the competition.
posted by deanklear at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


joannemullen writes "friendly fire incidents - and civilian casualties - have been greatly reduced through better technology and are notable now because of their rarity"

What absolute nonsensical horseshit.
posted by bardic at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kind of wonder when the first bad guy is going to realize how damned easy it would be to buy quadcopter kit off eBay, set it up with an Internet uplink via cell towers, and strap some explosives on and kamikaze into someone or something he wants blown to bits. Frankly, I can't really figure out why nobody has done it yet.
posted by floam at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2011


Floam, there was a scare about that happening here in DC lately.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:34 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Er, I guess my premise was off.
posted by floam at 8:35 PM on November 6, 2011


For what it's worth, it seems really unlikely that an RC device could actually carry enough payload to do serious damage as an explosive, but I suppose if you flew it into the middle of the next inauguration or some similar large crowd and had a shrapnel-based device you could fulfill the mandate of terror.

Of course, a drone could, but a drone like the Predator is like a speedboat compared to the quadcopter/RC plane's canoe.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:41 PM on November 6, 2011


First, it is impossible with current technology to aim a firearm bullet from a drone. I really don't see how it would be possible.

This argument comes up all the time when dealing with encroaching police state technologies and powers. We didn't have the capability for real-time facial recognition, so CCTVs and video cameras weren't a problem. Technology is continually advancing, so we must be careful what powers we give to the state.

Domestic drones will not only fire traditional weapons like bullets, missles and grenades. Weapons manufacturers will invent new weapons, both lethal and non-lethal, for use in police drones. Sticky nets, sonic weapons, aerosol and streaming liquid delivery devices. It will happen.

Huh? You simply do not understand the law in this area. The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of military forces for policing.

I may not understand the law, but I understand the reality. Like what happened to Scott Olsen. What difference does the "military forces" distinction make if we outfit our entire police force with military weapons and tactics?
posted by formless at 8:44 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, a drone mounted with one of those area-denial sonic weapons actually kind of scares me more than one mounted with a sniper rifle.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:48 PM on November 6, 2011


That's a good point. It would be difficult to do a ton of damage. I was thinking more along the lines of someone just strapping a grenade or something with a similar yield and trying to kill an individual and get away with it when they're nowhere near the crime scene. I fear more what the government would do in response to such a thing than murderers having a novel way to do something they'd be doing anyways.
posted by floam at 8:49 PM on November 6, 2011


Or, you could stick a pistol on a quadcopter, fixed pointing in one direction, set to shoot where the camera is pointing, and fly it up to someones window.
posted by floam at 8:53 PM on November 6, 2011


I'd go with a crossbow, personally. Totally silent. Q division is going to be busy!
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:55 PM on November 6, 2011


Sorry about this tangent. I think really we live in a much safer society than people give it credit for. I mean, anybody can get a sniper rifle and kill someone from real far away. Doesn't really happen all that often.
posted by floam at 8:56 PM on November 6, 2011


I feel like US Troops that have died overseas in the past 10 years have mostly been due to friendly fire than opposing forces. Does anyone have any statistics on this?
posted by austinurbani at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2011


Is it just me or does Ironmouth live on another planet? Specifically ones where cops follow the letter of the law?

I mean it's in the news this week that NYPD detectives were planting drugs on innocent people in order to make arrest quotas. By Ironmouth's logic this could never happen, because planting drugs on people is illegal.

If the police ever do get drones with lethal capabilities, and someone is killed by them you might be able to construct a legal argument that what the police were doing at the time was illegal, but that wouldn't have prevented it from happening.

Number 2, the idea that drones can't fire precisely enough is completely ridiculous for anyone who knows anything about computers and robotics. The predator tech is actually decades out of date. It would be easy to have a touch-screen style interface, where you touch an object in the video and then the machine vision systems track that object, aim the gun, and shoot. You could also easily program the system to pick out and shoot at individual people as well. That stuff is not difficult.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Who needs the military deployed within the US borders when the militarisation of the police is well underway? How many police departments have SWAT teams? How many need them?
posted by PenDevil at 11:18 PM on November 6, 2011


Ernst Jünger warned that as the distance between soldier and war increased, military discipline will decrease. Eventually, as he saw it, we will wage wars without discipline, without control. We will war, uncontrolled. We will war out of control.

An interesting argument, but does it ring true?


Caution dictates that we pay attention to such warnings, but this one doesn't ring true. The increased distance is a result of the addition of expensive technology, and such assets come with increased command and control structures, which usually lead to more discipline, not less.

This is not to argue that a disciplined war is more moral than an undisciplined war, nor that it may be less prone to friendly fire or civilian deaths. Those are more function of the orders given, not the discipline of those tasked with executing them.
posted by kgander at 5:06 AM on November 7, 2011


There isn't any reason to discuss the Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S.C. section 1385, etc. guys because law enforcement UAVs are not military UAVs by definition, even if they were developed by the same defense contractor. A police drone could legally use any weapon that police use in an identical situation, obviously.

There is a theoretical Asimovian limitation that drones cannot protect themselves, i.e. waiving a handgun at a drone is not an identical situation to waiving one at a police officer, instead it more resembles waiving one at a sniper. In practice, you'll always have human officers on the scene too though, freeing the drone may employ deadly force to 'protect' them.

I'm personally intrigued by how police UAV pilots need not be subject to the jurisdiction in which they act. You could easily imagine DEA drones being piloted from some central location. In fact, state law enforcement might outsource drone operations to a subcontractor, perhaps due to federal subsidies.

There was some principle in the USSR that soldiers never served in their home town because they might be asked to brutally put down protests. Similarly, Chinese authorities brought the 27th and 38th hundreds of kilometers from Shijiazhuang and Baoding respectively when they ordered the massacre of the Tiananmen Square protesters.

Isn't that precisely your discipline? In fact, Jünger is saying our leaders become undisciplined, and wage war out of control, precisely because the grunts become more pliant once they're separated from consequences. Isn't that exactly the Rumsfeld doctrine?

There were numerous stories about middle eastern countries wishing to acquire predator drones, almost certainly for domestic 'law' enforcement too. Anyone think they'd employ U.S. military subcontractors if the U.S. refused outright sales? Bahrain resolved it's protest problems by inviting in Saudi Arabian forces after all. Europeans should worry about drone policing too which nations might outsourcer across cultural boundaries or worse to American cops.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:35 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You could also easily program the system to pick out and shoot at individual people as well. That stuff is not difficult.

Exactly this. The system can automatically calculate recoil and fall rate, too, much better than a human could hope to do. Functionally this means a drone-fired bullet could probably work at even greater range than a human sniper.
posted by odinsdream at 6:41 AM on November 7, 2011


I'm sure they'll eventually put some sort of weaponry into these drones - but I imagine guns will take a little longer, simply because they're heavy and they have recoil.

And that really isn't very imaginative at all.

Consider, for example, the following idea. There is a technology called acoustic heterodyning - the idea is quite simple, you have two tiny, low-power speakers that send out megahertz audio signals in a tight, directional beam - they are inaudible to humans, except at the point where the two beams cross, when you hear the difference between these two signals, upon which you have encoded some sort of audio signal.

The effect is that if you point two quarter-sized speakers in just the right direction and put just a couple of watts through them you can yell in someone's ear from quite far away.

And it doesn't have to be that accurate, you just have to hit their head. And unlike a bullet, this is easy to do because you don't have to account for windage nor gravity, the sound travels in a perfectly straight line.

There's absolutely no reason you couldn't put that into a model-airplane sized drone that you could mass-produce for $200 and sell for $20K and up to law-enforcement (with the software, which is a significant investment).

This could be an astonishingly powerful tool for crowd control. Imagine dozens of these things unleashed over the head of demonstrators, turned to deafening volume... "DISPERSE!"

Or with facial recognition: "lupus_yonderboy, number 129 68 3819, if you do not disperse within 60 seconds we will issue a warrant for your arrest under the following charges..."

Or "flashbangs" - something that can emit a massive flash of light and put people out of commission at night for several minutes. No reason you couldn't put that on the previous plane.

Aerosols. Tranquilizing darts.

And you must understand that the inverse square/cube ratio favors you as you make these things smaller and smaller - as long as you can fit the smarts in. If you can make the plane half as big, you use one eighth as much material to make it, and use less than one eighth as much fuel - if you make your plane small enough, you can use breezes and thermals and not use any fuel at all.

So there's no reason the tranquilizing dart couldn't be the drone! Think of thousands of tiny drones the size of a small lawn dart with a hypodermic needle nose. How much would they cost once you had the technology down to put smarts in everything? Not so much more than the cost of a regular hypodermic needle...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if it isn't clear, I'm utterly and completely against these evil things. At this point it's not even worth talking to people who like this sort of militaristic crap...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2011


It is always always worth talking to people.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:09 AM on November 7, 2011


Name me one shoot em up computer game that has the hero uh talking to people?
posted by infini at 11:53 AM on November 7, 2011


The story of 16-year-old Pakistani Tariq Aziz offers a little perspective on the effectiveness of drone strikes. There are hundreds more like him, too.

A group of Pakistanis met in Islamabad late last month to discuss the impact of U.S. drone strikes in their communities. One of the attendees was a 16-year-old boy named Tariq Aziz, who had volunteered to learn photography to begin documenting drone strikes near his home. Within 72 hours of the meeting, Aziz was killed in a U.S. drone strike. His 12-year-old cousin was also killed in the Oct. 31 attack. "People were aware of the threat to them. Yet they volunteered—Tariq, in particular, because he, at his age in that remote community, was familiar with computers, was excited about the idea of being able to document the civilian casualties," says reporter Pratap Chatterjee, who met Aziz days before he was killed. As part of a larger investigation on the CIA-led U.S. covert drone war, Chatterjee and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed at least 392 civilians, including 175 children. "I question as to whether the CIA is really attempting to identify people before they kill them," he says. "It would have been so easy for the CIA, the ISI, to come question these kids, to have taken them aside, even put them in jail or interrogated them... But instead they chose to kill them."
posted by homunculus at 1:28 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What difference does the "military forces" distinction make if we outfit our entire police force with military weapons and tactics?

This is my take as well. Discussions of military acting as law enforcement on American soil, while interesting, are mostly irrelevant here, because much like concussion grenades, night vision, M4s and APCs, the local police are using more and more inventory taken from the armed forces.

Posse Comitatus won't apply simply because it's not the Military, but local law enforcement agents merely using all the exact same tools (but, if history is any kind of predictor, without the same level of training or restraint.)
posted by quin at 1:44 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I retain the option that said agents might be civilian subcontractors, not simply federal agents.

OCP is banking on this with their new ED-209 program.
posted by JHarris at 1:48 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What difference does the "military forces" distinction make if we outfit our entire police force with military weapons and tactics?

This is my take as well. Discussions of military acting as law enforcement on American soil, while interesting, are mostly irrelevant here, because much like concussion grenades, night vision, M4s and APCs, the local police are using more and more inventory taken from the armed forces.

Posse Comitatus won't apply simply because it's not the Military, but local law enforcement agents merely using all the exact same tools (but, if history is any kind of predictor, without the same level of training or restraint.)


Back up--

1. It was stated that someone thought that a law enforcement drone would kill someone in one US state while firing on someone in another state.
2. I pointed out that it was highly unlikely due to (a) the limited circumstances in which deadly force is allowed to be used are not likely to be condusive to drones, which fire missiles. These would violate everyone's standards; and (b) you can't aim a firearm from a moving drone and expect to hit from the distances drones engage from.
3. A person from Australia said the US would use the military to shoot drones and argued that US citizens would have no rights to challenge it.
4. I pointed out that generally, the US Air Force may not be ordered by the President to conduct law enforcement arrests without congress literally voting for it. I also pointed out that citizens would still have their fourth amendment rights.
5. Reference was made to a situation overseas, which I pointed out was not the hypo presented and where there is no ruling saying that seizure of a US citizen abroad requires a warrant. I continued to point out that citizens arrested by military police on US bases in America have full rights so that there'd be no way the government would be able to do what was said without being challenged.

So are you continuing to argue that US police forces would somehow be authorized under US law to fire a FUCKING HELLFIRE MISSILE from 8 MILES AWAY and KILL AN AMERICAN?

NOT going to happen.

In fact, state law enforcement might outsource drone operations to a subcontractor, perhaps due to federal subsidies.

On what planet? A subcontractor may not undertake law enforcement actions, which may only be undertaken by government employed, sworn law enforcement actions. If a subcontractor fired a weapon at anyone, they would be guilty of murder unless they were acting in self-defense. Furthermore, they would likely lack qualified immunity.

Seriously, you guys are way too black helo for me. 9/11 Controlled Demolition!
posted by Ironmouth at 2:48 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Police in the US do things which aren't not authorized under US law all the time. Sure, they may have to face subsequent charges and such, but they often get off due to odd technicalities which would never appear if it were a civilian charged with the same thing.

I don't think anyone is saying that the cops would do such a thing and have it sanctioned (although given the state of things these days, I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being legalized after the fact)... But arguing that things won't happen simply because they are not authorized under US law pretty much ignores a good portion of the experience with police forces in the US in the past. They do what they want, and if there are consequences, they try their hardest to justify it as being legal anyway.
posted by hippybear at 2:59 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth wrote: Seriously, you guys are way too black helo for me. 9/11 Controlled Demolition!

Apparently drones carrying weapons are available and are being sold to US police forces as we speak.
“The aircraft has the capability to have a number of different systems on board. Mostly, for law enforcement, we focus on what we call less lethal systems,” he said, including Tazers that can send a jolt to a criminal on the ground or a gun that fires bean bags known as a “stun baton.”

“You have a stun baton where you can actually engage somebody at altitude with the aircraft. A stun baton would essentially disable a suspect,” he said.
The "mostly" appears to be a way of eliding the fact that the spec sheet for the MK III model they bought can be
weaponized with either 40mm, 37mm grenade launcher or 12 gauge shotgun with laser designator (military/LE use only.)
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:01 PM on November 7, 2011


12 gauge shotgun with laser designator (military/LE use only.)

LE - law enforcement?

Yeah, the cops will NEVER be using this.
posted by hippybear at 4:06 PM on November 7, 2011


Ain't nobody here talking about Hellfire missiles except you, Ironmouth, nobody buys your straw man.

On what planet? A subcontractor may not undertake law enforcement actions, which may only be undertaken by government employed, sworn law enforcement actions.

Umm, security guards are frequently armed, like oh BART's guards. I'll grant you that Officer Mehserle got time served though, way worse than what any real cop might get for manslaughter.

Can you explain the legal theory separating use-of-deadly-force for police and civilians? Imagine I'm out legally hunting, hiding waiting for my deer, when some heavily armed thugs drive up, drag a female police officer from the car, make her dig her own grave, and start torturing her to death. I can reasonably kill the thugs from my vantage point, but cannot reasonably confront them without almost ensuring my own demise. Am I permitted to kill thugs? I'm fairly confident you'll answer yes, after which point I'm thinking law enforcement could finagle the legal justification for subcontractors participating in police raid. If not, give em' a two week course and deputize em', just count their piloting skills towards all the remaining police training.

posted by jeffburdges at 4:47 PM on November 7, 2011


Ironmouth wrote: Seriously, you guys are way too black helo for me. 9/11 Controlled Demolition!

Apparently drones carrying weapons are available and are being sold to US police forces as we speak.
“The aircraft has the capability to have a number of different systems on board. Mostly, for law enforcement, we focus on what we call less lethal systems,” he said, including Tazers that can send a jolt to a criminal on the ground or a gun that fires bean bags known as a “stun baton.”

“You have a stun baton where you can actually engage somebody at altitude with the aircraft. A stun baton would essentially disable a suspect,” he said.
The "mostly" appears to be a way of eliding the fact that the spec sheet for the MK III model they bought can be
weaponized with either 40mm, 37mm grenade launcher or 12 gauge shotgun with laser designator (military/LE use only.)


Seriously, they are getting sold a bill of fucking goods if they think one of those operators is going to be able to target anyone with a taser or shotgun. Firing from aircraft is simply stupid.

But there isn't going to be one person in one state firing into another state. The only weaponry possible of doing that are the hellfires, which have a range of 8 miles. Its not a weapon for civilian law enforcement use.

They sure as hell are going to get the drones in accidents though--you watch.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 PM on November 7, 2011


Ain't nobody here talking about Hellfire missiles except you, Ironmouth, nobody buys your straw man.

The original hypo was cops in one state accidentally firing on someone else in another state. Its not a straw man. I didn't come up with the scenario, which I agree is completely ridiculous.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:07 PM on November 7, 2011


Seriously, they are getting sold a bill of fucking goods if they think one of those operators is going to be able to target anyone with a taser or shotgun. Firing from aircraft is simply stupid.

No human is going to need to do the targeting. Software is going to do that for them. They will point a reticule at the target and click Fire. The software and hardware will make the appropriate corrections necessary for the specific weapon and all environmental factors.

All of this is a solved problem - not some super sci-fi scenario. High school kids could probably put together a working system with a few arduinos.
posted by odinsdream at 6:19 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Umm, security guards are frequently armed, like oh BART's guards. I'll grant you that Officer Mehserle got time served though, way worse than what any real cop might get for manslaughter.

The incident in question involved the shooting of a person by a sworn police officer. BART has a police force.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:27 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, they are getting sold a bill of fucking goods if they think one of those operators is going to be able to target anyone with a taser or shotgun. Firing from aircraft is simply stupid.

No human is going to need to do the targeting. Software is going to do that for them. They will point a reticule at the target and click Fire. The software and hardware will make the appropriate corrections necessary for the specific weapon and all environmental factors.

All of this is a solved problem - not some super sci-fi scenario. High school kids could probably put together a working system with a few arduinos.


I don't think the systems are anywhere near as accurate as you claim. How are they aiming a shotgun or taser?

You do understand that the military drones paint a target with a laser designator and then a tv camera in the missile then tracks the vehicle. They don't fire at individuals. A laser designator won't do shit for a bullet from several hundred feet unless the target is just standing still.

Listen, its fantasy to think that a drone is going to be operated in one state and fire a rifle into another state and kill someone. this was the hypo.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:29 PM on November 7, 2011


But there isn't going to be one person in one state firing into another state. The only weaponry possible of doing that are the hellfires, which have a range of 8 miles.

Wait, what?

Drones are capable of being operated from a great distance, basically other countries even the other side of the globe.

This isn't about the range of the weapons. It's about the remote-control range of the vehicles carrying the weapons. Who cares if a weapon has a range of 100 meters if you're able to sit 100 miles away in a dark room guiding a robot which is carrying that weapon to within 100 meters of its intended target?

Not saying the cops will be doing this intentionally, or right away, or even legally. But the scenarios where it could take place are pretty easy to imagine without getting all sci-fi in my imaginings.
posted by hippybear at 6:30 PM on November 7, 2011


What Hippybear said. Also, you seem to think that "drones" are necessarily airplane-like things. If you look at my link, the model described there is a miniature helicopter. It can fly up to offenders suspects bad guys and shoot them from a few feet away with a taser or a shotgun.

One remarkable thing is that it was bought with a $300,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security. I wish someone would give me grants to play with things like this.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:51 PM on November 7, 2011


1. It was stated that someone thought that a law enforcement drone would kill someone in one US state while firing on someone in another state.

In your own words (again):
here's the hypo:

I'll give it five to ten years before a law enforcement drone kills an American citizen on American soil, while being operated by agents located in another state.

al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen.
It wasn't even a nice try at changing the hypothetical. It was ugly and obvious.

2. I pointed out that it was highly unlikely due to (a) the limited circumstances in which deadly force is allowed to be used are not likely to be condusive to drones, which fire missiles. These would violate everyone's standards; and (b) you can't aim a firearm from a moving drone and expect to hit from the distances drones engage from.

You are wrong. Let me quote you an extended excerpt from a 2.5 year old Wired article:
Stopping the pirates of Somalia hasn’t been easy. But when the navies of the world have repelled or killed the hijackers, it’s often involved three elements: helicopters, drones and trained snipers. The U.S. Army is working on a weapon which combines all three...

The system is intended for the urban battlefield — an eye in the sky that can stare down concrete canyons, and blink out targets with extreme precision. Attempting to return fire against the ARSS is liable to be a near-suicidal act: ARSS is described as being able to fire seven to 10 aimed shots per minute, and it’s unlikely to miss...

The stabilized turret could be fitted to a variety of other vehicles — including a a small blimp, or a fixed-wing unmanned plane, like the Predator.
The range in the hundreds of yards is no issue. They are designed for urban warfare, and could easily be operated by a federal agent in another state under the pretense of "restoring order" or, what's more likely, as part of a narcotics operation. The DEA kills innocent people all of the time. I know this may shock you, as they aren't legally allowed to, but word on the street is that sometimes people jaywalk and litter too. (You didn't hear it from me.)

4. I pointed out that generally, the US Air Force may not be ordered by the President to conduct law enforcement arrests without congress literally voting for it.

No, you said:
There's a law called the Posse Comatis Act that expressly prohibits use of military as law enforcement in the US.
And you also said
Huh? You simply do not understand the law in this area. The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of military forces for policing.
To put it bluntly, you were wrong abou everything you had to say about drones, and your position on Posse Comitatus is, at best, incoherent. The drones already exist. The US military has already killed US citizens during police action on US soil. What shall prevent the two from becoming true at once, besides the fantasies inside of your head?

Seriously, you guys are way too black helo for me. 9/11 Controlled Demolition!

Well, it's not any more pathetic than the rest of your arguments. It's just a little more pitiable.
posted by deanklear at 7:04 PM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think the systems are anywhere near as accurate as you claim. How are they aiming a shotgun or taser?

This video is a homebrew stabilized system for a camera, with servo control. That's only using physical gyroscopes, nothing fancy at all, not expensive at all. You can see that there's very good stabilization even with very extreme vehicle movement. That's made in a basement with off-the-shelf spare parts.

Here's a more professional model. Note that the payload capacity could easily accommodate a Taser. I'm sure you understand that remotely triggering a Taser is not a problem. As you can see, it's very simple to fly right up to the back of a particular protester criminal mastermind and hover there.

What about this are you still considering fantasy?
posted by odinsdream at 8:04 PM on November 7, 2011


Ironmouth,

You're a lawyer (presumably), not a technologist. Please stop declaring what drone-mounted weapon systems can and can't do.

A drone can get itself within range for a purely ballistic weapon (i.e. a bullet) to be targeted and fired, with enough accuracy to kill.
posted by effugas at 9:50 PM on November 7, 2011


We've been making jokes about every fly that buzzes overhead over here in Nairobi - can I call it black humour though?
posted by infini at 9:58 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think the systems are anywhere near as accurate as you claim. How are they aiming a shotgun or taser?

Listen, its fantasy to think that a drone is going to be operated in one state and fire a rifle into another state and kill someone. this was the hypo.
First of all, how the hell would you know anything about what is and isn't state of the art? Second of all the original idea was the operator would be in another state, but the drone would be only be few tens of meters away. Claiming that people were talking about firing a rifle from another state is just illiterate.
posted by delmoi at 10:45 PM on November 7, 2011


Isn't that precisely your discipline? In fact, Jünger is saying our leaders become undisciplined, and wage war out of control, precisely because the grunts become more pliant once they're separated from consequences. Isn't that exactly the Rumsfeld doctrine?

Leaders becoming undisciplined and waging war out of control is the story of humanity, regardless of technology. And separating grunts from consequences is a trend that goes waaaay back. If that was Rumsfeld Doctrine, we're once again reminded that he wasn't as brilliant as he made himself out to be.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:27 PM on November 7, 2011


Darpa Looks to Protect Drones From Hack Attacks
posted by homunculus at 12:20 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Army Tests Flying Robo-Sniper

One shot, one kill, zero pilot. That's the goal of the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System, a new unmanned helicopter that's controlled with an adapted Xbox 360 controller.

I think the issue of whether or not it is feasible to aim weapons from airborne platforms is not up for debate. These results were all taken from the first page of the Google results for the phrase "helicopter sniper."

Additionally, there is HITRON, a helicopter-deployed sniper used by the US Coast Guard to disable the engines of boats at sea.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:20 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, I gotta say that dropping tablets instead from that helicopter will have far fewer casualties
posted by infini at 11:27 AM on November 8, 2011


Echoes from a Distant Battlefield: When First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom was killed by Taliban fighters in 2008, while attempting a heroic rescue in a perilously isolated outpost, his war was over. His father’s war, to hold the U.S. Army accountable for Brostrom’s death, had just begun. And Lieutenant Colonel William Ostlund’s war—to defend his own record as commander—was yet to come. With three perspectives on the most scrutinized engagement of the Afghanistan conflict, one that shook the military to its foundations, Mark Bowden learns the true tragedy of the Battle of Wanat.
posted by homunculus at 10:41 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It’s a Drone’s World. We Just Live in It
posted by homunculus at 9:02 PM on November 28, 2011


What Crisis? U.S. Drones, Jets Still Fly Over Pakistan
posted by homunculus at 9:04 PM on November 28, 2011


The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of military forces for policing.

Battlefield America: U.S. Citizens Face Indefinite Military Detention in Defense Bill Before Senate
posted by homunculus at 9:23 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hero Marine Sues Defense Giant After Sniper Scope Fight
posted by homunculus at 9:11 PM on November 29, 2011


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