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Geo Cell: ‘We Track ’Em, You Whack ’Em.’
February 10, 2014 5:53 AM   Subscribe

"The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people." - Scahill and Greenwald @ The Intercept

The Intercept by First Look Media opened today with new photos of the NSA, NRO, and NGA by Trevor Paglen and the above piece by Scahill and Greenwald.
posted by jeffburdges (77 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Unreliable? Not according to President Obama's math:

Those who die as collateral damage "will haunt us for as long as we live," the president said, but he emphasized that the targeted individuals aim to exact indiscriminate violence, "and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes."

Now watch this drive.
posted by three blind mice at 6:03 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


One of the most interesting technological bits of the article is that they now host a pico- or femto-cellular network on the drone itself. So the target phone connects to the drone and then the target phone is destroyed physically.

Great bit of journalism.
posted by fake at 6:08 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Yes, they've based this drone strike by metadata piece on an anonymous whistleblower who operates drone for JSOC, former drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant, and Snowden documents, quite impressive. The NSA's network payload gets used for scanning local networks as well.

And the drone's targets figured all this out without any whistleblowers, probably just a couple obviously innocent locations and people got blown up when someone loaned or forgot their phone, not such a leap after several innocent people die.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:22 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Coming soon to a games store near you: Phone Call of Duty.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:37 AM on February 10 [18 favorites]


So the target phone connects to the drone and then the target phone is destroyed physically.

Perhaps we need to rename the IMSI catcher to IMSI thrower?
posted by DreamerFi at 6:39 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Now watch this drive.

To be fair, that's a much more nuanced explanation than W ever could have come up with. Wrong, of course. Horribly, scarily wrong. But nuanced.
posted by Inkoate at 6:46 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Wondering what happened to the "endless war" bumper stickers that were popular from 2004 to 2008.
posted by steinsaltz at 6:48 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.”

As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike.


This particular line of criticism shouldn't have been included to make this argument; as it implies that the mis-targeted strikes are hitting a different combatant, rather than non-combatants.

This gets to the meat of it:

Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

I have no doubt this is happening. However, in the context of that particular paragraph, I can't tell if that's a statement by the former JSOC drone operator, or the reporters.

A recent study conducted by a U.S. military adviser found that, during a single year in Afghanistan – where the majority of drone strikes have taken place – unmanned vehicles were 10 times more likely than conventional aircraft to cause civilian casualties.

I would have really liked to see more on this. Is there really a causation here? What is "conventional aircraft" here: helicopters and bombers? If so, they have very different scenarios where they can be used. What percentage of drone strikes could be replaced by the use of "conventional" aircraft?
posted by spaltavian at 7:00 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I'm much more opposed to the NSA's automated surveillance than the average person, but I don't quite get why this is surprising.

This is the purpose, the point of the automated surveillance, is to make machine analysis possible, to find links and correlations that humans would miss or that would be too expensive to find with humans. This was always the goal, the people defending the practices have more-or-less said as much already. If you've got an automatic system for finding troublemakers and a program of troublemaker assassinations set up, of course you're going to plug them in to each other; what other point would there be in having them?

And predictably, the multi billion dollar spy network's ability to find actual dangerous people (but not Joe and Jane activist citizens) is now being hampered by dirt cheap disposable phones and similar tactics. It's as if the news has turned into a giant game of I-told-you-so.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:00 AM on February 10


I'm much more opposed to the NSA's automated surveillance than the average person, but I don't quite get why this is surprising.

Nothing the NSA does is surprising. If anything, the steady barrage of realizations that, "Oh, so they really are doing that crazy shit that lunatic was raving about," is just tiresome. (Keep 'em coming, though, Ed.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:07 AM on February 10


To be fair, that's a much more nuanced explanation than W ever could have come up with. Wrong, of course. Horribly, scarily wrong. But nuanced.

Or any explanation at all. 'You are either with us or against us'
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:07 AM on February 10


I would have really liked to see more on this.

Guardian: Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research group with close ties to the US military, studied air strikes in Afghanistan from mid-2010 to mid-2011, using classified military data on the strikes and the civilian casualties they caused. Lewis told the Guardian he found that the missile strikes conducted by remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones, were 10 times more deadly to Afghan civilians than those performed by fighter jets.
-
"These findings show us that it's not about the technology, it's about how the technology is used," said Holewinski. "Drones aren't magically better at avoiding civilians than fighter jets. When pilots flying jets were given clear directives and training on civilian protection, they were able to lower civilian casualty rates."

posted by Drinky Die at 7:11 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


But you know, what can training do if all you are doing is blowing up a SIM card?
posted by Drinky Die at 7:14 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


This is the purpose, the point of the automated surveillance, is to make machine analysis possible,

In some sense I feel like you could write essentially the same headline with the exact opposite content, e.g., "CIA is using unreliable informants, rather than electronic surveillance, to locate targets for drone strikes", and still get basically the same reaction amongst the public since the real issue here is the existence of "drone strikes". The specific methods are nice to know, but it's not like anyone's going to change their mind and say "Oh they're targeting using method X, now I'm totally on board with drone strikes" or "Targeting based on X is an outrage, but targeting based on Y is 100% ok".
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:17 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


It's as if the news has turned into a giant game of I-told-you-so.

Well, they're supposed to tell us so.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:17 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


At the end:

Obama once reportedly told his aides that it “turns out I’m really good at killing people.”

The president added, “Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

posted by bukvich at 7:24 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


One of the most interesting technological bits of the article is that they now host a pico- or femto-cellular network on the drone itself. So the target phone connects to the drone and then the target phone is destroyed physically.

So, when your phone all-of-a-sudden goes from one bar to five bars, duck?
posted by notyou at 7:43 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


still get basically the same reaction amongst the public since the real issue here is the existence of "drone strikes"

I think amongst most of the public, as long as they're still hitting brown people, they could care less how often they're wrong.
posted by empath at 7:46 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Remote operated drones get to act as virtual airborne cell towers but I'm still not supposed to use a kindle during takeoff.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:49 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


The real dystopian nightmare is not a surveillance state that knows everything. The nightmare is a surveillance state that just thinks it knows everything and acts accordingly.
posted by straight at 7:50 AM on February 10 [13 favorites]


This dystopia gets more dystopian all the time.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:50 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


On the bright side, Glenn's back.
posted by Trochanter at 7:53 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


But his father was killed before Abdulrahman could locate him. Abdulrahman was then killed in a separate strike two weeks later as he ate dinner with his teenage cousin and some friends. The White House has never explained the strike.

Protecting my well-being should not require the US government to kill American teenagers without a trial or explanation. I'm really struggling to know what else to say right now.

I think there are two competing narratives that attempt to explain how my country got to the place it is today. The Republican Party argues, in essence, that America suffered a mass outbreak of sloth, and that all of a sudden there were too many moochers relying on too much government in order to get by. The alternative narrative, from the left, is that we got really scared, and started doing stupid things to feel safe. That's the narrative from the left, not the Democratic Party. I don't think the Democrats really have a narrative.

Anyway. I don't think the right-wing narrative is very credible, and stuff like this lends credence to its alternative.
posted by compartment at 8:04 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence..."

"A former U.S. Army platoon leader, Mayfield was now an attorney specializing in child custody, divorce and immigration law in Portland, Ore...Certain details of the attorney’s life convinced the agents that they had their man...The only reason Mayfield is a free man today is that the Spanish police repeatedly told the FBI that the print recovered from the bag of detonators didn’t match Mayfield’s fingerprints."

Welcome to the future of law enforcement.
posted by klarck at 8:15 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


Our President issued some new guidelines last year limiting drone strikes; he's already looking for ways around them in order to kill another American citizen.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:10 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Looks like the link's fudged?
posted by stinkfoot at 9:17 AM on February 10


The US military wouldn't have to do this if those damned evil doer savages would play fair and only use one cell phone and keep it on their person at all times. They're not playing by the rules, so the US military has been forced to use all means available.

(I'm guessing there are many people who actually believe this sick line of reasoning. And they'll wonder why we'll have blow back effects for the next few decades.)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:18 AM on February 10


You cannot conduct a war without innocent people being killed.

Is this thread just about the ratio not being good, or is it anti-war? If the former, then was is an acceptable ratio or reason, and why isn't Obama's cold calculus right? If the latter, then I think it isn't about whether or not a drone did it.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:23 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Wondering what happened to the "endless war" bumper stickers that were popular from 2004 to 2008.

The stickers faded. The war kept on going.
posted by dazed_one at 9:29 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Nobody's listening to your phone calls. They're just collecting metadata! Nothing to be worried about.
posted by anemone of the state at 10:05 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Those who die as collateral damage "will haunt us for as long as we live," the president said

What about their living, understandably-angry relatives?
posted by anemone of the state at 10:07 AM on February 10


Some of them will take a shortcut to the haunting us via a suicide bomb, I guess.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:14 AM on February 10


You cannot conduct a war without innocent people being killed.

Is this thread just about the ratio not being good, or is it anti-war? If the former, then was is an acceptable ratio or reason, and why isn't Obama's cold calculus right? If the latter, then I think it isn't about whether or not a drone did it.
To answer your question: Neither. I think the thread is about poor methods being used.

This thread appears to be about the article which claims the NSA's role in providing SIGINT for the US Assassination program. Also, the claim that relying on this metadata exclusively or primarily can lead to lots of pitfalls, such as hitting the wrong target. It also appears that it didn't take the Snowden leaks for the potential targets of this program to figure it out and work to confuse the intelligence gathering.

As for your latter point, the article states: A recent study conducted by a U.S. military adviser found that, during a single year in Afghanistan – where the majority of drone strikes have taken place – unmanned vehicles were 10 times more likely than conventional aircraft to cause civilian casualties.

So maybe the weapon does have something to do with it.
posted by onehalfjunco at 10:16 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


We're worried about the automation of targeting decisions, Bovine Love.

Yes, there were many humans involved in the procedure : our president signs an order, a programmer wrote the software, an analyst checked the "two sources" check box, a commanding officer turned that checkbox into an order, a human airman pulls the trigger, etc.

Is there anyone actually thinking about the assassination order as carefully as when you send in soldiers to arrest the guy? Obviously not.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:20 AM on February 10


Their servers are taking a beating right now. Archive.is mirror of the main story
posted by anemone of the state at 10:21 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Also, you (like many other people) may have been getting very sick of seeing the same image of the NSA used over the past eight months. Trevor Paglen (also known for using Google Earth and plain honest footwork to photograph the Salt Pit torture centre in Afghanistan) has taken high-res, photos that anyone can use.
posted by anemone of the state at 10:26 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Skynet begins not with a bang but a whimper. And human components.

I'll rephrase that in transhumanist speak : We've just been warned that a worst case Skynet-like scenario should actually result from developing strong A.I. first for military applications and thus acquires first our baser instincts. Worse, we should fear that worst case scenario even if our evolution into machines happens extremely slowly, ala no singularity.

What is the solution? We must imho halt military research and dump money into civilian research. We cannot afford military applications to lead our way into the future, not with A.I. a perpetual possibility.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:31 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


onehalfjunco: So maybe the weapon does have something to do with it.

The quoted stat is meaningless, in terms of causation. Drones might be selected when the mission has low value, so as not to risk a pilot. There are tons of explanations why drone strikes have higher civilian casualties, and limitations of the actual weapon selected only accounts for a few of them. Selecting the weapon for the mission probably accounts for a lot of them.

And, if the discussion is that the technique is poor, then I guess Obama's cold calculus is ok then, so long as not too many civilians are killed? It's not rhetorical, I just am not sure I understand the emphasis on "drone" in the argument. Dead civvies are dead civvies, whether you carpet bomb, badly target, or just bomb to 'soften them up'. Or, for that matter, cut off their supply lines and starve them. And I suspect a good number of civvies are not mistakes, not exactly anyway. If the 'bad guys' (in the opinion of the people conducting the war) choose to push their families and friends off the subway platform by hanging out with them, then they may bomb knowing full well that innocent people will die, making it not a mistake at all. Many of those operations will be deep in 'enemy' territory, and a drone will be used because it is safer for the operator. It was policy to kill the hostage. The same goes for lending a phone to friends or families. Do you try to protect the friends and family of terrorists? Are they not guilty as well? You see the logic, and where it goes (or is).

So, what is the line where it is ok?
posted by Bovine Love at 10:39 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


The line for how and why you have killed civilians? I dunno, a lot of people will answer that in different ways depending on many personal views on war in general. I'm close to a pacifist, not total but close. I only believe in defensive wars to protect our nation from imminent threats of serious mass casualty or invasion. So, I see some stuff we have done in the War on Terror as justified as a response to a mass casualty event. I think the clock has run out on that justification though. We can't keep stomping down on every minor perceived threat for the rest of eternity because of one major event.

But when we do respond militarily we have a duty to protect civilians with as much care as we can within reason. Sometimes that means we may take casualties we otherwise would not have, sometimes that means that even with care we kill the innocent, but without that respect for human life we aren't much worth fighting for, are we?

Now, on the question of wars that were never justified or whose justification has passed? No civilian deaths are justified. Obviously. One of the major benefits with drones as a technology from the user perspective is also what makes it a terrifying and possibly inhumane weapon to use. It takes human danger out of the equation for the operators which makes the cost of war lower. It means we are more likely to enter unjustified wars in the future. This is more a human problem than a technological one, and it is not unique to drones, but it is a very real thing. Drones are different from a manned vehicle in that way. Nobody gives up an advantage unless they feel they have to though.

Now, what this article gets to is how not only have we taken human danger out of the equation, but also we seem to have abdicated some responsibility for human thought in the decision process and responsibility to perform human intelligence. Yes, it's still just dropping bombs on people, but this is obviously a transformative use of technology in war and we have to investigate the moral questions it raises. The leaker provides documents that internally this new technology was considered as revolutionary as Little Boy.

And I agree, and that's why drone warfare terrifies me more than conventional war. I trust Barack Obama to be at least reasonably responsible. I don't trust future Republicans or foreign adversaries in a world where war has become impersonal and automated and easy and we return to a technological arms race and contemplate existential threat scenarios about the end of civilization from weapons that might become too dangerous to ever deploy. I know, I know. Joke about Skynet or whatever, but I'd prefer we used drones sparingly only in cases where we can prevent imminent death of civilians or troops instead of well...

The government’s assassination program is actually constructed, he adds, to avoid self-correction. “They make rushed decisions and are often wrong in their assessments. They jump to conclusions and there is no going back to correct mistakes.” Because there is an ever-increasing demand for more targets to be added to the kill list, he says, the mentality is “just keep feeding the beast.”

posted by Drinky Die at 11:13 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


anemone of the state: Also, you (like many other people) may have been getting very sick of seeing the same image of the NSA used over the past eight months. Trevor Paglen (also known for using Google Earth and plain honest footwork to photograph the Salt Pit torture centre in Afghanistan) has taken high-res, photos that anyone can use.

Trevor Paglen has been posted here previously and he does some very, very interesting work.
posted by gucci mane at 11:21 AM on February 10


The document continues: “Did you ever think you would see the day when the U.S. would be conducting combat operations in a country equipped with nuclear weapons without a boot on the ground or a pilot in the air?”

I assume this document is referring to Pakistan. I doubt we would have sent hundreds of sorties to target individuals had this technology not been available.

And I don't know that the handful of Taliban we killed were worth the public backlash in Pakistan, and if they helped to stabilize or destabilize their government. Given that the Taliban are as ascendant as ever in Pakistan it would seem there should be a wider discussion about drone policy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:41 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Here's my surprised face when Scahill suffers an accidental death.

We're heading into the dark here, ya'all. There are no lights ahead to light the way.
posted by glaucon at 11:58 AM on February 10


Those who die as collateral damage "will haunt us for as long as we live," the president said

Naming the Dead: Bibi Mamana

Kindle for the Drone Debate
posted by homunculus at 11:59 AM on February 10


Drinky Die, very well put. I'm actually 100% with you on the dangers of drones to warfare; I think it is one of the most dangerous things to peace since long range warfare started (and I feel that is only slightly hyperbolic). But that is to war in general; I'm not sure drones are all the much worse in terms of civilian casualties then previous. I would suggest that the nature of this war -- an unmarked, largely informal enemy embedded in a civilian population -- is at the heart of the civilian casualties, not the selected weapon. I wonder if you decided to drop more traditional ordinance to achieve the same goals if the outcome would be worse or better. In short, I'm not sure the argument w.r.t. civilian deaths is valid. And the evidence, to me, points to the large number of deaths being accepted (just like they were in previous wars), not a consequence of using some flakey technology.

So I think there are two arguments: What impact will drones have on decisions regarding entering, conducting and exiting war, and what is acceptable in civilian deaths. I suspect these two things are really more orthogonal then many here seem to.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:06 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Btw, if you haven't seen Dirty Wars, it's on Netflix now and is a fantastic journalistic documentary of US policy in the Middle East, specifically our over reliance on questionable intelligence, contitutional law applications and special forces.
posted by glaucon at 12:07 PM on February 10


But that is to war in general; I'm not sure drones are all the much worse in terms of civilian casualties then previous.

I'm reading the last Dresden Files book right now. In it the protagonist describes something as (paraphrased): "Trying to kill a few individual ants among thousands by swinging a baseball bat."

That's the kind of war we're in. The crazy new technology might improve our accuracy, but it's also encouraging us to swing the bat more often and at more anthills and we can never, ever win this way. I would tell you the drones solve some problems from manned aircraft, but also create their own, and it's okay for people to point out both sides of that in discussing the issue and see where we end up.

A lock on cockpit doors has probably done far more to prevent another 9/11 than any aerial strikes we have launched.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:15 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Finch's Machine is real.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:36 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


If this is a war, then the people in the drone program are soldiers - and this includes at least some people working at the NSA. If they're soldiers, why aren't they wearing uniforms?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:59 PM on February 10


Oh, and hey, from the Geneva Convention IV:
As far as military considerations allow, each Party to the conflict shall facilitate the steps taken to search for the killed and wounded, to assist the shipwrecked and other persons exposed to grave danger, and to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment.
I.e., double tapping is a war crime. The USA is a signatory to this convention but I don't believe there's any way to prosecute the people responsible. Still, I think it's worth reminding people in case that country one day extricates itself from the mire in which it is currently wallowing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:11 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


If they're soldiers, why aren't they wearing uniforms?

They aren't, and if they were, there is no requirement for soliders to wear uniforms when not in the theater of war. And if they were required, they would be considered spies, which is not a war crime, though spies do not get POW protections.
posted by spaltavian at 2:26 PM on February 10


I have not seen the blue link to the letter writing campaign scheduled for tomorrow, so here is the link. The main focus here is the Freedom Act, but mentioning drones would certainly be acceptable I think. If someone else has already pointed out this campaign...then they probably don't mind a redundant comment on it!
posted by TreeRooster at 4:47 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I'm much more opposed to the NSA's automated surveillance than the average person
How do you know that? *eyes suspiciously*

The real dystopian nightmare is not a surveillance state that knows everything. The nightmare is a surveillance state that just thinks it knows everything and acts accordingly.

Agreed. Brazil has always scared me more than 1984.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:27 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Haven't finished reading this all yet, but just a note that gucci mane's search above missed a great talk of him at this year's 30c3. Also, could this be the first news site that defaults to HTTPS, as well as appears to reject HTTP traffic (just browser observations, no real testing)?
posted by antonymous at 7:30 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I have not seen the blue link to the letter writing campaign scheduled for tomorrow, so here is the link.

MeTa.
posted by homunculus at 11:08 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Missed this the first time around:
The [Sky Raider] drone, he adds, was also referred to as “Sky Raper,” for a simple reason – “because it killed a lot of people.” When operators were assigned to “Sky Raper,” he adds, it meant that “somebody was going to die. It was always set to the most high-priority missions.”
Classy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:51 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


There were folks here who found Trevor Paglen's hour long 30c3 talk a little slow initially, antonymous. Anyone who wanders off easily should try his 30 min keynote Art as Evidence from Transmediale, less info but knocks it out of the park.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:32 AM on February 11


The New Public Interest Journalism by John Cassidy at the New Yorker discusses The Intercept, as well as Bill Keller departure from his position as editor at The Times for a nonprofit news startup devoted to covering the criminal-justice system.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:48 AM on February 11


Glenn Greenwald and the U.S. ‘assassination’ program

“What we’re trying to do is use the accurate term [assassination] rather than the euphemistic term [targeted killing] that the government wants us to use,”

Apparently AP uses ‘assassination’ only for prominent targets. I wonder if they'd consider ‘targeted murder’ when attacking non-prominent targets located on foreign soil where no war exists.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:52 AM on February 11


I don't see how that's any more accurate. The term "targeted killing" isn't an euphemism, first of all. Secondly, not all targeted attacks are assassination. Assassinations are attacks on prominent leaders typically for political reasons.

I wonder if they'd consider ‘targeted murder’ when attacking non-prominent targets located on foreign soil where no war exists.

That's begging the question. The United States, and me for that matter, would say a war does exist.
posted by spaltavian at 7:36 AM on February 11


Any killings committed outside judicial process or war qualify as murder, assassination, etc. Any attempt to paint non-war killing with warfare terminology is doublespeak.

We're not at war with the nation in which our targets are located. Yes, we commonly act with said nation's permission, but that's not war unless the nation says so.

We could fight alongside another nation in a declared civil war of course, but afaik nobody except maybe Afghanistan considers themselves in a state of civil war, maybe not even Afghanistan. Now wars rarely respect borders, which might provide a limited war status to attack Pakistan.

You cannot justify attacks in Yemen as war though, not without buying into some "global war on terror" bullshit. And if you buy into that then why not send cruise missiles into drug dealer's homes in the U.S. too?

War should actually means something beyond "whatever violence the public lets us get away with".
posted by jeffburdges at 8:15 AM on February 11


And if you buy into that then why not send cruise missiles into drug dealer's homes in the U.S. too?

Y'know, I remember a time when this could be considered a hyperbolic statement. Let's not give them any ideas, hmm?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:32 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Any killings committed outside judicial process or war qualify as murder, assassination, etc. Any attempt to paint non-war killing with warfare terminology is doublespeak.

Again, you're begging the question.

You cannot justify attacks in Yemen as war though, not without buying into some "global war on terror".

You're conflating two problems; that the AUMF was far too broad is not the same as it never happened.

And if you buy into that then why not send cruise missiles into drug dealer's homes in the U.S. too?

Who is this addressed to? Me or the government? I would be against that because I think all drugs should be legal, because the military should not conduct law enforcement operations, drug dealing is a criminal issue, not a military one, this would result in collateral damage, etc.

I imagine a good part of the government just feels they can't get away with it. That doesn't change the fact that you are still arguing as if I'm not challenging your premise, which is that international terrorism is a criminal issue.
posted by spaltavian at 8:37 AM on February 11


At present there is no reason to consider international terrorism to be anything besides a criminal issue. There is otoh ample reason to believe that modern epidemiological methods that so often prove better than law enforcement would confront it even more effectively.

And even if terrorism goes beyond a criminal issue that does not mean we break out the machines of war. How can war ever help when the opponent isn't an organization that can 'bend the knee'? Just makes no sense.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:47 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


How can war ever help when the opponent isn't an organization that can 'bend the knee'?

Worked for the Barbary Pirates. We've been treating terrorism as a warfare forever. If you want to question the wisdom of that, fine, but that's not the legalistic argument you were making before.

I disagree with much of the conduct of the operations against terrorists in the locations you mentioned, but I don't see how the answer is to pretend war always looks like a game of Risk.
posted by spaltavian at 8:56 AM on February 11


Wrong, the Barbary Pirates were de facto units of the Ottoman Empire who were defeated by attacking and negotiating with North African states. Al-Qaeda's state sponsor Afghanistan already "bent the knee". We could choose to provide our Afghanistan with assistance in either police action or in fighting a civil war. Yemen though?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:19 AM on February 11


Constantinople had little to no control over the Barbary Coast. The US attacked and negotiated with, essentially, local warlords and petty nobles in order for them to bring the pirates operating in their territories control. While, of course, attack the pirates themselves.

The attacks were a mixture of privateers working directly for the local leadership and pirates. It was not at all the sort of clean Westphalian situation you are impying. It was, however, pretty similar to the failed-state, mixture of non-governmental and quasi-state actors familiar today in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As for Yemen, there is hardly a Yemen to speak of outside Sana'a.

"The national government administers the capital and largest cities, but some other regions are outside of its grasp, governed by armed militant groups which expanded their control during the chaos of the 2011–12 uprising. The two major groups are Ansar al-Sharia (a branch or affiliate of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), which has declared several "Islamic emirates" in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwah, and the Houthis, a Shia rebel group centered in the Saada Governorate."

There's no government in much of the country (except, arguably Al Qaeda); "law enforcement" in the manner you are speaking of is impossible. This is an entirely separate issue from the specific tactics being employed. Most wars in history follow this model, not the symmetrical model.
posted by spaltavian at 12:50 PM on February 11


Your iPhone Can Now Alert You When A Drone Attacks: After a drone strike notification app was rejected five times by Apple, changing the software's name to the innocuous-seeming "Metadata+" seems to have done the trick.
posted by homunculus at 2:04 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Umm, the Barbary pirates aka Ottoman corsairs were operating out of ports in Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, even the ones that lacked the Ottoman paperwork to formally be called privateers. These were businesses with assets that could be sunk by foreigners or seized by locals, not mutinous crews type pirates ala Captain jack sparrow, and definitely not religious fanatics willing to spend their lives in hiding. And apparently all the real progress against them came from attacking their home ports.

Ain't clear what failed-state even means back then : You bombard a city, they sign a treaty saying they'll stop sending pirates against your merchants, sometimes they obey for a while, sometimes mistakes are made as they go after others, etc. Ain't like Pakistan and Afghanistan except in the ways that most of the world was.

Yemen isn't anywhere near Afghanistan. Actions there are no continuation of our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yemen is however closer to a civil war than I'd realized. And they approve our attacks because they expect anyone we kill seeks to overthrown them. We aren't afaik officially trying to help them recapture the country though. Is there any concrete political objective for our involvement though?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:30 AM on February 12


Actions there are no continuation of our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The AUMF is primarily directed against Al Qaeda, which certainly is operating in Yemen.
posted by spaltavian at 3:41 AM on February 12


Dan Froomkin: The Terrible Toll of Secrecy
posted by homunculus at 7:59 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Recent post on the AUMF: 60 Words And A War Without End
posted by homunculus at 8:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Clapper Reads From the Bush/Cheney/Nixon Playbook to Fear-Monger Over Transparency
posted by jeffburdges at 4:28 AM on February 13


I won't endorse any specific tools listed here :
6 Anti-NSA Technological innovations that May Just Change the World

Some look quite young. Some look insecure. Some look closed source, meaning backdoored. And I've never heard anyone I trust recommend any of them. Interesting nonetheless.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:06 PM on February 13


Drone Killing the Fifth Amendment: How to Build a Post-Constitutional America One Death at a Time
posted by homunculus at 6:52 PM on February 22


New Details of Attack on Yemeni Wedding Prompt More Demands Obama Explain Drone Policy

Human Rights Watch: A Wedding That Became a Funeral - US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen
posted by homunculus at 7:54 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Who Tried to Silence Drone Victim Kareem Khan?
posted by homunculus at 12:48 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


The Military's Budget for New Drones Is Bigger in 2015
posted by homunculus at 4:33 PM on March 4


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