The Drone Papers, from the Intercept
October 15, 2015 6:17 AM   Subscribe

The Drone Papers-The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The documents, provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama’s drone wars.

1-The Assassination Complex: Secret military documents expose the inner workings of Obama’s drone wars
2-A Visual Glossary: Decoding the language of covert warfare
3-The Kill Chain:The lethal bureaucracy behind Obama’s drone war
4-Find, Fix, Finish: For the Pentagon, creating an architecture of assassination meant navigating a turf war with the CIA
5-Manhunting in the Hindu Kush: Civilian casualties and strategic failures in America’s longest war
6-Firing Blind: Flawed Intelligence and the Limits of Drone Technology
7-The Life and Death of Objective Peckham: Stripped of British citizenship and killed by an American drone
8-Target Africa: The U.S. military’s expanding footprint in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
9-The Alphabet of Assassination: A guide to the acronyms, abbreviations, and initialisms used in The Drone Papers. We defer to definitions provided in the source text where available; other interpretations are based on open source material.
posted by nevercalm (52 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Around the topic of drones and leaks, I'm thrilled by the ‎Intelexit‬ campaign by the Peng collective in Berlin, especially their drone ‪leafleting of an NSA facility in Germany.
There was a Press conference about the project in Berlin. And more info on wikipedia and twitter.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:51 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments deleted. Let's rewind this a bit and let folks respond to the actual disclosures here.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:06 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

A pattern.
posted by infini at 8:15 AM on October 15, 2015

One thing's for sure, major media outlets aren't in a hurry (Google News link) to pick this up.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:37 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wow, thanks for this. It's going to take some time to dig into.

A couple years back I was working in western Afghanistan and at one point was on a flight out of Herat. It was like any other taxi to the runway and tee up for takeoff, except as I glanced out of the window at the parallel runway, a fully outfitted MQ-9 Reaper (a fitting name if ever there was one) was taxing along side of us. We took off essentially at the same time and I got to watch it peel north at 2000 feet and climbing, while I thought about the kid in a trailer in the desert of Nevada who was basically going to play a video game for his job that day. And then my thoughts turned to the women and children in a mud hut that would likely experience the real-life affect of said game.

I don't personally expect the major media outlets to ever really make these stories a priority, simply because their business model (publishing stuff people want to read) doesn't demand it. People in the developed world don't want to read about the dark, mechanical harbingers of fiery death that both protect and preserve the quality of life they've come to expect as a basic human right. It's hard to level the fact that people are dying somewhere in the world because of where they were born with the cultural pressure here in our homeland to buy a bigger house with a bigger garage to park a bigger SUV in. And the disparate nature of it - and the wealth-powered engine of our governmental system - makes writing a letter to your congressman about it seem somewhat paltry.

Technology has granted us a near god-like power to inflict death and destruction upon the weaker of the world with almost no repercussion or even really collective knowledge and acceptance of the atrocities that these make us capable, and far too often culpable of. We don't want to know - it won't help us sleep at night. It's better to ignore.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:59 AM on October 15, 2015 [16 favorites]

I've been thinking recently why wars don't seem to end anymore. They have long tails. They neither burn out, nor really ever fade away. I think it's because the means to make war have become so sterile, surgical, and bloodless (for the wagers), that commanders in chief have no incentive to ever stop waging them. It is entirely true that drones and gps-guided bombs are orders of magnitude more accurate than B-52 firebombing raids ever were. Fewer civilians die, and "enemies" are more accurately targeted. But the legal framework under which wars are fought has not remotely kept up with technology, and defining the enemy has become more of a middle-management policy decision. Time for a thorough re-think, and this documentation should be a great resource.
posted by jetsetsc at 9:31 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking recently why wars don't seem to end anymore.

Soldiers gotta soldier. Seriously. A military without a war is like a border collie without a sheep.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:49 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Clearly the nature of war has changed in that it no longer is a uniformed military of one nation fighting a uniformed military of another nation. We now have Taliban able to seek safe sanctuary not in Afghanistan, where they operate, but in our "ally" country Pakistan. Sunni fight Shia. ISIS wave black flags but conceal themselves among civilians in urban areas. We denouce assassination programs but assassinate as we will. We send no troops to some areas but CIA arm this and that group and our public seldom knows much about this.
The nature of war has changed, as jedtsetsc notes, but rethinking seems beyond our present vision, ie, Obama now sending more troops to Afghanistan, our longest war, after saying we were pulling troops out and bringing them home. Why? We learn that our "national security" calls for this. That too is why we send forces into Grenada.
posted by Postroad at 10:05 AM on October 15, 2015

I don't believe the nature of warfare has changed much in over four thousand years. Warriors have evolved into soldiers in the popular parlance, but the underpinnings of a war never have to do with the general welfare of a population, and the aggressor nation always comes up with slogans to justify their actions. The slogans are various versions of bullshit. We use flag-waving to distract us from the failings of saber-rattling, and saber-rattling to distract us from the evils of hubris and avarice. An individual, powerless to affect any meaningful change, tries to inject honor or glory where cynicism and contempt ought to be; maybe this is the only way to bear the personal loss, or the killing of the others, whom they've never seen except in the frames of governmental propaganda--always as enemies, less than worthy to live because of who or where they are.

This happens, let's say, for two reasons: it's always simpler to kill them than to talk to them, and war is good business. I know this is pretty simplistic, but, if it leaves a few gaps in the infield, I believe it still covers the bases. For example, what if the events of 9/11 were a result, not a cause?
posted by mule98J at 10:31 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Wired article doesn't delve deeply into this, but there have been other leakers (maybe as many as six) since Snowden, including someone who leaked information about drone ops in Germany back in April.

A cookie for whoever identifies a news organization naming a "second Snowden" that used the same term last year. Or whoever names their band Second Snowden.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mass killings are grossly ignored. Welcome to the early middle part of the 21st century. /bad pun.
posted by buzzman at 11:30 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a dense collection. In a few minutes I found this in the visual glossary section:

Over a five-month period, U.S. forces used drones and other aircraft to kill 155 people in northeastern Afghanistan. They achieved 19 jackpots. Along the way, they killed at least 136 other people, all of whom were classified as EKIA, or enemies killed in action.

They really kill 7.2 people for being in the wrong place wrong time every time they get somebody their (imperfect) intelligence tells them is an enemy posing an imminent threat? I wonder if they even have a number that they would consider unacceptably excessive here.
posted by bukvich at 12:27 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's worth reading State and Terrorist Conspiracies and Conspiracy as Governance by Julian Assange to better understand how leaks create reforms.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2015

A military without a war is like a border collie without a sheep.

The soldiers are all adorable and desperate for my attention when I get home at the end of the day?
posted by Slackermagee at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

They really kill 7.2 people for being in the wrong place wrong time every time they get somebody their (imperfect) intelligence tells them is an enemy posing an imminent threat?

I read an estimate somewhere else that put the typical ratio of military:civilian deaths at about 1:3. If so, that means drones are very far from being the precision instruments that were touted: they're much less discriminate than conventional warfare.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Probably more than 7.2, if they are still counting any male non-child as an enemy.

It would have been nice for this to come out before Monday, would love to hear Hillary answer questions about it.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:25 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Kill Chain brought to mind:

The government calls it the "army", but a more alarmist name would be The Killbot Factory."
posted by jpe at 3:30 PM on October 15, 2015

^ People in the developed world don't want to read about the dark, mechanical harbingers of fiery death that both protect and preserve the quality of life they've come to expect as a basic human right.
Keep drinking the kool-aid. How does blowing up peasants on the other side of the globe preserve the quality of life of an American?.
If all the Tax $ were spent instead in the home country on education, health care and infrastructure maybe the quality of life would be better. It would also be better if a few tribal people weren't blended into the local landscape.
Remind me again what the US Afghan mission is. Quagmire is not a mission.
posted by adamvasco at 4:02 PM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

America is not the good guy
posted by metagnathous at 4:54 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the Kill Chain:

Obama administration officials have said that in addition to being a member of al Qaeda or an associated force, targets must also pose a significant threat to the United States. In May 2013, facing increasing pressure to fully admit the existence of the drone war and especially to address allegations of civilian harm, the White House released policy guidelines for lethal counterterrorism operations that seemed to further restrict them. In a speech, Obama announced that action would be taken only against people who posed a “continuing, imminent threat to the American people,” and who could not be captured. A strike would only occur with “near certainty” that no civilians would be killed or injured.

This reminds me of the Bush Administration dude who told the New York Times that we create our own reality.
posted by bukvich at 5:09 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

VEO, violent extremist organization, who's your daddy now?
posted by Oyéah at 10:23 PM on October 15, 2015

I just want to say that in this hall of mirrors, showing this material is also a form of terrorism, as it is horrifying to know how futile it is addressing the criminal mind capable of the invention, the execution and then the rationalization.

Then entire process start to jackpot is not rational or moral and so flawed as to be indefensible. We kill what, 7.2 people to get one? We spend hundreds of billions of dollars to function without competence, or success, and create thousands of enemies with every kill. We also kill our faith in the basic values of our nation.
posted by Oyéah at 10:38 PM on October 15, 2015

Humanitarian and development aid increasingly showing up in the news headlines with highly militarized language.

"Combat youth unemployment" (heh, this thread)

"Battle poverty"

"War against hunger"

"Surge against ebola"

er... is anyone stopping to think for a moment about language, word choices and what exactly does this "fight against grammar and spelling" actually imply?

if I don't show up again after this comment, look for the plastic parrot in the sky
posted by infini at 2:19 AM on October 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I thought this image from an Intercept article published last week cut pretty deep.
posted by Acey at 4:14 AM on October 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wonder if they even have a number that they would consider unacceptably excessive here.

They intentionally bomb hospitals, so, no.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:11 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, the enemy of my enemy, as it turns out, is not my friend, but rather the victim of my enemy. We have progressed enough that we don't have to bother to say ooops. This is pretty scary stuff, but don't make the mistake of focusing on the soldier, because that let's the perp off the hook. Follow the money trail.
posted by mule98J at 8:42 AM on October 16, 2015

Conflicted thoughts. It is interesting to take a peek behind the scenes. Somewhat akin to a quick tour around the back of this particular theatre of war (theatre in all senses of the word). The US government has a frightening addiction to outward power projection and for the display of continuous violence - and it seems any domestic voices, however diminutive, to the contrary are roundly drowned out or marginalised. I admire the personal risks that the whistleblower has taken to bring this information into public domain but lets us be honest - is this genuinely likely to result in anything other than a continuation or a variation on a theme. War in all its guises is the continuous factor here.

Worldwide 'defence' and 'security'industries are a principal enemy to social and moral progression. There are sadly very powerful forces with a vested interest in the contination of conflict. The impotence of the United Nations an all too obvious reflection of this.

Anyone interested in this area - and presumably if you are reading this post you are - I reccomend watching / listening to the IQ2 debate 'America's drone campaign is both moral and effective.'

Infini - I recomend Will Selfs point of view 'Why euphemism is integral to modern warfare'
posted by numberstation at 8:48 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

A military without a war is like a border collie without a sheep.

And yet most border collies don't herd sheep and are family pets instead. There are certainly challenges to owning such smart, high energy, working dog. Keeping them busying and giving them safe outlets for that energy is vital. But most people manage to keep a border collie without it destroying everything in the house and keeping the dog happy.

I mean, people don't get a border collie, figure out it's too much work to keep the dog occupied, give up and buy a herd of sheep.
posted by VTX at 10:06 AM on October 16, 2015

Torture by another name: CIA used 'water dousing' on at least 12 detainees - "At least a dozen more people were subjected to waterboard-like tactics in CIA custody than the agency has admitted, according to a fresh accounting of the US government’s most discredited form of torture."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I recomend Will Selfs point of view 'Why euphemism is integral to modern warfare'

But all of these headlines are on international aid and development activities from a variety of charities and non profits around the world. Are they, too, part of the above, to be so euphemized? Is that the take away from this shift in word choice?
posted by infini at 1:00 PM on October 16, 2015

It's kind of depressing how no one even shows up to defend this shit anymore. I mean it's depressing, because they don't have to. There is absolutely no political will in this country to address our criminal behavior perpetrated on the least among us over the last 14 years or so.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:07 AM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

You don't need to defend the biggest whatezit, the strongest thatthingzooka, the most boomiest boomamaka... you just need hob nailed boots for everyone's else's faces.
posted by infini at 12:03 PM on October 17, 2015

Maybe it's because I've been travelling, but as far as I can tell these stories have had no impact or discussion. Not online, not among my friends, and not in passing on TV that I've seen.
posted by Nelson at 7:46 AM on October 19, 2015

I saw something pass by on twitter about some tweeting on this subject disappearing and reappearing...
posted by infini at 8:12 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, I noticed this and this, maybe twitter doing something fishy.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:01 PM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

yeah, it was a PDF by the author of your second link that passed me by as well
posted by infini at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2015

Censorship of The Intercept's report would be stupid when (a) the cat's already out the bag; and (b) nobody seems to care, anyway. What I find scarier - if there really is something going on - is that this is a buggy implementation of a mode designed to prevent future leaks.

Or, you know those stories about the Russian government's social media team? Maybe there's a US equivalent that's busy marking these Tweets as offensive.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:36 PM on October 19, 2015

Anyone notice tweets not connected with ioerror being blocked? It's apparently his retweet of a Drone Papers tweet and one of his tweets about an unrelated hardware question that people notice being dropped.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:19 AM on October 20, 2015

Anyways meejah wrote a twitterprobe to help watch for censorship by twitter in future.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:27 AM on October 20, 2015

Andrew Cockburn, Harpers: Flying Blind - "The authors of the Drone Papers were delivering a simple message: send more money."

Daniel Swift, Harpers: Conjectural Damage
The doctrine of bombing is touchingly optimistic: the skies may be the antidote to armies locked in muddy battle; machines may solve the manmade problem of war. As the military historian Tami Davis Biddle argues in her study Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare, the development of aerial weapons in the early twentieth century was spurred by the horrors of the trenches. The United States and Britain, she writes, “came to see bomber aircraft as a means of fighting wars at relatively low cost to themselves, avoiding a repetition of the harrowing experience of the 1914–1918 war.” The first step to a pilotless plane is to take the soldier from the battlefield and imagine a machine in his place.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:32 AM on October 26, 2015

those are so easy to spot and block.
posted by infini at 11:52 AM on November 5, 2015

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