There is a new development that may not only further exacerbate the police public relations, it can bring us closer to “fundamentally transforming America” as Obama announced in his inaugural speech. In the wake of the horrific massacre of multiple police officers in Dallas, TX, comes news that a robot was used to deliver a bomb that killed the suspect. In order to understand the possible future social and political ramifications of this unprecedented use of a non-areal drone to kill an American on American soil, it is necessary to review the development of drones and drone policy from multiple points of view and examine how they are already changing the political landscape on a global scale.
In what was recognized to be a public relations crisis for aerospace manufacturers, coupled with a public affairs crisis for the US federal government, “I would predict the first guy who uses a second amendment weapon to bring a drone down who is hovering over his house will become a folk hero,” claims Charles Krauthammer, a Fox News analyst who openly supports the use of drones overseas but not domestically. He enjoys the American empire, however, does not want to live under it. Calling for an outright ban on domestic use, Krauthammer declared, “Drones are instruments of war. The founders had a great aversion toward using instruments of war, the use of the military, inside the United States.”
John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on HBO deflected the severity of domestic use by shifting gears, referring to drones as “the third-most annoying thing in the sky after mosquitoes and plastic bags caught in the breeze.” He added, “Overseas, drones are a slightly more serious matter.” “During the Obama administration, we launched eight times the drone the number of drone strikes as his predecessor.”
According to the Foreign Policy Research Institute, there are approximately 7,500 US drones in operation and 65% of Americans support drone strikes overseas. Number of drones foreign and domestic. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated that 900 noncombatants including 200 children have been killed since the inception of the program. Accurate data is not able to be assessed as to the identity of the targets in the aftermath because of the complete devastation to the area.
Conservatives concerned about privacy and liberals aghast about the loss of life seemed united in their resistance to the use of unmanned remotely controlled aerial vehicles known as drones, particularly the systems of reconnaissance and weaponized vehicles like Predator and Global Hawk.
In response to the outrage concerning drone use the Washington based Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) President Michael Toscano went scrambling into damage control mode with the bold statement, “People who don’t know what they’re talking about say these are spy planes or killer drones. They’re not.” He referred to them as “remotely piloted vehicles.” He continued by adding 35,000 car death statistics per year for death toll comparison and lauding the virtues of the firefighting and search and rescue capabilities. Comparing them to mother and apple pie may not have had its intended soothing all-Americana outcome. They were marginally efficacious at best.
In reference to fighting Al Qaeda in 2009, CIA director Leon Panetta called drones, ‘The only game in town.” Yet, It is very difficult to run a successful public relations campaign for a program that exists on record but is not recognized by official sources. In February of 2013, in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, said that he was told “You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.”
In 2012 after the New York Times published an article about the Disposition Matrix, secret drone strike kill list that members of the Obama administration leaked, We Are Change reporter Luke Rudkowski approached Democratic National Chairperson Debbie Wassermann-Shultz. When he asked the Florida Congresswoman whether she trusted Mitt Romney to handle Obama’s kill list, she said, “I have no idea what that what you’re talking about.” I’m happy to answer serious questions.” Several organizations ranging from liberal The Young Turks to the reporters at London based Guardian have slammed her for being ignorant about the existence of the list. During their second encounter in 2015, the Congresswoman acknowledged the list and talked about Obama bringing balance; however, she did not answer the questions to the satisfaction of the reporter as to the constitutionality of the list or the extrajudicial killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his sixteen year old son by drone strike. Jeb Bush also claimed to be unaware of the Disposition Matrix.
Article I, Section 9, Clause 3 of the US Constitution explicitly prohibits a Bill of Attainder: That is any list that arbitrarily finds someone guilty without due process of law: no judge, no jury, no trial, no evidence, no charges, no lawyer, and no witnesses. The right to trial by jury is the only right that appears three times in the Bill of Rights.
Laurie Calhoun is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age. In an interview with on the Tom Woods Show podcast, she noted how drones, originally covert in 2002, have grown to become standard operating procedure. He also noted that for ten years, with few notable exceptions like Rand Paul, there was no public debate in Congress between 2002 and 2012. Obama said on Google Chat “look what I’m doing to keep you safe.”
“The reality is that all of the people killed are suspects. This is unprecedented in history and in criminal justice.” She added that suspects are considered “shady” because the evidence is provided by bribed locals, a similar process that led to of the detainees who were incarcerated at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for years without due process, 86 percent of which were innocent. “The very same tactics are used for intelligence gathering in drone strikes.”
The counter argument as to how do we deal with shadowy stateless enemies that intend to do us harm. The choice between Tomahawk cruise missiles and full scale invasion or drones in order to prevent even more objectionable policies “false dichotomy,” Calhoun told Dr. Thomas E. Woods Jr. of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
According to Calhoun, public relations concerning drones has already led to civil war and humanitarian disaster. In Yemen during November 2002, President Saleh authorized drone strikes by the United States. The fear of drones was so pervasive that Zubair Rehman a thirteen year old drone strike survivor told the US Congress in 2013, “I no longer love blue skies.” During gray skies he continued, “The mental tension and fear eases.” This was considered to be a way to eliminate his political enemies by labeling them as terrorists and forwarding the information to the United States. This eventually resulted in the Houthi Coup and a civil war. Saudi Arabia does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the new government and is using the crisis to continuously slam Yemeni militants with billions of dollars of US supplied heavy weapons.
Calhoun continued, “There are allot of groups of angry people who posed no existential threat to the United States, even if they hate us, because they do not have the means to come over here, have all been conflated into a single group of evil terrorists, [Saleh was] using his collaboration with the United States to eliminate political enemies.”
“They are assumed to be combatants unless otherwise proven” according to Calhoun, some are “defending their homeland from invasion” and, “Throwing them all into one barrel of evil terrorists (posthumously) akin to Osama bin Laden and I reject that premise.” In Calhoun’s book, Norm Chomsky states, “The drone assassination campaign is the most extraordinary global terror campaign yet conceived and executed.
The July / August 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, is titled “Death from Above: Are Drones Worth It?” It features two opposing papers by professors Daniel Byman and Audrey Kurth Cronin.
In “Why Drones Work.” Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University Byman explains, nobody does it better, foreign leaders approve, controlling the spread of the technology is impossible, and they limit Washington’s military commitment abroad which keeps Americans safe. “A 2012 poll found that 74% of Pakistanis view the US as the enemy; but, they do not realize drones take out those who wreak havoc in their country,” he argues that the ratio of civilian to militant strikes are lower compared to other kinds of strikes.
In “Why Drones Fail” Cronin, a Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, asserts that Al Qaeda is resilient, drone strikes significantly enhance their propaganda, and that drones are a form of remote control repression and serve primarily to keep them it in check rather than dealing directly or eliminating threats. She adds that drones are transforming relatively harmless local conflicts into international fights and draw in new terrorist recruits. Also, they make “lifesaving” interrogations impossible and a “pass the remote attitude” that uses technology and fear to solve sophisticated conflicts.
The essay also displayed a picture of three Pakistani tribesman holding pieces of a missile with the caption “Don’t drone me, bro!”
According declassified to a Pentagon Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force report from February 2013, overcoming the “tyranny of distance” from the home base to the target is also favorable argument in support of drone use.
While drones have appeared seriously in only a few Hollywood movies like Syriana, with George Clooney, they are slated to be the main feature of controversy in upcoming movies. Good Kill with Ethan Hawke deals with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) faced by drone remote operators who return home to their families and barbecues every night as though nothing has happened. American Ultra starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart makes a comedic approach to the casual use of drones.
The CIA Entertainment Industry Liaison can be found at CIA.gov. Their stated function is to assist anyone creating media pertaining to intelligence for public consumption and bring authenticity to convey how intelligence is “exciting, challenging, and essential.” They appear to be working hard to fix the image of drones, or at least inject them into the narrative as a multifaceted and sophisticated part of the political debate, reflecting the realities of twenty first century warfare.
As great example of this is the intense drama Eye in the Sky, starring Aaron Paul and Helen Mirren and coming out in 2016 will feature the philosophical implications of the drone use as center stage. The plot revolves around the moral decisions that must be made quickly when using Hellfire missiles to take out a structure that houses a radical group arming themselves with suicide vests while a young girl plays outside nearby. The focus is on the conflict that arises internally within the intelligence organizations when remote pilots only see the outside of the building and refuse to fire. “If they kill eighty people, we win the propaganda war; if we kill one child, they do” is a talking point.
John Oliver commented on drones during a broadcast of Last Week Tonight. He showed Pakistani cartoons featuring drones that converse with mosquitoes and drone strike green screen graphics packages for local news outlets. “When children from other countries are telling us, we’ve made them fear the sky, it might be time to ask some hard questions.”
Gerald Celente from the Trends Journal Magazine commented in a 2014 interview on the Alex Jones Show, “How would Thomas Jefferson react if he saw a drone out the window of Monticello?” adding, “Oh, the King just wants to make sure you are safe.”
Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni youth activist and writer, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights that “The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis.”
In October of 2015, RT.com published a report in which whistle-blower Brandon Bryant, a former drone pilot, describes a staggering ninety percent of people killed were not the intended target, adding “They don’t care who gets killed as long as they hit the target.”
The framework for the justification of the use of deadly force, as per former Defense Department advisor and Georgetown University Law Professor Rosa Brooks who reported to Congress is: “We have an executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.
“I have two words for you, Predator Drones” warned Mr. Obama to the Jonas Brothers boy band from a podium in reference to the protection of his daughters at a party speech. Amidst the ensuing laughter he added, “You will never see it coming.”
While Obama’s promise to Fundamentally Transform America was eye opening for some, Fundamentally altering our altering our forms of government was one of the 27 grievances against England listed in the Declaration of Independence. His bold statement was followed up with “For those who challenge the scope of our ambitions fail to realize that the ground has already shifted beneath them.” While the ambitions of government to grow always carries with it increased negations of liberty, he was right about one thing. Most people are unaware of the shifting.
What happens to a building when its foundation is ripped out from underneath it?
Thomas Jefferson said, “The state of war always serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.”
While the police were correct to put an end to the shooting in Dallas, was the use of a robot to kill the shooting suspect in in Dallas the best or only option? Time will tell as more information is released.
The advent and strategic use of drones, whether areal abroad or rolling at home, is a shifting force that must be recognized. Meaningful discussions on Capital Hill like the one between Senator Rand Paul and Attorney General Eric Holder with his response and the Filibuster of John Brennan’s appointment as CIA Director, because of his support for domestic use of drones, are few and far between. A robust debate among policymakers and candidates for office concerning the use of drones and the militarization of the police is long overdue. It’s time to be more sophisticated in the pursuit of liberty with a deeper understanding of the rule of law and the impact of foreign and domestic
policies and bring that full spectrum analysis to the public discourse. As the preamble to the Bill of Rights describes, further declaratory and restrictive clauses on government (especially one lacking transparency) would go a long way to restore public trust and confidence in government which is beneficial for all.
IN August of 2016, the White House released it’s drone guidelines to the public. Fox News has published it without any links to a source document and subsequently pulled the story off of their website, forcing local Fox News affiliates to use CNN as the source of the story. Unfortunately, the CNN article does not reference the source document for review either.
Of particular concern is not only the extrajudicial nature and the ability of the president to conduct strikes from the comfort of his office; it is also a concern as to what these guidelines do or do not reveal about how targets are chosen and who else has the weapons release authority to launch a drone strike.
Here is the newly released Source Document that appears to be three years old on the date of release. 2013.05.23_fact_sheet_on_ppg (1) . Contrary to Obama’s statement suggesting the guidelines are newly revised.
As the guidelines were released, RT published Game of Drones which documents how these extrajudicial killings are taking place in Pakistan and how one country engaged in continuously bombing an ally country is unprecedented in the history of the world.
Byman, D. (2013, July 1). Why Drones Work: The Case for Washington’s Weapon of
Choice. Foreign Affairs, 92(4), 32-43.
Calhoun, L. (2015). We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the
Drone Age. London: Zed Books.
Cronin, A. (2013, July 1). Why Drones Fail: When Tactics Drive Strategy. Foreign
Affairs, 92(4), 44-54.
Seitel, F. (2014). The Practice of Public Relations (Vol. 12). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Woods, T. (2015, November 12). Episode 538. The Bipartisan Mainstreaming of
Drone Warfare. The Tom Woods Show. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from
(2015, October 15). The Drone Papers. ISR Support to Small Footprint Operations
Somalia / Yemen. Retrieved October 15, 2015, from