The emerging politics of drone warfare

Drone on runway

As drones — otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — become increasingly popular in military operations and civilian law enforcement, their deployment is coming under greater scrutiny from lawmakers and special interest groups. The Obama administration's open policy of targeted drone strikes has proved particularly controversial, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has attempted to raise awareness of the use of drones by police departments and other organizations across the US.

68 updates and 4200 comments below.

Jun 26 12:15p

America's drone program could lead to longer and more frequent wars, report says

A panel composed of former military officials, legal advisors, and others believes that America's drone strike program could be creating a more unstable, violent world. In a report released today, a group of former military and government officials said that relatively low-risk, increasingly common missile strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) "risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts," as other countries emulate America's strategy of targeting suspected terrorists even...

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Jun 23 11:52a

US releases memo justifying drone strike on American citizen

Under orders from a US appeals court, the Obama administration has released a memo justifying the killing of American citizens with a targeted "drone strike." The memo presents a case for killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda propagandist who was killed in Yemen in 2011. The strike on al-Awlaki has been widely debated since then, especially after a separate attack inadvertently killed al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the ACLU...

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May 31 2:23a

The US has deployed a pair of surveillance drones to Japan

A pair of unarmed Global Hawk surveillance drones have been deployed to Japan by the US Air Force, possibly to keep an eye on North Korea and naval operations in China. According to the Associated Press, the drones will use the Misawa Air Base in northern Japan through October, though the US government has not provided any details on the missions that will be carried out.

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Apr 25 11:32a

Saudi Arabia joins the killer drone arms race

Last week, Saudi Arabia bought its first drone fleet, according to a dispatch from Tactical Reports. Saudi Crown Prince Salman met with Chinese General Wang Guanzhong to sign a contract for a shipment of Chinese Wing Loong drones, also known as Pterodactyls. The drones that make up the shipment are designed to mimic America's Predator drone, with surveillance capabilities and enough lift to carry two matched air-to-ground missiles.

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Apr 02 2:24p

New bill would force Obama administration to reveal drone strike casualties

Two members of Congress have introduced a bill that they hope will force the White House to disclose how many people a year are killed by drones. Today, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) announced the Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act, which would mandate an annual report of everyone killed or injured in strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles. It would take effect retroactively, requiring the Obama administration to produce data for the last five years in the...

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Feb 10 2:13a

Drones kill civilians using NSA data, Greenwald's new site 'The Intercept' reports

The NSA's surveillance programs are often used to help carry out drone strikes on targets, according to a new report, and sometimes there are unintended victims. An anonymous former drone operator for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) told The Intercept — a new publication helmed by Glenn Greenwald, who broke the first of many NSA revelations last year — that the US military and CIA use the NSA's metadata analysis and phone-tracking abilities to identify airstrike targets without...

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Dec 31 12:40p

Covert US targeted killings took 253 lives in 2013, report estimates

The Council on Foreign Relations has released its estimates on the year's covert targeted killings in Yemen and Pakistan, carried out primarily by drones. The numbers are based on reports from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Long War Journal, and The New America Foundation. Each source provides slightly different numbers, but the Long War Journal figures estimate a total of 54 strikes and 253 casualties, of whom 31 were civilians. The Council estimates a total of 3,520 casualties...

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Dec 30 12:31p

Former US drone operator: 'We always wonder if we killed the right people'

As the debate over military drone use rages on, The Guardian has published an unexpected voice on the topic, that of a former US drone operator who openly questions the program. An imagery analyst for the Air Force from 2009 to 2012, Heather Linebaugh says the people making decisions about the drone program are mostly ignorant of the brutality of the casualties inflicted. "I wish I could ask them a few questions," Linebaugh writes. "I'd start with: 'How many women and children have you seen...

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Dec 27 7:04p

US military sees more drones, 'cyber weapon' non-proliferation in the future

The $552 billion 2014 military defense budget signed by President Barack Obama will continue to fund high-tech cyber and unmanned aircraft operations. The budget, which grants central Cyber Command $68 million in operational costs alongside more money for research and individual unit operations, instructs agencies to work towards controlling the proliferation of "cyber weapons." That means stopping the sale or spread of malicious code for "criminal, terrorist, or military activities" while...

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Dec 20 1:46p

The Drone Survival Guide, a plane-spotting poster for an age of unmanned warfare

Asked about drones, the average person will likely name the Reaper and Predator unmanned attack planes, or the tiny octocopters that Amazon hopes can deliver your packages. But the military category alone is far larger: Israel's small triangular Harpy, China's huge four-winged Soaring Dragon. Artist Ruben Pater's Drone Survival Guide is ostensibly for use in spotting and evading these drones, collecting the above craft and more in a birdwatching poster-style set of silhouettes. Like the "S...

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Dec 12 3:25p

Drone strike on wedding party in Yemen kills at least 13 civilians

A drone strike killed at least 13 civilians today when a wedding convoy in Yemen was mistaken for an al-Qaeda gathering, according to a Reuters report based on local sources. Local leaders said the strike came from an unmanned drone, a tactic frequently used by US forces in contested areas. Five others were injured in the strike, which took place in the central al-Bayda region.

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Aug 21 3:26p

NASA's new hurricane hunters are the drones that tracked Bin Laden

Yesterday morning at 8:41AM EST, a NASA airplane took off into the gray sky over Wallops Island, Virginia, heading straight for a massive dust cloud off the coast of Africa. While flying directly into such inhospitable conditions may seem like a death wish, the pilots of this particular plane weren't in any danger. Instead, they were back on safe, solid ground in Wallops and in Dryden, California, controlling the unmanned aircraft remotely. And the success of their mission could not only help...

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Aug 19 2:21p

Where will the FAA host first large-scale drone test flights?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to choose six locations to host large-scale drone test flights by the end of the year, and nearly half of the nation's states have some hope of being chosen. Applications have come in from 24 states for the chance at hosting one of the sites — but some states aren't leaving their chances entirely up to luck: The Washington Post reports that North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Utah, and Wyoming all took to a drone conference...

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Aug 16 1:58p

Transparency could change the debate on drone warfare

The implications of drones — and remote control warfare — remain difficult to grasp. The debate's become so politically charged and generally contentious that it can be hard to know what to think. Are they killing machines gone out of control or an effective and reasonable means of waging war against a lawless organization like al-Qaeda? The Atlantic's Mark Bowden (author of books like Black Hawk Down) has penned a brilliant article for this month's issue to try and shed some light on this...

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Aug 13 3:57p

CIA admits it has drone documents, but refuses to publish them

The US Central Intelligence Agency has finally come forward and admitted it does have documents about US drone strikes, but says it can't share them with the public because doing so would pose a massive security risk to the country. As the CIA stated in a document filed in federal district court in Washington, DC last week (and made public today): "The details of those records, including the number and nature of responsive documents, remain currently and properly classified facts exempt from...

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Jul 30 6:23p

Drones to scour the skies for US businesses after FAA approval

The first commercial drones have been cleared for takeoff in the US. Last Friday, two unmanned aerial vehicles were approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which for the first time will allow businesses to fully operate drones over American soil. The FAA says that "a major energy company" intends to put them to use beginning next month. One will be flown over the Alaskan coast, monitoring ice flows and the migration of whales, while the other will be used to support response...

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Jul 26 1:09p

The FBI has used drones for warrantless surveillance in the US in 10 different cases

Earlier this year, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) publicly revealed for the first time in a hearing that it has been using drones to conduct surveillance operations inside the country, a striking admission, given that domestic drone is a subject of intense debate and there's still not a clear set of rules governing the practice. Now, under prodding from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the FBI has finally offered a few more details about its use of drones, namely, in how many cases...

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Jul 20 11:15a

Federal judge condemns Obama's targeted drone killings of US citizens overseas

A judge is fighting back against the Obama Administration's claims that it should be able to bypass the courts system in ordering drone killings of US citizens located outside the country and not in combat zones, whom it deems to be terrorist threats. As the New York Times reports, US District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington, DC, hasn't made any official rulings on the matter of whether such killings of US citizens abroad are legal — yet. But on Friday, she broadly condemned the...

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Jul 18 3:58p

Colorado town proposes $100 'drone bounty'

Normally, if you shot down an aircraft owned by the federal government, you'd be in trouble. But a small Colorado town named Deer Park is looking to carve out an exception, proposing a $100 bounty to any hunters who shoot down unmanned drones that appear to be "owned or operated by the United States federal government." The ordinance would also require a drone-hunting license, issued after a background check and a $25 fee.

The resident who drafted the ordinance, Philip Steel, was quick to...

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Jun 19 1:50p

FBI admits it uses surveillance drones over US soil

FBI Director Robert Mueller has admitted that the Bureau uses aerial drones to conduct surveillance within the domestic United States. During his testimony at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier today, Mueller bluntly told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that the FBI uses drones, but does so "in a very, very minimal way, and seldom." Later, after being pressed by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), he added that "It's very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you...

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May 23 3:32p

Obama promises more oversight for drone strikes, progress on closing Guantanamo Bay

Over four years into his tenure, President Barack Obama says he is reining in drone strikes. In a speech on the future of counterterrorism, Obama announced that he had signed a presidential guidance statement on drone warfare, codifying the cases in which it is justifiable. Targets, he says, must pose a "continuing, imminent threat" to US persons, and it must be nearly certain that the target is present in an area and non-combatants will not be injured or killed.

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May 22 4:38p

Four US citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009, says Attorney General

For the first time, US Attorney General Eric Holder has admitted that four American citizens have been killed in extrajudicial strikes by unmanned aircraft. The New York Times has obtained a letter sent to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, disclosing details about the Obama Administration's drone program. In it, Holder gave the names of the four citizens killed since 2009: Muslim cleric and alleged terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, his teenage son Abdulrahman...

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May 19 12:48p

President Obama will address legality of drone program on Thursday

The AP reports that President Barack Obama will discuss the legality of his administration's controversial drone program, as well as other counterterrorism measures, during a speech on Thursday. The speech comes after mounting pressure on the administration from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as advocacy groups, who have demanded greater transparency regarding the government's legal justification for drone strikes.

The US government has been criticized for failing to...

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May 15 4:54a

US Navy launches first drone from aboard an aircraft carrier

The US Navy this week successfully launched an unmanned plane from an aircraft carrier, marking what officials are calling "an inflection point" in the military's use of drone aircraft. The X-47B prototype drone, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, took off from aboard the USS George HW Bush Tuesday, and made two low approaches before circling back to land. The test, held off the coast of Virginia, marks the first time that the Navy has ever launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from an...

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May 13 12:58a

US drone strikes condemned as illegal by Pakistan's highest court

A decision from Pakistan's highest court in Peshawar has ruled that US drone strikes on tribal lands have taken place illegally and in violation of human rights.

The court found that the strikes constitute war crimes, and occur without the consent of the Pakistani government, leaving a secret deal forged by the CIA and Pakistani military as the only possible hint of cooperation between the two nations. The decision cites recent estimates that the strikes have caused "at least 400" civilian...

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May 11 11:47p

US Navy drone flies two days straight using liquid hydrogen tank

As the US military discovers just how useful drones can be, it's eager to keep them flying as long as can be, and the US Office of Naval Research now has a drone that can fly for two whole days. The Ion Tiger, an experimental surveillance plane that uses a hydrogen fuel cell as its power source, flew for a record 26 hours using pressurized hydrogen back in 2009, but late last month it managed a full 48 hours and one minute thanks to a new cryogenic storage tank filled with liquid hydrogen....

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May 10 12:23p

Canadian mounties claim first person's life saved by a police drone

As the US continues to grapple with the idea of letting drones fly through the country's airspace, our neighbors to the north have reported a new milestone for unmanned aerial technology: the first life saved using a drone. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the province of Saskatchewan announced yesterday that they successfully used the small Draganflyer X4-ES helicopter drone to locate and treat an injured man whose car had flipped over in a remote, wooded area in near-freezing...

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May 01 5:42p

Automated killer robot development should be paused, says UN report

A United Nations report published online this week says the UN should get countries of the world to suspend development of robotic, fully automated weapons systems until "such time as an internationally agreed upon framework" is reached. The report was prepared by Christof Heyns, a UN human rights lawyer, and its due to be debated at the UN Human Rights Council later this month. Still, the current version of the report provides a window into the UN's thinking on what will come next after an...

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Apr 23 7:11p

US drones could remain over Afghanistan after 2014 withdrawal

The US military is due to pull most combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But after that, an armed American presence could remain over Afghan skies, depending on what agreement for continuing operations is reached between the US and Afghanistan. Air Force Major General H.D. Polumbo, Jr, told reporters at the Pentagon today that drones, including armed unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the US, will likely continue to be used to support the Afghan army's operations through...

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Apr 16 7:31a

ACLU appeals for greater transparency on drone killings

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is appealing a January decision that allowed the CIA to withhold details of its drone targeted killing program. In a statement given to Wired, Hina Shamsi, the ACLU National Security Project director explained that "the targeted killing program raises serious questions about government power in a constitutional democracy."

Last week, McClatchy released evidence from secret documents that showed the extent of US drone killings. The evidence showed...

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Apr 15 6:10p

US Defense Secretary downgrades drone medal after outcry

A new medal that had been proposed by former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in February, to honor the exceptional achievements of US combat drone pilots and cyber soldiers, was downgraded today by his successor to a "distinguishing device" that can only be attached to other medals. "When I came into office, concerns were raised to me about the Distinguished Warfare Medal’s order of precedence by veterans’ organizations, members of Congress, and other stakeholders whose views are valued...

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Apr 10 1:42p

President Obama's 2014 budget would slash drone spending

The White House today published President Obama's proposal for the 2014 federal budget, and amid spending cuts across various departments, one area stands out: the President's budget calls for $526.6 billion in defense spending, down $3.9 billion from the year before. Spending on drones by all branches of the military is down by exactly $1.3 billion from the year before, to $2.5 billion for 2014. Among the cuts proposed for the Department of Defense's budget are a "termination" of new orders...

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Leaked documents show the extent of America's drone war

Top-secret documents acquired by McClatchy have revealed the extent of US drone usage. Despite previous claims that drones were used for "targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists," it's now clear that the unmanned aircraft are being used far more widely. According to McClatchy's Jonathan Landay, at least 265 of the 482 people the CIA killed over a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were assessed to be "unknown extremists;" a far cry from the targeted campaign that...

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Mar 24 12:02p

Mayor Bloomberg says surveillance drones are inevitable in NYC: 'get used to it'

Governmental use of unmanned surveillance drones has inspired a lot of concern about privacy, but New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks the battle's already over. In a radio interview this week, Bloomberg said essentially that drones are an inevitable part of our future (and maybe our present), comparing them to the thousands of cameras already located around Manhattan. "What's the difference whether the drone is up in the air or on the building?" he asked. "We're going into a...

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Mar 20 4:40p

Privacy laws can't handle new wave of commercial drones, Senate hearing concludes

National privacy laws aren't ready to handle the 10,000 commercial drones predicted to be flying around in US airspace by 2020, nor the surveillance drones that some local police and US law enforcement agencies are using already and that many more are seeking. That's the conclusion voiced by US Senators and various expert witnesses during a hearing on domestic drone usage this morning.

"We need to do more to prevent drones from being used in an invasive manner that violates Americans'...

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Mar 15 2:18p

CIA must say if it has secret drone strike documents, DC court rules

The Central Intelligence Agency must publicly declare whether or not it has documents on drone strikes carried out by the US government, and if so, must explain why it can keep those documents hidden from the public, according to a new ruling today by an appeals court in Washington, DC. The ruling, which was made in response to a three-year-old Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, doesn't mean that the CIA will have to turn over any drone documents...

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Mar 13 12:04p

Senate committee hearings will address drone privacy issues and targeted killings

The US Senate Committee on the Judiciary has called two hearings on the most controversial uses of unmanned aerial vehicles. The hearings, chaired by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), will address both privacy concerns raised by drone use within the US and what limits can be placed on targeted killings, often using drones. While some details have not yet been released, the hearings seem to be responding both to general concern over drone use and to a 1...

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Mar 12 12:16p

Department of Defense reconsidering drone and cyberwarfare medal after complaints

The Department of Defense is temporarily stopping production of the Distinguished Warfare Medal while it reviews complaints, the Associated Press reports. According to an unnamed government official, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of the medal, which was announced last month. Unlike other medals of its type, the Distinguished Warfare Medal would be awarded for exceptional accomplishments that do not involve "acts of valor" or bodily risk; it's meant to reward achievement...

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Mar 09 10:16p

Public Afghanistan drone strike data disappears from Air Force site

Data on the monthly number of American drone strikes in Afghanistan has been quietly scrubbed from public records, reports The Air Force Times. Last October, the Air Force began releasing the monthly totals of strikes in Afghanistan in an effort to give the public more information on its overseas operations. But the move appears to have been reversed. The February numbers released March 7th just contain empty boxes for the drone strike data, and all of the previous data has also been deleted...

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Mar 07 7:34p

Senate confirms John Brennan as CIA chief after 12-hour anti-drone filibuster

After being delayed by a 12-hour long filibuster, the Senate has finally confirmed counterterrorism advisor and US intelligence veteran John Brennan as the head of the CIA in a 63-34 vote. While the result was largely expected, Brennan faced heavy resistance for his role in the Obama administration's drone program, which has used unmanned aerial vehicles in the covert extrajudicial killing of terrorism suspects abroad, including American citizens. Along with the President, Brennan is...

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Mar 06 12:18p

Rand Paul filibusters Brennan CIA nomination over US drone policy

As the Senate prepares to confirm John Brennan as CIA director, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is filibustering the vote over the Obama Administration's policy on drone strikes. Paul has said that he will speak "until the President responds" to his questions over whether he will order targeted killing of Americans within US borders. "Mr. President, come clean, come forward, and say you will not kill Americans on American soil," Paul said on the Senate floor, comparing the policy of allowing strikes...

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Mar 05 5:37p

Attorney General won't rule out drone strikes within US borders

In a letter to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Attorney General Eric Holder said that the President could theoretically order lethal strikes within American borders under "extraordinary circumstance." In February, Paul had written to proposed CIA director John Brennan, asking whether the Obama Administration could order drone strikes or other targeted killings of Americans on American soil without trial. As Obama has said before, Holder was clear that "the US government has not carried out drone...

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Mar 02 5:13p

Border patrol drones can detect armed subjects and intercept wireless signals, documents show

The Department of Homeland Security's border patrol drones are outfitted to distinguish armed subjects from unarmed ones and to potentially intercept communications signals. Earlier this week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center received a redacted document from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection through the Freedom of Information Act, showing the performance specifications of Predator drones that are used to patrol the US border. Later, CNET found an unredacted copy. Among...

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Feb 24 3:13p

Former press secretary says White House told him to dodge drone questions

The Obama Administration hasn't just downplayed drone strikes — according to former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, it directed him to avoid mentioning the program altogether. "When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was 'You're not even to acknowledge the drone program. You're not even to discuss that it exists,'" Gibbs told MSNBC's Chris Hayes. Gibbs went on to call the decision "inherently crazy," saying that "you're being...

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Feb 21 11:31p

Al-Qaeda document suggests 22 ways to avoid drone attacks

A recently-translated Al-Qaeda document published by The Associated Press outlines 22 helpful hints for evading or taking down US drones, ranging from radio silence to jamming communications equipment with an "ordinary water-lifting dynamo fitted with a 30-meter copper pole." The list was originally published on an extremist website in Arabic in 2011, and has been republished several times online, but has remained unreported in English. One suggestion — to "hide under thick trees" — is...

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Feb 20 1:51p

UN report says drone attacks in Afghanistan increased by 72 percent last year

An annual report on armed conflict in Afghanistan released this week by the United Nations claims that drone operations in the country expanded significantly last year. The report says that unmanned vehicles released 506 weapons in 2012, up from 294 in 2011 — a 72 percent increase. The news comes on the heels of President Obama's State of the Union speech, in which he announced that 34,000 additional US troops would be brought home from the country, and that "by the end of next year, our war...

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Feb 18 11:10a

Romancing the drone: how America's flying robots are invading pop culture

On September 30th, 2015, the FAA is scheduled to complete its Congressional mandate to authorize unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use in US airspace — a somewhat ominous milestone next to its estimation that by the end of the decade, American skies will be home to around 30,000 remote control aircraft. It's hard to imagine what that will be like because for most people, drones — as we've taken to calling them — simply aren't "real" yet. We still don't know when they can kill us or...

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Feb 15 7:31p

Privacy bill aims to outlaw killer drones in the US, regulate UAV surveillance

The leak of a confidential memo detailing the US government's justifications for drone strikes on American citizens opened the floodgates for new criticism of the Obama administration's secretive counterterrorism program. Now members of Congress have outlined a bill that would ban the use of weaponized drones within the United States, and put restrictions on law enforcement's ability to use them in surveillance operations.

The proposed bill, called the "Preserving American Privacy Act" (PDF)...

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Feb 14 7:38p

FAA moves ahead with plans to allow drone test flights in US airspace

The FAA is announcing that it's moving ahead with plans to test drone flights at six locations in the USA. The sites were required as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act that the administration signed into law a year ago, mandating that changes be made to incorporate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into national airspace.

The site locations haven't yet been decided — the competition is expected to finish later this month — but while some are lauding the announcement for its potential...

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Feb 13 4:46p

US military announces new medal for cyberwarfare and drone operation

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced a new medal for troops who fight from behind a screen. According to unnamed officials, the "Distinguished Warfare Medal" will honor members of the military who have performed an accomplishment "so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from comrades or from other persons in similar situations." Unlike other medals of its level, though, it doesn't require an "act of valor" that would put one's life in danger during...

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Feb 09 1:56p

Seattle mayor scraps police department's drone program after strong public opposition

Following public opposition to drone use in Seattle, city mayor Mike McGinn has decided to pull the plug on a plan to let the Seattle Police Department begin use of two drones it purchased through a federal grant. In a brief statement, the mayor said he cancelled the drone program so that the Seattle police "can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department's priority." The police's drones were 3.5-pound Draganflyer X6 six-rotor helicopters that...

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Feb 07 1:35p

Drones on parade: Congress to grill Obama's CIA nominee on remote-control killings

Later this afternoon, John Brennan, President Obama's chief counterterrorism strategist will be questioned by a Congressional intelligence committee for a shot at becoming the next director of the CIA. But more than being mere procedure, the hearing has the potential to draw back the curtain ever-so-slightly on one of the Obama administration's most secretive and controversial policies: the use of unmanned aerial drones to remotely assassinate terror suspects — including American citizens...

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Feb 05 12:10p

Obama’s new Department of Defense: fewer troops, more drones

Two weeks after President Obama declared in his inaugural address that “a decade of war is now ending,” America’s military leaders are looking into some big changes — although not the kind their critics might be hoping for.

Chuck Hagel, a former Army Sergeant and Republican Senator from Nebraska, is up for nomination to replace Leon Panetta as US Secretary of Defense, and his opposition to what has been the conventional military dogma since the days of the Bush administration could mean a...

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Drone strikes on US citizens justified in leaked DOJ memo

As the use of unmanned aerial drones for military purposes has intensified, the Obama administration has been working — in secret — to codify a set of rules which govern its covert campaigns in the Middle East and Asia. Now a confidential Justice Department white paper has revealed a rough legal framework for one of the drone program's most controversial aspects: the targeted killing of American citizens without due process.

According to the 16 page document obtained by NBC News, a target in...

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Jan 16 6:47p

Senator Leahy expresses concern about 'growing use of drones by federal and local authorities'

In a speech outlining the agenda of the Senate judiciary committee in the 113th Congress, Senator and committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) specifically called out concerns over the government's use of drones. In the speech, given today at the Georgetown University Law Center, chairman Leahy said that "this Congress we will examine the constitutional and legal issues implicated by the administration's use of drones abroad, but my concerns go beyond just the use of lethal force against...

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Jan 08 6:00a

Artist threatened by FBI after seeking drone pilots on Craigslist

Filmmaker Omer Fast was looking to talk to US drone pilots in order to shed light on the highly-controversial practice of remote-controlled killings taking place in the Middle East and Asia. But the Israel-born, Berlin-based artist was stopped dead in his tracks when his producer got a call from the FBI after posting an anonymous ad on Craigslist.

Last week, in an interview with Photoworks magazine, Fast claimed that he and his team were "told to stop what we were doing and threatened in...

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Dec 06 2:17p

Interactive map reveals where drones are being flown inside the US right now

Thanks to new documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we're starting to see a clearer picture of the rapid deployment of unmanned aerial drones by military, state and local law enforcement inside the domestic United States. Using data obtained through their Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FAA, the EFF have constructed an interactive map showing the locations where police, military, and others are currently authorized to fly drones in national airspace, as well...

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Nov 20 5:07a

Human Rights Watch calls for worldwide ban on 'killer robots'

Human Rights Watch this week released a new report calling for the world to abandon fully autonomous weapons "before it's too late." Jointly published by HRW and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, the 50-page report acknowledges that fully autonomous weapons are not yet a reality, but warns that contemporary trends are definitely pushing us in that direction. According to HRW, the implications could be devastating, since such mechanized weaponry would, by definition,...

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Jul 09 4:40p

US Air Force drones target and track civilian cars in New Mexico for training

As unmanned aerial drones proliferate in the United States, military and civilian affairs are intersecting in new and controversial ways: according to a New York Times report, the United States Air Force is training drone pilots by tracking private vehicle traffic on New Mexico highways. During a press visit on Holloman Air Force Base, Air Force drone pilots were reportedly observed trailing and tracking a white SUV on a desert road adjacent to the base, and then another car, which were shown...

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Jul 04 12:08a

UAV industry promises 'safety, professionalism, respect' with new privacy guidelines

The government is currently working to regulate new autonomous technologies like self-driving cars, and unmanned aircraft are no exception. Instead of leaving it to the government, the drone industry has presented its own "Code of Conduct" that it claims will promote "safe, non-intrusive" use of such technology.

Citizens, organizations, and politicians all expressed privacy concerns following a law that requires the FAA to open domestic airspace to unmanned drones by 2015, and the drone...

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Jun 13 5:16p

Public Intelligence identifies 64 aerial drone bases in the US

Aerial drones have been garnering a lot of attention by privacy advocates lately, and Public Intelligence has compiled a list of known US military bases that employ these drones. The map contains the present and future locations of military bases equipped to deploy aerial drones, but most are so far removed from civilian populations that they are likely just training centers for overseas operations. This map comes just one day after we reported that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) a...

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Jun 12 11:51a

Look out below: EFF wants info on your local police's aerial drones

Despite their infamous history in Afghanistan and Iraq, aerial drones are swiftly hovering away from the battlefield and into the skies above cities and towns around the world. The United States government can't seem to put them there fast enough: in February, Congress passed a bill mandating clearance for domestic drone use, and a new Homeland Security program is similarly moving to "facilitate and accelerate the adoption" of drones by police.

With pertinent details on domestic drone use...

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Apr 24 8:32a

FAA reveals list of organizations authorized to fly unmanned drones in the US

The FAA has released a list of all the organizations authorized to fly drones in the US, and while agencies like Customs and Border Protection and DARPA are on the list, so are several colleges, a dozen police and sheriff's offices, and the FBI. The release comes in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed on January 10th. While you don't need a license to fly something like the Parrot AR Drone, anything that flies at over 400 feet...

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Apr 11 3:29p

Hawaii's patrol drone grounded after state fails to seek FAA approval

Last June, Hawaii received a drone that would be used to patrol the harbors around Honolulu using a high-tech camera system — but to this day it has yet to take flight. The $75,000 drone was purchased with funds from a $1.4 million security grant but has been stored in an office since it was first delivered. The problem is that the state's department of transportation didn't actually check with the Federal Aviation Administration to see if it would be allowed to fly the drone. And because of...

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Mar 20 4:34a

The Pirate Bay wants to use flying drones to operate over international waters

While The Pirate Bay's founders lost their appeals against their sentences in Sweden recently, the torrent site claims to have some unique ideas about how to operate going forward. A blog post reveals plans to host some of the site's machines on drones that will "float some kilometers in the air," necessitating "a real act of war" for anyone wanting to take them down. Furthermore, The Pirate Bay tells TorrentFreak that it's planning to fly the first drone in international waters, which would...

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Feb 08 6:54p

Congress says FAA must let drones fly in domestic airspace

According to a bill passed by Congress on Monday, the US Federal Aviation Administration will have until the end of 2015 to open national airspace to unmanned civil and commercial craft. The bill, which granted funding to the FAA, requires the agency to draft a plan for licensing remote-piloted drones to operate in areas that were previously reserved for manned planes. Currently, drones can be used in certain parts of military airspace and at low altitudes or isolated areas; this bill will...

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Jan 26 5:28p

Autonomous military drone raises accountability questions

Remote-controlled drones are already a controversial part of US military strategy, but an experimental Navy aircraft that pilots itself could make the ethical issues they raise seem downright pedestrian. The Northrop Grumman X-47B is a robotic plane designed to be able to refuel, make difficult takeoffs and landings, and follow a flight plan without outside direction. After making its first flight last February, the plane has undergone more testing and development — it's set to make its first...

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Dec 17 3:36p

Robots at war: the ethics of military drones, cyborgs, and nanobots

Plenty of people have debated the value of using drones in war for surveillance and targeted strikes, but most of the discussion has only scratched the surface when it comes to some deeper ethical questions. The CIA's technology venture-capital arm, In-Q-Tel, recently asked philosopher Patrick Lin to elaborate on these issues, and his briefing is now available at The Atlantic. In it, Lin delves into how robots could change the face of warfare, whether by performing dispassionate...

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Dec 06 2:55p

How Israel's drones affect life in Gaza

Drones have become an integral part of modern warfare, providing forces with the ability to survey areas and attack from the air without risking the life of a pilot. However, for the communities in war-stricken areas, the incoming buzzing sound of a drone can be a terrifying experience. An article in The Washington Post has turned the spotlight onto Israel's use of drones in urban areas of Gaza, the war-torn Palestinian territory surrounded by Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea. While...

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