Weekly Roundup 10/28


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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

In the span of just over a week, two U.N. Special Rapporteurs, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all released separate reports on military drone operations. Arthur Holland Michel compiled a one-stop summary of the reports to help make sense of how they are similar and how they are different.

Julie Carpenter captured the public imagination earlier this month when she released a study that showed that soldiers often develop strong emotional ties with the robots that they operate. In an in-depth interview, Dr. Carpenter discusses Pygmalion, humanoids, and explains why we shouldn’t worry about the prospect of robot-human love.


In a plenary meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Special Rapporteurs Ben Emmerson and Christof Heyns presented their reports on drones to a host of nations that are largely critical of U.S. drone operations. In response to criticism from a number of states, including China and Brazil, the U.S. called its drone operations “necessary, legal and just.” (The Guardian)

According to U.S. government memos obtained by the Washington Post, the government of Pakistan has been endorsing CIA drone strikes for years. “Markings on the documents indicate that many of them were prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center specifically to be shared with Pakistan’s government,” reported Greg Miller and Bob Woodward.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch simultaneously released reports on U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. The authors of the reports contend that U.S. operations in both countries have likely violated international humanitarian law but stress that it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions, given that the U.S. has not disclosed detailed information about these operations. (New York Times)

In a meeting with Obama in Washington D.C., Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged the U.S. president to halt CIA drone strikes. (BBC News)

Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates remarked in a speech that even drone warfare “is inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain.” Gates criticized the tendency of U.S. defense experts to see war as “bloodless, painless, and odorless” as a video game.  (Washington Post)

A spokesperson for the China’s Ministry of Defense told reporters that China would consider it an act of war if Japan shot down any Chinese drones. (Times of India)

According to The Guardian, Iran gave Russia a copy of a U.S. ScanEagle drone that it claims was captured by Iranian forces over one year ago. The gift was intended to serve as proof of Iran’s success in reverse-engineering the small surveillance drone.

Firefighters battling a bushfire in Australia reported that an unauthorized unmanned aerial vehicle that was flown over the blaze had forced the Rural Fire Service to ground their fleet of firefighting aircraft due to the risk of a mid-air collision (Sky News). The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority threatened to fine anyone operating unauthorized drones over the bush fires in Lithgow, New South Wales. (ABC News)

Five members of an anti-drone activist group were acquitted of disorderly conduct during a protest at the Syracuse Hancock Air Base. The protesters blocked the entrance to the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard, a Reaper drone hub where technicians operate drones flown in Afghanistan. (The Saratogian)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

Kenneth Anderson and Benjamin Wittes describe a number of flaws in the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports. “Neither of these reports even purports to examine a representative sample of drone strikes. Rather, the two groups went looking for drones strikes that had killed civilians—and they found some,” write Anderson and Wittes in New Republic.

Lawfare Blog’s Rikita Singh appraises the recent human rights reports on drone strikes and the work by several other organizations to count civilian casualties.

In a GQ profile by Matt Power, former drone pilot Brandon Bryant recalls his experience operating weaponized drones in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 to 2011. Bryant, who claims to have killed over 1,600 people, and who suffers from PTSD, describes the the tedious, surreal and deeply unsettling experience of remote warfare. “Sitting in the darkness of the control station,” writes Power, “Bryant watched people on the other side of the world go about their daily lives, completely unaware of his all-seeing presence wheeling in the sky above.”

At the New York Times, Declan Walsh considers the position of the Pakistani government in light of recent revelations regarding their role in CIA drone strikes.

The Guardian reviews artist Richard Goodwin’s Drone Dorje + The Drone Stripped Bare of all its Brides, currently showing at the Australian Galleries in Sydney.

Wounds of Waziristan, a documentary by journalist and filmmaker Madiha Tahrir, examines the psychological effects of drone warfare on civilians in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The film is currently available for free on Motherboard.

Jon Stewart apologizes to the world for U.S. drone use and global surveillance.

Know Your Drone

Aerovel has developed a drone that can autonomously take off from and land on an unmanned skiff. (Dvice)

Defense contractor MBDA claims that it has developed a hyper-accurate missile that will help to drastically reduce the number of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes. The Brimstone, as the missile is called, has a much smaller blast radius than the Hellfire, which is the current de-facto missile for drone strikes. (Breaking Defense)

A Brazilian researcher is developing electrically conductive make-up that can be used, among other applications, for controlling drones. (Katiavega.com)

China has reportedly made plans to establish an industrial complex for developing and producing drone technology. (IHS Jane’s)

The U.S. military has awarded the Norwegian company Prox Dynamics a $2.5 million deal contract to develop their Black Hornet micro-drone. The Black Hornet is a palm-sized helicopter that will be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. (Military & Aerospace)

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Photo: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and President Obama at the White House. Credit: AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
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One comment

  1. Here is a video about the human side of drone diplomacy:

    People need to bring accountability of government back to the people because to do otherwise is to invite disaster. Printing about 1 Trillion dollars per year somehow hoping the US workforce is being helped while the dollar declines inviting commodity arbitrage for a currency basket and a major decline in the quality of life in the US. http://zerohedge.com

    Free trade is not free if we can not compete against a dollar per day wage. I suggest you take a closer view of zoning law and how government is being used to destroy the fundamental rights, justice and way of life right here in America.

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