Weekly Roundup 10/21


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Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that the CIA has relied on signals intelligence collected by the National Security Agency to conduct drone strikes. The documents detail extensive cooperation between the two agencies. (Washington Post)

New rules put forward by the Japanese Defense Ministry permit the Self-Defence Force to shoot down any drones that enter Japanese airspace. The move is ostensibly a response to a recent incident in which a Chinese drone approached the disputed Senkaku Islands. (Japan Times)

The New York Times reported that China’s arms industry has grown in many areas, including in the production and sale of unmanned aircraft. “From drones to frigates to fighter jets, the companies are aggressively pushing foreign sales of high-tech hardware, mostly in the developing world,” wrote Edward Wong and Nicola Clark.

In a report to the United Nations, Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded that drones undermine the protection of life and cause “structural damage to the cornerstones of international security,” and called for greater transparency from states that conduct military drone operations. Though no states are mentioned in the report, it is clearly targeted at the U.S. covert drone war in Pakistan, Yemen, and the horn of Africa.

Meanwhile, Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who penned a UN report on drone strikes last month, announced that that the Pakistani government estimates that 400 civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. This number is substantially higher than the figures that have been offered by U.S. officials such a Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, who claimed that yearly civilian casualties were in the “single digits.” (NBS News)

New York City police arrested the man who crashed a quadcopter in Midtown Manhattan earlier this month. (Gothamist)

The Indian Air Force scrambled fighter jets when they mistook a flock of birds for drones. The large flocks of migratory birds headed for the waters of Gujarat matched the slow-moving radar profile of unmanned aircraft. (Indian Express)

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, urged the EU to build joint drone programs and cooperate on research into unmanned vehicle technology and cyber security. (Reuters)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism put together useful analyses of both of the recent UN reports on drones.  Here’s their analysis of the Ben Emmerson report, and here’s their piece on the Christof Heyns report.

According to the Economist, many residents in the northwestern tribal areas of Pakistan support drone strikes. (The Economist)

At The New Republic, Matthew Waxman and Kenneth Anderson argue that the the rapidly growing campaign to ban autonomous killing machines is “unnecessary and dangerous.” “No one can say with certainty how much automation technologies might gradually reduce the harms of warfare, but it would be morally wrong not to seek such gains as can be had,” write Waxman and Anderson.

In an opinion for the Washington Post, Linda Robinson argues that special forces will increasingly displace drones in counterterrorism operations.

At the Vancouver Sun, Ian Mulgrew urges the police to address privacy concerns after several Canadian law enforcement agencies purchased small surveillance drones.

Cora Currier, writing for The Atlantic Wire, discusses the various ethical, moral and linguistic challenges that the participants and speakers at NYU’s Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference had to contend with over the course of the three-day event.

At Small Wars Journal blog, Rob Newson considers the long-term effort against groups associated with al Qaeda, a fight that he suggests is often overshadowed by drone strikes.

The Understanding Empire blog features an exploration of the NSA-CIA collaboration. In the article, Ian Shaw argues that given the complexity of the intelligence-gathering that is involved in drone operations, the terms “kill-network or kill-net might be a more appropriate cartographic designation” than “kill-chain.”

The artists Marco de Mutiis and Kenny Wong are posting camera-equipped drones in the Hong Kong subway and sending a live feed of the footage through to the K11 Art Space. The purpose of the project is to explore the forced intimacy that the crowded subway system imposes on commuters.

In the Boston Review, Nasser Hussain explores the phenomenology of drone strikes. “Sight on one side and sound on the other,” he writes. “Focus on one side and diffusion on the other. It is precisely this distribution of senses that produces the assertion of pinpoint accuracy and the disavowal of widespread harm.”

Know Your Drone

Stanford graduate student Ved Chirayath developed a shoebox-sized, four-rotor drone to map coral reefs from 200 feet in the air. This information will allow scientists to conduct population surveys and assess damage from climate change. Using software developed called Fluid Lensing, the drone is able to provide a clear picture of coral reefs through the water. (R&D Magazine)

The U.S. Coast Guard has announced that it will deploy a new unmanned boat to survey the damage to coastlines, ports and harbors caused by natural and man-made disasters. The drone, which is called the Unmanned Port Security Vessel, can be dropped into the ocean by helicopter. (Huffington Post)

Researchers at Harvard University are working to develop autonomous robotic bees.

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Photo: Michaela Rehle/Reuters
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