Weekly Roundup 12/2


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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

On November 26, an Israeli mall and cinema complex was converted into a military and civilian drone trade fair. Our correspondent Andy Beale reports. “Businessmen, military officers, children and mall employees gathered outside the mall to watch the Heron I demonstration. A live feed of the drone’s camera showed the Heron I chasing kufiya-wearing actors.”


American drone strikes in Afghanistan reportedly killed two insurgent commanders and a child. Two women were also severely wounded in the strikes, according to the New York Times. General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the NATO commander in Afghanistan, apologized for the civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that a September 7 drone strike in Afghanistan  killed a number of civilians. A NATO investigation found that the strike killed three civilians, though local villagers claim that the toll was higher.

The Pakistani political party Tehreek-e-Insaf has demanded the arrest of the CIA Station Chief in Islamabad for the civilian deaths caused by drone strikes. Shireen Mazari, the party’s information secretary, wrote a letter to the Pakistani police demanding the arrest of the station chief, as well as the arrest of John Brennan, the director of the CIA. The Islamabad Station Chief, whom Tehreek-e-Insaf claims to have successfully identified, is the lead CIA agent in the country and is responsible for coordinating drone strikes in the tribal areas. (ABC News)

Meanwhile, Tehreek-e-Insaf members protesting U.S. drone strikes continue to prevent NATO cargo from passing through Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The sit-in, which is occurring along two crucial highways, has lasted nine days. Protesters are turning back Afghanistan-bound NATO supplies while permitting ordinary goods to pass. (Express Tribune)

The Washington Post reported that the CIA continues to coordinate the majority of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, despite an attempt to transfer the targeted killing program to the Pentagon. According to the Post’s Greg Miller, although military personnel will eventually hold the final say in a drone strike, “the emerging plan is likely to allow the CIA to maintain its drone fleet and stay deeply involved in targeted killing operations.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company’s plans to use drones to deliver packages to customers. In an interview on the CBS television show 60 Minutes, Bezos explained that the company’s goal is to deliver packages to shoppers within 30 minutes of purchase. (CBS)

Motherboard, the VICE tech blog, and MuckRock, a public records request service, launched the 2013-2014 American drone census. The census is a nationwide crowdsourced effort to petition government departments with Freedom of Information Act requests to establish how many drones are used by the government, how frequently and for what purposes. (Motherboard)

Four men were arrested in Georgia after allegedly attempting to use a drone to smuggle contraband into a jail. Prison guards at Calhoun State Prison became aware of the smuggling plot when they spotted the multicopter drone hovering over the prison yard. The suspects’ vehicle contained tobacco and mobile phones. (BBC News)

The smuggling attempt in Georgia follows similar attempts at a Quebec prison. According to Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec’s correctional officers’ union, drone smuggling plots “happen all the time” at Quebec prisons. (The Toronto Sun)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

Writing for Time, Tik Root describes how Yemeni artists are protesting American drone strikes with street art and poetry. To foster an artistic response to drones, the British-based human rights organization Reprieve held an anti-drone poetry competition. “It’s a way of engaging more sectors of society,” says Baraa Shiban, the Reprieve coordinator for the competition.

At Forbes, Ryan Calo considers the threats that ground robots pose to civil liberties, arguing that state legislation barring aerial surveillance does not take non-flying drones into account.

Also at Forbes, Gregory McNeal explains that the Federal Aviation Administration may not establish a full set of guidelines for the use of drones in U.S. airspace in time for the 2015 roll out of Amazon’s delivery drones.

At Geographical Imaginations blog, Derek Gregory continues his extended series on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone. “Yet if this new military power saves lives, Chamayou demands, what is it saving them from?  His answer: from itself, from its own power to kill,” writes Gregory.

Understanding Empire blog examines the history of military drones, beginning in the First World War.

The Brookings Institution hosted a lecture and Q&A with Lt. General Michael T. Flynn, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in which he discussed the emerging security and intelligence landscape. “I would say that we have to have a far better, far deeper understanding of the operational environments that we are operating within today,” said Lt. General Flynn.

Writing for the Express Tribune, Kamal Siddiqi argues that the ongoing protests against drones distract Pakistanis from the efforts to combat the spread of polio. “We continue to be our own worst enemies,” writes Siddiqi.

At the New York Times, Rod Nordland and Salman Masood explain how recent drone strikes add new tension to the United States’s relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The use of these weapons, which is deeply resented, highlights the political costs to the United States of the drone campaigns, even as its range of military options in the region has started to narrow with American combat troops leaving Afghanistan,” write Nordland and Masood.

Know Your Drone

The U.S. Army has placed a $4.5 million order for 36 foldable, bird-shaped drones for its Rapid Equipping Force. The Maveric drone, which can fly for an hour at an altitude of up to 25,000 feet, is designed to look like a bird in order to fool enemy combatants. (Wired)

The British company New Wave Energy has announced plans to build power plant drones that hover at 50,000 ft, collecting solar and wind energy, according to Phys.org. The drone power plants will wirelessly transmit the harvested energy back to the ground.

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald has published footage retrieved from the quadcopter drone that crashed onto train tracks on the Sydney Harbor Bridge in October. The footage shows that the drone’s journey did not end upon impact with the bridge. In fact, the the drone’s camera continued running as the drone was collected from the bridge by a train driver and handed over to authorities.

In a new report, British research and analysis company Visiongain predicts that U.S. and European military demand for unmanned vehicles will drop in the short term as a result of fiscal pressures, but will increase greatly in the long term as unmanned technology becomes more advanced.

Researchers at Estonia’s Tallinn University of Technology have developed an underwater drone to map shipwrecks. Like a sea turtle, the U-CAT drone uses flippers—rather than propellers—for propulsion. (Tallinn University of Technology)

In a Q&A with U-T San Diego, defense contractor Northrop Grumman’s vice president of medium-range tactical systems, George Vardoulakis, spoke about the company’s two lightweight drones, the Bat and the R-Bat. “The reality,” said Vardoulakis, “is [our drones] will eventually be used for a lot of things. Beyond agriculture—going up and down pipelines, looking for oil leaks in the Arctic. Doing border surveillance, outfitting them with sensors for illegal immigration…There’s an unlimited number of applications. (U-T San Diego)

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Photo: The Amazon Air drone. Credit: Amazon. 

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