Drone Warfare




“In this remarkably cogent and carefully researched book, Medea Benjamin makes it clear that drones are not just another high-tech military trinket. Drone Warfare sketches out the nightmare possibilities posed by this insane proliferation.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

“Activist extraordinaire Medea Benjamin has documented how the U.S. government’s use of drones to murder hundreds of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen has increased the danger to our national security. Benjamin’s Drone Warfare is the first book that reveals the vocal international citizen opposition that challenges the legality and morality of America’s extrajudicial execution drones before they kill here at home.” —Ann Wright, U.S. Army colonel (ret.) and former deputy chief of mission for U.S. embassies in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere

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About the Book

Weeks after the 2002 American invasion of Afghanistan, Medea Benjamin visited that country. There, on the ground, talking with victims of the strikes, she learned the reality behind the “precision bombs” on which U.S. forces were becoming increasingly reliant. Now, with the use of drones escalating at a meteoric pace, Benjamin has written this book as a call to action: “It is meant to wake a sleeping public,” she writes, “lulled into thinking that drones are good, that targeted killings are making us safer.”

Drone Warfare is a comprehensive look at the growing menace of robotic warfare, with an extensive analysis of who is producing the drones, where they are being used, who “pilots” these unmanned planes, who are the victims and what are the legal and moral implications. In vivid, readable style, the book also looks at what activists, lawyers and scientists are doing to ground the drones, and ways to move forward.

In reality, writes Benjamin, the assassinations we are carrying out via drones will come back to haunt us when others start doing the same thing—to us.

Publication May 2012 • 262 pages
paperback ISBN 978-1-935928-81-2 • ebook ISBN 978-1-935928-82-9

About the Author

Medea Benjamin is a co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the international human rights organization Global Exchange. She has been an advocate for social justice for more than thirty years. Described as “one of America’s most committed—and most effective—fighters for human rights” by New York Newsday, and called “one of the high profile leaders of the peace movement” by the Los Angeles Times, Benjamin has distinguished herself as an eloquent and energetic figure in the progressive movement. A former economist and nutritionist with the United Nations and World Health Organization, she is the author/editor of eight books. Her articles appear regularly in publications such as The Huffington Post, CommonDreams, Alternet and OpEd News.

In the Media

New Politics, Summer 2013

The Socialist, June 26th 2013

Business Day, June 25th 2013

Guardian, May 9th 2013

Socialistworker.org, April 4th 2013

Democracy Now!, February 8th 2013

Socialistworker.org, January 15th 2013

The Guardian, January 10th 2013

The Daily Beast, August 28th 2012

Peace Blog, July 2012

Counterfire, June 28th 2012

Morning Star, June 27th 2012

The Rag Blog, June 20th 2012

New York Daily News, June 17th 2012

Tikkun, June 17th 2012

The New Left Project, June 14th 2012

Tablet, May 8th 2012

Peace News, May 2012

Counterpunch, May 3rd 2012

Democracy Now!, April 27th 2012

The Real News, April 27th 2012

The Guardian, April 26th 2012

AlterNet, March 21st 2012

Global Exchange, March 21st 2012

Read an Excerpt

from Chapter 1

At the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner, President Bush joked about searching
for weapons of mass destruction under Oval Office furniture, since they had never been found in
Iraq. The joke backfired when parents who had lost their children fighting in Iraq said they found
it offensive and tasteless. Senator John Kerry said Bush displayed a “stunningly cavalier”
attitude toward the war and those fighting it.

Six years later, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama made his own not-so-
funny joke about weapons and war. When the pop band Jonas Brothers was about to play to
the packed room, Obama furrowed his brow and sent them a warning to keep away from his
daughters. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you:
Predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

For people in Pakistan, where American drones have been dropping their Hellfire missiles,
Obama’s joke lost something in translation. According to Pakistani journalist Khawar Rizvi, few
Pakistanis had ever heard of the Jonas Brothers or understood the reference to the President’s
daughters. “But one thing we do know: There’s nothing funny about Predator drones,” said

That seemed to be the opinion of Faisal Shahzad, a thirty-year-old Pakistan-born resident of
Bridgeport, Connecticut. On May 1, 2010, just one day after President Obama made his
offensive drone joke, Shahzad tried to set off a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square. The
would-be bomber had left his explosive-laden Nissan Pathfinder parked in the middle of the
busiest intersection in New York City at the busiest time: 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. Luckily,
the bomb failed to explode, and the authorities—tipped off by local t-shirt vendors—disarmed it
before it caused any casualties. Questioned about his motives by the authorities, Shahzad talked about US drone attacks in

….The technology for flying remotely has existed for decades. Unmanned aerial vehicles were first
tested by the military way back during World War I. In the 1930s the US, UK, and Germany,
later joined by the USSR and others, all began to use drones for anti-aircraft targeting exercises.
Unmanned crafts were used as guided missiles by the US military in World War II and the
Korean War. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that unmanned aircraft were used to gather

Anyone who wants to build an unmanned aircraft can order the parts at a hobby shop and
assemble them in their garage. In fact, the prototype for the most popular modern-day drone, the
Predator, was built by Israeli aviation engineer Abraham Karem in his garage in southern
California in the 1980s.

During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Israelis developed a spy drone to try to get real-time,
front-line intelligence, but these unmanned aircraft lasted very few hours in the air and kept
crashing. Abraham Karem went to work with an Israeli defense contractor to improve the plane’s
endurance, and then moved to southern California in 1980 to develop his own company to
produce unmanned aircraft.

With grants from the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and
the CIA, Karem began building a new model at home in his three-car garage. In 1981 he
unveiled what he called the Albatross, an unmanned plane that could stay in the air for up to fifty-six
hours, and later a new version with a powerful flight control computer called the Gnat 750.
But Karem was financially strapped and decided to sell his company to Hughes Aircraft, which
then sold it to General Atomics, keeping Karem on as a consultant.

In 1993 system, adding the now characteristic bulbous nose to the fuselage. Thus the Predator drone was born and was used in the Balkan wars to gather information on
refugee flows and Serbian air defenses. It was not until the 1999 NATO Kosovo campaign,
however, that someone came up with the idea of equipping these planes with missiles,
transforming them from spy planes into killer drones.

Today, drones are used for both lethal and non-lethal purposes. Outside the military, unmanned
aircraft are being drafted for everything from tracking drug smugglers and monitoring the US–
Mexico border to engaging in search operations after earthquakes and spraying pesticides on
crops. But the military is the driving force behind drones.

The Israeli military has a long history of using drones to gather intelligence, as decoys, and for
targeted killings. Their use of drones dates back to the occupation of the Sinai in the 1970s, and
was further developed in the 1982 war in Lebanon and the ongoing conflicts in the Palestinian

The Israeli unmanned aircraft pioneered in the late 1970s and 1980s were eventually integrated
into the United States’ inventory. Impressed with Israel’s use of UAVs during military
operations in Lebanon in 1982, then-Navy Secretary John Lehman decided to acquire UAV
capability for the Navy. One of the UAVs purchased from Israel, the Pioneer, was used to gather
intelligence during Desert Storm. According to a Congressional Research Report in 2003,
“Following the Gulf War, military officials recognized the worth of UAVs, and the Air Force’s
Predator became a UAV on a fast track, quickly adding new capabilities.”
But it was the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks that led to an explosion in the US military’s use
of drones and a host of other robotic weapons. The hundreds of billions of dollars that Congress
allocated for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made the Pentagon flush with funds to buy up all
manner of robotic weapons that military contractors from General Atomics to Northrop
Grumman had been developing.

The various branches of the military filled their shopping carts with every robot they could find:
tiny surveillance robots that can climb walls and stairs, snake-like robots that slither in the grass,
unmanned tanks mounted with .50 caliber weapons, and ground robots to carry the soldiers’
heavy loads.

They snatched up every type of drone on the production lines and commissioned new ones. They
bought the 38-inch-long Raven that is launched by simply throwing it into the air; the 27-footlong
Predator with its Hellfire missiles, and later the more powerful Reaper version; the 40-footlong
Global Hawk with sci-fi surveillance capabilities.

The Pentagon was ordering these machines faster than the companies could produce them. In
2000, the Pentagon had fewer than fifty aerial drones; ten years later, it had nearly 7,500. Most
of these were mini-drones for battlefield surveillance, but they also had about 800 of the bigger
drones, ranging in size from a private aircraft to a commercial jet. Then Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates said that the next generation of fighter jet, the F-35 that took decades to develop at
a cost of more than $500 million each, would be the Pentagon’s last manned fighter aircraft.
From 2002–2010, the Department of Defense’s unmanned aircraft inventory increased more than
forty-fold. Even during the financial crisis that started brewing in 2007 and led to the slashing
of government programs from nutrition supplements for pregnant women to maintenance of
national parks, the Defense Department kept pouring buckets of money into drones. At the height
of government deficit-reducing cuts in 2012, the US taxpayer was shelling out $3.9 billion for
the procurement of unmanned aircraft, not counting the separate drone budgets for the CIA and
the Department of Homeland Security.

Most military drones are still used for surveillance purposes. The photo sensors the UAVs carry
have become increasingly powerful, allowing the on-the-ground pilots to watch individuals from
an aircraft 30,000–60,000 feet up in the air. The infrared and ultraviolet imaging captures light
outside the spectrum visible to the human eye. UV imaging is useful in space and for tracking
rockets; IR imaging shows heat emitted by an object, making it ideal for identifying humans in
the dark. It is worth noting here that manned aircraft use IR imaging and can use all the same
sensors drones can.

One reason for the great demand in drones was that they graduated from simply tracking and
monitoring targets to actually killing them. In Afghanistan, drones were credited for killing
senior Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. In the Iraq invasion, they were used for everything from
tracking supporters of Saddam Hussein to blowing up government agencies. In 2003, US Air
Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, “We’ve moved from using UAVs
primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom,
to a true hunter-killer role.”

Another reason that drones were in such demand was the very nature of the Afghan and Iraqi
wars. The US military had a hard time even finding its enemies, as many local fighters blended
in among the civilian populations. Drones gave the military a way to conduct persistent
surveillance and to strike quickly.

Armed drones are used in three ways. They supply air support when US ground troops attack or
come under attack; they patrol the skies looking for suspicious activity and, if they find it, they
attack; and they conduct targeted killings of suspected militants.

….Drones can also “go rogue,” meaning that the remote control is no longer communicating with
the drone. In 2009, the US Air Force had to shoot down one of its drones in Afghanistan when it
went rogue with a payload of weapons. In 2008, an Israeli-made drone used by Irish
peacekeepers in Chad went rogue. After losing communication, it decided on its own to start
heading back to Ireland, thousands of miles away, and crashed en route.

The Navy’s multi-million dollar drone has the unfortunate feature of starting to self-destruct if
the pilot accidentally presses the spacebar on his keyboard. As Fox News reported, “An
unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter can launch by itself, fly by itself—and with a single
slip, can nearly blow up by itself.” According to a June 24, 2011 report from the Defense
Department, a Navy pilot operating an unmanned helicopter accidentally pressed the spacebar
with a wire from his headset. The crisis was averted at the last minute, but the Navy’s MQ-8B
has so many flaws that it failed ten of ten test missions at the Naval Air Station in southern
Maryland. In fact, a glitch led one of the aircraft to fly uncontrolled from the station into
restricted airspace near Washington, DC, before control was regained.

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