Thursday, January 24, 2013

Live by the drone, die by the drone?

Admiral Dennis C. Blair
Those of us ordering drone strikes risk falling victim to a drone strike according to Admiral Dennis C. Blair, former Director of National Intelligence.  The Admiral shared this fear on January 22 during an interview hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.
. . . what I do fear the most, though, is that a terrorist -- and let me say I don't fear too much other nation- states that gain this capability. It's very -- you know if another country has it and is using it against you and then you can use the full -- the full array of both defensive systems and of retaliation to keep it from being used against you effectively.  
I do fear that -- and if al-Qaida can develop a drone, its first thought will be to use it to kill our president, senior officials, senior military officers. And it's possible, without a great deal of intelligence, to be able to do something with a drone that you can't do with a -- with a high-speed -- with a high-powered rifle or with -- driving a car full of explosives or the other ways that terrorists now use to try to kill senior officials. 
Had we better, on this account, think twice before firing missiles from drones at terror suspects? Admiral Blair doesn't think so:
And I think that there are ways to deal with that -- but it -- and I also think that whether we use them or not -- the way in which we use them or not won't affect the zeal of terrorists groups to be able to get them and to be able to kill senior officials for all of the reasons that we are familiar with.
Admiral Blair does not believe U.S. drone strikes stoke the "zeal of terrorists groups" to get drones and kill us. Although trusting the Admiral would allow staff to sleep easier, we find the counter-arguments compelling:
  1. Drone strikes may cause survivors to hold grudges against the department.  They help terrorist groups attract recruits to their cause.
  2. Every time we kill a terror suspect in a drone strike, we lose an opportunity to interrogate someone who might have had knowledge of an impending drone attack.  We're always assassinating people we should be torturing.
  3. We massively fund the development of drone technology, some of which is easy to copy.  
  4. We have set ourselves up to lose the propaganda war.  If the terrorists killed a senior official in a drone strike, would the department get sympathy or would people be shaking their heads saying, "Live by the drone, die by the drone"?
Admiral Blair said that if the terrorists are aiming to take out senior staff with drones, "there are ways to deal with that."  As the department tweeted earlier this week, we know how to address the threat of drone terrorism:


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Dr. Rebecca Wolf
Undersecretary for Community and New Media
United States Department of Fear