Spies in the Sky

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

It’s all because of the little noticed annual report for 2010 from the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).  The document was released March 2011.  Some especially interesting language is found on page 26 in a section entitled “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.”  It describes how the “Department of State coordinated with the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies to research using Tier 1 (low altitude, long endurance) unmanned aerial vehicles in high-threat locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  This effort led to a successful test in Iraq in December.  DS plans to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to support U.S. Embassy Baghdad in 2011. The program will watch over State Department facilities and personnel and assist Regional Security Officers with high-threat mission planning and execution.”  The “unmanned aerial vehicles” to which the document refers are popularly known as “drones” and have already proved their usefulness in killing, among others Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen.  Now the United States would like to use them for spying. But first, Abdulrahman.

Abdulrahman was born in Denver Colorado but moved with his family to Yemen.  As reported by Time magazine, on September 15 the 16-year old Abdulrahman left his home in Yemen looking for his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and radical cleric who was hiding in the southern province of Yemen called Shabwa.  The United States had long targeted his father and during the time Abdulrahman was searching for him his father was killed by a CIA sponsored drone.  Two weeks later another drone attack killed a senior al-Qaeda militant whom the United States had targeted.  The luster of the raid was dimmed because Abdulrahman, one of his cousins and six other people were also killed. They were not targets but, as one U.S. official in a clever, if not particularly sensitive turn of phrase put it when referring to Abdulrahman’s death, he “was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  That was, of course, self-evident.  Now we are privy to discussions about drones used for spying instead of killing.

For years it has been accepted that countries routinely place their intelligence agents under cover in other countries in an attempt to learn what is going on in those countries that may affect the spying country’s interests. Now, thanks to modern science, a country is not limited in its spying on another country to boots on the ground. Instead,  it can use drones.  There is, of course, one small problem with that.  The country over which the drones fly may not react cordially to the idea that the United States can fly drones wherever it wants.  Indeed, it is likely that the United States would not take kindly to learning that Russia was routinely flying drones in U.S. skies for purposes of gathering intelligence.

It has now been disclosed that the United States,  which is responsible for the chaos that reigns in Iraq following the successful conclusion of the war it started, plans to fly drones in order to protect what is the biggest United States embassy in the world.  Formally opened in 2009,  the embassy will house more than 11,000 people and be protected by 5,000 private security contractors and an undisclosed number of drones. The embassy is as big as the Vatican and includes a 16,000 square foot ambassador’s residence and a 9000 square foot residence for the deputy ambassador. At the opening ceremony in 2009, U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker said the opening signaled a “new era for Iraq and United States relations.”   He was probably not thinking of drones.  The Iraqis now are and drones promise to become another nail in the coffin in which a “new era for Iraq and United States relations” lies.

The Iraqis are upset at the idea that the United States believes it has the right to fly its drones wherever it wants.  They don’t think a foreign country,  which the United States is now that its troops have gone home, should have the right to violate its air space.  They think the United States should get permission to operate the drones in Iraqi airspace. Commenting on the proposal to use drones, several key advisors to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said they had not been consulted about the Americans’ plans and one of them who opposes the drone program said:  “Our sky is our sky, not the U.S.A.’s sky.”  That idea might shock the State Department. Another Iraqi, Mohammed Ghaleb Nasser, an enginer from the northern city of Mosul said:  “If they are afraid about their diplomats being attacked in Iraq, then they can take them out of the country.”  Of course he probably wasn’t thinking of the fact that the embassy is practically brand new.  The United States would be as reluctant to leave the new embassy as Saddam Hussein was to leave his assorted palaces for a prison cell.

Permitting the United States to fly drones wherever it wants is the price a country may have to pay for friendship with the United States.  Some countries may think that price too high.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman