Spies in the Sky


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.

October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?