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Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You

Photo by AK Rockefeller | CC BY 2.0

“Mommy, what’s chutzpah?”

“Sweetie, chutzpah is when the head of Homeland Security says Americans are in danger from drones, but skips over all the people US drones have killed.”

Leo Rosten famously defined chutzpah as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”  Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen showed off her chutzpah in an op-ed in the Washington Post: “The U.S. Isn’t Prepared for the Growing Threat of Drones.”  Nielsen begins by praising the wonders unmanned aerial drones can do, such as drones’ usefulness in rescue efforts, but adds that “the technology also has a dark side.” You don’t say.

Many people are already familiar with drones’ dark side, having experienced it first-hand.  Rafiq ur Rehman did.  A CIA drone killed Rafiq’s mother while she was gathering okra behind their home in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions.  The drone also wounded Rafiq and his two young children.

The US has conducted lethal drone strikes overseas since the days of the George W. Bush Administration.  American drones have killed people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.  None of these are countries with which the US is at war.

US drones have bombed wedding parties in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen.  US drones have bombed funerals.  Many drone victims are children:  “fun-size” terrorists as some drone operators have called them.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia uses armed drones in its three-year unprovoked war on Yemen.  Saudi Arabia gets the drones from the US.

So, it’s a bit rich that Secretary Nielsen frets that drones are a danger to Americans when the US has killed more people with drones than any other country.  You would not know it from her op-ed.  Her op-ed gives no hint that US drones have ever harmed a living soul, much less thousands of them.  No, Nielsen is worried about armed drones in the hands of foreigners.

At least 14 states currently possess weaponized drones (US, UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Italy, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, Russia, and Turkey).  The Defense One website has reported that some experts predict that within a decade every nation will possess weaponized drones.  That prediction was made in 2014.

ISIS buys small drones off Amazon.com and jury-rigs them with explosives.  Hamas and Hezbollah also possess a few crude, small drones.  While other nations are unlikely to use drones inside the US, terrorist groups (including White Nationalists) very well might.

There is another possibility.  Secretary Nielsen is right when she warns that drones “can be used to spy on us, to threaten our critical infrastructure, or to attack crowds and public places.”  She does not say that it may be our own government at the controls.

Is this so unlikely?  The militarization of police continues apace. The Centre for the Study of the Drone at Bard College “estimate[s] that at least 910 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency services in the U.S. have acquired drones.”

Police in North Dakota are now permitted to use drones carrying “non-lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets, tasers, or pepper spray.  Thus armed, drones can disperse even large crowds of political demonstrators.

So, it’s alarming that Secretary Nielsen wants even more power placed in government hands.  DHS, she writes, must have the ability to locate and neutralize evil foreign drones.  This means that Congress must give DHS the power “to access signals being transmitted between a nefarious drone and its ground controller to accurately geolocate both quickly.”  Ah, yes, more government monitoring of the rest of us.  What harm can come from that?

Kirstjen Nielsen Can’t Stay for Dessert

Nielsen loves drones, but she is best known for hating migrants.  As head of DHS, she has been a zealous enforcer and defender of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” immigration policy.  You know, the policy which lets Trump break up migrant families and detain their children in locations so secret, even the Trump Administration doesn’t know where the kids are.

On June 19, Secretary Nielsen had to beat a hasty retreat from a Mexican restaurant in Washington DC. Nielsen had the ill fortune to choose the MXDC Cocina Mexicana on the same evening as the DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.  The DSA drove her out with cries of “Shame on Nielsen, shame on Trump” and “No borders, no walls, sanctuary for all” and “Abolish ICE.”  Next time, Kirstjen, try the drive-thru.

Incredibly, two weeks later, the DHS head had the—yes, chutzpah—to tweet:  “Congratulations to the nearly 14,000 new American citizens sworn in across the country this Fourth of July!”

Nielsen’s two loves, of drones and of separating migrant families, are not entirely unrelated.  US drones separate families too, most often into tiny pieces.

US drones at the Mexican border keep a lookout for drug smugglers and migrants.  These drones are unarmed, but will they stay that way?  Ted Rall reminds us that “Obama attorney general Eric Holder said in 2013, and no legal expert challenged him, that the feds have the right to launch military drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil.”

Surely, unauthorized migrants shouldn’t have more legal protection than American citizens! If it’s OK for the US government to kill US citizens on US soil, then it’s OK for US drones to kill undocumented immigrants.  After all, they are “invading” our country.

Journalist Fintan O’Toole calls the rupturing of families and the throwing of babies into cages, “trial runs for fascism.” “Fascism,” O’Toole writes, “doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy.”  It has to be introduced little by little.  “You have to … inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty.”  President Donald Trump is an “ignoramus,” but “he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing.”  O’Toole describes Trump as thinking “let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.”  If babies in cages “sell,” the Administration can ratchet up the cruelty.

Trump’s next test run may be killing migrants with drones.  If that tests well, killer drones can be turned on other “undesirables,” like dirty Red un-American protesters.  That’s a small price to pay to Make America Great Again.

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Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com.

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