Drones and the New Ethics of War

Protesters march against President Obama’s drone wars on the day of his second inauguration on January 21, 2013. (Photo: Debra Sweet/flickr/cc)

This Christmas small drones were among the most popular gift under the tree in the U.S. with manufacturers stating that they sold 200,000 new unmanned aerial vehicles during the holiday season. While the rapid infiltration of drones into the gaming domain clearly reflects that drones are becoming a common weapon among armed forces, their appearance in Walmart, Toys “R” Us and Amazon serves, in turn, to normalize their deployment in the military.

Drones, as Grégoire Chamayou argues in his new book, A Theory of the Drone, have a uniquely seductive power, one that attracts militaries, politicians and citizens alike. A research scholar in philosophy at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, Chamayou is one of the most profound contemporary thinkers working on the deployment of violence and its ethical ramifications. And while his new book offers a concise history of drones, it focuses on how drones are changing warfare and their potential to alter the political arena of the countries that utilize them.

If Guantanamo was the icon of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policy, drones have become the emblem of the Obama presidency.

Chamayou traces one of the central ideas informing the production and deployment of drones back to John W. Clark, an American engineer who carried out a study on “remote control in hostile environments” in 1964. In Clark’s study, space is divided into two kinds of zones—hostile and safe—while robots operated by remote control are able to relieve human beings of all perilous occupations within hostile zones. The sacrifice of miners, firefighters, or those working on skyscrapers will no longer be necessary, since the collapse of a tunnel in the mines, for example, would merely lead to the loss of several robots operated by remote control.

The same logic informed the creation of drones. They were initially utilized as part of the military’s defense system in hostile territories. After the Egyptian military shot down about 30 Israel fighter jets in the first hours of the 1973 war, Israeli air-force commanders decided to change their tactics and send a wave of drones. As soon as the Egyptians fired their initial salvo of anti-aircraft missiles at the drones, the Israeli airplanes were able to attack as the Egyptians were reloading.

Over the years, drones have also become an important component of the intelligence revolution. Instead of sending spies or reconnaissance airplanes across enemy lines, drones can continuously fly above hostile terrain gathering information. As Chamayou explains, drones do not merely provide a constant image of the enemy, but manage to fuse together different forms of data. They carry technology that can interpret electronic communications from radios, cell phones and other devices and can link a telephone call with a particular video or provide the GPS coordinates of the person using the phone. Their target is, in other words, constantly visible.

Using drones to avert missiles or for reconnaissance was, of course, considered extremely important, yet military officials aspired to transform drones into lethal weapons as well. On February 16, 2001, after many years of U.S. investment in R&D, a Predator drone first successfully fired a missile and hit its target. As Chamayou puts it, the notion of turning the Predator into a predator had finally been realized. Within a year, the Predator was preying on live targets in Afghanistan.

A Humanitarian Weapon

Over the past decade, the United States has manufactured more than 6000 drones of various kinds. 160 of these are Predators, which are used not only in Afghanistan but also in countries officially at peace with the US, such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. In Pakistan, CIA drones carry out on average of one strike every four days. Although exact figures of fatalities are difficult to establish, the estimated number of deaths between 2004 and 2012 vary from 2562 to 3325.

Chamayou underscores how drones are changing our conception of war in three major ways. First, the idea of a frontier or battlefield is rendered meaningless as is the idea that there are particular places—like homesteads—where the deployment of violence is considered criminal. In other words, if once the legality of killing was dependent on where the killing was carried out, today US lawyers argue that the traditional connection between geographical spaces—such as the battlefield, home, hospital, mosque—and forms of violence are out of date. Accordingly, every place becomes a potential site of drone violence.

Second, the development of “precise missiles,” the kind with which most drones are currently armed led to the popular conception that drones are precise weapons. Precision, though, is a slippery concept. For one, chopping off a person’s head with a machete is much more precise than any missile, but there is no political or military support for precision of this kind in the West. Indeed, “precision” turns out to be an extremely copious category. The U.S., for example, counts all military age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence proving them innocent posthumously. The real ruse, then, has to do with the relation between precision and geography. As precise weapons, drones also render geographical contours irrelevant since the ostensible precision of these weapons justifies the killing of suspected terrorists in their homes. A legal strike zone is then equated with anywhere the drone strikes. And when “legal killing” can occur anywhere, then one can execute suspects anywhere—even in zones traditionally conceived as off-limits.

Finally, drones change our conception of war because it becomes, in Chamayou’s words, a priori impossible to die as one kills. One air-force officer formulated this basic benefit in the following manner: “The real advantage of unmanned aerial systems is that they allow you to protect power without projecting vulnerability.” Consequently, drones are declared to be a humanitarian weapon in two senses: they are precise vis-à-vis the enemy, and ensure no human cost to the perpetrator.

From Conquest to Pursuit

If Guantanamo was the icon of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policy, drones have become the emblem of the Obama presidency. Indeed, Chamayou maintains that President Barak Obama has adopted a totally different anti-terror doctrine from his predecessor: kill rather than capture, replace torture with targeted assassinations.

Citing a New York Times report, Chamayou describes the way in which deadly decisions are reached: “It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals… Every week or so, more than 100 members of the sprawling national security apparatus gather by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and to recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” In D.C, this is called “Terror Tuesday.” Once established, the list is subsequently sent to the White House where the president gives his oral approval for each name. “With the kill list validated, the drones do the rest.”

Obama’s doctrine entails a change in the paradigm of warfare. In contrast to military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz, who claimed that the fundamental structure of war is a duel of two fighters facing each other, we now have, in Chamayou’s parlance, a hunter closing in on its a prey. Chamayou, who also wrote Manhunts: A Philosophical History, which examines the history of hunting humans from ancient Sparta to the modern practices of chasing undocumented migrants, recounts how according to English common law one could hunt badgers and foxes in another man’s land, “because destroying such creatures is said to be profitable to the Public.” This is precisely the kind of law that the US would like to claim for drones, he asserts.

The strategy of militarized manhunting is essentially preemptive. It is not a matter of responding to actual attacks but rather preventing the possibility of emerging threats by the early elimination of potential adversaries. According to this new logic, war is no longer based on conquest—Obama is not interested in colonizing swaths of land in northern Pakistan—but on the right of pursuit. The right to pursue the prey wherever it may be found, in turn, transforms the way we understand the basic principles of international relations since it undermines the notion of territorial integrity as well as the idea of nonintervention and the broadly accepted definition of sovereignty as the supreme authority over a given territory.

Wars without Risks

The transformation of Clausewitz’s warfare paradigm manifests itself in other ways as well. Drone wars are wars without losses or defeats, but they are also wars without victory. The combination of the two lays the ground for perpetual violence, the utopian fantasy of those profiting from the production of drones and similar weapons.

The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of “self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.”

Just as importantly, drones change the ethics of war. According to the new military morality, to kill while exposing one’s life to danger is bad; to take lives without ever endangering one’s own is good. Bradley Jay Strawser, a professor of philosophy at the US naval Postgraduate school in California, is a prominent spokesperson of the “principle of unnecessary risk.” It is, in his view, wrong to command someone to take an unnecessary risk, and consequently it becomes a moral imperative to deploy drones.

Exposing the lives of one’s troops was never considered good, but historically it was believed to be necessary. Therefore dying for one’s country was deemed to be the greatest sacrifice and those who did die were recognized as heroes. The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of “self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.”

Chamayou refers to this as “necro-ethics.” Paradoxically, necro-ethics is, on the one hand, vitalist in the sense that the drone supposedly does not kill innocent bystanders while securing the life of the perpetrator. This has far-reaching implications, since the more ethical the weapon seems, the more acceptable it is and the more readily it will likely be used. On the other hand, the drone advances the doctrine of killing well, and in this sense stands in opposition to the classical ethics of living well or even dying well.

Transforming Politics in the Drone States

Moreover, drones change politics within the drone states. Because drones transform warfare into a ghostly teleguided act orchestrated from a base in Nevada or Missouri, whereby soldiers no longer risk their lives, the critical attitude of citizenry towards war is also profoundly transformed, altering, as it were, the political arena within drone states.

Drones, Chamayou says, are a technological solution for the inability of politicians to mobilize support for war. In the future, politicians might not need to rally citizens because once armies begin deploying only drones and robots there will be no need for the public to even know that a war is being waged. So while, on the one hand, drones help produce the social legitimacy towards warfare through the reduction of risk, on the other hand, they render social legitimacy irrelevant to the political decision making process relating to war. This drastically reduces the threshold for resorting to violence, so much so that violence appears increasingly as a default option for foreign policy. Indeed, the transformation of wars into a risk free enterprise will render them even more ubiquitous than they are today. This too will be one of Obama’s legacies.

Neve Gordon is an Israeli activist and the author of Israel’s Occupation.

US military preparing new generation of drones for urban combat

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By Bryan Dyne
5 January 2015

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has established a research and development program, known as the Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLAP) which aims to develop new types of unmanned aerial vehicles—more commonly known as drones—for urban combat operations, according to the Washington Times.

DARPA is preparing to dispense several initial $5 million contracts to companies bidding to produce the new drone models sought by the US military, which will have the ability to fly inside structures, maneuver through tight spaces, and operate autonomously from human controllers, all at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. The drones are specifically designed to mimic the flight capabilities of the goshawk, a bird species. Private sector firms will begin submitting bids as early as Tuesday.

In addition to the goshawk type, the US military is already acquiring drones the size of mosquitos as part of an Army Research Laboratory program called Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST), run as a collaboration between the Defense Department, BAE Systems, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several major US universities. The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System, a miniature rotary wing drone that takes high definition photographs and transmits footage instantaneously to its handler, has already been used by occupation forces in Afghanistan to surveil enemy positions.

“Birds of prey and flying insects exhibit the kinds of capabilities we want for small UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]… The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way [to bird and insect species], including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before,” said FLAP top official Mark Micire.

A main priority of FLAP is to produce drones that operate without human controllers. Current drone models operated by the US military and police forces require a human operator for takeoff, flight, landing and the targeting of missiles. The new autonomous control systems sought by the Pentagon will enable a few skilled computer programmers to direct a fleet of highly agile drones.

The military’s new self-directing weapons systems will be integrated into ongoing operations by conventional US forces, according to Pentagon officials. “Urban and disaster relief operations would be obvious key beneficiaries, but applications for this technology could extend to a wide variety of missions using small and large unmanned systems linked together with manned platforms as a system of systems,” DARPA director Stefanie Tompkins said.

“By enabling unmanned systems to learn ‘muscle memory’ and perception for basic tasks like avoiding obstacles, it would relieve overload and stress on human operators so they can focus on supervising the systems and executing the larger mission,” Tompkins said.

The military is promoting the latest generation of drones as specially designed for “humanitarian” use, such as search and rescue missions to find people trapped or stranded as a result of floods, hurricanes, avalanches and earthquakes.

Nonetheless, the new high-tech drone systems will primarily be used for combat missions in urban settings, according to media reports. Given that the US military is currently engaged, deployed for or preparing for combat in more than fifty countries, the Pentagon is planning to weaponize the drones in every conceivable fashion. In December, the Obama administration launched a new escalation of its US drone war, which has already killed hundreds of innocents, including countless children.

In combination with the militarization of the police, the development of autonomous, computer-controlled weapons systems raises terrifying possibilities. Police forces inside the US already use drones for surveillance purposes. The new mini-drones now point to a nightmarish future in which “no knock” SWAT team raids are accompanied by lightning-fast killer robot aircraft, controlled by artificial intelligence.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/05/dron-j05.html

Washington denounces Syrian air strikes on ISIS

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By Peter Symonds

28 November 2014

The US has seized on Syrian air force strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stronghold of Raqqa to denounce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and push for his government’s removal. For the past three years, the Obama administration has backed anti-Assad militias in Syria. The main aim of its new Middle Eastern war remains regime-change in Damascus.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday said the US was “horrified” by reports that Syrian air strikes the previous day killed scores of civilians. She condemned the Syrian regime’s “continued slaughter of Syria civilians” and “callous disregard for human life,” declaring that “Assad long ago lost all legitimacy to govern.”

According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 95 people were killed in the air strikes on Tuesday, including 52 civilians. A Raqqa activist with the Syrian opposition network—the Local Co-ordination Committees—told the BBC that further deaths were likely because only one hospital was operating normally in the city and “a lot of people [are] dying from their wounds.” Both organisations are aligned with the pro-Western opposition in Syria that is hostile to both Assad and ISIS.

Psaki’s comments are utterly cynical from every standpoint. The Pentagon routinely dismisses evidence of civilian casualties from air strikes by US and allied war planes in Syria and Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, even in the face of eyewitness statements. It wages its bogus “war on terror” with complete indifference for civilian life.

Earlier, the same Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released figures on Saturday indicating that at least 52 civilians, including 8 children and 5 women, were killed in air attacks by the US-led coalition in Syria. Given the organisation’s political sympathies, this figure is likely to be an under-estimate. Not surprisingly, the US State Department expressed no horror over these casualties.

It is also unclear whether the deaths in Raqqa were solely due to the Syrian air force. American warplanes bombed the city as recently as Monday. A Wall Street Journal report stated: “It wasn’t clear whether the US and its allies had carried out airstrikes in Raqqa on Tuesday. The scale of the casualties and how many were civilians or Islamic State militants was also unclear.” It noted that it was often “hard to distinguish Raqqa locals from the extremists.”

The Raqqa activist told the BBC: “All the markets in the city are closed after the air strikes. There is nobody walking in the streets … They are just afraid because they say in the morning there are regime air strikes and in the evening there are [US-led] coalition air strikes and it’s very, very hard to live under IS [ISIS].”

According to US Central Command figures, its war planes carried out 41 air strikes inside Syria and Iraq from last Friday up until Wednesday, including on Raqqa and the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. The Voice of America web site reported yesterday that the US recently brought a squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets from Afghanistan to Kuwait to carry out low-level bombing raids in Iraq and Syria, as well as six more Reaper drones armed with missiles.

Inside Iraq, US-backed government forces are battling to retain control of the city of Ramadi in the western Anbar province, much of which is already under ISIS control. ISIS militias launched an offensive earlier this week to capture the provincial capital. According to government officials on Wednesday, ISIS fighters advanced to within several hundred metres of governor’s office, before being pushed back. Kurdish peshmerga forces in the northern province of Kirkuk are also involved in heavy fighting to hold off a major ISIS offensive.

Last weekend, US Vice-President Joe Biden visited Turkey to try to patch up frayed relations and enlist greater Turkish support for the war in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish government has pressed the US for a more explicit call for regime-change in Damascus, as well as support for the imposition of a no-fly zone and buffer zone inside Syria. It has also been reluctant to support Kurdish militia holding out in Kobane, due to their affiliation with the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.

After meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Biden told the media they had agreed not only to roll back ISIS in Syria, but also to “strengthen the Syrian opposition and ensure a transition away from the Assad regime.” The Turkish foreign ministry announced it would collaborate with US forces in training 2,000 “moderate Syrian opposition fighters” at a base in the central Turkish city of Kirsehir. Turkey has also indicated it would be prepared to equip and train national guard units in Iraq to fight against ISIS.

Biden clashed with Erdogan last month when he accused Turkey of encouraging the rise of ISIS in Syria. While Turkey has certainly backed the Syrian opposition militias that have been dominated by right-wing Islamist organisations such as ISIS and the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, it is not alone. The US and its other Middle Eastern allies have been closely involved in training, financing and arming anti-Assad forces. The CIA has maintained a base inside Turkey to assist and arm opposition forces in Syria.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the CIA was also involved in covertly training anti-Assad fighters at a camp in the Gulf state of Qatar. The desert camp lies inside a military zone guarded by Qatari special forces. The program has been running for a year and reportedly involves small groups of 12 to 20 fighters affiliated with the pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA). According to Reuters: “In recent weeks, the Qataris, disappointed by the lack of progress in the fight against Assad, have started to consider training members of the Islamic Front—another Islamist militia.”

While the US claims to distinguish between ISIS and “moderate” anti-Assad fighters, these forces have commonly worked closely together. Arms supplied to the pro-Western FSA have ended up in the hands of Islamist militias. Now amid a groundswell of civilian opposition inside Syria to US air strikes, sections of the FSA are going over to ISIS, according to a Guardian article on Monday. Such defections will only encourage the US to openly declare war on Assad, sooner rather than later, in a bid to stem the tide.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/28/syri-n28.html

Hanging out with the disgruntled guys who babysit our aging nuclear missiles—and hate every second of it.

Death Wears Bunny Slippers

Illustration by Tavis Coburn

Illustration by Tavis Coburn

Along a lonely state highway on central Montana’s high plains, I approach what looks like a ranch entrance, complete with cattle guard. “The first ace in the hole,” reads a hand-etched cedar plank hanging from tall wooden posts. “In continuous operation for over 50 years.” I drive up the dirt road to a building surrounded by video cameras and a 10-foot-tall, barbed-wire-topped fence stenciled with a poker spade. “It is unlawful to enter this area,” notes a sign on the fence, whose small print cites the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950, a law that once required communist organizations to register with the federal government. “Use of deadly force authorized.”

I’m snapping photos when a young airman appears. “You’re not taking pictures, are you?” he asks nervously.

“Yeah, I am,” I say. “The signs don’t say that I can’t.”

“Well, we might have to confiscate your phone.”

Maybe he should. We’re steps away from the 10th Missile Squadron Alpha Missile Alert Facility, an underground bunker capable of launching several dozen nuclear-tipped Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), with a combined destructive force 1,000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.

Another airman comes out of the ranch house and asks for my driver’s license. He’s followed by an older guy clad in sneakers, maroon gym shorts, and an air of authority. “I’m not here to cause trouble,” I say, picturing myself in a brig somewhere.

“Just you being here taking photos is causing trouble,” he snaps.

An alarm starts blaring from inside the building. One airman turns to the other. “Hey, there’s something going off in there.”
Six hours earlier, I was driving through Great Falls with a former captain in the Air Force’s 341st Missile Wing. Aaron, as I’ll call him, had recently completed a four-year stint at the Alpha facility. Had President Obama ordered an attack with ICBMs, Aaron could have received a coded message, authenticated it, and been expected to turn a launch key.

Also read: “That Time We Almost Nuked North Carolina“—a timeline of near-misses, mishaps, and scandals from our atomic arsenal.

We kept passing unmarked blue pickup trucks with large tool chests—missile maintenance guys. The Air Force doesn’t like to draw attention to the 150 silos dotting the surrounding countryside, and neither does Great Falls. With about 4,000 residents and civilian workers and a $219 million annual payroll, Malmstrom Air Force Base drives the local economy, but you won’t see any missile-themed bars or restaurants. “We get some people that have no idea that there’s even an Air Force base here,” one active-duty missileer told me.

It’s not just Great Falls practicing selective amnesia. The days of duck-and-cover drills, fallout shelters, and No Nukes protests are fading memories—nowhere more so than in the defense establishment. At a July 2013 forum in Washington, DC, Lt. General James Kowalski, who commands all of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons, said a Russian nuclear attack on the United States was such “a remote possibility” that it was “hardly worth discussing.”

But then Kowalski sounded a disconcerting note that has a growing number of nuclear experts worried. The real nuclear threat for America today, he said, “is an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”

Lt. General James Kowalski

Lt. General James Kowalski Air Force

“You can’t screw up once—and that’s the unique danger of these machines,” points out investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, whose recent book, Command and Control, details the Air Force’s stunning secret history of nuclear near-misses, from the accidental release of a hydrogen bomb that would have devastated North Carolina to a Carter-era computer glitch that falsely indicated a shower of incoming Soviet nukes. “In this business, you need a perfect safety record.”

Once the military’s crown jewels, ICBM bases have become “little orphanages that get scraps for dinner.”

And a perfect record, in a homeland arsenal made up of hundreds of missiles and countless electronic and mechanical systems that have to operate flawlessly—to say nothing of the men and women at the controls—is a very hard thing to achieve. Especially when the rest of the nation seems to have forgotten about the whole thing. “The Air Force has not kept its ICBMs manned or maintained properly,” says Bruce Blair, a former missileer and cofounder of the anti-nuclear group Global Zero. Nuclear bases that were once the military’s crown jewels are now “little orphanages that get scraps for dinner,” he says. And morale is abysmal.

Blair’s organization wants to eliminate nukes, but he argues that while we still have them, it’s imperative that we invest in maintenance, training, and personnel to avoid catastrophe: An accident resulting from human error, he says, may be actually more likely today because the weapons are so unlikely to be used. Without the urgent sense of purpose the Cold War provided, the young men (and a handful of women) who work with the world’s most dangerous weapons are left logging their 24-hour shifts under subpar conditions—with all the dangers that follow.

In August 2013, Air Force commanders investigated two officers in the ICBM program suspected of using ecstasy and amphetamines. A search of the officers’ phones revealed more trouble: They and other missileers were sharing answers for the required monthly exams that test their knowledge of things like security procedures and the proper handling of classified launch codes. Ultimately, 98 missileers were implicated for cheating or failure to report it. Nine officers were stripped of their commands, and Colonel Robert Stanley, the commander of Malmstrom’s missile wing, resigned.

The Air Force claimed the cheating only went as far back as November 2011. Ex-missileers told me it went back decades: “Everybody has cheated on those tests.”

The Air Force claimed the cheating only went as far back as November 2011, but three former missileers told me it was the norm at Malmstrom when they arrived there back in 2007, and that the practice was well established. (Blair told me that cheating was even common when he served at Malmstrom in the mid-1970s.) Missileers would check each other’s tests before turning them in and share codes indicating the correct proportion of multiple-choice answers on a given exam. If the nuclear program’s top brass, who all began their careers as missileers, weren’t aware of it, the men suggested, then they were willfully looking the other way. “You know in Casablanca, when that inspector was ‘absolutely shocked’ that there was gambling at Rick’s? It’s that,” one recently retired missileer told me. “Everybody has cheated on those tests.”

Cheating is just one symptom of what Lt. Colonel Jay Folds, then the commander of the nuclear missile wing at North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base, called “rot” in the atomic force. Last November, Associated Press reporter Robert Burns obtained a RAND study commissioned by the Air Force. It concluded that the typical launch officer was exhausted, cynical, and distracted on the job. ICBM airmen also had high rates of sexual assault, suicide, and spousal and child abuse, and more than double the rates of courts-martial than Air Force personnel as a whole.

The morale problems were well known to Michael Carey, the two-star general who led the program at the time the cheating was revealed. Indeed, he pointed them out to other Americans during an official military cooperation trip to Moscow, before spending the rest of his three-day visit on a drunken bender, repeatedly insulting his Russian military hosts and partying into the wee hours with “suspect” foreign women, according to the Air Force’s inspector general. He later confessed to chatting for most of a night with the hotel’s cigar sales lady, who was asking questions “about physics and optics”—and thinking to himself: “Dude, this doesn’t normally happen.” Carey was stripped of his command in October 2013.

The embarrassments just keep coming. Last week, the Air Force fired two more nuclear commanders, including Col. Carl Jones, the No. 2 officer in the 90th Missile Wing at Wyoming’s Warren Air Force Base, and disciplined a third, for a variety of leadership failures, including the maltreatment of subordinates. In one instance, two missileers were sent to the hospital after exposure to noxious fumes at a control center—they had remained on duty for fear of retaliation by their commander, Lt. Col. Jimmy “Keith” Brown. This week, the Pentagon is expected to release a comprehensive review of the nuclear program that details “serious problems that must be addressed urgently.”

“Their buddies from the B-52s and B-2s tell them all sorts of exciting stories about doing real things in Afghanistan and Iraq. They end up feeling superfluous.”

Stung by the recent bad press, the Air Force has announced pay raises, changes to the proficiency tests, and nearly $400 million in additional spending to increase staffing and update equipment. In the long term, Congress and the administration are debating a trillion-dollar suite of upgrades to the nuclear program, which could include replacing the existing ICBMs and warheads with higher-tech versions.

But outside experts say none of the changes will address the core of the problem: obsolescence. “There is a morale issue,” says Hans Kristensen, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project, “that comes down to the fundamental question: How is the ICBM force essential? It’s hard to find that [answer] if you sit in the hole out there. Their buddies from the B-52s and B-2s tell them all sorts of exciting stories about doing real things in Afghanistan and Iraq. They end up feeling superfluous.”

launch switches

A missile commander’s launch switches. National Park Service

Indeed, on my first night in town, over beer and bison burgers, Aaron had introduced me to “Brent,” another recently former missileer who looks more like a surfer now that his military crew cut is all grown out. Brent lost faith in his leaders early on, he told me, when he saw the way they tolerated, if not encouraged, a culture of cheating. He’d resisted the impulse, he said, and his imperfect test scores disqualified him for promotions. But the worst part of the gig, the guys agreed, might be the stultifying tedium of being stuck in a tiny room all day and night waiting for an order you knew would never come. “Any TV marathon you can stumble upon is good,” Brent said. “Even if it’s something you hate. It’s just that ability to zone out and lose time.”

 

CONTINUED:  http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/air-force-missile-wing-minuteman-iii-nuclear-weapons-burnout

Why is the media silent on the continuing shakeup in the Why is the media silent on the continuing shakeup in the US nuclear command??

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By Bill Van Auken
8 November 2014

The US mass media and the country’s political officials have shown a remarkable lack of interest in what the Pentagon acknowledged earlier this week was the unprecedented simultaneous firing of two senior commanders at two separate Air Force Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) bases and the administrative disciplining of a third.

Major news outlets, to the extent that they carried the story at all, relied solely on the item prepared by the Associated Press, and for the most part buried even that. The AP got the story by calling the Air Force public information office. No follow-up was done by the New York Times, the Washington Post or any other major newspaper or television network to probe the significance of these disciplinary actions in terms of the extreme state of crisis that has pervaded Washington’s nuclear strike force for well over a year.

Why the silence? By tacit agreement, clearly secrets are being kept about the real state of affairs within a military command whose nuclear war-fighting mission constitutes one of the single greatest threats to the survival of humanity.

The crisis in the US nuclear war command has now been unfolding for over one year, involving the sudden sackings of top commanders and senior officers, as well as the snaring of fully 20 percent of the ICBM missile launch crew members in a cheating scandal and the implication of several others in the use of illegal drugs.

The cases involving the most senior officers are the most startling. Vice Adm. Tim Gardinia, the second-in-command at the US Strategic Command, responsible for formulating nuclear war plans and relaying launch orders, was sacked after he was charged with trying to gamble with $1,500 in fake chips at an Idaho casino.

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, the commanding officer of the entire US ICBM force, was fired for alleged drunken antics while leading an official delegation to Moscow, including making provocative comments to his Russian counterparts about Syria and Edward Snowden.

In the latest firings, Col. Carl Jones, who was the second in command at the 90th Missile Wing in Wyoming, was fired for behavior that fellow officers described as “shocking,” apparently involving uncontrollable rage and mistreatment of subordinates.

Another fired commander, Lt. Col. Jimmy “Keith” Brown, a missile squadron leader at the ICBM base in North Dakota, was said to have engaged in “unlawful discrimination and harassment,” leading in one reported incident to members of a launch crew being hospitalized after staying at their posts despite exposure to dangerous fumes because of fear they would be punished if they complained.

A third officer, Col. Richard Pagliuco, the commander of the 91st Operations Group, was charged with having “failed to promote and safeguard the morale, wellbeing and welfare of the airmen under his command” and subjected to administrative discipline.

Together, these officers are responsible for hundreds of Minuteman 3 ICBMs, each of which carries a nuclear warhead with 27 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, capable of wiping out millions of human beings in a matter of minutes.

That senior missile commanders were simultaneously sacked at two separate bases comprising two-thirds of the US ICBM force was described by a Pentagon spokesman as merely a coincidence.

The series of firings, scandals and incidents, however, suggest two possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive. First, that the US nuclear command is under the control of certified maniacs, the real-life counterparts of the “Dr. Strangelove” character, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, who unilaterally launches a nuclear bomber strike on the Soviet Union on the theory that “war is too important to be left to politicians.”

It is worth recalling that among the recent scandals plaguing the Air Force has been the overwhelming influence of the Christian right at the US Air Force Academy, where a religious ideology embracing the Armageddon has been promoted even as cadets are trained in practical measures for bringing it about.

The other possibility is that the US nuclear war command is being subjected to a deliberate and wholesale restructuring of its personnel for unspecified reasons.

The shakeup has unfolded within a definite and disturbing wider context. In the first instance, President Barack Obama, who came into office vowing to pursue a policy of nuclear disarmament—one of the main things cited in the decision to award him a Nobel Peace Prize after barely 10 months in office—is now presiding over a major buildup of US imperialism’s nuclear arsenal. This includes plans to spend a staggering $355 billion over the next decade and at least $1 trillion over the next 30 years, with the deployment of 12 new nuclear submarines, some 100 nuclear bombers and 400 new land-based ICBMs.

Moreover, this buildup takes place under conditions in which Washington is engaged in steadily escalating provocations against Russia and China, both nuclear-armed powers, even as it embarks on a major new war in the Middle East. The threat of a nuclear Third World War is now greater than it has been for decades.

While the media respects the veil of secrecy imposed over these matters within the military, and there has been no move by either Democratic or Republican politicians to convene congressional hearings on the troubling events in the US nuclear war command, the American people need answers as to what is really going on. The exposure of the immense dangers posed by the explosive growth of American militarism is a vital element in the preparation of a new mass antiwar movement based upon the working class.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/08/nuke-n08.html

The Staggeringly High Number of Muslim Countries the U.S. Has Bombed or Invaded Since 1980


Glenn Greenwald lambasts American hypocrisy when it comes to Islamic violence.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

 As the inevitable two-year campaign for the White House gears up, foreign policy is likely to be a hot topic, particularly within the Republican Party, where hawks like Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) may face off with more restraint-oriented lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (KY).

Journalist Glenn Greenwald points to a Washington Post op-ed by Andrew Bacevich laying out the case that our foreign relations with the Muslim world are fraught with too much violence – with Syria being the 14th country we’ve bombed or occupied since 1980:

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extent into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

Greenwald comments on the statistic by referencing the recent controversies of Sam Harris and Bill Maher attacking Islam as uniquely violent, “Those who sit around in the U.S. or the U.K. endlessly inveighing against the evils of Islam, depicting it as the root of violence and evil (the “ mother lode of bad ideas“), while spending very little time on their own societies’ addictions to violence and aggression, or their own religious and nationalistic drives, have reached the peak of self-blinding tribalism. They really are akin to having a neighbor down the street who constantly murders, steals and pillages, and then spends his spare time flamboyantly denouncing people who live thousands of miles away for their bad acts. Such a person would be regarded as pathologically self-deluded, a term that also describes those political and intellectual factions which replicate that behavior.”

Read Greenwald’s full article here.

 

Zaid Jilani is the investigative blogger and campaigner for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He is formerly the senior reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress.

http://www.alternet.org/world/staggeringly-high-number-muslim-countries-us-has-bombed-or-invaded-1980?akid=12451.265072.JKEBIf&rd=1&src=newsletter1026338&t=19

Deadly SpaceShipTwo crash follows explosion of unmanned Antares rocket

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By Bryan Dyne
1 November 2014

The suborbital spacecraft VSS Enterprise, a SpaceShipTwo-class rocket, crashed in the Mojave Desert in the US during a test flight Friday, resulting in the death of one crew member and the injury of another.

Earlier this week, an unmanned Antares rocket from the Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded only a few seconds into its flight. Early reports suggest that the first stage of the launch vehicle failed, prompting the range safety officer to initiate an emergency depressurization of the rocket’s fuel tanks, which caused the explosion.

The two space disasters in the span of one week highlight the growing prominence of private companies in space missions.

The SpaceShipTwo is owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and the test flight was being conducted by Virgin Galactic’s partner, Scaled Composites. This was the spacecraft’s first manned flight since January.

There has been no official comment by Virgin Galactic or Scaled Composites on the cause of the crash. Virgin Galactic has so far only said that the craft “suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle.” Eyewitness reports indicate that the vessel exploded just after its engine fired when it was dropped from its mother ship, White Knight Two.

There is speculation that the cause of the explosion was the engine, which was using a new plastic-based fuel that had up to this point only been tested on the ground.

The pilot killed in the SpaceShipTwo crash is the fourth fatality from the SpaceShipTwo program. Three others were killed in a 2007 explosion of an unattached rocket engine using the old rubber-based fuel. An investigation found that the three were standing too close to the rocket motor, in violation of safety regulations.

SpaceShipTwo vehicles, first revealed to the public in 2009, were designed to be the first space tourism vessels. After being carried to a launch altitude of 15 kilometers, it uses a booster to ascend to 110 kilometers. This is 10 kilometers above the Kármán line, which is the formal definition of space. It stays at that altitude for only a few minutes, during which time the passengers would experience free fall and view the surface of Earth against the black of space. There are currently more than 700 individuals who have deposited the requisite $200,000-250,000 to reserve a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight.

The Antares rocket, in contrast, was being operated by a company contracted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a US government agency that relies heavily on private corporations. The rocket that exploded was on a mission to resupply the International Space Station.

The first-stage rockets used by Antares are refurbished Soviet NK-33 engines. Each one is a 40-year-old piece of equipment that was sold for $1.1 million each to Aerojet, a company that works alongside Orbital Sciences to launch the rockets.

Being cheap is the only reason the NK-33 rockets are used. While innovative at the time, they are now far behind modern technology. There is also only a limited supply of the rockets in existence, meaning that unless Orbital can overcome the legal hurdles of using the old Soviet designs to make new rockets, the Antares family has a limited number of launches.

Furthermore, not only do Antares rockets require old Soviet hardware, Orbital currently uses Russian and Ukrainian labor to maintain and refurbish the rockets. Since the company does not have the expertise needed and would rather not use the more expensive workers from NASA, large sections of the first-stage work of the Antares are contracted out to the Ukrainian Yuzhnoye Design Bureau.

Orbital Sciences is not the only private company to use Russian-built rockets to power their machines. The Atlas V of the United Launch Alliance uses a single RD-180 engine as its first-stage engine. Significantly, one of the main uses of the Atlas family of rockets is to put US military satellites into orbit. In response to rising tensions between the US and Russia over the US-backed coup in Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin declared in May that, “Russia will ban the United States from using Russian-made rocket engines for military launches.”

While the causes of the two disasters this week are still under investigation, both involve private companies operating on the basis of the profit motive, with a consequent interest in cutting costs.

While NASA has always relied heavily on contractors, and in particular military contractors, the increasing privatization of spaceflight accelerated in the 1990s and particularly in the 2000s. It has been continued under the Obama administration, which cancelled the Constellation program and shut down the shuttle program. Any manned missions launched by NASA will be asteroid missions, which are slated to begin in 2025 at the earliest. Manned flights to Mars have been sequestered indefinitely.

Not only has privatization led to cost cutting, but the basic purpose of space flight has shifted from scientific endeavors to space tourism and similar operations. To date, no fundamentally new technologies have been developed by Virgin Galactic. The “hybrid” motor’s primary advantage is cheapness, and it has yet to be reliably and regularly operated.

Moreover, the vehicle only ever reaches 13 percent of the velocity required to get to orbit, and thus is not developing a technology that is applicable to actually staying in space. Given that such altitudes were reached in an earlier period by figures such as Auguste Piccard and Joseph Kittinger, who did tests for cosmic rays and high-altitude parachutes respectively, there is no new science being done. Given the high price tag for rides, moreover, the “space” plane is only accessible to the very wealthy.

Other companies such as Boeing and SpaceX are also looking into private manned spaceflight, but their programs are less developed than Virgin Galactic.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/01/rock-n01.html