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November 13, 2009

New Tomdispatch


Drone Race to a Known Future
Why Military Dreams Fail -- and Why It Doesn't Matter

By Tom Engelhardt

For drone freaks (and these days Washington seems full of them), here's the good news: Drones are hot! Not long ago -- 2006 to be exact -- the Air Force could barely get a few armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the air at once; now, the number is 38; by 2011, it will reputedly be 50, and beyond that, in every sense, the sky's the limit.

Better yet, for the latest generation of armed surveillance drones -- the ones with the chill-you-to-your-bones sci-fi names of Predators and Reapers (as in Grim) -- whole new surveillance capabilities will soon be available. Their newest video system, due to be deployed next year, has been dubbed Gorgon Stare after the creature in Greek mythology whose gaze turned its victims to stone. According to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, Gorgon Stare will offer a "pilot" back in good ol' Langley, VA, headquarters of the CIA, the ability to "stare" via 12 video feeds (where only one now exists) at a 1.5 mile square area, and then, with Hellfire missiles and bombs, assumedly turn any part of it into rubble. Within the year, that viewing capacity is expected to double to three square miles.


Welcome Home, War!
How America's Wars Are Systematically Destroying Our Liberties

By Alfred W. McCoy

In his approach to National Security Agency surveillance, as well as CIA renditions, drone assassinations, and military detention, President Obama has to a surprising extent embraced the expanded executive powers championed by his conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. This bipartisan affirmation of the imperial executive could "reverberate for generations," warns Jack Balkin, a specialist on First Amendment freedoms at Yale Law School. And consider these but some of the early fruits from the hybrid seeds that the Global War on Terror has planted on American soil. Yet surprisingly few Americans seem aware of the toll that this already endless war has taken on our civil liberties.

Don't be too surprised, then, when, in the midst of some future crisis, advanced surveillance methods and other techniques developed in our recent counterinsurgency wars migrate from Baghdad, Falluja, and Kandahar to your hometown or urban neighborhood. And don't ever claim that nobody told you this could happen -- at least not if you care to read on.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 13, 2009 10:25 AM

The majority of Americans actually want to live in a police state - they just don't know that's what the thing they want is called.

Posted by: Jimbo at November 13, 2009 11:53 AM

This may be true. The image of that guy being held down and electrocuted in a packed auditorium, and (just about) no one making a move -- that's burned into my mind.

Posted by: Cloud at November 13, 2009 01:59 PM


you're being unfair to john kerry, who was there. he moved--i distinctly saw him make a sort of ugly grimace with his mouth, and he almost broke out of a monotone for a moment

Posted by: N E at November 13, 2009 02:18 PM


Erich Fromm agreed with you some 60 years ago. Check out "Escape from Freedom."

Posted by: the anti-federalist at November 13, 2009 02:46 PM

Somewhere in what Englehardt wrote and the many great links he provided was the link below to the Danger Room blog, which says that keeping every soldier in afghanistan takes 22 gallons of fuel a day.

But that's not the end of the story. The cost of getting that 22 gallons of fuel to the battlefield is about 45 dollars, per the Pentagon, or up to 300-400 dollars to get to the battlefield per one Office of Naval Research expert. For just 50,000 troops, that somewhere between about 45 million and 400 million PER DAY.

Germany's desperate need for energy to fulfill Hitler's imperial ambitions was a big part of when led Hitler to think he should invade the USSR to seize its oil in the Caucusus(we had all kinds of oil then). Of course, using huge amounts of energy to acquire huge amounts of energy is a pretty desperate strategy, but desperate times make desperate men. That desperation didn't bring out Hitler's best qualities.

Those who want to hike the scenic trail to the energy riches of Central Asia should read the brochure first, and they should pay special attention to the disclaimers in the fine print.

Posted by: N E at November 13, 2009 03:08 PM

Many years past, I had the opportunity to travel with my parents in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Even at the age of 12, having seen the conditions under which much of the populace lived their lives, and then contrasting this with the situation of the powerful and well-to-do, ensconced in their fine houses screened off by high walls with broken glass embedded at the top, it occurred to me that this was not a healthy society.

Now, observe the situation in our own society today. Our political class self identifies with the powerful and well-to-do in our own increasingly stratified society. It is therefore not surprising that these comprehensively obsequious lackeys would craft the laws to facilitate the surveillance of the hoi polloi and the preemption of initiatives to alter the status quo to the perceived disadvantage of the elites whom they serve.

Intelligence gathering, information operations, and disruption of coherent oppositional forces are all well worn tools in the kit of the empire in its operations in the third world. When, as the inevitable result of the wealth aggregation that is the aim of these elites, these same sorts of conditions become more widespread in this and other Western societies, it would be unrealistic to expect that they would leave these tools lying on the table.

The increasingly trans-national elites don't think of things in terms of "the good of the nation"; to them the only good is their own aggrandizement. For them it's a zero sum game, and in order for them to gain, we must lose. But they know that this is a perilous arrangement, and that the protection of their interests - indeed, their very lives - may depend on the successful suppression of the rise of class consciousness and actions that may arise therefrom BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY. Destruction of our civil liberties is one component of the sequenced application of the reactionary game plan that is entirely to be anticipated. Indeed, this element of the plan is well advanced - Patriot Act, increased monitoring of the citizenry's communications and actions at all levels, enhancement of the ability of the government to consider you an enemy combatant not entitled to the protections of habeus corpus are but a few examples.

So, not surprising at all. They've stolen a march on us, and the toxic fog is settling over all the rest of us.

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at November 13, 2009 03:10 PM

The idea of the drones raining down death and destruction at the push of a button is terrifying, but nothing really new is happening; people have always been able to kill other people and destroy their homes. One might actually have a better chance of escaping from a drone than from a squad of police officers in full riot gear.

Posted by: Murfyn at November 13, 2009 03:17 PM

"One might actually have a better chance of escaping from a drone than from a squad of police officers in full riot gear."

Murfyn, I think the drones are overhead for hours at a time, if the reporting of that escaped jouranlist in Afghanistan can be believed. And the missile strike that is called in can't be escaped. You're vaporized before you know that you need to escape. All of which is creepy.

Posted by: N E at November 13, 2009 03:23 PM

Wow, McCoy's article might be even better than Englehardts. Funny how information obtained by NSA ended up being used to sort of "encourage" Jane Harman to lend NSA some legislative support.

There's nothign new but technology under the sun. In Alan Theoharis's biography of Hoover there's a photocopy of a letter from Harry Truman to Bess I believe in 1947 complaing that Edgar Hoover was blackmailing the whole Contress (Edgar Hoover really knew how to create and maintain files).

Not that anyone in the National Security State would ever misuse their vast databases to influence legislation.

Posted by: N E at November 13, 2009 03:40 PM

"to a surprising extent"?

isn't it time for the libs/pwoggies to stop being surprised?

Posted by: anon at November 13, 2009 06:15 PM

Nice to see that Alfred McCoy is still alive.

I would offer the prosecution of Eliot Spitzer as an example. The FBI used laws created to track drug money to look at how he moved his money to bed that prostitute. The tapped phones, etc. While this was going on they did not use the same tools to bust the massive frauds taking place on Wall Street.

Oh, and despite those laws to track drug money heroin is still flowing into the US, starting from those poppyfields in Afghanistan overseen by Karzai's brother, on the CIA's payroll.

It's a matter of choices of what and who to prosecute. And we know that a crusading politician who sticks his nose into the business of Wall Street is a threat to the system.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 14, 2009 10:30 AM

bob in pacifica

what happened to spitzer is an excellent example

mccoy's most recent book, just released, is excellent

Posted by: N E at November 14, 2009 02:27 PM