SPY & KILLER DRONES: Why we must stop them
By Deirdre Griswold
February 20, 2013
In the almost two decades since the U.S. military first deployed them,
drones have generally escaped the spotlight, except in alternative media or
military-oriented trade publications. However, their use inside the U.S. has
opened a debate that has reached into the U.S. Congress.
Up until recently, these pilotless planes, which have brought death in the
night to villages on the other side of the world, attracted little attention
here in the mass media or government “oversight” bodies. Now, as
police agencies and private corporations line up to buy drones, civil liberties
and other organizations have demanded more information about how they will be
Last February President Barack Obama signed the FAA Reauthorization Act,
which broadened the domestic use of drones. At that time, the nonprofit group
Public Intelligence released a map showing there were already 64 current and 22
planned military drone bases around the United States.
“Unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones, have proliferated to the
point where the Pentagon is now buying more of them than fighter jets. The
military-industrial complex sees them as the cookie jar of the future and has
been lobbying to sell ever more — not just to the Pentagon and the CIA
but to the Border Patrol, local police agencies and private businesses.
The biggest manufacturer of these drones is General Atomics, which makes the
Predator. Originally a division of General Dynamics, GA was sold to Gulf Oil in
1967 and then became a division of Chevron in 1984 when the two oil companies
merged. The drones are a perfect example of the marriage between the military
and Big Oil. General Atomics gets more than 90 percent of its revenue from
government military contracts.
Pentagon fears its own troops
Ever since the Vietnam War, the U.S. ruling class has been looking for ways
to expand its imperialist control over coveted areas of the world without the
risk of putting “boots on the ground.”
As the military brass learned in that horrendous conflict, ground troops,
especially drafted and nonprofessional soldiers, can become rebellious and
refuse to accept the role of being the lowest link in the “chain of
command.” These young men and women — most of them workers and a
large proportion coming from oppressed communities — can break through
the psychology of obedience that is the major part of their basic training and
begin to think for themselves about why they are being ordered to sacrifice
In Vietnam and stateside, the war led to rebellion after rebellion by
rank-and-file soldiers — and even a few officers — who realized
they were being used in an unjust, racist attack on a people who were not their
In the Pentagon’s desperate search to shake off its fear of another
“Vietnam syndrome,” drones are the latest craze promoted by the
military-industrial complex. Not only do drones do away with ground troops,
they even avoid putting pilots at risk. Pilots, the elite of the military, have
seldom been prime candidates for rebellion, but none of them liked getting shot
down or captured.
Now pilots can sit behind an Air Force computer in Nevada or at a secret CIA
base and guide drones on the other side of the world to unleash deadly missile
strikes. Again and again, their “targets” have turned out to be
simple family gatherings in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen. Even the
Brookings Institution, a U.S. think tank, in July 2009 released a report saying
that for every supposed “terrorist” killed by drones in Pakistan,
10 civilians died.
The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, which has been in use since 1995, has
been flown in combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq,
Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Destructive but not all powerful
Does this make the U.S. military all powerful? Not in the least. U.S. troops
are being pulled out of Afghanistan, one of the poorest and most underdeveloped
countries in the world, not because they have defeated the “enemy”
but because the war is costing too much. They have destroyed much of
Afghanistan in the process, but, just as in Iraq, they have not been able to
create a stable puppet government to leave behind.
U.S. imperialism at this decadent stage in its development can destroy, but
it cannot build a stable political and social base in oppressed countries to
defend its interests, no matter how high tech its weaponry.
It is also in trouble at home because of the ongoing, deep economic crisis
that arises from the very metabolism of the profit system and has upended tens
of millions of lives. This crisis of intractable unemployment then leads to a
second crisis, in which tax revenue drops, and either the government goes
deeper into debt or cuts have to be made.
Standing out like a sore thumb is the huge portion of the federal budget
that goes to military-related expenses, estimated to be more than half of all
“discretionary” spending — that is, expenditures other than
Social Security and Medicare, which have their own separate fund.
Even when Robert Gates was secretary of defense under George W. Bush and
later Obama, the government outlined a plan to cut $400 billion from military
spending by 2023. But that sum, which came out to less than $40 billion a year,
is paltry compared to the total cuts demanded. Given that a compromise on
income taxes left the rich still paying a lower rate than in any other
developed capitalist country, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to
have to come up with much bigger cuts, and that has set off alarm bells in the
Fighter planes vs. drones
The drone program was originally seen as a rather low-budget way to cut back
expenditures on military aircraft. The last conventional fighter plane to win a
Pentagon contract, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, was the most expensive
military-industrial program in history.
“It is plagued by delays and menaced by budget cuts,” wrote a
British business magazine, and that “could be bad news … for its
lead contractor, Lockheed-Martin.” While the F-35 was expected to come
into service six years late and “wildly over-budget,” the Pentagon
“still plans to buy 2,443 F-35s over the next 25 years, at a cost of $382
billion.” (The Economist, July 14, 2011)
Another Lockheed-Martin gold-plated contract features the F-22 Raptor, a
stealth fighter that costs $400 million each. But at a 2012 air show it was
outperformed by a German plane that cost half as much. (“F-22 Raptor
Loses $79 Billion Advantage in Dogfights,” ABC News, July 30)
In addition to selling armed drones to the Pentagon for interventions
abroad, the weapons industry has been working overtime cultivating a domestic
market for its surveillance vehicles.