Hits: 6

Dangers of Drone Warfare

Section 1 – Drone Surveillance

Drone surveillance – Drones have the power to intensively monitor and record human activity and communications to a degree not possible by other means.

U.S. surveillance blimp hovering over Kabul, Afghanistan

Drone surveillance, which enables drone attacks and attacks by conventional weapons, based on unique technology with unprecedented “ability to break down any practical privacy safeguards”.  The user has the capability to visually, and through heat sensing and other means, intimately monitor and record the lives of individuals, groups and populations, on a continuous basis, over days, weeks and months, and to sweep into its gaze an ever-widening group of people who may in some way be associated with those who were originally “targeted”, and who hence become suspect. At the same time, drone surveillance often provides a profoundly inaccurate understanding of the thinking and actions of people under surveillance.

In Kirsten Johnson’s 2015 documentary “The Above”, a tethered U.S. Army surveillance blimp floats endlessly in the sky over Kabul, Afghanistan, like an odd-shaped, daytime moon.  In the only spoken words in the 8 ½ – minute film, an Afghan man says:

“The Almighty God is the creator of the world and can see everything.
He sees the sky, the earth, and under the ground.  God sees everything.
God knows everything.  Be aware that He will find out everything.
Who created this balloon? God created the man who made this.
God gave him the brain to create this balloon, and God knows every thought that he thinks.”

After showing a similar blimp over Aberdeen, Maryland, which the U.S. military said had no cameras but is radar-equipped to detect long-range missile attacks, the film closes with this:

U.S. Army 1st Brigade Afghanistan After Action Report:

“Recommendation:  Fly the Persistent Ground Surveillance System (the blimp) as much as possible even if the camera systems/feed is broken. Insurgents and Local Nationals alike believe the blimp can see everything and will act differently when it is up.”

 Mitchell Gray observes in the journal Surveillance and Society that the power of surveillance “transforms those under its gaze.”

Home of alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in which he and his wife were killed by an Israel air attack in 2019 after a drone entered his home to ensure of his location. Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters, appearing in the Washington Post.

The “gaze” of drones allows governments to significantly challenge, if not totally remove, the sanctity of privacy essential to a human sense of individuality and freedom in public and in private places.

Depending on their size, and the video and electronic gear that they carry, drones can enable governments to gather an unprecedented amount of digital information on individuals and groups that, when processed with the assistance of fallible artificial intelligence (AI), can be used for monitoring, sanctions, blackmail, targeting and assassination.

The unique power of the drone is in being able, with remarkable persistence, to take a wide range of surveillance equipment into spaces, otherwise not easily accessible.

For example, in 2019 an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drone reportedly entered the Gaza City apartment of alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata  “to indicate his precise location.”   Minutes later, the report said, an IDF air attack was launched on the apartment, killing Abu al-Ata and his wife.  Four or his children and a neighbor were reported injured.

The drone is essential to gathering the following types of critical video and electronic information that cannot be so quickly and remotely gathered on individuals, groups, and masses of people in any other way.

 Weaponized Drones – technological capabilities

 1.A.  Video and Hyperspectral Information

(1)  Biometric Identification – Physical measurements of faces and bodies of individuals, hair and eye color and other physical characteristics, including a person’s gait when walking, their speed of movement and gestures, are used to identify and stalk.  However, biometric technology reportedly has serious flaws with respect to accuracy and hackability.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that between 2008 and 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense used biometric and forensic data (such as fingerprints) to capture or kill 1,700 individuals, deny 92,000 individuals access to military bases and put 213,000 people on a DOD “watchlist.”

(2)  Facial Recognition This technology uses facial biometric data to match faces under surveillance with faces already held on file in a database of targeted people. This technology has been found to be particularly inaccurate and harmful to blacks, Hispanics and other people of color.

This technology therefore presents an extraordinarily dangerous threat to the public in current war zones where the vast majority of people are people of color.

The U.S. state of California has banned police from using facial recognition technology, but its use is permitted elsewhere and the technology is widely available and being used.

Flight Global reports that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, maker of the workhorse of U.S. drone killing, the MQ-9 Reaper, announced in 2020 that it is testing an on-board system that will use facial recognition technology to identify an enemy combatant and “autonomously find, track and propose targets to human commanders.”

(3) Emotional Analysis  A technology of AI-assisted analysis has been developed in which cameras record extremely minute, flickering changes in facial, voice, along with other features in an attempt to determine emotions, as well as both conscious and unconscious thoughts.

Shosana Zoboff explains this process in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”:

“This complex of machine intelligence is trained to isolate, capture and render the most subtle and intimate behaviors, from an inadvertent blink to a jaw that slackens in surprise for a fraction of a second.  Combinations of sensors and software can recognize the identity of faces; estimate age, ethnicity, and gender; analyze gaze direction and blinks; and track distinct facial points to interpret ‘micro-expressions’, eye movements, emotions, moods, stress, deceit, boredom, confusion, intentions and more: all at the speed of life.”

The technology, Zuboff says, is intended to capture behaviors that “elude the conscious mind.”

RQ4-A “Global Hawk” surveillance drone.

At this point, it appears that this technology is being used primarily by corporations in guiding advertising and product development.

At this point, it appears that this technology is being used primarily by corporations in guiding advertising and product development.

However, Forbes reports that Matt Celuszak, the founder of the UK firm Element Human, an emotion-detection technology company, “thinks  it will be useful for emotion detection to look out for patterns of agitation in a group of protesters to predict if a riot was about to erupt.”

China has installed emotion detection technology in Xinjiang Province, according to a report in The Straits Times, quoting a Chinese official who said: “Using video footage, emotion recognition technology can rapidly identify criminal suspects by analyzing their mental state…to prevent illegal acts including terrorism and smuggling.”  Xinjiang’s Muslim population of over 1 million has been placed under intense surveillance by the central government.

1.B. Electronic information

Drones can carry electronic detection equipment that enables them to monitor cell-phone conversations, locate and track the cellphone user and capture and hack wi-fi communications.

A Venture Beat report on the use of small drones for tracking mobile electronic devices notes: “Drones, of course, offer better coverage than ground-based methods, and can be used in areas inaccessible by vehicles or foot.”

Cell phone tower simulators, such as Stingray, which can be carried by drones, trick cellphones into connecting to the simulator rather than a legitimate cell phone tower.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports:

“Cell-site simulators operate by conducting a general search of all cell phones within the device’s radius, in violation of basic constitutional protections.  Law enforcement use cell-site simulators to pinpoint the location of phones with greater accuracy than phone companies. Cell-site simulators can also log IMSI numbers (unique identifying numbers) of all of the mobile devices within a given area. Some cell-site simulators may have advanced features allowing law enforcement to intercept communications or even alter the content of communications.”

The ACLU provides this map of U.S. state and local police departments known to be using Stingray technology in 2018. Stingray type devices are also used in Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Turkey.      

1.C. Mass Data Collection

OneZero reported in 2019 that the U.S. military has created a

“vast database, packed with millions of images of faces, irises, fingerprints and DNA data – a biometric dragnet of anyone who has come in contact with the U.S. military abroad.  The 7.4 million identities in the database range from suspected terrorists in active military zones to allied soldiers training with U.S. forces.”

This database is linked to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database, the report says, meaning that the U.S. military can compare its data with biometric data of U.S. citizens and “cataloged” non-citizens. This will, the report says, “ultimately amount to a global surveillance system.”

It is very likely that this database, known as Automated Biometric Information System (ABIS), will be linked with a Pentagon AI-driven data collecting, sorting, targeting and weapons selecting global “brain” that has been officially dubbed Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). Microsoft has won a $10 billion contract to build the brain, which the Pentagon says will speed up its “lethality.”  (Amazon Web Services is contesting the award, but it appears it will not succeed in capturing it.)