tirsdag 19. august 2014

“With a license to kill” - with drones

UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that at least 273 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have been killed by drone strikes launched under President Obama’s watch.

The most common tactic employed in locating targets is known as ‘geolocation’, which entails locking on to the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist. NSA is doing this, like so many other things in the grey zone or directly on the wrong side of law and good ethics. A former drone sensor operator with the US Air Force, Brandon Bryant, told a journalist in the magazine Intercept last May that using the NSA metadata led to inaccuracies that killed civilians.

The NSA uses a program called Geo Cell to follow potential targets and often do not verify whether the carrier of the phone is the intended target of the strike.

“It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people – we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy,” Bryant told the Intercept.

Over the past five years the NSA has played an increasingly central role in drone killing, but the growing reliance on metadata to find terrorists is also targeting innocent civilians. As long as these people are non-American the US President has the necessary political support at home for this kind of warfare, even if the legal basis is thin - very thin indeed. Not to speak of the ethical aspect of it. Targeting a US citizen is a different matter, of course.

A United States citizen accused of being an overseas “Al-Qaeda facilitator” could soon be killed by an American drone, the Associated Press reported a month back, but first the US government must find a way to legally launch such a strike.

The name and suspected location of the person in question were withheld by the AP. He is believed by US officials to be actively plotting attacks abroad against other US citizens. But while the White House has previously admitted that four US citizens have been killed overseas by drone strikes since President Obama took office in 2009, a policy change made by his administration in 2013 is now causing complications while the government wrestles with deciding which action to take this time.

In May 2013, President Obama said he would be making major changes to the nation’s overseas drone program and would be working towards transferring control of armed drones to the Department of Defense (DOD). According to at least one of the AP’s sources, however, the DOD is uncertain if the individual in question poses enough of an imminent threat to launch a lethal action ”to take him out” without first having that person tried in a court of law.

Tough decision, of course, but I would be more concerned about the innocent civilians who will probably be hit by the same drone-carried missile, than the criminal US citizen plotting fellow countrymen as targets for Al-Qaeda terrorists abroad.

Knut Harald Nylænde is a Norwegian businessman based in Oslo. He has through his companies during the last 15 years built a substantial investment portfolio with investments in Norway and abroad.