White House Will Reveal How Many People the U.S. Has Killed With Drones – by Clay Dillow MARCH 7, 2016, 4:12 PM EST

A breakdown of terrorist and civilian deaths.

A breakdown of terrorist and civilian deaths.

A senior White House aide said Monday that the White House will soon disclose how many terrorism suspects the U.S. has killed via drone strikes since President Obama took office, marking the first such disclosure surrounding the controversial program.

Lisa Monaco, a counter-terrorism and homeland security adviser to President Obama, said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations Monday that the increased transparency will help shore up public support for the administration’s use of lethal drone strikes. While there’s no set date for the release of the data—which tallies drone deaths going back to 2009—it will happen in the “coming weeks.”

“Not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counter-terrorism actions and the broad support of our allies,” Monaco said. She also noted that the report will continue annually, though with less than a year left in office, it remains unclear if the next administration will continue the practice.

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Official data surrounding the use of lethal drone strikes by the U.S. Air Force and the C.I.A. has been virtually non-existent in the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001 when drone strikes became an accepted and now often common method of striking at terrorism suspects abroad. Human rights groups have long called for two U.S. administrations to release more data about the drone program, including how decisions are made with respect to approving targets and how many civilians have been killed as a consequence of the strikes.

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How Rogue Techies Armed the Predator, Almost Stopped 9/11, and Accidentally Invented Remote War – ARTHUR HOLLAND MICHEL. 12.17.15. 7:00 AM

Predator 034, the first drone that a Hellfire missile was ever fired from. Photographed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  BRYAN DERBALLA

Predator 034, the first drone that a Hellfire missile was ever fired from. Photographed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. BRYAN DERBALLA

On the afternoon of October 7, 2001, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, an Air Force pilot named Scott Swanson made history while sitting in a captain’s chair designed for an RV. His contribution to posterity was to kill someone in a completely novel way.

In the moments leading up to the act, Swanson was nervous. He sat in a darkened trailer tucked behind a parking garage at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, remotely piloting a Predator drone over Kandahar, 6,900 miles away. Nearly everything about his rig had been cobbled together and hastily assembled. The Predator itself, one of just a handful in existence, was flying about 250 pounds heavier than usual. And the satellite communications link that connected Swanson to the aircraft would periodically shut down due to a power issue, which software engineers in California were frantically trying to patch.

When the order came through to take the shot, Swanson pulled a trigger on his joystick. A little more than a second later, a Hellfire missile slid off an aluminum rail on the Predator’s wing and sailed into the Afghan night.

Swanson’s target was a pickup truck parked outside a compound thought to be hiding Mullah Omar, the supreme commander of the Taliban. The missile killed two unidentified men believed to have been his bodyguards. It was the first time a US drone had fired a weapon in combat. It was the first time a modern drone had ever killed a human being.

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A chilling new post-traumatic stress disorder: Why drone pilots are quitting in record numbers – PRATAP CHATTERJEE, FRIDAY, MAR 6, 2015 9:30 AM UTC

The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

A chilling new post-traumatic stress disorder: Why drone pilots are quitting in record numbers
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress — significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to work like any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

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Welcome To The Nuclear Command Bunker – by GEOFF BRUMFIEL July 29, 2014 3:28 PM ET Listen to the Story All Things Considered

Lt. Raj Bansal and Capt. Joseph Shannon (right) approach Foxtrot-01, a remote nuclear missile base in Nebraska.
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Lt. Raj Bansal and Capt. Joseph Shannon (right) approach Foxtrot-01, a remote nuclear missile base in Nebraska.

Geoffrey Brumfiel/NPR

Where’s The Bunker?

The base’s 150 missiles are divided into “flights” labeled with letters. NPR visited Flight F (Foxtrot).

Map of the missile field near F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.

The stretch of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne, Wyo., and Lincoln, Neb., is straight and flat. High plains stretch out on either side.

But scattered along this unremarkable road, the Air Force keeps some of its most powerful weapons — Minuteman III nuclear missiles.

Outsiders are rarely allowed to see the missiles up close. But in the aftermath of a scandal earlier this year, the Air Force has allowed some media, including NPR, a rare glimpse at America’s nuclear deterrence.

Traveling to the missile fields isn’t done by helicopter or Humvee. Instead, we’re riding in a Ford Taurus with 168,000 miles on it.

“It’s our chariot,” says Lt. Raj Bansal, of the Air Force’s 90th Missile Wing, with a chuckle. Capt. Joseph Shannon, riding shotgun, is quick to chime in: “The key is to get us there safely,” he says.

Shannon and Bansal are on their way out for a shift, or “alert” as it’s known in the missile business. For the next 24 hours they will be responsible for 10 nuclear weapons. They will oversee security and maintenance. And if the order comes, they will launch these warheads within a matter of minutes (the exact time it takes is classified).

Will they ever get a coded message from the president ordering them to unleash their weapons?

“I think it’s something everybody thinks about when they get the job,” Bansal says. “I mean you’re basically eating most of your meals when you’re on alert next to the keys and switches that would cause that act.”

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Mushroom cloud of inaction: Nuclear agency slow to fix security lapses – By Chloe Johnson-The Washington Times Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From the 2004 loss of security keys at the Los Alamos nuclear research lab to a Catholic nun’s 2012 break-in at a similarly sensitive facility in Tennessee, theEnergy Department’s handling of nuclear materials has been plagued by security lapses. And there is little evidence that any lasting improvements are being made.

For at least the third time in a decade, the investigative arm of Congress this week faulted managers inside the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration for failing to take meaningful action to address long-standing safety issues.

SEE ALSO: Air Force offers bonus pay to draw better nuclear leadership

In fact, Government Accountability Office investigators concluded that some of the actions NNSA managers took to cut costs have worsened some security vulnerabilities.

The woeful record and repeated warnings have exasperated the country’s leading voices on nuclear safety, such as Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and Clinton administration energy secretary who presided over the department when Congress created the NNSA 14 years ago.

“I think this should be abolished, but it probably won’t be because it challenges the turf of some members of Congress,” Mr. Richardson said an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times. “I fought very strongly against it.”

“I think this should be abolished, but it probably won’t be because …
more >

The Energy Department has been conducting nuclear research for decades, but Congress consolidated the nuclear security responsibilities under the NNSA in 2000. Since then, the agency has become a poster child for bureaucratic bungling and clumsy security.

Congressional testimony reviewed by The Times included blunt assessments calling the NNSA security practices inadequate and wasteful.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Sandra Finan, who investigated the NNSA in 2012, said the agency had a “check-the-box” mentality.

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Air Force begins 25-year plan for next-generation drone fleet; stealth stressed – By Douglas Ernst -The Washington Times Friday, June 20, 2014

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The preparation for the Air Force’s next generation of drones is underway.

The service hopes to successfully implement a 25-year plan called “Remotely Pilot Aircraft Vector,” which would lessen the workload on human pilots while upping stealth and network capabilities.

PHOTOS: Top 10 U.S. fighter jets

Col. Ken Callahan, A2 director of remotely piloted aircraft capabilities, toldBusiness Insider on Friday that he anticipates new advances in drone technology will focus less on “ground-centric” work (e.g., counterinsurgency and counter terrorism work in the Middle East) and more on the “contested” environments of countries like Russia and China.

Col. Callahan also told Business Insider that future air-to-air superiority fighters could very well be unmanned or optionally manned. The website noted that the Air Force’s new Long Range Strike Bomber is being engineered to fly unmanned and manned missions.

How the Air Force Could Finally Give You a Decent Wi-Fi Connection – BY ROBERT MCMILLAN 05.02.14 | 3:00 PM

A U.S. Air Force combat rescue officer uses a radio to communicate with an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter to organize the extractraction of simulated casualties during a joint coalition extraction exercise at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Photo: Airman 1st Class Christina D. Ponte/U.S. Air Force

A U.S. Air Force combat rescue officer uses a radio to communicate with an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter. Photo: Airman 1st Class Christina D. Ponte/U.S. Air Force

The Air Force is eying a new kind of wireless network.

Hoping to improve the way its planes communicate in hostile environments, the aerial branch of the U.S. Armed Forces is sharing $2.7 million with computer science researchers at the University at Buffalo who will spend the next four years developing software that can make wireless radios significantly smarter and more efficient. It’s called cognitive radio, and though the concept has been around for awhile, there are some signs that it’s getting ready for prime time, and it could be used to boost wireless networks well beyond the Air Force. Microsoft has tinkered with cognitive radio, and some think thatGoogle could use it as a way of improving its self-driving cars.

Using these techniques, Pados believes, his research team will be able to speed up wireless networking by tenfold.

Used inside Air Force planes, the tech could prevent enemy aircraft from jamming signals, and though that may seem far from the everyday world, it could also pay dividends for consumers. After all, the growing universe of extremely chatty mobile devices have a way of jamming our cellular and Wi-Fi networks. “We do not really utilize the concepts of space, time, and spectrum efficiently,” says Dimitris Pados, an electrical engineering professor at the University at Buffalo.

The idea behind cognitive radio is to build smarter, more flexible networking gear with bigger brains. Using these techniques, Pados believes, his research team will be able to speed up wireless networking by tenfold.

In short, cognitive radios use software to figure out what’s going on with the network. Is there interference? Is there a better way to send messages? The radios can then adjust their power, frequency, even their network protocols — all on the fly — so that the computers bits and bytes cross the network more quickly that they do with today’s routers and wireless phones.

Take your Wi-Fi router. The way things work today, Wi-Fi routers use one of a handful of predetermined frequency ranges to communicate with smartphones, gadgets and laptops. If things didn’t work that way, your Wi-Fi signal could interfere with your digital TV, cellular phone signal, or AM radio, which all operate on different ranges. But cognitive radio — at least in theory — is smart enough to use some of these other ranges without causing interference. “We let every radio in the network have access to the whole available spectrum,” Pados says.

Some of the core ideas behind cognitive radio date back to the 1980s — when researchers would have to haul around their gear in the back of a truck. But the mobile revolution has shrunk down radio components to the point where the kind of equipment you’d need to assemble a cognitive radio router is about the size of a hardcover book.

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Nine fired in US nuclear force cheating scandal – 27 March 2014 Last updated at 16:40 ET

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The US Air Force has sacked nine mid-level nuclear commanders and will discipline dozens more in a test cheating scandal, officials have said.

Nearly one in five of the Air Force’s nuclear missile officers have been implicated in a ring of cheating on monthly proficiency tests.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has said the nuclear force is suffering from “systemic problems”.

A series of programmes to improve leadership are also said to be planned.

None of the fired commanders is directly involved in the alleged cheating. Each was instead determined to have failed in leadership responsibility.

In addition to the nine officers sacked, the senior commander of Malmstrom Air Force Base’s 341st Missile Wing, Col Robert Stanley, was allowed to resign.

Commanders of the 341st Wing’s three missile squadrons – each of whom is responsible for three nuclear missiles – were also fired, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Ninety-one missile launch crew members at Malmstrom have thus far been implicated in the cheating scandal, including more than 40 who face disciplinary action that may include dismissal.

Cheating allegations first emerged during investigations into alleged drug use by personnel at other bases.

In the wake of the revelations, the Air Force announced the entire team at the base would be re-tested.

It is the latest scandal to hit the US Air Force and nuclear missile force.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had previously ordered a high-level review of the US nuclear forces, saying he was “deeply concerned” about morale and discipline among nuclear officers, while insisting that US nuclear arms were safe.


Pentagon investigations point to military system that promotes abusive leaders – TUESDAY, JANUARY 28, 5:12 PM

There are miserable bosses, and then there are toxic military commanders.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at Jan 28, 2014 10.07 1Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt was unquestionably among the latter in the view of some staff members under his thumb. A profane screamer, he ran through six executive officers and aide-de-camps in a year. He retired this month after an Air Force inquiry concluded that he was “cruel and oppressive” and mistreated subordinates.

More than a dozen people who worked with Brig. Gen. Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, a retired commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, reported him as a verbally abusive taskmaster. One was so desperate to escape from division headquarters in San Francisco that he asked for a transfer to Iraq. An Army investigation cited the general for “exhibiting paranoia” and making officers cry.

Troops who served under Army Brig. Gen. Eugene Mascolo of the Connecticut National Guard, described him as “dictatorial,” “unglued” and a master of “profanity-fused outbursts.” An Army investigation found widespread evidence of “verbal mistreatment.” He received a written reprimand but remains in the National Guard.

U.S. military commanders are not trained to be soft or touchy-feely. But over the past two years, the Pentagon has been forced to conduct a striking number of inspector-general investigations of generals and admirals accused of emotionally brutal behavior, according to military documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The affliction of abusive leadership has even infected some civilian leaders at the Pentagon, raising questions about the Defense Department’s ability to detect and root out flaws in its command culture.

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Air Force nuclear cheating scandal widens – January 28, 2014 3:30PM ET

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The number of U.S. Air Force service members implicated in a scandal involving alleged cheating on tests of nuclear missile launch operations has roughly doubled from the 34 initially cited, officials said Tuesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the additional 30-plus airmen suspected of being involved in cheating on proficiency tests are alleged to have participated in the cheating directly or were involved indirectly.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information by name while the investigation is ongoing.

The Air Force announced on Jan. 15 that while it was investigating possible criminal drug use by some airmen, it discovered that one missile officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana had shared test questions with 16 other officers. It said another 17 admitted to knowing about this cheating but did not report it.

The 34 officers had their security clearances suspended and were taken off missile launch duty. It was not clear Tuesday whether the additional people implicated in the investigation since then also were taken off launch duty.

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