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Can the Government Use Armed Drones in US Airspace?


February 19, 2013
John Glaser / AntiWar.com & Rachel Maddow & Michael Isikoff / NBC News

A clear ban on armed drones over US airspace would indicate a significant check on the government's growing powers linked to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. But according to a US Army manual, the use of drones over US airspace is "constrained, not prohibited." Sen. Rand Paul has made it a mission to clarify "whether or not the president can kill US citizens through the drone strike program on US soil," given Obama's declared authority to do so on foreign soil.

http://antiwar.com/blog/2013/02/18/can-the-government-use-armed-drones-in-us-airspace/

Can the Government Use
Armed Drones in US Airspace?

John Glaser / AntiWar.com

(February 18, 2013) -- Last week, the Military Times ran a report based on statements from James Williams, the man from the Federal Aviation Administration that is "in charge of integrating unmanned aircraft into US airspace." The story had an encouraging headline: "No Armed Drones in US Airspace."

Over the next 10 years, unmanned aircraft could fill a number of commercial and government uses here at home -- but those uses don't include putting ordnance on target, said James Williams of the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We currently have rules in the books already that deal with releasing anything from an aircraft, period," Williams said Wednesday. "Those rules are in place and are there that would prohibit weapons from being installed on a civil aircraft. We don't have any plans on changing them for unmanned aircraft."


An all out prohibition on armed drones over US airspace would indicate a significant check on the government's growing powers expanding into uncharted territory thanks to the technological advances of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Drones have made it easier for Washington to conduct covert warfare and surveillance in other countries, and those that are critical of their use have for years warned of their inevitable domestic application.

While Williams's comment seems categorical -- no armed drones over US airspace -- his meaning is less clear. He mentions laws that prohibit weapons being installed on "civil aircraft." What about the government? Certain US senators, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have made it a mission of theirs to get clarity on "whether or not the president can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on US soil," given Obama's declared authority to do so on foreign soil.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News gives further specificity to the question, citing a US Army manual. The army's use of drones over US airspace is "constrained, not prohibited," he reports.

There are significant barriers to the Army's use of unmanned aerial systems within the United States, according to a new Army manual, but they are not prohibitive or categorical.

"Legal restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft systems in domestic operations are numerous," the manual states. The question arises particularly in the context of Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), refering to military assistance to government agencies in disaster response and other domestic emergencies.

"Use of DOD intelligence capabilities for DSCA missions -- such as incident awareness and assessment, damage assessment, and search and rescue–requires prior Secretary of Defense approval, together with approval of both the mission and use of the exact DOD intelligence community capabilities. Certain missions require not only approval of the Secretary of Defense, but also coordination, certification, and possibly, prior approval by the Attorney General of the United States."

As a general rule, "military forces cannot use military systems for surveillance and pursuit of individuals." This is precluded by the Posse Comitatus Act, as reflected in DoD Directive 5525.5.

But there is a possibility that exceptions may arise, the manual indicates. "[Unmanned aircraft] operators cannot conduct surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US laws and regulations." See US Army Field Manual FM 3-52, Airspace Control, February 2013 (especially Appendix G).

So there are regulatory and procedural constraints on the government's use of domestic drones in general, and the US Army manual prohibits the use of military systems for surveillance and "pursuit of individuals." That would suggest pursuing individuals with drones -- armed or unarmed -- is not allowed. Furthermore, the Posse Comitatus Act restrains in principle the military's domestic capabilities. So again, in principle, it would seem illegal.

But nothing here yet specifies what are the rules for the police force's use of drones, to which Army manuals and Posse Comitatus do not apply.

Furthermore, many legal experts agree the President's use of drones in targeted killings abroad is illegal. But that hasn't prevented their expansive application. Indeed, to avoid legal scrutiny, the Executive Branch simply keeps the program technically secret and conducted by the CIA. Covert activities are those that would be illegal... if the government would make them public and submit to judicial review, which it refuses to do.

When it comes down to it, the question of whether armed drones will be used to pursue domestic targets depends on how robust the rule of law is -- as opposed to rule by men. To what extent does the state submit itself to its own rules, laws, and promises? Not very much, especially in cases of "national security."



Public Opinion Shifts on Drone Warfare
Deborah Sweet / The World Can't Wait

(February 14, 2013) -- With the kind of "kabuki theater" questioning the Senate gave John Brennan last week during a public hearing, it's certain they will confirm him as Director of the C.I.A. This should not be any surprise. Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't met a national security "concern" yet that didn't trump the rights of the people; we know she was one of the select few briefed by the Bush regime when they began torture, or excuse me, "enhanced interrogations."

But, finally, after several years of a drone killing spree unimpeded by almost any comment, much less protest at the level needed, the words "drone" and "controversy" are finally being said in the same sentence. I point out some in Suddenly Targeted Killing by Drones is Controversial, including the fine editorial cartoons appearing, the best of which is from Tom Tomorrow.

World Can't Wait is not alone in making the comparison between the Bush regime's use of torture/indefinite detention and the targeted killing without due process of the Obama administration. The New York Times said Sunday:
“By emphasizing drone strikes, Mr. Obama need not bother with the tricky issues of detention and interrogation because terrorists tracked down on his watch are generally incinerated from the sky, not captured and questioned.”

Dennis Loo, in The Red Queen's in Charge: Murdering People and Due Process Via Drones, asks:
"If it was within Iran’s capacity to deploy drones over the US, the way the US does over Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, etc., and Iran’s Prime Minister and his closest advisor for drones, Mohammed J. Brennan, met every Tuesday in Tehran to decide which Americans were going to be assassinated, the way President Obama and his own John Brennan do, and Iran was murdering thousands of Americans, including over 176 American children, what do you suppose the response in the US might be?"

Last week's tiny sliver of a public hearing was interrupted by the wonderfully loud Ann Wright and others from Code Pink, many of whom had been in Pakistan months ago to see evidence of C.I.A. drone killings. They were arrested for disrupting Congress, and we thank them!

The theater continued Tuesday night in the State of the Union message, which followed on Obama's Inaugural address.

Looking beyond the public wrapping of concern for people killed in gun violence, of a demand that action be taken about climate change, a cold, chilling, message continues to comes through. Hours after he spoke, a NATO airstrike killed ten, mostly women and children, according to the BBC, as the US continued its war on Afghan villagers.

Kathy Kelly, returned from her twelfth visit to Afghanistan, said this morning in response to Obama's focus on the sacrifice of US troops and his commitment to a "unified and sovereign" Afghanistan:

President Obama is a hawkish president who likes to appear dovish. The reality is that the Pentagon has said that the troops will be in Afghanistan until 2024 and beyond. And in the 21st century military that the president and the Pentagon want to create, they don’t necessarily need big, huge military bases all across Afghanistan. What they want to have are special operations troops working in coordination with the capacity for drone strikes, weaponized drone strikes and drone surveillance.

Has anyone mentioned the Nobel Peace Prize lately?


Debra Sweet, Director, The World Can't Wait, 305 West Broadway #185, NY, NY 10013. info@worldcantwait.org - 866.973.4463


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