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What happened when the US shot down a passenger airliner: Lies, denials, and obfuscations…

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Just like Russia and the Separatists (sounds like rock band, eh?). When the US shot down an Iranian airliner, the US military’s response was to lie repeatedly, and the US government refused to apologize, in the words of George H.W. Bush, ““I will never apologize for the United States—I don’t care what the facts are.” (The GOP has a long history of not caring about facts, obviously.)

Read Fred Kaplan’s article in Slate for more. From the article:

. . . As the Boston Globe’s defense correspondent at the time, I reported on the Vincennes shoot-down, and I have gone back over my clips, chronicling the official lies and misstatements as they unraveled. Here’s the truly dismaying part of the story. On Aug. 19, 1988, nearly seven weeks after the event, the Pentagon issued a 53-page report on the incident. Though the text didn’t say so directly, it found that nearly all the initial details about the shoot-down—the “facts” that senior officials cited to put all the blame on Iran Air’s pilot—were wrong. And yet the August report still concluded that the captain and all the other Vincennes officers acted properly.

For example, on July 3, at the first Pentagon press conference on the incident, Adm. William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Iranian plane had been flying at 9,000 feet and descending at a “high speed” of 450 knots, “headed directly” for the Vincennes. In fact, however, the Aug. 19 report—written by Rear Adm. William Fogarty of U.S. Central Command—concluded (from computer tapes found inside the ship’s combat information center) that the plane was “ascending through 12,000 feet” at the much slower speed of 380 knots. “At no time” did the Airbus “actually descend in altitude,” the report stated.

When I pointed out this discrepancy at the press conference where the report was handed out, Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci waved me away and said, “It’s really questionable whether a different reading would have affected the judgment” to shoot down the plane. (I still find this astonishing.)

There were other equally disturbing discrepancies between Crowe’s July 3 press conference (which struck me as suspicious even at the time) and Fogarty’s Aug. 19 report. Crowe had said the plane was flying “outside the prescribed commercial air route”; the report said it was flying “within the established air route.” Crowe had said the plane’s transponder was “squawking” a code over the “Mode 2” military channel; the report stated that it was squawking over the “Mode 3” civilian channel. Crowe had said the Vincennes issued several warnings; the report confirmed this, but noted, “Due to heavy pilot workload during take-off and climb-out, and the requirement to communicate with” two air traffic control centers, the pilot “probably was not monitoring” the international air-distress channel.

Adm. George B. Crist, head of U.S. Central Command, issued a “non-punitive letter of censure” to the ship’s anti–air warfare officer, but Secretary of Defense Carlucci withdrew the letter. Not only that, but two years later, Capt. Rogers was issued the Legion of Merit “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service” as the Vincennes’ commander “from April 1987 to May 1989.” [Yes: the US awards military decorations to a man who shot down passenger airliners. Why? Because shooting down a passenger airliner is not that big a deal if the US does it. (That's the unavoidable take-away message.) And yet the Iranians don't like the US. Why, if they had shot down one of our airliners and refused to apologize, we'd be perfectly okay with that. - LG]

One more shocking bit, which I didn’t know until just now: In 1992, four years after the event (and shortly after I moved on to a different beat), Adm. Crowe admitted on ABC’s Nightline that the Vincennes was in Iranian waters at the time it shot down the plane. Back in 1988, he and others had said that the ship was in international waters. It also came out that some other Navy officers had regarded Rogers as “aggressive” and found it strange that he was moving his Aegis cruiser into those waters to pursue Iranian patrol boats—overkill at best, asking for trouble in any case. The distractions of the chase, possibly combined with the fact that the Aegis radar-guided missile system was new at the time, may have led to his fatal misjudgment. . . .

Yet the US is puzzled by the hostility expressed toward it by some governments, and assumes that the reason for the hostility is “our freedoms.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 10:51 am

Posted in Military

Interesting pattern of how the military handles unpleasant facts

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From an article by Dan Lamothe in the Washington Post on how facts are skewed when airliners are shot down:

On July 3, 1988, a helicopter from the USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser, came under fire from Iranian gunboats while over the Persian Gulf. Seeing an aircraft speeding their way, the ship’s crew opened fire with two surface-to-air missiles — and brought down a commercial jet, Iran Air Flight 655, carrying 290 people. Navy officials said the Vincennes crew thought it was an Iranian fighter jet, and a threat to their safety.

As outlined in The Washington Post the next day, the Pentagon at first denied Iranian accusations that the Navy had shot down an airliner. Within hours, however, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., said the United States had confirmed the incident.

Even then, Crowe moved quickly to to back the skipper of the ship, Capt. William C. Rogers III. He said the Airbus had flown four miles west of the usual commercial airline route, that the pilot ignored repeated radio warnings from the Vincennes to change course, and that its altitude was decreasing as it got closer. U.S. officials also said repeatedly the ship was in international waters, which would put the Iranians in the wrong for opening fire on the ship in the first place.

Few of those details turned out to be true. The Vincennes and helicopter were actually in Iranian waters and airspace, subsequent investigations found. ABC News, among others, later reported that the plane actually was flying where it should have been and had already turned away from the Vincennes when it was shot down. U.S. officials also said the helicopter that came under fire was checking on a vessel that had issued a distress call, but later investigations show the ship did not exist.

And of course the US Navy still has not acknowledged that a missile brought down TWA 800 over Long Island Sound in 1996, apparently fired during a training exercise. (US Navy ships fled the scene immediately after the airliner was shot down rather remaining to offer help and assistance.)

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2014 at 8:34 am

Posted in Military

Very cool military fighter built with off-the-shelf technology

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The F-16 was another fighter that did not try to push the envelope but rather be a “big-bang-for-the-buck” fighter (more or less the opposite of the F-35, which is still struggling). The Scorpion looks as though it could be an enormous success.

The idea of a “good-enough” fighter that is (relatively) inexpensive is that a nation can put a lot more in the air. For the same money, a nation can have three times as many Scorpions than F-35s—and they are cheaper to operate and maintain as well.

For more on the ideas behind the F-16 (and, apparently the Scorpion), see this article on the Lightweight Fighter Program and John Boyd’s theory (based on his experience) that informed it.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:32 am

Posted in Military

When newspapers become outlets for military-industrial propaganda

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The reports on Israel’s Iron Dome defense system read like press releases—which, indeed, they are, for all practical purposes. And like most press releases, the truth is not to be found in them.

James Fallows has some excellent examples of the propaganda articles, and also some pushback from actual experts, who point out that the system doesn’t work all that well.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 8:43 am

At last some troops are becoming aware that not all orders are illegal

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And specifically an order to torture is illegal—that’s what the CIA is for. The CIA can torture (even torture to death) with no penalties, no repercussions. But the military is (theoretically) subject to the Military Code of Justice.

At any rate, a Navy nurse has decline to participate in forced feedings at Guantánamo.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 5:42 pm

DARPA’s new experimental sniper bullet can turn in mid-flight

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I’ve seen bullets that chase down the target—they were used in Who Framed Roger Rabbit—but now DARPA has developed an actual sniper round. Check out the video in this story.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Guns, Military

Ever Wondered Why the World is a Mess? Here’s why.

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Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:

Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.

ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.

Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.

This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.

1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.

Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.

2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.

The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.

The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.

3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.

Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.

Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.

The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.

There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.

4) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 2:21 pm

The American Century (1914-2014) has ended

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This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.

In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.

This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.

There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:20 am

Pentagon really doesn’t care about MIAs

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Despite repeated efforts to get Pentagon attention to the incompetent leadership and ineffective organization of the department responsible for identifying remains of MIA troops, things continue much as before. The reason is obvious: the Pentagon simply doesn’t care. Megan McCloskey reports at ProPublica:

The Defense Department’s inspector general has drafted a stinging rebuke of the Pentagon’s struggling effort to recover the remains of missing service members from past wars, concluding the mission lacks the most elemental building blocks for success.

According to a draft report of its investigation obtained by ProPublica, the mission lacks agreed upon goals, objectives and priorities. It lacks a strategic plan and up-to-date policies. It lacks standard operating procedures, a complete centralized database of the missing, and a disinterment plan, among other flaws.

Many of these same issues were also laid out by a ProPublica and NPR investigation earlier this year.

The shortcomings have contributed to a remarkably low number of identifications each year – just 60 in 2013 out of the tens of thousands missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — despite about $100 million annually to get the job done.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced an overhaul in late March of the MIA effort. The current agencies involved in the mission will be consolidated within the next year into a new agency.

The revamped organization will have quite a job ahead of it. The Inspector General also laid out problems with leadership at the main agency involved with the mission, which have yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Pentagon. Complaints from about 50 current and former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command employees, “paint a picture of long-term leadership and management problems resulting in a hostile and dysfunctional work environment,” the report states.

“If left uncorrected, the problems driving these complaints will be brought into the new Defense agency…hindering mission accomplishment.”

About a dozen former J-PAC employees have told ProPublica that they loved the mission but quit because of leadership issues.

When the Pentagon announced the revamp of the mission this spring, it stressed a structurally flawed system rather than issues regarding individual leaders and sidestepped any questions about accountability. Most of the leaders within the various agencies have been in charge in different positions for decades.

The Inspector General recommended that the Pentagon immediately “take corrective action” on the leadership problems, as well as cut back on staff to eliminate duplicative positions among the various agencies.

Continue reading.

It’s worth noting that the Pentagon does not believe in personal responsibility and accountability. The primary motivation and rive seems to be to protect officers at all costs, regardless of their performance.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:01 am

A reprise of a fine Chalmers Johnson column, with a good introduction by Tom Englehardt

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Extremely good; written in August of 2010, republished because it’s still appropriate.

In September 1998, I was handed a submission for a proposed book by Chalmers Johnson. I was then (as I am now) consulting editor at Metropolitan Books. 9/11 was three years away, the Bush administration still an unimaginable nightmare, and though the prospective book’s prospective title had “American Empire” in it, the American Empire Project I now co-run with my friend and TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser was still almost four years from crossing either of our minds.

I remembered Johnson, however. As a young man, I had read his book on peasant nationalism in north China where, during the 1930s, Japanese invaders were conducting “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” operations. Its vision of how a revolution could gain strength from a foreign occupation stayed with me. I had undoubtedly also read some of Johnson’s well-respected work on contemporary Japan and I knew, even then, that in the Vietnam War era he had been a fierce opponent of the antiwar movement I took part in. If I didn’t already know it, the proposal made no bones about the fact that he had also, in that era, consulted for the CIA.

I certainly turned to his submission — a prologue, a single chapter, and an outline of the rest of a book — with a dubious eye, but was promptly blasted away by a passage in the prologue in which he referred to himself as having been a “spear-carrier for empire” and, some pages in, by this passage as well:

“I was sufficiently aware of Mao Zedong’s attempts to export ‘people’s war’ to believe that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, too, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position. The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia]… As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.”

I was little short of thunderstruck. I knew then — and I think it still holds today — that no one of prominence with Johnson’s position on the war and in his age range had ever written such a set of sentences. At that moment, knowing nothing else, I made the decision to publish his book. It was possibly the single most impulsive, even irrational, and thoroughly satisfying decision I’ve made in my 30-odd years as an editor in, or at the fringes of, mainstream publishing.

Though I didn’t have expectations for the book then, the rest is, quite literally, history. After all, its title would be Blowback, a term of CIA tradecraft that neither I nor just about any other American had ever heard of, and which, thanks to Johnson, has now become part of our language (along with the accompanying catch phrase “unintended consequences”). On its publication in 2000, the book was widely ignored. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, it seemed nothing short of prophetic, and so, in paperback, stormed those 9/11 tables at the front of bookstores, and soared to bestsellerdom.

That I ever edited Blowback or Johnson’s subsequent books was little short of a fluke, one of the luckiest of my life. It led as well to a relationship with a man of remarkable empathy and insight, who was then on a no less remarkable journey (on which I could tag along). Now, a new book of his, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, has arrived, focused on the many subjects — from our empire of bases to the way the Pentagon budget, the weapons industries, and military Keynesianism may one day help send us into great power bankruptcy — that have obsessed him in recent years. It’s not to be missed. Tom

The Guns of August
Lowering the Flag on the American Century
By Chalmers Johnson

In 1962, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the start of World War I and called it The Guns of August. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was, of course, looking back at events that had occurred almost 50 years earlier and had at her disposal documents and information not available to participants. They were acting, as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it, in the fog of war.

So where are we this August of 2010, with guns blazing in one war in Afghanistan even as we try to extricate ourselves from another in Iraq? Where are we, as we impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and threaten worse), while sending our latest wonder weapons, pilotless drones armed with bombs and missiles, into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, Yemen, and who knows where else, tasked with endless “targeted killings” which, in blunter times, used to be called assassinations? Where exactly are we, as we continue to garrison much of the globe even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services?

I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into and see what historians will make of our own guns of August in 2060. The fog of war, after all, is just a stand-in for what might be called “the fog of the future,” the inability of humans to peer with any accuracy far into the world to come. Let me nonetheless try to offer a few glimpses of what that foggy landscape some years ahead might reveal, and even hazard a few predictions about what possibilities await still-imperial America.

Let me begin by asking: What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us? Not likely. Neither a land nor a sea invasion of the U.S. is even conceivable.

Would 9/11-type attacks accelerate? It seems far likelier to me that, as our overseas profile shrank, the possibility of such attacks would shrink with it.

Would various countries we’ve invaded, sometimes occupied, and tried to set on the path of righteousness and democracy decline into “failed states?” Probably some would, and preventing or controlling this should be the function of the United Nations or of neighboring states. (It is well to remember that the murderous Cambodian regime of Pol Pot was finally brought to an end not by us, but by neighboring Vietnam.)

Sagging Empire

In other words, the main fears you might hear in Washington — if anyone even bothered to wonder what would happen, should we begin to dismantle our empire — would prove but chimeras. They would, in fact, be remarkably similar to Washington’s dire predictions in the 1970s about states all over Asia, then Africa, and beyond falling, like so many dominoes, to communist domination if we did not win the war in Vietnam.

What, then, would the world be like if the U.S. lost control globally — Washington’s greatest fear and deepest reflection of its own overblown sense of self-worth — as is in fact happening now despite our best efforts? What would that world be like if the U.S. just gave it all up? What would happen to us if we were no longer the “sole superpower” or the world’s self-appointed policeman?

In fact, we would still be a large and powerful nation-state with a host of internal and external problems. An immigration and drug crisis on our southern border, soaring health-care costs, a weakening education system, an aging population, an aging infrastructure, an unending recession — none of these are likely to go away soon, nor are any of them likely to be tackled in a serious or successful way as long as we continue to spend our wealth on armies, weapons, wars, global garrisons, and bribes for petty dictators.

Even without our interference, the Middle East would continue to export oil, and if China has been buying up an ever larger share of what remains underground in those lands, perhaps that should spur us into conserving more and moving more rapidly into the field of alternative energies.

Rising Power

Meanwhile, whether we dismantle our empire or not, China will become (if it isn’t already) the world’s next superpower.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:37 am

Corporate gloves being removed: Blackwater manager threatened to murder State Dept investigator; investigation halted in response

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I imagine this is not the only instance—such threats might explain why the SEC seems so inept at its investigations. In the NY Times James Risen reports (still—he’s probably headed for jail for not letting the US government know his sources for his reporting; Obama hates whistleblowers):

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.

Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in an American court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed in 2009.

The shooting was a watershed moment . . .

Continue reading.

(I included the category “terrorism,” because what Blackwater was doing in Iraq was exactly terrorism—e.g., gunning down 17 civilians over NO PRETEXT. That’s terrorism: actions to induce terror, like a marketplace bombing. Or an appearance of Blackwater… troops? And they even threaten a US State Department Investigator—and get totally away with it! It does show that some sort of tide has turned.

UPDATE: And read what Paul Krugman wrote.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 1:57 pm

America’s Militarized Police Forces

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At AlterNet Alex Kane has an interesting article with some good links:

The “war on terror” has come home–and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.

The weapons used in the “war on terror” that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.

Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorize the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what look like invading forces from an army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page (appendix and endnotes included) report titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that “American policing has become excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”

The information contained in the ACLU report, and in other investigations into the phenomenon, is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the lack of debate on the issue, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important–and horrifying–things you should know about the militarization of police.

1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary, who could in turn try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the number is actually higher.

Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.

2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children are caught up the crossfire–with devastating consequences.

In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flashbang grenade–despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was–and the grenade landed in his crib.

Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.

Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.

Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country…Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”

Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only case of children being impacted.

According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not.”

3. The use of SWAT teams is unnecessary. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. We are seeing something bad rapidly progressing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:19 am

It’s not only the vets: Hospitals for active military constantly making errors that result in death or injury

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Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren report in the NY Times:

Jessica Zeppa, five months pregnant, the wife of a soldier, showed up four times at Reynolds Army Community Hospital here in pain, weak, barely able to swallow and fighting a fever. The last time, she declared that she was not leaving until she could get warm.

Without reviewing her file, nurses sent her home anyway, with an appointment to see an oral surgeon to extract her wisdom teeth.

Mrs. Zeppa returned the next day, in an ambulance. She was airlifted to a civilian hospital, where despite relentless efforts to save her and her baby, she suffered a miscarriage and died on Oct. 22, 2010, of complications from severe sepsis, a bodywide infection. Medical experts hired by her family said later that because she was young and otherwise healthy, she most likely would have survived had the medical staff at Reynolds properly diagnosed and treated her.

“She was 21 years old,” her mother, Shelley Amonett, said. “They let this happen. This is what I want to know: Why did they let it slip? Why?”

The hospital doesn’t know, either.

Since 2001, the Defense Department has required military hospitals to conduct safety investigations when patients unexpectedly die or suffer severe injury. The object is to expose and fix systemic errors, often in the most routine procedures, that can have disastrous consequences for the quality of care. Yet there is no evidence of such an inquiry into Mrs. Zeppa’s death.

The Zeppa case is emblematic of persistent lapses in protecting patients that emerged from an examination by The New York Times of the nation’s military hospitals, the hub of a sprawling medical network — entirely separate from the scandal-plagued veterans system — that cares for the 1.6 million active-duty service members and their families.

Internal documents obtained by The Times depict a system in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic.

As in the Zeppa case, records indicate that the mandated safety investigations often go undone: From 2011 to 2013, medical workers reported 239 unexpected deaths, but only 100 inquiries were forwarded to the Pentagon’s patient-safety center, where analysts recommend how to improve care. Cases involving permanent harm often remained unexamined as well.

At the same time, by several measures considered crucial barometers of patient safety, the military system has consistently had higher than expected rates of harm and complications in two central parts of its business — maternity care and surgery.

More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show. And their mothers were . . .

Continue reading.

Where’s the oversight? Why isn’t Darrell Issa having hearings on this instead of the IRS and Benghazi? Because this is real?

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 1:12 pm

President Obama Has Finally Learned the Limits of American Military Power

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Kevin Drum has a particularly good post today, which begins:

I’ve been meaning to make note of something about Iraq for a while, and a story today in the LA Times provides the perfect hook:

A group of U.S. diplomats arrived in Libya three years ago to a memorable reception: a throng of cheering men and women who pressed in on the startled group “just to touch us and thank us,” recalled Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor….But in three years Libya has turned into the kind of place U.S. officials most fear: a lawless land that attracts terrorists, pumps out illegal arms and drugs and destabilizes its neighbors.

….Now, as Obama considers a limited military intervention in Iraq, the Libya experience is seen by many as a cautionary tale of the unintended damage big powers can inflict when they aim for a limited involvement in an unpredictable conflict….Though they succeeded in their military effort, the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies fell short in the broader goal of putting Libya on a path toward democracy and stability. Exhausted after a decade of war and mindful of the failures in Iraq, U.S. officials didn’t want to embark on another nation-building effort in an oil-rich country that seemed to pose no threat to Western security.

But by limiting efforts to help the new Libyan government gain control over the country, critics say, the U.S. and its allies have inadvertently helped turn Libya into a higher security threat than it was before the military intervention.

The view of the critics in this piece is pretty predictable: no matter what happens in the world, their answer is “more.” And whenever military intervention fails, it’s always because we didn’t do enough.

But I don’t think Obama believes this anymore. . .

Continue reading.

Those who demand a war should be required to fight on the front lines of such wars. If they are unwilling to make any personal sacrifice, then their demands that others sacrifice their lives become suspect.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2014 at 1:11 pm

Why people in other nations may have a somewhat jaundiced view of the US

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Take a look at this Democracy Now! report: 50 Years After U.S. Launched Secret War on Laos, Unexploded Bombs Still Killing Civilians

I believe that most Americans would harbor strong feelings against a country that dropped tons of explosives on the US and left them there to kill civilians in decades to come, especially a country that was not even at war with the US. And the US consistently leaves explosives to kill (foreign) civilians: even in Afghanistan, we are quite deliberately leaving in place all the antipersonnel mines we planted simply because we don’t want to bother to clear them out, and to this day the explosives from cluster bombs litter countries where we have felt free to make war.

It’s a long road that has no turning.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in Military

The militarization of community police departments

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Jim Hightower writes at AlterNet:

Let’s check our weaponry: 93,000 machine guns — check! — 533 planes and helicopters — check! 180,000 magazine cartridges — check! 44,000 night-vision goggles — check! 432 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles — check! OK, let’s roll!

Only, this is not the U.S. military getting ready to head into battle in a foreign land. It’s our local police departments patrolling our cities, towns and college campuses. Remember “Officer Friendly,” the beat cops who were known as “peace officers” and were counted on to uphold our domestic laws, detect and investigate crimes, and be a helpful, non-threatening presence in our communities? The friendlies have largely been transformed into militarized forces, literally armed with and garbed in war gear and indoctrinated in military psychology, rather than the ethic of community policing.

From 1776 forward, Americans have wisely opposed having soldiers do police work on our soil, but in recent years, Pentagon chiefs have teamed up with police chiefs to circumvent that prohibition. How? Simply by militarizing police departments.

Twenty years ago, Congress created the military transfer program, providing federal grants so chiefs of police and sheriffs could buy surplus firepower from the Pentagon. Through those grants, in a stunningly short time, our local police forces have become high-octane, macho-military units, possessing a large armory of Pentagon freebies ranging from 30-ton tanks to rifle silencers. For ordinary police work, they’ve gone from peacekeeping beats to way over-the-top SWAT team aggression that’s unleashed on the citizenry tens of thousands of times a year. For example, a gung-ho Florida SWAT team raided area barbershops in 2010 to stop the horror of “barbering without a license.” And masked police in Louisiana launched a military raid on a nightclub in order to perform a liquor-law inspection. These were barbers and bartenders, not al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Militarization is a dangerous and ultimately deadly perversion of the honorable purpose of policing — and it is out of control. The New York Times notes that 38 states have received silencers to use in surreptitious raids. A sheriff in a North Dakota rural county with only 11,000 people told a Times reporter that he saw no need for silencers. When it was pointed out that his department had received 40 of them from the Pentagon, he was clearly baffled, saying: “I don’t recall approving them.” . . .

Continue reading.

Radley Balko has covered the paramilitary police force the US is developing for quite a while. His book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces collects much of his findings. And just yesterday he wrote in the Washington Post:

The American Civil Liberties Union has released the results of its year-long study of police militarization. The study looked at 800 deployments of SWAT teams among 20 local, state and federal police agencies in 2011-2012. Among the notable findings:

  • 62 percent of the SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct searches for drugs.
  • Just under 80 percent were to serve a search warrant, meaning eight in 10 SWAT raids were not initiated to apprehend a school shooter, hostage taker, or escaped felon (the common justification for these tactics), but to investigate someone still only suspected of committing a crime.
  • In fact, just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”
  • In at least 36 percent of the SWAT raids studies, no contraband of any kind was found. The report notes that due to incomplete police reports on these raids this figure could be as high as 65 percent.
  • SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color.
  • 65 percent of SWAT deployments resulted in some sort of forced entry into a private home, by way of a battering ram, boot, or some sort of explosive device. In over half those raids, the police failed to find any sort of weapon, the presence of which was cited as the reason for the violent tactics.
  • Ironically (or perhaps not), searches to serve warrants on people suspected of drug crimes were more likely to result in forced entry than raids conducted for other purposes.
  • Though often justified for rare incidents like school shootings or terrorist situations, the armored personnel vehicles police departments are getting from the Pentagon and through grants from the Department of Homeland Security are commonly used on drug raids.

In other words, where violent, volatile SWAT tactics were once used only in limited situations where someone was in the process of or about to commit a violent crime — where the police were using violence only to defuse an already violent situation — SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.

When SWAT teams are used in a way that’s consistent with their original purpose, they’re used carefully and cautiously. The ACLU report finds that, “In nearly every deployment involving a barricade, hostage, or active shooter, the SWAT report provided specific facts that gave the SWAT team reason to believe there was an armed and often dangerous suspect.” By contrast . . .

Continue reading.

Do click the link. The entire column is worth reading. From later in the column:

In short, we have police departments that are increasingly using violent, confrontational tactics to break into private homes for increasingly low-level crimes, and they seem to believe that the public has no right to know the specifics of when, how and why those tactics are being used.

Our community police departments are being transformed into (and acting like) paramilitary occupation troops. The US is heading in a very bad direction.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2014 at 9:56 am

What it feels like to live in a country occupied by a military force

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I imagine that the experiences of the family in the article below are quite similar to experiences of families in Iraq and Afghanistan when the military goes on a house-to-house search for potential terrorists. It’s interesting how the tactics developed to fight terrorists are increasingly used by the government against American citizens (with impunity, generally speaking). Indeed, we shall soon have drones (and, presumably, drone attacks) operating extensively in the US.

Alecia Phonesavanh writes in Salon:

After our house burned down in Wisconsin a few months ago, my husband and I packed our four young kids and all our belongings into a gold minivan and drove to my sister-in-law’s place, just outside of Atlanta. On the back windshield, we pasted six stick figures: a dad, a mom, three young girls, and one baby boy.

That minivan was sitting in the front driveway of my sister-in-law’s place the night a SWAT team broke in, looking for a small amount of drugs they thought my husband’s nephew had. Some of my kids’ toys were in the front yard, but the officers claimed they had no way of knowing children might be present. Our whole family was sleeping in the same room, one bed for us, one for the girls, and a crib.

After the SWAT team broke down the door, they threw a flashbang grenade inside. It landed in my son’s crib.

Flashbang grenades were created for soldiers to use during battle. When they explode, the noise is so loud and the flash is so bright that anyone close by is temporarily blinded and deafened. It’s been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he’s still covered in burns.

There’s still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs. At least that’s what I’ve been told; I’m afraid to look.

My husband’s nephew, the one they were looking for, wasn’t there. He doesn’t even live in that house. After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war. They searched for drugs and never found any.

I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.

For the last three weeks, my husband and I have been sleeping at the hospital. We tell our son that we love him and we’ll never leave him behind. His car seat is still in the minivan, right where it’s always been, and we whisper to him that soon we’ll be taking him home with us.

Every morning, I have to face the reality that my son is fighting for his life. It’s not clear whether he’ll live or die. All of this to find a small amount of drugs?

The only silver lining I can possibly see is that my baby Bou Bou’s story might make us angry enough that we stop accepting brutal SWAT raids as a normal way to fight the “war on drugs.” I know that this has happened to other families, here in Georgia and across the country. I know that SWAT teams are breaking into homes in the middle of the night, more often than not just to serve search warrants in drug cases. I know that too many local cops have stockpiled weapons that were made for soldiers to take to war. . .

Continue reading.

The militarization of our police forces has gone way too far. The police are supposed to be of the community, not treating the community (and its members) as hostile.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2014 at 10:59 am

Posted in Government, Military

Why the US is incompetent in its foreign interventions

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James Fallows in the Atlantic has an important essay by the diplomat and scholar William R. Polk:

Analysis of foreign affairs problems often ends in a mental block. As we have seen in each of our recent crises — Somalia, Mali, Libya, Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine and Iran — “practical” men of affairs want quick answers: they say in effect, ‘don’t bother us with talk about how we got here; this is where we are; so what do we do now?’ The result, predictably, is a sort of nervous tick in the body politic: we lurch from one emergency to the next in an unending sequence.

This is not new. We all have heard the quip: “ready, fire, aim.” In fact those words were not just a joke. For centuries after infantry soldier were given the rifle, they were ordered not to take the time to aim; rather, they were instructed just to point in the general direction of the enemy and fire. Their commanders believed that it was the mass impact, the “broadside,” that won the day.

Our leaders still believe it. They think that our “shock and awe,” our marvelous technology measured in stealth bombers, drones, all-knowing intelligence, our massed and highly mobile troops and our money constitute a devastating broadside. All we have to do is to point in the right direction and shoot.

So we shoot and then shoot again and again. We win each battle, but the battles keep happening. And to our chagrin, we don’t seem to be winning the wars. By almost any criterion, we are less “victorious” today than half a century ago.

Professionally, I find it disturbing to keep repeating such simple observations. Like some of my colleagues, I had hoped that the “lesson” of Vietnam would be learned. It was not. Indeed, the guru of the neoconservatives, Sam Huntington, memorably proclaimed that there was no lesson that could be drawn from Vietnam. He led the way, but today he has had many acolytes. They are still acting as guides of our government and the media.

So what do they tell us? Like Huntington they say that we have nothing to learn from the expenditure of our blood, sweat and tears — not to quibble about the trillions of dollars. As each crisis explodes, our guides told us that it is unique, has no usefully analyzed background, is not to be seen in a sequence of events and decisions. It just is. So it requires immediate action of the kind we know how to take — a broadside.

Also never-mind what motivates the “other-side.” What they think might be of interest to ivory-tower historians or a few curious members of the chattering class, but in the real world they do not command attention. Real men just act!

Examples abound. Take Somalia: those wretched people are just a bunch of terrorists living in a failed state — the pirates of the modern world. Simple. We knew what to do about them! That “appreciation,” as they say in the intelligence trade, was reached some years ago , and we are still doing “our thing.”

As a few of us pointed out, “our thing” did not stop out-of-work, hungry and able men from doing “their thing.” When fishermen found their fishing sites virtually destroyed by industrial-scale fleets, armed with sonar, radar and mile-long drag nets and, unable to catch fish and they faced starvation, they discovered piracy. Since they already had boats, were good sailors and were near a major cargo-shipping lane, transition to that new trade was easy. We knew the answer: military force. However, we have seen that sending the Navy is expensive and it did not stop desperate men. No one considered stopping the overfishing before the fishermen turned pirate.

Also, in Somalia, we smugly talk about the “failed state.” But, as the Somalis see themselves, they are not a state at all; rather, they are a collection of separate societies living under a shared cultural-religious system. That, in fact, is how all our ancestors lived until the nation-state system evolved in Europe. Now most of us find it almost inconceivable that the Somalis do not adopt our system. Why are they so backward? If they would just shape up, piracy would end and peace would come. So we try to attach our institutions to their social organization. But, when the Somalis stubbornly try to retain their system, we try our best to modernize, reform, subvert or destroy it. We are still trying each of these or all of them together.

Variations on the Somali theme can be witnessed around the world as we jump from one crisis to the next. We prove to be good tacticians but not strategists, shooters but not aimers, and, above all, loud talkers but poor listeners.

In Syria also we see exemplified our penchant to rely on force, for leaping before we look. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 9:28 am

Drone crashes in the US as military expands their use here

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Craig Whitlock reports in the Washington Post:

 Shortly after the day’s final bell rang and hundreds of youngsters ran outside Lickdale Elementary School with their book bags and lunchboxes, a military drone fell from the sky.

The 375-pound Shadow reconnaissance drone skimmed the treetops as it hurtled toward the school in Jonestown, Pa. It barely missed the building, then cartwheeled through the butterfly garden and past the playground. The aircraft kept rolling like a tumbleweed and collided with a passing car on Fisher Avenue. People called 911. The rescue squad arrived in a hurry. Luckily, no one was hurt.

The April 3 near-disaster was the latest known mishap involving a military drone in the United States. Most U.S. military drone accidents have occurred abroad, but at least 49 large drones have crashed during test or training flights near domestic bases since 2001, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation.

Air Force personnel inspect the wreckage of a Predator drone that crashed during a training flight in May 2013 near Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. (U.S. Air Force)

A 63-foot-long QF-4 target drone exploded into a fireball at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida last July 17, forcing authorities to close a nearby highway. A Global Hawk, the largest drone in the military’s fleet, crashed on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in June 2012. Two years earlier, the military almost had to shoot down a runaway Navy drone after it penetrated some of the most guarded airspace in the country, over Washington, D.C.

The number of accidents has jumped as the military has brought back drones from overseas and operated them more frequently in airspace shared with civilian planes. The military has almost tripled the number of hours its drones have flown annually in shared U.S. airspace since 2011, according to federal data.

Now, the military and the federal government are preparing for a far bigger expansion of drone flights that will transform U.S. aviation — but could also pose the biggest challenge to safe air travel in decades.

Thanks in part to a new federal law that will open the national airspace to drones of all kinds, the Pentagon is planning to operate thousands of drones from at least 110 bases in 39 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico, by 2017. . .

Continue reading.

Left unexplained is the mission these milita drones are fulfilling as their flights in US airspace increase. What is the military doing in the US that it needs so many drones aloft? Are we now an occupied nation?

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 8:52 am

Maybe we shouldn’t rush to have domestic drone aircraft?

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Because it seems that they fairly frequently fall out of the sky:

U.S. military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways over the past decade, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation.

The Washington Post story by Craig Whitlock:

 More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.

Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Crashes around the world

More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck.

“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman told investigators after an accident in November 2008, when he lost control of a Predator that plowed into a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”

Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman operates a Predator from a ground-control station in Afghanistan on Oct. 25, 2008. A week later, he was the pilot of a Predator that crashed into a U.S. military base. The precise cause of the crash was undetermined. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Investigators were unable to pinpoint a definitive cause for the accident but said wind and an aggressive turn by the pilot were factors. Wageman did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.

Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. In September 2009, an armed Reaper drone, with a 66-foot wingspan, flew on the loose across Afghanistan after its handlers lost control of the aircraft. U.S. fighter jets shot it down as it neared Tajikistan.

The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down. Later that year, another armed Predator crashed nearby after the pilot did not notice he had squeezed the wrong red button on his joystick, putting the plane into a spin.

While most of the malfunctioning aircraft have perished in combat zones, dozens have been destroyed in the United States during test and training flights that have gone awry.

In April, a 375-pound Army drone crashed next to an elementary-school playground in Pennsylvania, just a few minutes after students went home for the day. In Upstate New York, the Air Force still cannot find a Reaper that has been missing since November, when it plunged into Lake Ontario. In June 2012, a Navy RQ-4 surveillance drone with a wingspan as wide as a Boeing 757′s nose-dived into Maryland’s Eastern Shore, igniting a wildfire.

Defense Department officials said they are confident in the reliability of their drones.[??? Apparently, they are not paying attention. - LG] . . .

Continue reading. To follow up on the reality-denying statement from the DoD officials, the story notes:

The Post’s analysis of accident records, however, shows that the military and drone manufacturers have yet to overcome some fundamental safety hurdles:

  • A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.
  • Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.
  • Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been “possessed” and plagued by “demons.”
  • Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.

Among the models that crashed most often is the MQ-1 Predator, the Air Force drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego. Almost half the Predators bought by the Air Force have been involved in a major accident, according to purchasing and safety data.

And in the meantime:

“Flying is inherently a dangerous activity. You don’t have to look very far, unfortunately, to see examples of that,” said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. “I can look you square in the eye and say, absolutely, the [Defense Department] has got an exceptional safety record on this and we’re getting better every day.”

“Getting better every day” is fine, but how long until the technology is reliable?

Please read the article and note how military statements are contradicted by facts. For example, the “exceptional safety record” is contradicted by this fact:

Since the drone program began, the Air Force has acquired 269 Predators. Forty percent have crashed in Class A accidents, the most severe category [more than $2 million in damages, as noted earlier in the story - LG]. An additional 8 percent wrecked in Class B accidents [damage costing between $500,000 and $2 million - LG].

You will also note how the Department of Defense refuses to release details and tries to keep the data on drone crashes out of the public eye.

I think we shall be seeing some enormous lawsuits and settlements in the future as drone accidents start happening in the US—along with a fair number of deaths.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Military, Technology

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