Wired’s Danger Room blog has published pictures of what may be the hitherto secret CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia, revealed as part the confirmation hearings for John Brenner as proposed Director of the CIA…
So much has been happening over the US drone warfare program over the last few weeks that it’s hard to keep up.
First, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, instigated an inquiry into the targeted killing programs operated by the USA, largely using drones, and focusing on the issue of civilian casualties. The rapporteur, Ben Emmerson, made it clear that the inquiry would pull no punches and might result in war crimes charges against the US, should evidence be discovered of such crimes.
Second, NBC television in the USA revealed a leaked Justice Department document laying out the legal justification for the targeted assassination of US citizens using drones. The full memo is also available from this link and assembles a tortuous argument about how US citizens can be killed by their own government from above if there an “informed, high-level” official decides that the person has “recently” been involved in undefined “activities” threatening a violent attack against the US and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.”
And now, the Washington Post is reporting that the nomination of President Obama’s counter-terrorism guru, John Brennan, to head the CIA, has led to all sorts of revelations and difficult questions for Brennan to answer about the CIA’s targeted assassination program, including the acknowledgement of a secret drone base, at a still undisclosed location, in Saudi Arabia.
A while ago it looked like Obama’s drone strategy was unassailable despite increasing public knowledge via the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and criticisms from groups like the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. Now, this is going mainstream and it’s not looking so good for what former CIA Director, Leon Panetta, called the ‘only game in town’.
Architecture seems increasing implicated in the generation of a ubiquitous surveillance society, not simply in the relatively longstanding modernist obsession with glass and visibility, but with security increasingly considered not as option but as infrastructure. It was nice to see at least some people concerned with creating anti-surveillance architectures. Two great examples are Deborah Natsios, and Eyal Weizman, and another I recently came across (via The Verge), is Asher J. Kohn, whose Shura City project, aims to create a living environment in an Islamic cultural context, that is protected from drone surveillance. As Kohn states:
“Shura City is constructed to be livable. It is built according to local logic, using local materials, and amenable to local needs. It is meantto be alien – but not hostile – from the outside while homey and familiar from the inside. It is meant to confuse the machines and their distant operators while creating a safe zone forpeople whose lives are being rended by war. Shura City is not about judgment on the survivors or destruction of their persecutors. Shura City is about using architecture to create a space for humanity in an increasingly inhuman sphere.”
Anyone interested in the subject should watch this program from PBS’s Nova strand. It features all kinds of interesting footage including swarming micro-UAVs and the massively high resolution DARPA-developed Argus system…
I’m privileged to be supervising some great students at all levels, but Jeff Monaghan is something else*. Not surprisingly for someone who previously worked with the awesomely prolific and engaged, Kevin Walby (now over in Victoria – who may be the young researcher I most admire in surveillance studies), he mainly uses Access to Information and Privacy requests (ATIPs – under Canada’s freedom of information legislation) as a basic method, and as far as I can see he is constantly firing these things off and sorting through them for revealing nuggets. Right now, Jeff is working in the way in which Canadian development aid, like that of many wealthy nations, is becoming increasingly entwined with a security agenda, what he calls ‘security aid’. Anyway, he’s in the news today because one of his ATIPs has revealed that Canada was engaged in planning for military intervention in Mali, of some sort, over a year ago, belying their apparent public reluctance to get involved right now.