Proliferation of drone technology is a major concern that has been given far too little attention as the US ramps up its use of armed and unarmed drones. Without international standards around their use, and with a dangerous precedent being set by the US, arms control experts worry about a situation like nuclear weapons where we are struggling to get the genie back in the bottle.
Those concerns were sparked today by the news that a San Diego company is selling unarmed Predator drones to the UAE:
Though the company said the Predator XP cannot be weaponized, there are concerns about turning over drone technology and it someday being replicated as a missile-carrying system. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Assn. and a longtime critic of weapons exports, worries about the effect such a sale could have on U.S. foreign policy.
“This deal has potentially far-reaching implications for how the country will handle drone exports in the years to come,” he said. “Congress needs to discuss and explore the long-term risks to the country and our allies in the region with the potential of the proliferation of this technology. Commercial profits cannot compromise national security.”
Another controversial aspect of US drone policy is the use of so-called “signature strikes”—attacks that are based not on the known identities of the targets, but on patterns of behavior. Pro Publica gathered media reports to try to put together a clearer picture of what kind of behavior might make someone the target of drone strike, including the dark joke (hopefully) that the CIA thinks “three guys doing jumping jacks” is a terrorist training camp:
The government apparently calls such attacks signature strikes because the targets are identified based on intelligence “signatures” that suggest involvement in terror plots or militant activity.
So what signatures does the U.S. look for and how much evidence is needed to justify a strike?
The Obama administration has never spoken publicly about signature strikes. Instead, generally anonymous officials have offered often vague examples of signatures. The resulting fragmentary picture leaves many questions unanswered.
Read the full story here to see an interesting list of behaviors that prompted previous strikes.