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Drone Inc.: Marketing the Illusion of Precision Killing

by CorpWatch
Contact: Pratap Chatterjee, CorpWatch: +1 415 359 5760, pratap@corpwatch.org

Allegra Harpootlian, ReThink Media: +1 303 748 4051, allegra@rethinkmedia.org

August 7th, 2017

Drone Inc.: Marketing the Illusion of Precision Killing, reveals the contractors and technology behind the targeted killing machinery of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, demonstrating how critical errors and assumptions in this remotely controlled war has resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians.

The 92-page report includes the first published overview of the companies responsible for designing and operating specific aspects of the drone and targeted killing program— such as full motion video, thermal imaging, synthetic aperture radar, social network analysis, and semantic wiki systems— along with selected contractor revenue data. The report was researched and written by Pratap Chatterjee and Christian Stork. (click here for press materials)

“Targeted killing is just one aspect of the system of technology-driven surveillance warfare that is now a booming new business for hundreds of contractors,” says Pratap Chatterjee, executive director of CorpWatch. “We urgently need a review of the technologies that are used to decide who lives and who dies.”

According to Cian Westmoreland, an Air Force whistleblower who helped build the communications infrastructure for the U.S. military's drone program in Afghanistan, “Drones have been misunderstood as a weapon system much unto itself - when in reality - like a smartphone, it's ability to perform is entirely dependent on the network. This complex network is composed of legions of people, software, and equipment located around the globe that are prone to errors of all sorts, which may mean a minor inconvenience to a smartphone user, or killing the wrong people in the case of a drone strike. The casting of drones as these "magical solutions" to the global war on terror by politicians and military industrialists is one of the biggest fallacies of our times. Their over use of munitions will ultimately cost taxpayers more in the long run due to blowback.”

CorpWatch is also releasing Pentagon evaluation documents on the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (AF-DCGS)— essentially the “brain” behind the drone system. The documents, first published today, show that the AF-DCGS was unavailable 67 percent of the time.

In addition, the new report reveals the complex and semi-autonomous ‘cross-cueing’ systems that the military uses to track targets. For example, such systems allow a drone video camera to be automatically 'cued' or pointed at a target when the phone’s signal is detected. An imagery analyst watching this video feed is not necessarily informed of what technology, systems, or people are involved in tracking the device. Unfortunately, since phone geolocation technology can often be off by dozens of feet, drone operators often watch the wrong individuals.

“These systems rely on many assumptions and algorithms. Each error compounds the next, creating a system of confirmation bias that leads the military to believe that they can identify terrorists when in fact they cannot,” adds Chatterjee.

“The possibility for error in all tech grows with size and complexity. Think about that for a moment then consider that same tech in a secret silo with little to no oversight or public discourse,” says Lisa Ling, an Air Force whistleblower who worked as a communications technician on various types of electronic equipment including the above mentioned DCGS drone system “brain”. “This same system has been the judge jury and executioner hovering over millions of innocent people. Imagine how we would feel if such a system were deployed in developed nations.”

Drone, Inc. is accompanied by a 2.5 minute video animation, created by Ruben DeLuna, explaining the challenges faced by soldiers tasked with operating drone systems. Ten new graphic illustrations, created by Design Action Collective, help demystify each of these complicated technologies. The animation and graphics are available for reproduction and distribution, with citation.

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