Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Drones, Cyber, and Mythologies of Intervention

by Micah Zenko
January 25, 2013

A drone takes off from a U.S. base in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). A drone takes off from a U.S. base in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Jill Lepore, “How Much Military is Enough?” New Yorker, January 28, 2013.


Veit Medick, “Germany Plans to Deploy Armed Drones,” Spiegel Online International, January 25, 2013.

Bowing to pressure from the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, the federal government in Berlin is preparing to deploy armed, unmanned drones in foreign conflicts. In an answer to an official query made by the far-left Left Party, which has been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the German government wrote that its experience in foreign combat operations has made it clear that reconnaissance vehicles must be armed “in order to provide protection against sudden and serious changes in the situation.”


Rock Center, Interview with General Martin Dempsey, NBC, January 24, 2013.

KOPPEL: We have capabilities today that make us sort of comfortable with the use of drones, but imagine if some other entity had the capability of using drones against the United States. Are we prepared for that?

DEMPSEY: Yeah, I think we are prepared for that. I think it’s maybe an inevitability.

KOPPEL: There’s another kind of warfare already being waged. Remember what Hurricane Sandy did to the power grid in lower Manhattan? A cyber attack would be even more devastating. There have been instances of our using cyber warfare; I’m going to say our using it, the United States, Israel, against Iran. There are also examples of the Iranians using it against us.

DEMPSEY: There are reports that destructive cyber tools have been used against Iran. I’m not either confirming or denying any part in that. But what it should tell you is that capability exists. And if it exists, it doesn’t—you know—whoever is using those, can’t assume that they’re the only smart people in the world.

KOPPEL: So if we, hypothetically speaking, are using it against the Iranians, we have to assume the Iranians would use it against us?

DEMPSEY: That’s a valid assumption. Let me confirm that there is disruption—this was a phrase that may not be common knowledge, but disruptive denial of services, where you overwhelm a website in order to impede people who would normally use it from using it. It is literally disruption. That happens.


UN Counterterrorism Expert to Launch Inquiry into the Civilian Impact of Drones and Other Forms of Targeted Killing,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, January 24, 2013.


Dan De Luce, “ How the United States Shapes the Military’s Big Screen Image,” AFP, January 22, 2013.

Although the assistance offered to the “Zero Dark Thirty” crew sparked accusations that the White House used the movie as a propaganda tool, cooperation between Hollywood and the Pentagon or CIA is nothing new.

The first film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, “Wings” in 1929, featured dogfight scenes with bi-planes thanks to help from the army. It was the beginning of a relationship that has grown over decades.

The film industry covets access to hardware and expertise that only the armed forces can provide, while in return, defense officials want to burnish the military’s image on the big screen.

The Pentagon’s criteria for justifying cooperation on any film or television project is loosely defined, but until recently has never been seriously questioned by Congress.

“It just basically says: ‘Is it something that might be of benefit for recruiting and retention? And/or is it something that might tell the American public more about the US military?” explained Philip Strub, who leads the Pentagon’s liaison unit with the entertainment industry.


Paul Wolfowitz, “Hillary and ‘Leading from Behind,’Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2013.

It is perfectly understandable why the Obama administration wants to do nothing that would lead to a repetition of the invasion of Iraq. But no one is arguing for any such thing. The administration seems not to remember that the first Bush administration’s failure to protect Iraqi Shiites in 1991, when their uprising was crushed by Saddam Hussein, helped lead to a second war in Iraq 12 years later. Or that an international arms embargo kept the Bosnians defenseless for three years against the Serbs and led to American military intervention in 1995, including the stationing of tens of thousands of NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans.

(3PA: On the day it was revealed that weapons from Libya were used in a terrorist attack that killed U.S. citizens in Algeria, former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz criticized the Obama administration for refusing to arm Libyan and Syrian rebel groups. This paragraph contains two fundamental flaws. First, the George W. Bush administration never claimed that one of the (many) reasons for invading Iraq in March 2003 was the counterinsurgency campaign against the Shia uprising, which began in 1991 and lasted for several years. Second, the “international arms embargo” was widely and consistently violated by many countries—including by Iran and the United States, which was why the Bosnian Muslims were able to steamroll the Serbian armed forces on the ground—with the help of European artillery and an semi-enforced no-fly zone. For similar “mythologies” of intervention, read this.)


David Wood, “Armed Drones Could Target President: Former U.S. Intelligence Chief,” Huffington Post, January 22, 2013.

“I do fear that if al Qaeda can develop a drone, its first thought will be to use it to kill our president, and senior officials and senior officers,” Blair said during a conference call with reporters. “It is possible without a great deal of intelligence to do something with a drone you cannot do with a high-powered rifle or driving a car full of explosives and other ways terrorists now use to try killing senior officials,” he said.


David E. Sanger, “Pursing Ambitious Global Goals, but Strategy is More,” New York Times, January 20, 2013.

By comparison, Mr. Obama’s biggest accomplishments have been largely defensive: a full withdrawal from Iraq and devastating strikes against the core leadership of Al Qaeda. (When President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan visited the White House last week, he was presented a scorecard: of the “20 most wanted” Qaeda leaders when Mr. Obama was first inaugurated, 13 were dead, along with many of their successors.)

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    One of Obama’s first acts as president was to forbid the CIA to detain and torture “suspected terrorists.”

    The deal was that the CIA could then, using new technology, simply assassinate these “suspected terrorists” (plus anyone near them). Obama’s chief hit-man for this sordid, illegal program was John Brennan, a veteran of 25 years with the CIA and now nominated to be the next CIA chief.

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    “UN Counterterrorism Expert to Launch Inquiry into the Civilian Impact of Drones and Other Forms of Targeted Killing,”

    The UN drone report is due in the autumn. First, after the freeze, the leaves will come onto the trees and then the hot summer and then come the falling leaves of red and gold, which will possibly herald the drone report if anyone remembers it. How may Obama assassinations will occur in the meantime.

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