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: Cybersecurity, Drones, and Collateral Damage

by Micah Zenko
March 1, 2013

Air Force Space Command Network Operations & Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 20, 2010 (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters). Air Force Space Command Network Operations & Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 20, 2010 (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters).

Massimo Calabresi, “The Path to War,” TIME Magazine, March 11, 2013.

The most compelling argument for Obama, the former law professor, was that a nuclear Iran would spell the end of the international regime limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. Obama had written about the regime in college and had made denuclearization his primary focus in the Senate. He made bolstering the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a top priority in his first two years as President, and in his second term, Obama is planning to dispatch top aides to negotiate a large nuclear-warhead reduction with Russia.


James K. Sanborn, “Aviation Chief: Budget Cuts Won’t Kill Short-Term Readiness,” Marine Corps Times, March 4, 2013.

Cultural preference perpetuates the use of manned aircraft, Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle Jr. said, telling his audience that every pilot wants to go “downtown.” He offered his experience flying into Baghdad during the first Gulf War as a classic example of the thrill every pilot lives for. As his F/A-18 Hornet approached the city that night in 1991, the sky was a “light show,” he said, describing the site of munitions detonating all around. All he and his fellow pilots could do was cinch their seatbelts, hope for the best and get on with their mission.

Are manned aircraft necessary for such risky missions? Probably not, Schmidle said.

Do I need a man to do that? Well, I do if I want to bring somebody back and tell stories at the bar,” the general said. To take out targets, the platform—be it manned or unmanned—makes little difference, he said, stopping short of saying manned aircraft are on their way out. But “there is a cultural thing here that I think is important,” Schmidle said. “There is a notion in every culture of what is considered heroic. In order to have heroes, you have to have someone you are going to send into the cauldron who is going to come back.”


Paul Mozur, “China Alleges Cyberattacks Originated in U.S.,” Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2013.

Mr. Geng said that since the creation of the Ministry of National Defense and China Military Online websites, both had faced serious and growing numbers of attacks. “According to IP addresses, in 2012 the Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites each month faced 144,000 foreign attacks. Of those, ones coming from the U.S. represented 62.9%,” he said.


Adam Liptak, “Justices Turn Back Challenge to Broader U.S. Eavesdropping,” New York Times, February 26, 2013.

“More than a decade after 9/11,” Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “we still have no judicial ruling on the lawfulness of torture, of extraordinary rendition, of targeted killings or of the warrantless wiretapping program. These programs were all contested in the public sphere, but they have not been contested in the courts.”


Jeremiah Goulka, “Threat Versus ‘Threat,’” The American Prospect, February 26, 2013.


Cora Currier and Justin Elliott, “The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About,” ProPublica, February 26, 2013.

The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual.

In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered.

What is the legal justification for signature strikes? What qualifies as a “signature” that would prompt a deadly strike? Do those being targeted have to pose a threat to the United States? And how many civilians have been killed in such strikes?


Senator Jim Inhofe, “Senate Armed Services Committee: Hagel Confirmation Hearing,” February 26, 2013.

“Mutually assured destruction doesn’t mean anything to many in the Middle East.”

(3PA: This statement contrasts nicely with his op-ed published earlier that morning.)


Defense Science Board, “Task Force Report: Cyber Security and Reliability in a Digital Cloud,” Department of Defense, January 2013.


Ben Kiernan, “‘Collateral Damage’ Means Real People,” Bangkok Post, October 20, 2002.

In 1973, the Khmer Rouge were able to continue recruiting many peasants by highlighting the damage done by US air strikes. The CIA’s Directorate of Operations, after investigations in the Southwest Zone, reported on 2 May 1973 that the communists had launched a new recruiting drive: “They are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda. The cadre tell the people that the Government of Lon Nol has requested the airstrikes and is responsible for the damage and the ‘suffering of innocent villagers’… The only way to stop ‘the massive destruction of the country’ is to … defeat Lon Nol and stop the bombing. This approach has resulted in the successful recruitment of a number of young men… Residents … say that the propaganda campaign has been effective with refugees and in areas… which have been subject to B-52 strikes.”

(3PA: You can read the declassified CIA documents here.)

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Samuel R. Kephart

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssoOASanKao

    Published Feb 2013

    Emmy-winning journalist, Shad Olson, explores the controversy over U.S. drone policy, both at home and abroad.

    While technological sky supremacy gives America strategic superiority on the battlefield, the prospect of drone proliferation over U.S. cities is causing concern about loss of privacy, an end to Habeas Corpus and judicial due process and the destruction of Constitutional rights.

    South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune and former U.S. Senate candidate, Sam Kephart share their views about the consequences of domestic drone deployment in the fight against terrorism.

    Originally aired on KNBN-TV, (NBC) NewsCenter1, Rapid City, South Dakota in February 2013.

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    I searched unsuccessfully for a glimmer of truth in Calabresi’s “The Path to War.” Here we go again: The MSM wants war, probably under the mistaken impression that Iran is just another incapable patsy.

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