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, Cybersecurity, and Iraq

by Micah Zenko
March 15, 2013

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Straits of Hormuz (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Straits of Hormuz (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Christopher P. Cavas, “Stennis’ Long Haul,” Navy Times, March 18, 2013.

REAR ADM. MIKE SHOEMAKER: We pay very close attention to Iran. In the gulf it is almost a daily interaction with the Iranian forces. Over the time I’ve been here, they have depressurized a little, or have given us a bit more standoff room both in the straits and the [Persian] Gulf.

Where we have seen increased activity is in the aviation side and in unmanned vehicles. The most prominent area is their enforcement of their FIR, their flight information region, which typically runs straight up the Gulf. It is the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait on the western side of the gulf and the Iranian FIR on the eastern side. Lots more queries and attention paid by the Iranians to operations inside their FIR, which we never saw, or very rarely saw previously when we were out here on the Lincoln. You read about their attempt to try to shoot down one of our unmanned aerial vehicles, because when we operate in the gulf we are flying typically in the Iranian theater, but we stand off outside of their territorial waters.

(3PA: This statement was made before the reported Iranian attempt to engage a Predator drone.)


Special Report: America’s Competitiveness, The Economist, March 16, 2013.


Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command and the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2014 and the Future Years Defense Program, March 12, 2013.

GENERAL KEITH B. ALEXANDER:  We are already developing the teams that we need, the tactics, techniques, procedures and the doctrine for how these teams would be employed with a focus on defending the nation in cyberspace. I would like to be clear that this team, this defend the nation team, is not a defensive team. This is an offensive team that the Defense Department would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyberspace. Thirteen of the teams that we’re creating are for that mission set alone…

SEN. LEVIN: But I guess the real question I want to focus on right now is whether the intelligence community can determine not only which Chinese government organizations are stealing our intellectual property but also what Chinese companies may be receiving that intellectual property and using it to compete against U.S. firms.

GEN. ALEXANDER: Walking a fine line, Chairman, I would say that the intelligence community has increased its capabilities in this area significantly over the last seven years

GEN. KEHLER: What I would say is that deterring North Korea from acting irrationally is our number one priority.

SEN. FISCHER: Do you believe that our conventional forces today would be able to execute a deterrence mission that’s currently performed by our nuclear weapons?

GEN. KEHLER: I think in some cases, conventional forces are capable of executing — of producing a military result that would be similar to what a nuclear weapon could do. The question about deterrent effect, I think, is an interesting one, and in some cases, yes, I believe that strong conventional forces clearly improve and increase our overall deterrent, just like a number of other factors do. But I believe that nuclear weapons continue to occupy a unique place in our defense strategy and our national security, and I think in global perceptions, I think they continue to occupy a unique place.

SEN. FISCHER: From your response, I would assume that you would agree that we need to maintain the balance that we currently have, then, with our nuclear deterrent in balance with our conventional forces? Is that a good balance right now? Are we at a good point?

GEN. KEHLER: I think an interesting thing has happened. I believe that we are. I think that they are complementary, I would say. And what has happened, I believe, since the Cold War is that our increases in our conventional capabilities and in sort of the overwhelming, conventional power projection that we can bring to bear around the world has made a difference in the role of our nuclear deterrent. And I think that we have been able to narrow the role of that nuclear deterrent, accordingly. But I think as we go forward, that will be an interesting question to watch — whether our conventional forces remain strong.

SEN. FISCHER: But at current levels, you believe that it is a good balance? If those levels would drop with conventional forces — or with nuclear, but focusing on the conventional — if we see the nuclear side drop, if we don’t maintain the arsenal that we have now or if we continue to limit it, can the conventional forces pick up the slack?

GEN. KEHLER: I think in some cases, the answer is yes. I don’t think they can across the board. I don’t think that they substitute for the effect of the nuclear deterrent. However, I do think that conventional forces do, in fact, make a difference in terms that we are no longer in a position where we have to threaten nuclear use in order to overcome a conventional deficiency. So that’s made a difference. I also think that we need — saying that they are in some kind of balance today doesn’t mean, in my view, that there isn’t some opportunity to perhaps go below New START levels.


Sara Sorcher, “Out of Africa,” National Journal, March 9, 2013.

“The reach of global terrorism is expanding, and the actors involved are becoming more diverse…Will it have a serious impact if we don’t have those (Navy) ships? Absolutely. There’ll be an effort to try and mitigate not having as much of a U.S. presence…We’re going to have to depend, at least for the interim, on partner nations.”


Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane, “How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs,” New York Times, March 9, 2013.

(3PA: Note that this one-sided insider account of the development of the OLC memo providing a legal justification for killing U.S. citizens did not mention that Anwar al-Awlaki was placed on a kill list by President Obama months before the memo was completed.)


Costs of War Project, “Iraq: Ten Years After Invasion,” Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

More than 190,000 people have been killed in the 10 years since the war in Iraq began. The war will cost the U.S. $2.2 trillion, including substantial costs for veterans care through 2053, far exceeding the initial government estimate of $50 to $60 billion….More than 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence in Iraq have been civilians—an estimated 134,000. This number does not account for indirect deaths due to increased vulnerability to disease or injury as a result of war-degraded conditions. That number is estimated to be several times higher.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Samuel R. Kephart

    Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections.

    Here are two (2), very well-produced, videos that anchor my points:

    Emmy Award-winning newscaster Shad Olson’s ‘The Great Drone Debate’, featuring US Senator John Thune:

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

    Here’s a mind-blowing, well-done animated short that really captures our collective angst that if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag.

    http://vimeo.com/59689349

    For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS “tagging” of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of all our behavior through “data fusion centers.” 

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/

    America’s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one. Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one. 

  • Posted by Phil, Ireland

    “More than 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence in Iraq have been civilians—an estimated 134,000.”

    One would have to think that more people have died since the Wolfowitz and Cheney lies of 2003 than would have otherwise under Saddam? Is that not the most important point?

    Paul Wofowitz appeared on GPS with Fareed on Sunday and Fareed did his best in a short interview to inquire whether Paul felt in any way sorry for his central role in ‘causing’ that invasion. Wolfy resorted to that sad thing you see when wise men refuse to accept the reality of their mistakes and try to ‘big picture’ qualify their original reasoning in pushing the nation into war in Iraq. It was a saddening moment for me – I hope for his sake he stares into the mirror one day and admits to himself what he has done. Even Strauss turned his back on some of his original perspectives – real reflection will do that.

    He still maintains that the ‘importance’ of that ‘tragic’ Gulf region justifies all actions which proactively endeavor to serve US interests, as if US interests ARE globally moral imperatives, and to sacrifice ‘truth’ and ‘true democracy’ for the good of ‘the city’ is a SIN worth eating.

    Moral delusion in the face of such destruction and death.

    What is still good for the city and man Mr Wolfowitz?

    134,000 dead civilians?

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    You missed it — the primary role pf carriers in the Fifth Fleet AOR is OEF not Iran.

    Rear Admiral Mike Shoemaker, commander Carrier Strike Group Three:

    When we got out here, we spent a big chunk of time in the Arabian Gulf doing theater security and cooperation engagements. We were doing some other missions CENTCOM has directed, so there is a large Navy gap in OEF that happened to be during the winter season in Afghanistan, and I think the Air Force was able to cover for that. Now our primary effort is OEF.

    Now we are coming out of [Afghanistan]; the requirements are slowly coming down as we transition from our forces being out to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Forces.

    There are some restrictions being placed on us. You have read about President [Hamid] Karzai’s comments on his guys using other-than-Afghan assets to conduct post-air support if you will.

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