July 2010

A month after a senior UN official condemned the CIA drone strike programme as creating a “PlayStation mentality” that could spread to other countries, Janes has reported that UK unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in Afghanistan have reached a new high.

In the six months to May 2010, the British Army’s Elbit Systems Hermes 450 and Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk 3 flew “nearly 9,000 hours combined in just over 4,500 sorties”. UK forces have also reportedly launched attacks using armed drones over 80 times since May 2008, yet all requests for information on their use and resulting civilian casualty figures have so far been refused.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council published on 3 June 2010, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings accused the US of inventing a “law of 9/11” to issue the CIA with a “licence to kill” that, if copied by other countries, could lead to “chaos”.

The secretive programme has already killed hundreds of people, many in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Alston also criticised those “intelligence agencies, which by definition are determined to remain unaccountable except to their own paymasters” and “have no place in running programmes that kill people in other countries”.

Combat UAV unveiled

Regardless, as the Financial Times reported, “Robot wars came a step closer after BAE Systems unveiled the UK’s first unmanned aircraft that can pilot itself and strike targets as far away as Afghanistan”.

A Taranis drone robot
BAE’s “Taranis” UAV is named after the Celtic god of thunder

Taranis is equipped to attack ground targets and can be controlled from anywhere in the world via satellite communications. Costing £142.5 million, it was developed by an industry team made up of BAE, Rolls-Royce, Qinetiq and GE Aviation, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence.

Taranis “is a prelude to the next generation of fighting capability”, said Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of programmes and support at BAE. “If we are not on top of that, there will be no future for UK aircraft capability.”

Air Chief Marshal Simon Bryant, commander-in-chief of the Royal Air Force’s Air Command organisation, said the primary aim of Taranis was “to inform decisions of our future”. It provides an insight into “the art of the possible”. A future unmanned combat aerial vehicle could meet the key operating needs of the three services, covering control of the air, attack and intelligence and situational awareness, he suggested.

Surveillance goes green

BAE has also unveiled its “Phantom Eye” hydrogen-powered spy plane, which can fly non-stop for up to four days. Boeing says the aircraft could eventually carry out “persistent intelligence and surveillance”.

BAE’s “Phantom Eye” hydrogen-powered spy plane

The “Phantom Eye” was somewhat overshadowed, however, by Qinetic’s “Zephyr” solar-powered plane, which smashed the endurance record for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Project manager Jon Saltmarsh told BBC News that “Zephyr is basically the first ‘eternal aircraft”.

Zephyr: a solar-powered high-altitude long-endurance (Hale) UAV

And if all that isn’t enough, check-out some of the “microdrones” on show at this “Special Operations Forces Industry Conference” in the States.

What are the long-term consequences for democracy of treating the urban poor as an enemy population to be beaten into submission, of the militarisation of policing, of the expansion of intrusive surveillance of society?”

Article by Richard Drayton on the involvement of the “global security establishment” in Jamaican counter-insurgency operations. Originally published in the Guardian on 14 June 2010, here.

From Kabul to Kingston: Army tactics in Jamaica resemble those used in Afghanistan – and it’s no mere coincidence

For two weeks, the Jamaican army and police have fought gun battles in Kingston. The many allegations of human rights abuses committed by the security forces – including extrajudicial killings and the disposal of bodies – have received almost no international attention. Nor have the linkages between the Jamaican crisis, the security establishments in the US, Britain and Canada, and the mutations of the “war on terror”.

But strategy and tactics deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being applied in Jamaica. Drones fly over Kingston, and were used in the 24 May assault to select targets. On 7 June, Tivoli residents discovered that to enter or leave the area they had to produce “passes” issued by the police (revised, after protests, to restrictions on movement after dark). There is blanket surveillance of electronic communications in breach of Jamaican privacy protections – indeed, it was the illegal provenance of some of the evidence against Christopher “Dudus” Coke that initially held up extradition proceedings.

Propaganda “information operations” are at full tilt: while the army guides the Jamaican press on tours in which soldiers pat the heads of children, and in which criminal “torture chambers” are revealed, abroad we are told this is just about breaking drug gangs.

That Kingston today resembles aspects of Kabul is not by chance. In 2008, the Jamaican army’s Major Wayne Robinson submitted a master’s thesis to the US Marine Corps University: Eradicating Organised Criminal Gangs in Jamaica: Can Lessons be Learned from a Successful Counterinsurgency?.

In October 2009, the manual on counterinsurgency operations of the US joint chiefs of staff equated police action against “criminal organisations” with counterinsurgency, and described key tactics – including aerial and electronic intelligence and targeting, the use of “passes” to restrict movement, and information management. For two years the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has combined operations in Afghanistan with training the Jamaican special forces, the Ninjas. In March 2010 Jamaican newspapers reported a joint US-UK-Canada intelligence operation was being run from Kingston.

Advisers from all three Nato powers are active in Jamaica. The Jamaican army has been tightly integrated with the US military since the early 1980s. The irony is that the criminals the army now fights were also, in substantial part, created by the US and the Jamaican Labour party (the JLP, which now governs) in the 70s and 80s.

The origins of Coke’s Shower Posse lie in the cold war. In 1972 Michael Manley, of the People’s National party, was elected prime minister. He increased the taxes paid by US and Canadian mining companies, while leading third world demands for new international economic and information orders. Jamaica opened relations with Cuba, and defended Havana’s sending troops to defend the Angolan government exactly when the US and apartheid South Africa were arming rebels against it. What had happened in Chile in 1971-73 came to Jamaica, except that in the Caribbean the US also used crime and terrorism to destabilise the regime.

As the CIA station in Kingston became one of the largest in the world in the mid-70s, weapons flooded in to political gangs. A campaign of arson and bombings, allegedly organised by anti-Castro Cubans, spread chaos: one old people’s home burnt to the ground with the death of 150 women. Critically, the transshipment of cocaine from South America began in the late 70s. At the centre of this unrest were the gangs of Tivoli, of which Lester Coke (Dudus’s father) was a key leader. These criminals were enforcers for the JLP and gave help in the 80s to the covert allies of the Nicaraguan Contras through the cocaine and arms trades.

Perhaps the west, belatedly, wants to clean up some of the mess it made in Jamaica. But in 2009, the CSOR’s commanding officer admitted the Jamaican operation helped his unit compete in the “resource-scarce environment” of Canada’s defence ministry.

How much of the current crisis is being driven by the need of the interlocked global security establishment to justify its existence? What price will be paid in Jamaica for the transformation of policing into counterinsurgency? What are the long-term consequences for democracy of treating the urban poor as an enemy population to be beaten into submission, of the militarisation of policing, of the expansion of intrusive surveillance of society? These questions should be asked far beyond Jamaica.