Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Privatizing the Kill List

Facing a shortage in credentialed military personnel, the Obama administration is outsourcing part of its drone assassination program to unaccountable corporations. What could possibly go wrong?

According to the government, nothing much. You see, the private contractors operating the drones aren't actually allowed to pull the trigger on the "militants" (defined by the CIA as all males in "tribal areas" in the primes of their lives) whom they are tasked with suspecting and surveilling and identifying as bad guys.

From the New York Times:
 But there is no limit on the type of reconnaissance they can perform, and they are providing live video feeds of battles and special operations.
As the Obama administration has accelerated its campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya over the past 10 months, the Pentagon has added four drones flown by contractors to the roughly 60 that are typically flown every day by uniformed Air Force personnel.
This is adding mission creep to the mission creep. Today it's four, tomorrow it's eight. Because drones gotta fly and military contractors like Boeing and Raytheon gotta profit.

For purposes of absolving politicians and Pentagon officials of any personal accountability for their extra-judicial killing sprees,
 The number and identities of contractors working on the drone flights are considered classified information, the Air Force said. But Pentagon officials said there are at least several hundred contractors, many of them former drone or fighter pilots who are making double or triple their military salaries.
Where, they must be asking themselves, do I sign up for this gig at triple my lousy grunt salary? Why risk my life flying an airplane when I can retire early and make big bucks operating a joystick out of an air-conditioned trailer?

All of a sudden, within the same New York Times article, there are hundreds of eager beavers vying for only a handful of official drone control jobs. So here's the implicit message: let's artificially improve the United States employment rate by creating hundreds of new jobs building and operating a drone fleet on steroids. It gives a whole new meaning to trickle-down economics. Instead of trickling down, though, the benefits buzz around in the sky for a bit before zooming straight to the ground. Ka-ching and ka-boom! 
But in 2014, President Obama ordered a stepped-up military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Later that year, Mr. Obama, who had said that a small number of troops remaining behind in Afghanistan would have no combat role, decided to authorize a more expansive mission for them.
The Air Force was not prepared for this increased demand. Finding pilots was difficult. They typically work long hours in windowless rooms staring at computer monitors and do not get many days off. Many of those who fly armed drones have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder because they have witnessed so many airstrikes. There is also a powerful perception in the Air Force that drone jobs are less prestigious and glamorous than flying more traditional military aircraft, and recruitment has been hard.
OK, so the solution is to give these poor stressed-out drone pilots a break by bringing in constant new recruits for PTSD. This is called instilling some basic human decency into the Kill List. The war-mongers want us to believe that, despite the fact that new hires will be making as much as triple their military pay, it's hard to find recruits. The office ambience is a bit below-par. There's not as much glitter and glamour to long-distance murder as there is in making direct eye contact with your human targets before blasting them to bits. Maybe they can quadruple the pay and tack on an extra week of paid vacation. More likely, they will lower the professional standards. Since our politicians keep harping on a "skills gap" among jobless and underemployed graduates, perhaps our for-profit colleges can add a few Internet courses in drone operation. The market possibilities are endless.

Meanwhile, the Times piece gets even more Orwellian:
Operating drones requires an extensive support network. One pilot and a camera operator typically control a drone, and since a drone is expected to be constantly in the air, each one must have several crews. The analysis of the footage taken in by the drones is even more labor intensive. For every drone, there is a need for up to four dozen analysts who can look at the many hours of footage to assess the targets and other intelligence.
With little alternative, the Air Force initiated a “get-well plan” in January 2015 that included several measures — among them an increase in pay — to try to alleviate the significant “stress on the force” that had developed.
How sweet. The Pentagon is having a Hallmark moment over its Hellfire missiles. Hitmen (and women) for hire in the private sector must be coddled and even sent get-well cards for all that incipient PTSD and eye-strain and aching backs. Forget about the innocent people on the ground getting killed or maimed by Predator and Reaper drones. They rarely get a mention, let alone an apology or compensation. It's not a part of the Drone Playbook. If they were expecting a sympathy card from America, they can think again.
Air Force officials said there are many safeguards in place to train and monitor contractors. But the officials declined to provide many details about the flights, such as where the contractors are deployed and which companies are operating the flights.
The officials also declined to address the role that contractors play in a select group of highly classified drone flights that the Air Force conducts daily for the C.I.A. Air Force pilots, who are essentially on loan to the C.I.A., fly those drones while the agency does its own preflight target planning and post-mission analysis.
We're the American Deep State. Just trust us. If you were expecting transparency over which private corporations are receiving lucrative contracts on your dime for purposes of killing people in your name, you can think again. But, they grudgingly admit,
 Contractors are typically compensated far more than service members, and some current and former senior Air Force officials said their use could actually exacerbate the shortage in military drone pilots because the pay of the private sector might lure them away.
Ya think? So pretty soon, we won't need a regular military at all. It's the capitalism, stupid. And privateers are under no obligation to disclose anything to the public. They only demand that the public pay for everything.

To its credit, the Times does give us a hint on one corporation that is profiting from privatized drone kills, without admitting outright that it is a direct beneficiary of the outsourcing.  In true Orwellian spirit, it is called Resilient Solutions Ltd. Its motto is Your Mission First.

According to its webpage, it was awarded an Air Force contract in May to provide
Advisory and Assistance Services to the Air Force Safety Center (AFSEC), Aviation Safety Division, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Branch. The RSL Team supports AFSEC's RPA safety programs, involving studies, analysis, evaluation, engineering and technical services to the combatant commanders and major commands (MAJCOMs). The AFSEC Remotely Piloted Aircraft Mishap Prevention program utilizes the RSL team to support Safety Investigation Boards, investigate RPA mishaps, and facilitate the safe integration of RPA operations within the National Airspace Program. Services provided by Resilient Solutions include Safety System Engineering, MQ 1/9 operational expertise, Airspace/Air Traffic Control subject matter experts, RPA Human Factors subject matter experts, RPA maintenance subject matter experts, and Research Analysis.
I could be wrong, but I think that this is Newspeak for "We help you kill people efficiently and responsibly and then help you shove it all under the rug."

Among Resilient Solutions' other listed clients is the New York Times, a factoid which the Paper of Record chose not to disclose.


Cirze said...

You rock, Karen.

Just keep nailing those neolib/cons!

Wonder what else they'll come up with a privatization scheme for next.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Cirze, I shall do my best!

Scott W. said...

The DOH crowd is so dangerous because they supposedly did not support neocons, neoliberals and money in politics--until now. As it turns out, party identity Trumps all (pun intended) so whatever Hillary does is OK with them. As with Obama creating bipartisan support for drones, the surveillance state and endless war, Hillary is creating bipartisan support for special interest money not being considered a corrupting influence. "Pay to play" is now considered politics as usual and if some day the Republicans agree to not take money from lobbyists the Democrats may follow suit. I guess like Hillary releasing her speaking transcripts once all of the other candidates follow suit.

Reasoning with a DOH is futile because there is always a rationalization for Hillary's behavior and most important--Trump's conduct, policies and behavior are always worse. If Hillary is elected, the DOH's will chant, "At least we don't have Trump," as Hillary implements her neoliberal and neocon policies.

The DOH and Trump supporters have much more in common than either suspects. Facts don't get in the way of either's vitriolic support for their candidate.

Karen Garcia said...


You're right, a multi-faceted national hysteria has taken over. I think it's a result of unregulated capitalism and the marketization of practically everything. Trump simply fills the convenient vacuum created for him. And there's very likely plenty more demagogues where he came from. Win or lose this election, The Donald will continue to be a welcome fixture on the reality show that has replaced representative democracy.

You're also right that you can't argue with tribalists. I simply ignore the trolls on the few occasions that I still write NYT comments, when even the slightest or carefully nuanced critical mention of Clinton unleashes a torrent of vitriol far beyond what is warranted. This type of group gaslighting of "freethinkers" is very ineffective, of course, because their arguments aren't based on anything remotely close to logic. It is actually getting enjoyable pushing their buttons!

And thank you, by the way, for your own words of encouragement in response to my Krugman comment this week. I have missed your own astute Times commentary lately, but fully understand why you wouldn't want to participate as much. Maybe things will settle down after election day. We'll have to wait and see.