Archive for category United States
Israeli arms company Elbit Systems has won a contract that may ultimately be worth up to $1 billion worth of work on US border systems from the US Customs and Border Protection. It won the contract from out of the hands of US corporate giant like General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed, etc. Another giant US arms company had lost the work after delays, according to business paper Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and huge increases in public costs. There was scathing criticism from some sources, that Elbit, a company that had been involved in the previous failed contract as a subcontractor, had been awarded the new contract.
The work is to provide a series of towers along the US-Mexico border with sensing equipment for spotting ‘illicit human crossings’, at from 5-7.5 miles away, in any weather, day or night. The system will further sterilise the border zone, preventing any unregulated movement in the area.
CBP officials wanted to hire someone who already had the technology developed. Perhaps unsurprising that they picked Elbit, whose products have been developed as part of its active role in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Elbit Systems, which has been criticised for its work building border systems on Israel’s apartheid wall, sells a wide range of technology for border fortification.
David Pugliese, reporting in the Ottawa Citizen, says that a drone operated by US Customs and Border Protection has crashed off San Diego. Apparently the crash grounded the entire fleet of surveillance drones that monitor both the Mexican and Canadian borders of the US. Presumably the drone was a Predator drone, made by General Atomics.
A description of the drone surveillance programme along the US border with Canada has been posted on the blog previously.
There is a growing awareness of the vast covert campaign being operated by the CIA and NATO to assassinate people they perceive as enemies, in several countries across Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Death squads have long been the preserve of authoritarian governments who kill their enemies at will without reference to human rights or the rule of law. But western governments have increasingly been using the technique, often with the help of armed or unarmed drones.
While revelations are emerging that drone death squads often kill ‘civilians’, including women and children, there is less attention paid to the daily arbitrary killing of men who are not fighting, but are designated for death because they appear to be in a proscribed group. Often the decision to kill someone is left to a small team of operators thousands of miles away, who carry out death sentences on people who have may or not be actively involved in military activities.
Minister of Armed Forces Mark Francois recently said that drones would continue to be used to kill people deemed to ‘pose a risk’ to UK armed forces, a disturbingly wide definition that seems to permit the armed forces to kill almost anyone preemtively.
American special forces and the CIA have a long history of assassinating people, in the pursuit of American foreign policy. But it is only recently that NATO has been drawn into this practise, and it appears to be facilitated by the ease with which drones can be used to conduct assassinations, with safety and anonymity for the assassins.
In the continuing fallout from Israel’s attack on the Gaza rescue ship Mavi Marmara a couple of years ago, the US Congress has cancelled an agreement to sell Predator drones to its NATO ally Turkey.
When Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara in international waters and assassinated several Turkish citizens, it set off a flurry of angry reactions from Turkish authorities, and scuttled the increasing friendship between the two countries. Not only did plans for Turkey to buy drones from Israel collapse, but there were numerous other diplomatic conflicts.
At about that time the identies of 10 agents working for Israeli Mossad were claimed to be revealed to Iran, allegedly by the head of a Turkish intelligence agency. Turkish officials claim that the allegation was simply ‘black propaganda’ by Israel.
An article in Today’s Zaman suggests that no action was taken by the US and Israel at the time because Turkey’s cooperation was needed gathering intelligence in Syria. With the need to spy on Syria lessened, the US was free to retaliate against Turkey on behalf of Israel.
Today’s Zaman also suggests that the move by Washington was in retaliation for Turkey buying long range missiles from a Chinese arms company, instead of Russian, American or European bidders.
It may also be retaliation for Turkey’s broader rejection of Israel’s use of Turkish airspace, and the probability that it is curtailing its cooperation with Israel’s efforts to infiltrate Iran via the Turkish border areas.
Ironically the US supplies Turkey with a great deal of surveillance in parts of eastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, specifically aimed at the PKK. This latest move appears to be an attempt to limit control of surveillance by Turkey as well as force Turkey to return to its policy of cooperating with Israel with respect to Iran, and purchasing arms from it. The move wasn’t totally a surprise, it was rumoured last year in Turkey, and in the United States.
Unless Turkey flinches, the cancellation would ironically appear to be a good thing for peace in the region. Turkey has been making inroads to solving its conflict with the PKK, so has less need for drones to survey and attack rebel fighters. And the US reaction may simply harden Turkey in its resolve not to be used by Israel to threaten or actually attack Iran. The NATO alliance, which is less about mutual aid and more about foreign intervention, has been weakened yet again. Probably not what the US congress wanted, but a plus for the world at large.
Some time in the next few weeks Canada’s Department of National Defence will release the results of its Project JUSTAS (the programme to identify what drones Canada wants to acquire). In the past the military, and the government, have made it clear that among its requirements would be armed drones.
The leading suppliers capable of providing armed drones of the type required would be General Atomics of the US (Predator, Reaper), and the two Israeli drone companies Elbit Systems (Hermes drone variants), and IAI (Heron drone variants). Canada already has a working relationship with IAI and its Canadian agents through its rental of Heron surveillance drones during the Afghanistan occupation.
Israel does not appear to have sold armed drones abroad to date. However Israel is one of three countries to have used armed drones (in its occupation and wars in Palestine) and is reputed to have several variants of armed drones. Several of its surveillance drone variants are easily capable of being armed, and in any case its surveillance drones can be used as attack drones by marrying laser ‘markers’ with other attack systems, like ground-to-ground missiles or jet fighters. Though Israel remains tight lipped, most observers report Israel using drones as part of its recent attacks on Gaza.
Canada is part of the Missile Technology Control Regime, indeed was its originator and among the earliest signators. While the US has ratified the MTCR, Israel is not a signatory. It would be politically difficult for Canada to buy armed drones from Israel, because some of the terms of the MTCR relate to armed drone technology, which can be considered ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
But news of an impending cabinet shuffle may influence this decision. David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa citizen, has described rumours around Ottawa that current Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay, (who has been ineffectual), will be shifted laterally in the cabinet, or out. Under MacKay Canada’s defence procurement projects have continued to drift from one crisis to the next (though he isn’t the only minister reponsible). MacKay’s replacement is rumoured to be John Baird. Baird is a combative Israelophile who, in his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, has shifted Canada’s foreign policy sharply in favour of Israel, making Canada arguably Israel’s most vociferous ally.
It is easy to imagine that Baird’s appointment as defence minister would sharply improve the prospects of Israeli companies hoping to sell drones or other military hardware to Canada. Baird has the focus and determination to bulldoze over objections to purchasing military hardware from Israel. He can also be assumed to continue Canada’s move to a beligerent foreign policy in support of American interventions around the world.
Whether or not Canada buys armed drones from Israeli companies, it can be assumed that a John Baird appointment to the head of the Defence ministry would raise their prospects for selling surveillance drones to Canada. Both Elbit Systems and IAI maintain lobbyists in Ottawa, and IAI has a well connected Canadian agent in MacDonald Dettwiler.
This week Agence France Press reported that France would like to buy US Predator drones. The US has used Predator drones for surveillance and to assassinate enemies in widely separated parts of the world, and apparently supported France with Predator drones in France’s incursion into Mali.
La Tribune has reported that in order to bypass the US debate about armed drones, France might want to purchase unarmed Predators initially, then add armed drones in a few years time. La Tribune also noted there is a French debate about whether it is worth it to continue with a domestic European drone programme, when export possibilities are limited by France’s participation in the Missile Technology Control Regime. As a member of MTCR, France would only be able to export to specific countries, under specific conditions. (Israel, the world’s second major drone producer after the US, is not a member of MTCR, and is therefore not limited by its provisions).
Last year France agreed to consider purchasing Watchkeeper ‘MALE’* drones from UTacS, the Franco-Israeli consortium contracted by UK MOD to produce 54 of the drones. The UK would like to sell some Watchkeeper drones, (the programme was in part justified by the potential of export sales) and a Watchkeeper purchase would benefit Thales, the French partner in the consortium. But Watchkeeper is almost three years late, and the decision by France to consider Watchkeeper smacks more of a wish to appear patriotic, as well as placate its defense partner Britain, than any genuine desire to buy the troubled British drone.
*Medium Altitude Long Endurance
Canada announced several years ago that it planned to acquire surveillance drones, and more lately indicated that it wanted to acquire armed ‘attack’ drones. It created the JUSTAS programme to manage part of the aquisition process, which has been discussed here before.
Several American and Israeli drone companies are registered to lobby the Canadian government. Because most of these companies have a variety of military products, and required reports of lobbying activity are often quite unspecific, it is difficult to determine how much of the lobbying relates to drones. In a given year some lobbyists may not lobby on a given project, but are presumably ready and able to lobby as required.
Also, the number of companies producing drones is proliferating, so might have escaped notice.
It is always disconcerting to discover how many former Canadian public servants now work for foreign enterprises lobbying the Canadian government, including the state owned corporations of other countries.
Elbit Systems, of Israel, has no fewer than six lobbyists plying Canadian government officials, all working for CFN Consultants. Steven Irwin, George Macdonald, Kevin O’Keefe, Charles Mclennan, Georges Rouseau, and George Butts, who are registered to lobby Department of National Defence, the Coast Guard, Public Safety Canada, and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Steven Irwin had a long career with Department of National Defense Canada before becoming a lobbyist. George Macdonald was a high ranking Canadian officer until 2004. Kevin O’Keefe was a high ranking official in DND in the technical area. Charles Maclennan was a high ranking official in several Canadian government departments. Georges Rousseau was a high ranking military officer until 2008. George Butts was an official of a couple of government departments, including the Canadian Coast Guard.
Elbit Systems has several drone models for sale, including at least least two versions of the Hermes drone.
Israel Aircraft Industries, has five CFN lobbyists registered to lobby for them, including Kevin O’Keefe, Pierre Lagueux, Ian Parker, Gavin Scott and Greg Browning. Pierre Lagueux was a high ranking official in DND in ‘materiel’, until 1999. (His specific remit is listed as dealing with IAI’s wish to sell Canada its drones). Ian Parker was a high ranking naval officer until 2005. Gavin Scott was a government official dealing with supply until 2001. Greg Browning was a high ranking public official until 2008.
IAI has the Heron drone, and the Eitan for sale, among others.
General Atomics uses The Parliamentary Group, as its registered lobbyists, specifically Patrick Gagnon, a former Member of Parliament. General Dynamics lobbying efforts are specifically directed at the JUSTAS programme to acquire drones, presumably to sell its Predator or Reaper drones.
MacDonald Dettwiler, which has been an agent for IAI drones, maintains and active programme of lobbying government officials, but documentation does not show lobbying with respect to drones in the past year.
Raytheon International has several lobbyists with active registrations, including (from CFN Consultants) Steven Irwin, Kevin O’Keefe, Georges Rousseau, Charles Maclennan, Ian Parker, and Tony Goode. Ian Parker was a high ranking Canadian naval officer until 2005. Tony Goode was a high ranking military officer until 1996, with experience in positions in the US military.
Also with an active lobbyist registration is Jacques J. M. Shore, though Mr. Shore’s responsibilities do not seem to relate to lobbying with respect to drones. Thomas M. Culligan, Chief Executive Officer of Raytheon is also registered to lobby Canadian government officials.
Raytheon lobbyists are specifically tasked with lobbying relative to the JUSTAS programme.
Northrup Grumman has previouly promoted its Global Hawk drone to Canada. They have Meghan Spilka O’Keefe, former parliamentary assistant for Hon. Carolyn Bennet, MP, lobbying for them. She’s with Hill and Knowlton Strategies. Also Darcy Walsh who was once Director of Parliamentary Affairs PWGSC, Office of Minister Michael Fortier. Also Bruce Johnston, once a senior naval officer until 1996. Also Michael Coates, once Executive Assistant to Hon. Perrin Beatty, P.C., M.P. Also Goldy Hyder, once former Chief of Staff to Rt Hon Joe Clark. Also, Brian Fitch.
Pratt and Whitney Canada has registered to lobby with respect to Canada’s UAV policies, with at least three actively registered lobbyists, John Sabas CEO (and several PWC officers) involved in lobbying. Also, Richard A Morgan, formerly in the PMO, and Howard Mains, former government official, both of Tactix Government Consulting.
EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company Canada) has Kenneth Pennie, KR Pennie Consulting, lobbying on its behalf. It isn’t clear whether EADS has any interest in selling Canada drones at present. It has the Baracuda drone, tested in 2009 at Goose Bay, NL, and others. Pennie was Chief of Air Staff for the DND until 2005. EADS also has David Angus of The Capital Hill Group lobbying for it. Until 1985 Angus was a liason officer in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Thales Canada, of France, has an active lobby effort, apparently headed by its President and CEO Paul Kahn. Thales has interests in several drone programmes, but the lobby documents don’t indicate whether they have been lobbying the Canadian government about drones. Thales may be trying to sell Canada its Watchkeeper drones.
Like most Canadian military procurement programmes, Canada’s JUSTAS project to acquire drones is now far behind schedule, faltering badly, and being conducted mostly in secret to avoid public oversight.
The majority of Canadians have little awareness of the drone programme and are misinformed about drones in general, unsurprising since our government appears to be running the programme ‘under the radar’, to avoid criticism.
Originally a programme to acquire surveillance drones, the plan now seems to be to purchase armed ‘attack’ drones. NOW reports that RCAF spokepeople say that the military is on track to acquire armed drones, though no timetable was presented.
American, British, and Israeli forces operate armed drones in various theatres and have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians. Because of the demonstrated ‘precision’ of drone weapons, governments cannot claim these civilian deaths are ‘accidental’. Each and every death appears to be the calculated result of a decision by a drone operating team that knows civilians will be harmed. Furthermore, most of the people targetted by drone teams are not active combattants, but individuals selected by secret criteria and assassinated without recourse to any system of justice. Military officials responsible for drone assassinations have consistently denied or minimised civilian deaths, presumably to avoid responsibility. It isn’t clear that the Canadian military has a plan to deal with the ethical implications of operating armed drones.
No decision appears to have been made about what drone systems to acquire, though Israeli and American arms companies have been lobbying Canadian decision makers behind closed doors for some time. David Pugliese, in the Ottawa Citizen, asked a number of key questions back in January 2013, but these do not appear to have been answered.
An article in Wired suggests that for the past several years, US drones in conflict zones have been broadcasting unencrypted video transmissions, that could be viewed by anyone with the appropriate knowledge and some simple equipment.
While the article doesn’t offer an opinion whether UK controlled Predator and Reaper drones have encrypted video feeds, it seems likely that the UK Predator drones are similarly unencrypted.
The implication of this information is that civilians in conflict zones are completely undefended from drones flying overhead, while militants are able, in theory at least, to be aware of US/UK drone monitoring and take evasive action.
David Pugliese of the Ottawa citizen is reporting that the Canadian government is planning to spend $1 billion on armed drones. Drone companies from around the world are being invited to submit information, although in reality the only serious contenders are companies from the United States and Israel, both of which have a long history of developing and using armed drones.
The UK also has been using armed drones to attack enemies in Afghanistan, but probably doesn’t have a drone of its own which is ready to be armed. When the UK conducts attacks with drones in Afghanistan it uses American Predator drones, which have been used by the US military to attack and assassinate enemies in a growing number of countries around the world.
Ironically it isn’t necessary to have an armed drone to carry out attacks. Any drone which can ‘paint’ a target can be used in conjunction with an armed jet, helicopter, artillery, or missile to attack an enemy.
But the quarrelsome Harper government is likely to concur with military recommendations to purchase armed drones, in a decision likely designed to appeal to its male conservative supporters.
It is uncertain whether the Canadian government plans to patrol the arctic with armed drones, but the idea raises the spectre of armed drones lost in the arctic. Even under the best of circumstances, drones crash at an alarming rate.