America’s use of unmanned aircraft to combat terrorism is controversial. Supporters point out predator drones cost less to build than traditional fighter planes. With no pilots flying them, fewer Americans lose their lives. And the ability to target individual terrorists reduces civilian casualties. Opponents argue that too many innocent people are killed. And their use in Pakistan and elsewhere has made the U.S. new enemies while doing little to stop terrorism. These arguments might be moot. The drone industry is expanding as more countries acquire or seek to develop them. Drones in U.S. counterterrorism and future warfare.


  • Shane Harris Senior writer, Washingtonian magazine; author of "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State."
  • Christine Fair Assistant professor, Georgetown University's security studies program; fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.
  • Daniel Green Soref fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
  • C. Dixon Osburn Director of law and security at Human Rights First.


  • 10:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For nearly a decade, the U.S. has used unmanned fighter planes called Predator drones to kill suspected terrorists. That policy has been sharply criticized, both at home and in countries where drones are deployed. But most military experts say drones are here to stay.

  • 10:07:23

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about U.S. counterterrorism and drones in warfare, Shane Harris of Washingtonian magazine, Christine Fair of Georgetown University, Daniel Green of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and C. Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First. We'll welcome your calls a little later in the program. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to

  • 10:08:09

    MS. DIANE REHMJoin us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:08:15

    MR. SHANE HARRISGood morning.

  • 10:08:15

    MR. DANIEL GREENGood morning.

  • 10:08:16

    PROF. CHRISTINE FAIRGood morning.

  • 10:08:16

    MR. C. DIXON OSBURNGood morning.

  • 10:08:17

    REHMChristine, I know you support the use of drones to fight terrorism. Tell us why.

  • 10:08:26

    FAIRWell, to be clear, I'm a proponent of the drone program in Pakistan, not necessarily drones elsewhere. The drone program in Pakistan is one that I've looked at quite a bit. It's also a program that has been really mischaracterized. So, for example, Pakistanis will say that we're there violating their sovereignty, but in point of fact, we're there on their airbases with their permission.

  • 10:08:49

    FAIROne of the biggest problems has been the so-called civilian casualties. And, again, this is something -- I -- in fact, for the record, I used to be violently opposed to the drones in Pakistan until I began learning about the program. One of the things that I discovered in talking to Pakistani journalists -- and, you know, I spent a lot of time in Pakistan, talked to very high-level Pakistani military commanders, as well as folks on our sides.

  • 10:09:12

    FAIRThey're actually not killing these civilians, especially since 2008. And one of the problems with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which is where our drone strikes are required to remain, is that they have an unusual constitutional status, according to which, journalists can't just go there. And so there's no independent confirmation of these hits.

  • 10:09:34

    FAIRAnd one of the other realities of Pakistan's media is that it's really dominated by their intelligent service. They have a media wing. And as Pakistani journalists themselves have explained to me, anywhere between, like -- as many as one in three Pakistani journalists are directly on their payroll, i.e. paid to plant stories. And so Pakistani journalists themselves have explained to me that what will happen is that there will be a strike.

  • 10:09:58

    FAIRAnd then either the ISI or the Pak Taliban will report this. And it's to their advantage to have these reports out there because then the ISI uses it to calibrate their resistance to us. So this is the best of all worlds for the ISI, in that they benefit from having these journalists, which increasingly target what Americans will say are low-level terrorists, but they're, in fact, in many cases, Pakistan's own terrorists.

  • 10:10:24

    FAIRSo they get that benefit, but then they get the added benefit of using it as leverage against the Americans.

  • 10:10:32

    REHMChristine Fair, she is at Georgetown University and a fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. Turning to you, Daniel Green, what countries are we using drones against? Isn't Libya also one?

  • 10:10:56

    GREENUnfortunately, I just learned that this morning. But, I mean, it's just a platform that can be used for a variety of purposes. And though we most prominently know it from our experience in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, there's no reason why we shouldn't be using it all over the world, and not just not necessarily for targeting strikes, but for surveillance and just intelligence gathering in general.

  • 10:11:17

    GREENYeah, but it's just one of many tools in our arsenal, if you will. And if it's Libya, that's fine. If it's not, that's fine as well.

  • 10:11:26

    REHMWhat about Somalia? What about Yemen?

  • 10:11:29

    GREENSure. Well, I made a lot of news reports that indicate that there might be -- that those might be used over there. The same time, the Yemenis allegedly have an air force that they used, but there are also ships in the area that might be using cruise missiles, things of that nature. So if they're there, that's good. If not, that's fine as well. It's just another tool.

  • 10:11:49

    REHMHow effective do you believe they are?

  • 10:11:53

    GREENWell, at least, I know from Pakistan, a lot of insurgents are always looking to the sky, looking for things. I mean, it's definitely a very effective tool. Obviously, if one crashes, you're not losing an American life. You also -- they're relatively inexpensive compared to some of our fighter jets and other tools. Yeah, so, I think, they're quite effective.

  • 10:12:12

    GREENBut the problem is or the challenge, really, is you have to have a robust intelligence network there to help develop the target packages that the drones, you know, obviously, that need us to engage.

  • 10:12:22

    REHMDaniel Green of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Dixon Osburn, your thoughts.

  • 10:12:32

    OSBURNFor Human Rights First, we're not opposed to drones per se. That's a delivery mechanism. Nor are we concerned with targeted killing. In fact, the opposite of targeted killing would be indiscriminate killing. And so we want our armed forces to be targeted when it deploys lethal force. Our concern is whether or not the targeting complies with the rule of law.

  • 10:12:54

    OSBURNUnder the Laws of Armed Conflict, the people that you can use lethal force against are combatants or people who are directly participating in hostilities. I think there is an open question in U.S. policy what the criteria are that we're using in the targeting in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

  • 10:13:17

    REHMWhat about the Pakistani reporting that Christine talked about? And how closely that reporting is attached to the ISI?

  • 10:13:32

    OSBURNWell, I think, we have two issues to look at, one is the legality of it, and then the other is sort of the strategy and policy behind it. In terms of the legality, let's assume under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, who are going after al-Qaida and the Taliban. Just because they have tried to escape that conflict by going across the border does not render them less targetable.

  • 10:13:54

    OSBURNSo one could argue that using drones to target those leaders, who've been part of the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan, would, indeed, be targetable. The question is -- and you do hear reports, and there's a question about the validity of those reports. Back in March, The New York Times reported about a hit on a jirga that was trying to resolve a dispute over mineral rights.

  • 10:14:18

    OSBURNAnd in The New York Times, they reported that there were 32 people there of which 23 were civilians. And that created a huge uproar. I can't comment on the validity of that reporting. But the policy question is, now, if you target and kill 11 people who were legitimate targets, but you're creating 100 more insurgents, is that an efficacious policy?

  • 10:14:42

    REHMC. Dixon Osburn, he is director of law and security at Human Rights First. Shane Harris, I know there are great many people organizations who are absolutely opposed to the use of drones on moral grounds. How strong are their voices?

  • 10:15:06

    HARRISI think they're getting a lot stronger. At the beginning of this program, when so little was known about it, it was difficult to find the other grounds on which to oppose it. That is not so much the case.

  • 10:15:14

    REHMHow far back does it go back?

  • 10:15:16

    HARRISGoing to about 2004...

  • 10:15:17


  • 10:15:18 when we basically start to measure the use of these drones with real significance for hitting targets, particularly in Pakistan, which is where the program is the most active. I mean, there are six countries where they are being used now. But, really, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, that's sort of the area. And Pakistan is really the controversial place where a lot of this opposition comes from.

  • 10:15:34

    HARRISThe start of that is because we're not really at war with Pakistan, are we, and that a state of war does not exist there. And that is generally considered the foundation for -- when the law of war comes in to apply to you, how you conduct these hostilities. So there are some people who have argued -- and I think persuasively now -- to the point where it's caused the administration to come out publicly and state why it believes the drone program is legal.

  • 10:15:56

    HARRISAnd the administration's position essentially boils down to, this is a matter of self-defense, that we not only take great care to target the right people, minimize collateral damage, make sure we're hitting the right person, but that we're doing this essentially as self-defense. We're hitting these people, these terrorists and militants, who are attacking U.S. troops in the region and who might be plotting attacks in the United States.

  • 10:16:17

    HARRISI don't think that that has necessarily moved the needle when it comes to the opposition. I think a lot of people who are opposed to the strikes were surprised to hear this administration take such, you know, an aggressive posture on supporting drones strikes. But that is, in fact, now, where they are publicly on it.

  • 10:16:32

    REHMAnd do we have any correct or accurate information on how many civilians have accidentally been killed by these drone strikes?

  • 10:16:46

    HARRISIt's a difficult number for all the reasons that the other panelists have stated. Some of the numbers that generally tend to be cited are compiled by the New America Foundation, which has put together a pretty comprehensive list that a lot of journalists rely on. And what they found is that from about 2004 to 2010, the number of civilian deaths did drop significantly. Their numbers say that in 2004, roughly one in four people killed was a civilian casualty.

  • 10:17:10

    HARRISAnd now that number is down to 6 percent. So, if we take those numbers as, you know, as rigorous as we're going to get, maybe of an analysis, an impartial of an analysis, then it looks like the civilian casualties have dropped significantly. That said, every time a civilian is killed, it creates the opportunity for more opposition to the program for alienating the public.

  • 10:17:31

    HARRISI mean, the military is not interested in increasing the amount of civilian casualties. I think they and the CIA are probably taking steps to try and minimize that as much as possible. And the technology of the drones themselves helps them do that as well. These targetings can be very specific. Weapons can be very precise, and they will continue in the future to get even more so.

  • 10:17:51

    REHMAnd the U.S. isn't the only country trying to develop them, make them more precise.

  • 10:17:59

    HARRISThat's exactly right. I mean, there is something of a global drone race going on right now. It would be inaccurate to describe, you know, the U.S. as somehow in contention for first place with many countries. We're still quite far ahead, technologically speaking. But the Chinese have now announced their intentions.

  • 10:18:15

    HARRISThere was one of their biggest air shows recently. There was a story in The Washington Post about this yesterday, where they are aggressively pursuing drones for combat. More than 50 countries, right now, have purchased surveillance drones that are not armed. But there is clearly a race to build these things, sure.

  • 10:18:31

    REHMShane Harris. He is senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, author of the article, "Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State." Short break. Your calls when we come back.

  • 10:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the expanding use of drones not only by the U.S., but being developed by other countries around the world as Shane Harris, author of the book, "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State," just mentioned. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that China is now developing drones as well. So we're going to see an increase not only in development, but in use.

  • 10:20:46

    REHMI wonder, going back to you, Christine Fair, we talked earlier in the program about the number of civilians. Shane Harris mentioned the New America Foundation and its numbers of civilian casualties. Do you accept that number?

  • 10:21:09

    FAIRI don't, and not because they haven't made a good faith effort to get the best possible -- number possible. The problem is, is junk in and junk out. The Pakistani media, there are a couple of areas where the reporting is really compromised. One is on Baluchistan. Another is on drones. And so what will happen, a drone strike will take place. Either the Pakistan Taliban or the ISI will put different reports out.

  • 10:21:34

    FAIRAnd they're never the same report, right? There's always going to be this built-in error so they look more precise, ironically. And there are no journalists that can go in and independently confirm these numbers. So the problem with the New America Foundation numbers is that it's the best possible. But the underlying data are deeply problematic. They did another survey of about 1,000 persons in the tribal areas.

  • 10:22:01

    FAIRUnfortunately, that survey, while a good faith effort, was also empirically quite flawed. They were trying to ask people what they think about drones, but they didn't ask people whether or not they had actually seen a drone. And my experience has been the people who have seen a drone personally have a very different experience of their accuracy.

  • 10:22:20

    REHMShane, give us a sense of what a drone looks like.

  • 10:22:24

    HARRISSure. Well, imagine sort of an airplane with no windows on it, sort of a very sleek kind of design. Some of them are very large, with a wing span of more than 60 feet. Essentially, it just looks a lot like an airplane, like a very sort of slim-line, stripped-down airplane. Many of them are driven by a turbo propeller. They're not terribly sophisticated in that regard. But the armed drones are really the ones that we're talking about here.

  • 10:22:49

    HARRISAnd these are capable of carrying Hellfire missiles, which can be targeted at individuals or at compounds. They are piloted remotely, perhaps by somebody who is sitting nearby at a base in-country or on the other side of the world, in the United States. Really, they don't look all that remarkable or particularly deadly, frankly, when you see them in photographs.

  • 10:23:12

    REHMBut they are deadly.

  • 10:23:14

    HARRISThey are...

  • 10:23:16

    REHMAnd I wondered, too, about the people operating those drones from either a next country nearby or from the United States and how they feel about sending those drones up.

  • 10:23:33

    HARRISYeah, it's a really good question. There is research now that's coming out suggesting that, you know, the effects of PTSD that one would normally experience in combat are not -- that drone operators are not immune to that. It's also important to note that when we're talking about flying a drone, it's more than just one person sitting in this sort of disembodied cockpit with a hand on a stick.

  • 10:23:53

    HARRISThere are more than 100 people who attend every one of these drone strikes in some capacity, whether it's analysts who are looking at the extraordinary amounts of information that these drones can collect about the target, whether it's the operators, the maintenance crew. The lawyers take up a very large number of people as well because these strikes are so closely monitored by that community.

  • 10:24:12

    HARRISSo there really is a whole sort of network of people involved in piloting a drone -- if you want to use that term -- that is not the same kind of situation that you would find necessarily in manned aircraft. It's a different kind of calculation, but there are a lot of people involved.

  • 10:24:29

    REHMDaniel Green, what about Yemen? What's going on there? How effective is the use of drones in Yemen, and do we know about casualties?

  • 10:24:44

    GREENWell, you know, most famously, there was a UAV strike on the head of al-Qaida in 2002, which effectively decapitated their organization in a variety of reasons and sort of made them inactive for a number of years -- a lot of other reasons that contributed to that. Yemen -- the al-Qaida and Yemen forces were focused on the Iraq war. There's a lot of open media talks about there being an increase in focus on counterterrorism operations in Yemen.

  • 10:25:09

    GREENBut the thing about all of this, we have to remember, is the drone is just a tool. It's the intelligence infrastructure that makes it accurate or inaccurate. And that's the real deciding factor on all these things. You can be for or against drones. It's just a tool.

  • 10:25:23

    GREENYou know, for every drone strike in Pakistan, there are months, if not years, of yeoman work being done by human intelligence sources and a variety of other means that develop those target packages, as they're often referred to. So that's really a lot of this debate, is, like, what is the fidelity or what is -- what confidence do we have in intelligence infrastructure that provides those targets?

  • 10:25:43

    REHMYou said you were surprised to learn that we were -- or you have just learned this morning that the U.S. is using drone strikes in Libya. Are you surprised?

  • 10:25:57

    GREENNo, not really. I mean, it's just another front that's using another tool on our arsenal. I mean, I'm not so outraged, as some might be, that we're using drones in other parts of the world. It's just one of a number of tools that we're using. And, frankly, if you're trying to minimize casualties not just on the civilian side, but among your own troops, you know, using drones can certainly facilitate that.

  • 10:26:18

    GREENYou're not going to lose a pilot. You don't have to have a whole infrastructure as well that's there to rescue that pilot if he's downed or, you know, that will bring other Americans' lives at risk if they come in country.

  • 10:26:29

    REHMDixon, how do you feel about the use of drone strikes in Libya?

  • 10:26:34

    OSBURNWell, I think the question in Libya, as well as Yemen, is, what is the operating rules that are governing us? Shane mentioned that one of the reasons that the government is invoked is self-defense or security. But that means that you have to have no -- an imminent security threat to be able to take lethal force outside of a declared armed conflict.

  • 10:26:55

    OSBURNAnd I think there are critics out there that are concerned that we're deploying drones not to combat imminent security threats. So that is something that, I think, the administration needs to continue to explain further about why it is using drones in these different areas.

  • 10:27:11

    REHMHere's an email from Fredericksburg, Va. Roland says, "The use of remote control robotic killing machines is very impersonal, takes emotion out of the equation. It's like a videogame where you kill real people without seeing the consequences of collateral damage, which is often women, children and the occasional wedding party." Christine, you're shaking your head no.

  • 10:27:47

    FAIRNo, I'm not. I mean, I think there's another distinction that we haven't talked about yet on this panel. And there are really two kinds of drone strikes. One is the Department of Defense, you know, military strike. And those -- you know, there's considerable transparency. You can find on YouTube -- for example, in Afghanistan, when troops come into contact and they call in air assets. If it's a drone, they'll bring their ordinance.

  • 10:28:10

    FAIRAnd we can see on YouTube some of the outcomes of that. You then have the intelligence-led, which are -- even though they're no longer covert, they're still called covert, which is where we have no transparency. But this is where the public doesn't appreciate that there are cameras on these things. There are hundreds of people that are involved in the collection of a target.

  • 10:28:30

    FAIRThey're watching the entire process of targeting, to the actual conduct of the explosion. And then they're also surveying the aftermath. And so this idea that somehow this is just remote control 14-year-olds at the Nintendo or the "Donkey Kong" is simply untrue. And the -- when you talk to people that are involved in this, there are real pilots, actually, behind the drone program, experiencing the real stress of combat.

  • 10:28:58


  • 10:28:58

    HARRISYeah, and I think that's right. I mean, this is something -- it's not just sort of fire and forget. You see the effects of it, and you lead up -- they lead up to it for days and weeks. Something the emailer said was this idea of these robotic killing machines.

  • 10:29:10

    HARRISI mean, one of the things that people, who look at this deeply, are becoming more concerned about is not just that the number of drones is proliferating, but that we are trying to make them more autonomous, that is, able to go out and fly around by themselves, to land and take off by themselves, to act independently of control from a human being.

  • 10:29:27

    HARRISAnd while the military will swear up and down that they would never build a drone that actually had the autonomy to go out and select a target and fire on it itself, there is research going on right now in the Defense Department to do precisely that. And whether or not we will entirely let the fleet, you know, go off by itself and pick its own targets versus saying, go out and find the best way to kill it, is sort of, you know, splitting hairs a bit.

  • 10:29:50

    HARRISWe are moving to this point where we are creating robotic machines that go out and conduct warfare quite independently of us.

  • 10:29:58

    REHMDixon, how has the use or the number of uses of drones changed between the Bush administration and the Obama administration?

  • 10:30:12

    OSBURNThe use of drones has increased dramatically under the Obama administration.

  • 10:30:15


  • 10:30:16

    OSBURNYes. But that's also in part because it is a tool that has been developed more recently and in much greater numbers. It's also because of, I think, a concerted decision that this is the way that they want to prosecute the conflicts that we are engaged in.

  • 10:30:31

    REHMAren't you worried that, as more widespread development comes, more widespread use will come even into this country?

  • 10:30:44

    OSBURNWell, I think that that is part of the debate that's going on. And when you're highlighting sort of the globalization of the drone market, you know, what is the debate going to be when nations determine that other nations are terror targets, and you have North Korea flying drones into South Korea or China flying drones into Taiwan?

  • 10:31:05

    OSBURNWhat that underscores is that we really need to make sure that we are following the rule of law, that, you know, if it's an armed conflict, there are certain rules that guide our decisions. If it is an imminent security threat for a nation, there are rules that guide those decisions. But those debates are -- need to continue to happen.

  • 10:31:27

    REHMBut we haven't declared war on Libya, nor has Libya been declared an enemy of the United States.

  • 10:31:39

    OSBURNRight. And so one of the concerns in the self-defense scenario is, just because you're a member of a terrorist organization does not mean that you're a target for lethal force. There needs to be an imminent security threat. And this is where the administration really needs to clarify how it is targeting individuals.

  • 10:31:58


  • 10:31:59

    HARRISYeah, the Libya case provides a really good example of the complexities of this because we can't even agree -- or the administration can't seem to agree whether there are actually hostilities going on in Libya right now. There's been a lot of reporting on this. There were some who advocated, in fact, pulling back the drones so that we could more legitimately claim that we were not engaged in hostilities.

  • 10:32:16

    HARRISThe president reportedly made the determination that, I guess, drone strikes don't quite cross that threshold. So, I mean, you see where all of this really does boil down to definitions, to circumstances, but yet we are using them in more countries now than we would have ever anticipated four years ago, I think.

  • 10:32:33

    REHMShane Harris, senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, author of "Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State." We'll take a short break. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Rita in Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning. You're on the air.

  • 10:33:04

    RITAThank you. I would like to suggest the golden rule. What makes us think they're not going to be raining down on us? What makes us so smug to think that we can invent this horror, and we're not going to get it back?

  • 10:33:19


  • 10:33:21

    FAIRWell, I think, first of all, we have to realize that there are a lot of non-state actors who are already using drones. So, for example, I remember Peter Singer, in his volume about drones, he discussed Hezbollah's use of drones against the Israelis in the 2006 war. You may be familiar with the narco-cartels' use of drones as well as, most interestingly, unmanned submarines to move their stuff around.

  • 10:33:48

    FAIRWhat's actually -- what I find most interesting about drones is that we get obsessed with their high end -- the sorts of stuff that defense contractors would wheel and deal. But, in fact, by way of the technology, there's a lot at the lower end of the pyramid. All you really need is an enthusiast model of a remote-piloted aircraft. You can do a lot with the kinds of enthusiast aircraft that you can find on eBay. Just stick a camera on it.

  • 10:34:16

    FAIRSo I think that this way of warfare is the way it's going to be. And as with all military technologies, we're going to see all sorts of spin-offs. You know, I kind of think about the days when we were introducing tank warfare, and there were the guys with their horses who didn't want to let go of the cavalry. And we can go back, and we can find their arguments for keeping the horses. But, you know, guess what? We went the way with tank warfare.

  • 10:34:41

    FAIRAnd so, I think, not only drones, but we're also looking at robots that can go in and help take or extract wounded soldiers from the battlefield so that they're freeing up their buddies. This is the way the...

  • 10:34:54

    REHMBut go back to the caller's question. What makes us so smug as to think that these might not be raining down on us, Shane?

  • 10:35:07

    HARRISI don't think we do think they might not be turning down on us. I mean, I think that the United States military is keenly aware of the Chinese advancements in this area, the Russian advancements. They know that this is something of an arms race. And that could very easily return against us, sure.

  • 10:35:21

    REHMThanks for calling, Rita. Let's go now to Richmond, Ind. Good morning, Jim.

  • 10:35:28

    JIMMorning, Diane.

  • 10:35:29

    REHMHi there.

  • 10:35:30

    JIMI listen to your show about every morning.

  • 10:35:31

    REHMI'm glad.

  • 10:35:33

    JIMI don't agree with a lot of things that go on your show, but that's just personalities.

  • 10:35:38

    REHMThat's fine.

  • 10:35:40

    JIMWhat I would really to ask the gentleman that's saying that the law says this and that, I know there has to be laws. But do they think that the enemy is abiding by all the laws that they feel that the United States' men and women should abide by?

  • 10:35:59


  • 10:36:01

    OSBURNWell, just if the -- if the enemy doesn't follow the law, it doesn't give us the excuse not to follow the law. I think the question here is the American people deserve a conversation if we're going to go to war in other countries. And if we're going to go to war, that dictates a set of rules under the laws of war.

  • 10:36:19

    OSBURNIf we are invoking a security defense -- and that also invokes certain rules that we should abide by -- part of this goes to the previous caller's question about the golden rule, is that if we are going to expect other nations to follow those rules, and if we're going to have the moral grounds to assert that those are the laws that we should follow, then we need to follow them ourselves.

  • 10:36:40

    REHMIt sounds as though everybody is saying there really are no laws in place regarding the use of drones, Dan Green.

  • 10:36:51

    GREENWell, I think one of our guests here said already that they often have teams of lawyers with them, which suggests there is some law they're having to abide by.

  • 10:36:58

    REHMWhat law?

  • 10:37:00

    GREENI mean, there are certainly rules of engagement they have to follow, about when to use these drones and what -- when not to use them, what constitutes, you know, civilian casualties, things like that. So there are rules. I mean, it -- you know, the more fundamental question that the drone issue is wrapped inside of is this sort of when is it appropriate for the United States to go to war, when you declare war, things of that nature.

  • 10:37:21

    GREENI mean, drones is just one of a number of tools, again, to do that, but...

  • 10:37:25

    REHMBut they are different from the rules, perhaps, we've had in the past. Daniel Green, he's at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Short break. And when we come back, more of your calls, your comments.

  • 10:40:03

    REHMWelcome back. We're talking about the use of drones not only in warfare, but as our listener, David, in Indianapolis points out, he says, "I just heard on NPR that Texas officials are asserting there..." -- let's see -- "...that there has been an increase violence along the U.S.-Mexican border that's spilling into the State of Texas. Are we using drones to spot human traffickers, drug smugglers crossing our borders?

  • 10:40:44

    REHM"I would think drones could help us better target our border control resources where they can have the greatest impact." Christine.

  • 10:40:56

    FAIRI think the answer is yes. There are domestic uses of these drones. A couple of months ago, there was this really puzzling case. A drone from Mexico was actually downed on our side of the border. And, unfortunately, you know, the American media, often with these stories, doesn't really follow through. So I never actually learned, what was the origin of that drone? Was it official Mexican government?

  • 10:41:19

    FAIRThere was some speculation about, potentially, the cartel. You could also imagine the cartel's going to check the delivery of their own products, making sure they get to market. So, you know, this -- I think we're going to be in this place where we're going to see increased domestic use of drones. I'm really glad that, during the discussion, you had mentioned a note about the surveillance of our troops using drones.

  • 10:41:45

    FAIRI think one of the interesting things about the drone debate is that we really only have been focusing upon it as a use of ordinance delivery. We haven't talked about the utility of drones in monitoring potential human rights violations on a grotesque scale. One of the participants in your panel talked about what would have happened had we had drones during the Rwanda genocide.

  • 10:42:07

    FAIRSo, I think, there's a much larger debate to be had about the roles of drones domestically, non-militarized use. But, I think, one of the questions that remain -- and this is particularly the case in Pakistan -- is that there's really no transparency. We'd -- especially the drone operations that are intelligence-led, we don't know anything about them. The American citizens don't. The Pakistanis don't.

  • 10:42:29

    FAIRBoth of our governments are colluding in (word?). And so, I think, one of the issues for public policy and debate is it -- what Shane had discussed, that the market is going to put technologies out there. They're going to create a need for technology, and that's going to happen at a pace which will far exceed our ability to manage and to discuss the ethics and the legal considerations around these new technologies.

  • 10:42:54


  • 10:42:55

    HARRISYeah, I think that's right. I mean, there will be a domestic implementation of drones beyond anything we're even imagining right now. You know, the FAA is actively looking at changing airspace regulations to accommodate and to assimilate unmanned systems into the airspace. You know, wrap your head around this idea, that in 5 to 10 years a lot smart people think that FedEx and UPS will stop using manned planes to deliver cargo.

  • 10:43:20

    HARRISIs it possible that we will -- that traffic helicopter pilot will no longer be a job description that anyone recognizes? We have implementations right now going on at the border, looking at using very small drones that look like birds to monitor trafficking across the border and security there. It is happening. And once it does sort of unleash that commercial sort of energy, well, I think it clips any of the uses we're seeing the military use them for right now.

  • 10:43:46

    REHMLet's go to Chesterfield, Mo. Good morning, Charles.

  • 10:43:51

    CHARLESHowdy, ma'am. What can the -- what rules are there that says that the FBI cannot use terminator robots, surveillance robots, flying surveillance robots in, say, Waco, Texas?

  • 10:44:07


  • 10:44:08

    FAIRI'm not sure I'm the right person to take that question.

  • 10:44:11

    REHMWho is?

  • 10:44:13

    HARRISWell, there's a question about whether or not law enforcement...

  • 10:44:15


  • 10:44:15

    HARRIS...can use these drones now. They certainly want to. They would be used primarily, I would think, first in -- you hear a lot of talk about -- like, in hostage rescue standoffs, creating drones that could -- the size of spiders that could, like, sort of skitter up into a window sill and look inside who's in the building. You get into a different situation when you're talking about drones sort of going out and generally looking for people and for bad activity.

  • 10:44:39

    HARRISBut broadly, within law enforcement, that's what they do right now, right? They go out, and they police. The police go out on the street and look for things that are happening. Whether or not you could use a drone to spy inside somebody's house without cause, I think, would implicate things like the 4th Amendment. But, I think, make no mistake. Law enforcement wants this technology. They know what it can be used for.

  • 10:44:58


  • 10:45:01

    OSBURNSo you're looking at two different models. One is the law enforcement model that Shane was describing. I think there is still an open question that the CIA is using drones and is actually conducting the strikes in Yemen, which seems much more like a military function. And I don't think the administration has been clear about those different roles, and whether or not the same rules are being applied in each circumstance.

  • 10:45:24

    REHMWell, what was it that President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, outlined the other day?

  • 10:45:35

    OSBURNWell, John Brennan outlined the new counterterrorism strategy, and part of that counterterrorism strategy is a multilayered approach in counterterrorism response and that we should use all the tools that are available to the government.

  • 10:45:48

    REHMIncluding drones?

  • 10:45:49

    OSBURNIncluding drones, yes. And -- but the core values that are driving it are -- include a respect for human rights as well as a respect for the rule of law.

  • 10:46:00

    REHMTo San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Bobby.

  • 10:46:06

    BOBBYYeah, my brother-in-law is a drone pilot for the Air Force. And I don't really know a whole lot about the program, so I'm talking to him about it. And we also use, you know, drones in combat, you know, for live feeds for the troops where Air Force combat controllers will have Toughbook laptops where they can see a live feed at the battlefield where the enemies' positions are. You know, we don't just use them just to take lives. But we use them to save the lives of our troops.

  • 10:46:35


  • 10:46:36

    HARRISYeah, that's right. I mean, predominantly, the drones are being used for surveillance right now. And it's worth noting that, you know, the Defense Science, well, actually just released a paper not long ago saying that the amount of intelligence, the imagery, the signals intelligence, all the stuff that these drones are sucking up is essentially overwhelming to analysts, you know, who are looking at this.

  • 10:46:53

    HARRISSo our capacity to collect information, as the caller suggests, it's just extraordinary. I mean, there's more than we can ever look at.

  • 10:47:00

    REHMSo, right now, we have more than 50 countries who have purchased surveillance drones. Now, what's between a surveillance drone and a drone -- a weaponized drone? How far is the distance between those two technologies, Shane?

  • 10:47:27

    HARRISIt's not inconsiderable. I mean, it's not to say that you can just slap a missile on it and that, you know, it will fly around just fine. I mean, we still have the technological edge when it comes to weaponized systems. And we exert very strong export controls on the companies who make these drones. And we don't share them with (unintelligible).

  • 10:47:42

    REHMBut other countries are developing their own...

  • 10:47:45

    HARRISSure. Absolutely. The Chinese are...

  • 10:47:46


  • 10:47:46

    HARRIS...definitely developing these.

  • 10:47:47


  • 10:47:47

    HARRISOur allies already have some of the Predator systems that we use. The British have them. The Italians have them. I believe the Turks have them. I mean, it's only a matter of time, though. I mean, in all of these discussions, the technological hurdle are not that significant.

  • 10:47:59

    REHMDan, I know you wanted to say something earlier.

  • 10:48:02

    GREENWhat -- just going back to president's counterterrorism strategy, it's interesting, too. The drones are relatively inexpensive, at least cheaper than having to train a pilot and provide him or her a fighter jet. But I think a lot of reasons that the drones are becoming more popular as well is we have these difficult economic times.

  • 10:48:17

    GREENMany Europeans countries, for example, are cutting their militaries for a substantially -- and this seems to be sort of a inexpensive "solution" for a variety of ills, not just, you know, military technology advancing. And I think one of the challenges we have is to not mistake this platform as a panacea for solutions that are actually far more difficult.

  • 10:48:37

    GREENFor example, the president's counterterrorism strategy absolutely is correct in saying, we need a holistic approach, which means, you know, governance, development, reconstruction, these types of things. But it's those particular elements of that strategy, governance and development, that are actually the weakest. You know, the drones are the -- are strongest, mostly (unintelligible).

  • 10:48:52

    REHMThey're already out there.

  • 10:48:53

    GREENWell, they're there, but they're not well-organized.

  • 10:48:55


  • 10:48:55

    GREENThere are these kinds of things. They're not well resourced. There's not a great political consensus often for that kind of development spending. And to be frank, the State Department was designed to address problems of a different era. These are -- some of these challenges fall between these sort of conventional civil/military tasks and how we've typically done business. And that's sort of the challenge, I think.

  • 10:49:14

    REHMAnd where is that kind of consensus likely to fall? Where is it going to come from? Are we talking about congressional debates? What are we talking about?

  • 10:49:27

    GREENWell, I think that the challenge of -- so much of our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, generally, is we have institutions where the military intelligence development to diplomacy, they were all designed to fight different things, principally, conventional war, finding intelligence, doing diplomatic relations with nation-states. And they're confronted with challenges that are completely inconsistent with that.

  • 10:49:45

    GREENDecentralize locally based insurgency, for example, that blends seamlessly, you know, kinetic or non-kinetic approaches. You know, that's really a challenge for bureaucracies when they're trying to adjust to these things. And the problem is that, as much as we have learned from these wars, as much as we have adapted to them, the roots sort of were formed. They're very shallow 'cause these great drivers of the status quo are there.

  • 10:50:05

    GREENFor every drone contract, which is so many millions of dollars, it's like a rounding error for a -- you know, a cruise battleship. And then those things drive constituencies.

  • 10:50:16


  • 10:50:16

    GREENAnd that's the great thing about -- or the unfortunate challenge of an insurgency, generally. It's not well-funded. It's hard. It takes a long time. It's very labor-intensive if you want to do it the right way. And there are no technological fixes, which is often the American approach to how we solve problems.

  • 10:50:30


  • 10:50:31

    OSBURNWe are approaching 10 years after 9/11. I think it's a perfect opportunity to take a look back and determine what our path forward is. Secretary Clinton and former Secretary Gates have actually used their bully pulpits to talk about a re-allocation of resources for what they call smart power, which means an allocation toward diplomacy, toward development, as well as defense. And those three things need to work together more seamlessly.

  • 10:50:57

    OSBURNWhat we've seen over the last decade is that the Department of Defense budget has increased dramatically, and the State Department's budget has declined. And so both of them, from the defense side and the diplomacy side, have said we need to revisit the strategy.

  • 10:51:11

    REHMTo Ann Arbor, Mich. Philippe, you're on the air.

  • 10:51:16

    PHILIPPEGood morning, Diane. I had a quick comment. I wanted to say that -- are we prepared to open this Pandora's Box? You know, in a hypothetical scenario in the future, we could have, you know, drones that are immune to death in the form of a -- they can't be harmed by radiation. They could harmlessly use X-rays to find and kill targets. They could be nuclear-powered. They can even be prohibitively lethal in the battlefield.

  • 10:51:36

    PHILIPPEThey can be endlessly upgraded. We can conceal them and even assemble it anywhere, you know. And it seems to me that in the battlefield of the future where humans have no place, are we ready and willing to open such an (word?)...

  • 10:51:51


  • 10:51:52

    HARRISI think this is the big ethical question in the long term, I mean, just particularly as we design drones that are more autonomous. If you listen to futurists, right, who sort of sound these alarm bells about robotic technology, you would believe that the day would come when the robots start thinking for themselves and turn against us. And it sounds somewhat fantastic, but there are real nuggets of truth in that to explore.

  • 10:52:10

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 10:52:12

    HARRISWell, I mean, the people talk about self-replicating nanotechnology and the idea that this technology would suddenly go out in certain -- you know, healing itself, replicating itself and taking over everything in sight and sort of working independently from us. It's sort of a nightmare kind of -- you know, people have used the word terminator robot kind of vision. But, again, it's instructive, right?

  • 10:52:29

    HARRISI mean, this is something that, you know, ethicists have to grapple with. The military, I'm not sure whether or not they see the long term implications of this or are more interested sort of in developing technology to meet the requirements that they have now. That seems to be what's really happening, what's driving the discussion now.

  • 10:52:44

    GREENJust real quick, there will always be a need for combat infantrymen. I mean, I'm not one, but I absolutely recognize their value. And it's like the last thing people ever sort of fund. They don't have big contractors to support infantrymen, you know, and they're -- those -- at the end of the day, you do need boots on the ground in many situations.

  • 10:53:00

    REHMDaniel Green of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Ozark, Ark. Good morning, Mike.

  • 10:53:14

    MIKEGood morning, Diane. I was just wondering, with the present technology, how effective would they be against a more sophisticated enemy, somebody with, you know, just not terrorists running around the ground, but another country with some sort of counter measure. Would it be hard to deal with?

  • 10:53:33


  • 10:53:34

    FAIRWell, I mean, we're kind of, perhaps, coming to that issue with Pakistan. With -- in the Pakistan case, in particular, they want the drones where it, in fact, is targeting our mutual enemies. But there are a bunch of folks that we would like to target with those drones, for example, the Haqqani network, which is very much Pakistan's allies. So it -- we may actually sort of be in that zone where we're going to find this out.

  • 10:54:01

    FAIRBut I am not -- again, I'm not really sure I'm the best person to answer this question. But I don't -- one of the issues that drones raise for me is this notion of stability. So, for example, how does this affect the rules of engagement? At what level of conflict can drones engage in where countries are not technically at war?

  • 10:54:21

    FAIRI mean, I think, there's some really interesting revolutions in military technology and the way they affect countries, engage, that we probably should be thinking about now before we actually have this technology that can do that.

  • 10:54:34

    REHMIt's interesting because, as you talk about China developing its own drones, I mean, it sounds as though there could be more than a little competition going on there in terms of effectiveness, in terms of ability to strike a desire target and so on, Shane.

  • 10:54:57

    HARRISThat's right. I mean, the Chinese have -- and like I said, or we said earlier -- really announced their intention to field a fleet of drones that can go out and attack U.S. carrier groups. And that might seem sort of fanciful right now, given where their technology is, but that's not so unthinkable, really, in the new future. We will then develop countermeasures to that. We'll build drones to hit their drones.

  • 10:55:16

    HARRISWe'll build longer-range drones so that our carrier groups can stay further offshore. This is where the -- this is always this way with the evolution of military technology. But we should not be so arrogant, I think, in this country to presume that we will be the only ones who develop robotic armies. This is the future, not just for us. It's the future for a lot of countries.

  • 10:55:38

    REHMBut, Dan Green, I want to go back to something you said, that the U.S. military, the individual personnel will always be part of the equation. If you've got this drone warfare going on, don't you take people out off the ground?

  • 10:56:04

    GREENWell, you know, for example, you know, when there was the uprising in Iraq in 1920, you know, and the British drew down their large, you know, conventional forces, what they had, essentially, were drones for their time. They had robust air assets, and they had a ground intelligence network of people who literally would live amongst the tribes.

  • 10:56:21

    GREENAnd if the tribes sort of revolted, they would literally get in the cockpit of the plane and guide the pilot around on where to shoot, you know, as sort of drones of that period of time. You will always have to have people on the ground. There's a lot of technological means we can acquire intelligence. But at the end of the day, you do need people, not large numbers, but you need them there.

  • 10:56:39

    REHMDaniel Green, C. Dixon Osburn, Christine Fair, Shane Harris, very, very interesting. Thank you so much. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:56:54

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Katie June-Friesen answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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