Drones

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They’re Normalizing Police Robots By Calling Them “Dogs”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/08/2021 - 11:39pm in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/22a13c736d04b81f2f5da1c3bf0ee62f/href

Hawaii police are defending their use of pandemic relief funds for a robotic “police dog” made by Boston Dynamics which scans homeless people’s eyes to see if they have a fever.

“If you’re homeless and looking for temporary shelter in Hawaii’s capital, expect a visit from a robotic police dog that will scan your eye to make sure you don’t have a fever,” says a new report from Associated Press. “That’s just one of the ways public safety agencies are starting to use Spot, the best-known of a new commercial category of robots that trot around with animal-like agility.”

“Acting Lt. Joseph O’Neal of the Honolulu Police Department’s community outreach unit defended the robot’s use in a media demonstration earlier this year,” AP reports. “He said it has protected officers, shelter staff and residents by scanning body temperatures between meal times at a shelter where homeless people could quarantine and get tested for COVID-19. The robot is also used to remotely interview individuals who have tested positive.”

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This has understandably elicited criticism from civil rights advocates.

“Because these people are houseless it’s considered OK to do that,” Hawaii ACLU legal director Jongwook Kim told AP. “At some point it will come out again for some different use after the pandemic is over.”

This report comes just days after we learned that police in Winnipeg have also obtained a “Spot” robot which they intend to use in hostage situations.

Winnipeg Free Press reports:

The Winnipeg Police Service is set to acquire a pricey dog-shaped robot, to be used in hostage situations, that’s already been ditched by police in New York City.

“Spot” is made by Boston Dynamics, which sells the device for US$74,500. Winnipeg police are spending $257,000 to acquire and use Spot. The 32-kilogram robot “has the ability to navigate obstacles, uneven terrain (and) situations where our traditional robot platforms can’t go into,” said Insp. Brian Miln at a news conference Wednesday.

Months earlier the New York Police Department cancelled its lease of the same type of robot they obtained last year following public outcry. More from AP:

The expensive machine arrived with little public notice or explanation, public officials said, and was deployed to already over-policed public housing. Use of the high-tech canine also clashed with Black Lives Matter calls to defund police operations and reinvest in other priorities.

The company that makes the robots, Boston Dynamics, says it’s learned from the New York fiasco and is trying to do a better job of explaining to the public — and its customers — what Spot can and cannot do. That’s become increasingly important as Boston Dynamics becomes part of South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Company, which in June closed an $880 million deal for a controlling stake in the robotics firm.

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To be absolutely clear, there is not actually any legitimate reason for any normal person to refer to these machines as a “robotic dog”, or a “high-tech canine”, or by a cutesy cliché name for a pet. These are robots. Robots that are being used by police forces on civilian populations. If the robots being used had two legs, or eight, they would not be able to apply such cuddly wuddly labels, and public alarm bells would be going off a lot louder.

Which is of course the idea. As AP noted above, Boston Dynamics is acutely aware that it has a PR situation on its hands and needs to manage public perception if it wants to mainstream the use of these machines and make a lot of money. Because it’s a known fact that westerners tend to be a lot more sympathetic to dogs than even to other humans, arbitrarily branding a quadrupedal enforcement robot a “dog” helps facilitate this agenda.

On-the-ground robot policing is becoming normalized today under the justification of Covid-19 precautions in the same way police around the world have normalized the use of drones to police coronavirus restrictions, at the same time police departments are rolling out dystopian systems for predicting future criminality using computer programs and databases.

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This is all happening as the French army is testing these “Spot” robots for use in combat situations, years after the Pentagon requested the development of a “Multi-Robot Pursuit System” which can “search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject” like a pack of dogs. New Scientist’s Paul Marks reported on the latter development back in 2008:

Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University is an expert on police and military technologies, and last year correctly predicted this pack-hunting mode of operation would happen. “The giveaway here is the phrase ‘a non-cooperative human subject’,” he told me:

“What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed.

We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed.”

These developments always elicit nervous jokes about Terminator movies and the idea of Skynet robots going rogue and enslaving humanity, but the far more realistic and immediate concern is this technology being used on humans by other humans.

For as long as there have been governments and rulers, there has been an acute awareness in elite circles that the public vastly outnumber those who rule over them and could easily overwhelm and oust them if they ever decided to. Many tools have been implemented to address this problem, from public displays of cruelty to keep the public cowed and obedient, to the circulation of propaganda and power-serving religious doctrines, but at no time has any power structure in history ever produced a guaranteed protection against the possibility of being overthrown by their subjects who vastly outnumber them.

The powerful have also long been aware that robot and drone technologies can offer such a protection.

https://medium.com/media/91ea6a69c286bfc664d079f67a06283f/href

Once the legal and technological infrastructure for robotic security systems has been rolled out, all revolutionary theory that’s ever been written goes right out the window, because the proletariat cannot rise up and overthrow their oppressors if their oppressors control technologies which enable them to quash any revolution using a small security team of operators.

Or, better yet, fully automated technologies which can fire upon civilians without the risk of human sympathy taking the side of the people. According to a recent UN report, a Turkish-made drone may have been the first ever to attack humans with deadly force without being specifically ordered to.

Live Science reports:

At least one autonomous drone operated by artificial intelligence (AI) may have killed people for the first time last year in Libya, without any humans consulted prior to the attack, according to a U.N. report.

According to a March report from the U.N. Panel of Experts on Libya, lethal autonomous aircraft may have “hunted down and remotely engaged” soldiers and convoys fighting for Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. It’s not clear who exactly deployed these killer robots, though remnants of one such machine found in Libya came from the Kargu-2 drone, which is made by Turkish military contractor STM.

So at this point we’re essentially looking at a race to see if the oligarchic empire can manufacture the necessary environment to allow the use of robotic security forces to lock their power in place forever before the masses get fed up with the increasing inequalities and abuses of the status quo and decide to force a better system into existence.

What a time to be alive.

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Chris Hedges: The Price of Conscience

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 4:47am in

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost Daniel Hale, a former intelligence analyst in the drone program for the Air Force who as a private contractor in 2013 leaked some 17 classified documents about drone strikes to the press, was sentenced today to 45 months in prison.

The documents, published by The Intercept on October 15, 2015, exposed that between January 2012 and February 2013, US special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. For one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. The civilian dead, usually innocent bystanders, were routinely classified as “enemies killed in action.”

The Justice Department coerced Hale, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, on March 31 to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 designed to prosecute those who passed on state secrets to a hostile power, not those who expose to the public government lies and crimes. Hale admitted as part of the plea deal to “retention and transmission of national security information” and leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. If he had refused the plea deal, he could have spent 50 years in prison.

Hale, in a handwritten letter to Judge Liam O’Grady on July 18, explained why he leaked classified information, writing that the drone attacks and the war in Afghanistan “had little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors.”

At the top of the ten-page letter Hale quoted US Navy Admiral Gene LaRocque, speaking to a reporter in 1995: “We now kill people without ever seeing them. Now you push a button thousands of miles away … Since it’s all done by remote control, there’s no remorse … and then we come home in triumph.”

“In my capacity as a signals intelligence analyst stationed at Bagram Airbase, I was made to track down the geographic location of handset cellphone devices believed to be in the possession of so-called enemy combatants,” Hale explained to the judge. “To accomplish this mission required access to a complex chain of globe-spanning satellites capable of maintaining an unbroken connection with remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as drones. Once a steady connection is made and a targeted cell phone device is acquired, an imagery analyst in the U.S., in coordination with a drone pilot and camera operator, would take over using information I provided to surveil everything that occurred within the drone’s field of vision. This was done, most often, to document the day-to-day lives of suspected militants. Sometimes, under the right conditions, an attempt at capture would be made. Other times, a decision to strike and kill them where they stood would be weighed.”

He recalled the first time he witnessed a drone strike, a few days after he arrived in Afghanistan.

“Early that morning, before dawn, a group of men had gathered together in the mountain ranges of Patika province around a campfire carrying weapons and brewing tea,” he wrote. “That they carried weapons with them would not have been considered out of the ordinary in the place I grew up, much less within the virtually lawless tribal territories outside the control of the Afghan authorities. Except that among them was a suspected member of the Taliban, given away by the targeted cell phone device in his pocket. As for the remaining individuals, to be armed, of military age, and sitting in the presence of an alleged enemy combatant was enough evidence to place them under suspicion as well. Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering, purple-colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.”

This was his first experience with “scenes of graphic violence carried out from the cold comfort of a computer chair.” There would be many more.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions,” he wrote. “By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissible for me to have helped to kill those men — whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify — in the gruesome manner that I did. Watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time. Never mind honorable, how could it be that any thinking person continued to believe that it was necessary for the protection of the United States of America to be in Afghanistan and killing people, not one of whom present was responsible for the September 11th attacks on our nation. Notwithstanding, in 2012, a full year after the demise of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, I was a part of killing misguided young men who were but mere children on the day of 9/11.”

He and other service members were confronted with the privatization of war where “contract mercenaries outnumbered uniform wearing soldiers 2 to 1 and earned as much as 10 times their salary.”

“Meanwhile, it did not matter whether it was, as I had seen, an Afghan farmer blown in half, yet miraculously conscious and pointlessly trying to scoop his insides off the ground, or whether it was an American flag-draped coffin lowered into Arlington National Cemetery to the sound of a 21-gun salute,” he wrote. “Bang, bang, bang. Both served to justify the easy flow of capital at the cost of blood — theirs and ours. When I think about this, I am grief-stricken and ashamed of myself for the things I’ve done to support it.”

He described to the judge “the most harrowing day of my life” that took place a few months into his deployment “when a routine surveillance mission turned into disaster.”

“For weeks we had been tracking the movements of a ring of car bomb manufacturers living around Jalalabad,” he wrote. “Car bombs directed at US bases had become an increasingly frequent and deadly problem that summer, so much effort was put into stopping them. It was a windy and clouded afternoon when one of the suspects had been discovered headed eastbound, driving at a high rate of speed. This alarmed my superiors who believe he might be attempting to escape across the border into Pakistan.”

Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.

— Daniel Hale, of learning about children killed by indiscriminate US drone attacks he participated in.

“A drone strike was our only chance and already it began lining up to take the shot,” he continued. “But the less advanced predator drone found it difficult to see through clouds and compete against strong headwinds. The single payload MQ-1 failed to connect with its target, instead missing by a few meters. The vehicle, damaged, but still driveable, continued on ahead after narrowly avoiding destruction. Eventually, once the concern of another incoming missile subsided, the driver stopped, got out of the car, and checked himself as though he could not believe he was still alive. Out of the passenger side came a woman wearing an unmistakable burka. As astounding as it was to have just learned there had been a woman, possibly his wife, there with the man we intended to kill moments ago, I did not have the chance to see what happened next before the drone diverted its camera when she began frantically to pull out something from the back of the car.”

He learned a few days later from his commanding officer what next took place.

“There indeed had been the suspect’s wife with him in the car,” he wrote. “And in the back were their two young daughters, ages 5 and 3 years old. A cadre of Afghan soldiers were sent to investigate where the car had stopped the following day. It was there they found them placed in the dumpster nearby. The eldest was found dead due to unspecified wounds caused by shrapnel that pierced her body. Her younger sister was alive but severely dehydrated. As my commanding officer relayed this information to us, she seemed to express disgust, not for the fact that we had errantly fired on a man and his family, having killed one of his daughters; but for the suspected bomb maker having ordered his wife to dump the bodies of their daughters in the trash, so that the two of them could more quickly escape across the border. Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.”

“One year later, at a farewell gathering for those of us who would soon be leaving military service, I sat alone, transfixed by the television, while others reminisced together,” he continued. “On television was breaking news of the president giving his first public remarks about the policy surrounding the use of drone technology in warfare. His remarks were made to reassure the public of reports scrutinizing the death of civilians in drone strikes and the targeting of American citizens. The president said that a high standard of ‘near certainty’ needed to be met in order to ensure that no civilians were present. But from what I knew, of the instances where civilians plausibly could have been present, those killed were nearly always designated enemies killed in action unless proven otherwise. Nonetheless, I continued to heed his words as the president went on to explain how a drone could be used to eliminate someone who posed an ‘imminent threat’ to the United States. Using the analogy of taking out a sniper, with his sights set on an unassuming crowd of people, the president likened the use of drones to prevent a would-be terrorist from carrying out his evil plot. But, as I understood it to be, the unassuming crowd had been those who lived in fear and the terror of drones in their skies and the sniper in this scenario had been me. I came to believe that the policy of drone assassination was being used to mislead the public that it keeps us safe, and when I finally left the military, still processing what I’d been a part of, I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong.”

Hale threw himself into anti-war activism when he left the military, speaking out about the indiscriminate killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of noncombatants, including children in drone strikes. He took part in a peace conference held in Washington, D.C. in November 2013. The Yemeni Fazil bin Ali Jaber spoke at the conference about the drone strike that killed his brother, Salem bin Ali Jaber, and their cousin Waleed. Waleed was a policeman. Salem was an Imam who was an outspoken critic of the armed attacks carried out by radical jihadists.

“One day in August 2012, local members of Al Qaeda traveling through Fazil’s village in a car spotted Salem in the shade, pulled up towards him, and beckoned him to come over and speak to them,” Hale wrote. “Not one to miss an opportunity to evangelize to the youth, Salem proceeded cautiously with Waleed by his side. Fazil and other villagers began looking on from afar. Farther still was an ever present reaper drone looking too.”

“As Fazil recounted what happened next, I felt myself transported back in time to where I had been on that day, 2012,” Hale told the judge. “Unbeknownst to Fazil and those of his village at the time was that they had not been the only watching Salem approach the jihadist in the car. From Afghanistan, I and everyone on duty paused their work to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. At the press of a button from thousands of miles away, two hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly. In front of a speechless auditorium, Fazil wept.”

A week after the conference Hale was offered a job as a government contractor.  Desperate for money and steady employment, hoping to go to college, he took the job, which paid $ 80,000 a year.  But by then he was disgusted by the drone program.

“For a long time, I was uncomfortable with myself over the thought of taking advantage of my military background to land a cushy desk job,” he wrote. “During that time, I was still processing what I had been through, and I was starting to wonder if I was contributing again to the problem of money and war by accepting to return as a defense contractor. Worse was my growing apprehension that everyone around me was also taking part in a collective delusion and denial that was used to justify our exorbitant salaries, for comparatively easy labor. The thing I feared most at the time was the temptation not to question it.”

“Then it came to be that one day after work I stuck around to socialize with a pair of co-workers whose talented work I had come to greatly admire,” he wrote. “They made me feel welcomed, and I was happy to have earned their approval. But then, to my dismay, our brand-new friendship took an unexpectedly dark turn. They elected that we should take a moment and view together some archived footage of past drone strikes. Such bonding ceremonies around a computer to watch so-called “war porn” had not been new to me. I partook in them all the time while deployed to Afghanistan. But on that day, years after the fact, my new friends gaped and sneered, just as my old one’s had, at the sight of faceless men in the final moments of their lives. I sat by watching too; said nothing and felt my heart breaking into pieces.”

“Your Honor,” Hale wrote to the judge, “the truest truism that I’ve come to understand about the nature of war is that war is trauma. I believe that any person either called-upon or coerced to participate in war against their fellow man is promised to be exposed to some form of trauma. In that way, no soldier blessed to have returned home from war does so uninjured. The crux of PTSD is that it is a moral conundrum that afflicts invisible wounds on the psyche of a person made to burden the weight of experience after surviving a traumatic event. How PTSD manifests depends on the circumstances of the event. So how is the drone operator to process this? The victorious rifleman, unquestioningly remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced off against his enemy on the battlefield. The determined fighter pilot has the luxury of not having to witness the gruesome aftermath. But what possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetuated?”

“My conscience, once held at bay, came roaring back to life,” he wrote. “At first, I tried to ignore it. Wishing instead that someone, better placed than I, should come along to take this cup from me. But this too was folly. Left to decide whether to act, I only could do that which I ought to do before God and my own conscience. The answer came to me, that to stop the cycle of violence, I ought to sacrifice my own life and not that of another person. So, I contacted an investigative reporter, with whom I had had an established prior relationship, and told him that I had something the American people needed to know.”

Hale, who has admitted to being suicidal and depressed, said in the letter he, like many veterans, struggles with the crippling effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, aggravated by an impoverished and turbulent childhood.

“Depression is a constant,” he told the judge. “Though stress, particularly stress caused by war, can manifest itself at different times and in different ways. The tell-tale signs of a person afflicted by PTSD and depression can often be outwardly observed and are practically universally recognizable. Hard lines about the face and jaw. Eyes, once bright and wide, now deep-set, and fearful. And an inexplicably sudden loss of interest in things that used to spark joy. These are the noticeable changes in my demeanor marked by those who knew me before and after military service. To say that the period of my life spent serving in the United States Air Force had an impression on me would be an understatement. It is more accurate to say that it irreversibly transformed my identity as an American. Having forever altered the thread of my life’s story, weaved into the fabric of our nation’s history.”

Feature photo | People carry the shrouded casket of a villager killed by a US drone attack on the Afghanistan border in Bannu. Ijaz Muhammad | AP

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. 

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