This week, I participated in an interview with the radio show The Takeaway discussing the use of drones and why I believe taking them completely out of the counterterrorism menu is a bad idea. Host John Hockenberry and I traded some opinions on how drones measure up to backing foreign militaries or proxy militias in foreign countries.
Interestingly, this discussion always centers on civilian casualties caused by drones, but when I bring up the issue of civilian casualties from options other than drones, no one seems to have a good handle on what the numbers look like. Neither is there any discussion of the effectiveness of drones in eliminating al Qaeda leaders. I’m not advocating civilian casualties nor trying to justify drones, I’m just trying to point out how we came to rely so heavily on drones and how truly evaluating drones requires an examination of multiple counterterrorism options and civilian casualties across all those options.
The interview ended with a discussion about drone proliferation and the possibility of terrorist acquisition of drones. For this, I try to argue there is an extremely large difference between flying a remote control plane, which could be classified a drone, and multi-country or even intercontinental drone operations. Namely, the scale of intelligence required for targeting and the telecommunications architecture necessary for command and control.