Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rodney King and War, 25 Year On

Thinking About Technology

William M. Arkin
Presentation at the DOD National Security Management Course, 10 April 2001

“In the aftermath of Desert Storm, no image of violence was as stark as that of the beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.  The videotape was plastered all over television, a kind of visual catharsis to censorship and virtual, seemingly inhuman firepower.  The black and white video, shaky, and grainy, surreptitious, had instant credibility.  It was amazingly similar to gun camera video clips that had become commonplace in the Pentagon’s telling of the very unanimated story of their air war.

Gun camera video tapes, of course, are carefully chosen for the audience’s entertainment during an otherwise difficult to imagine technological enterprise.  Press briefings and video selections emphasize airpower’s perfection and downplays its destructiveness.

Is it the case that the very nature of airpower, and of emerging cyberwarfare, defies heroic description?  There is, of course, real danger for the pilots.  But bombing soon enough becomes a production process, in which the occasional pilot death is more akin to an industrial accident than the result of what we think of as military combat.

We found ourselves at the end of the Gulf War, in the midst of old-fashioned massacre called the Highway of Death.   General Schwarzkopf, adamant that he would not be another commander disgraced for letting a beaten enemy get away, let fighter-bombers be his cavalry.  Almost immediately, a panic set in amongst military and political leaders in Washington and London at the scale of killing on the ground.  They had caused it, even willed it.  But they had not imagined what it would be like.  Somehow when the video screen turned buildings and bridges in the cross hairs to human beings, a tide shifted.  Despite all that Iraq had done, death became awfully hard for the American government and military leaders to justify.

It is such an uplifting anti-heroic approach to death, one that goes back to ancient times, one that is the very basis for what we call the laws of war.  For a soldier it means that any death on the battlefield means potentially ones own death.  The more anti-heroic we are, the more we come to grips with the limitations of the use of force and our own ambivalence about casualties, the more we see this issue as not about the deficiencies of this or that administration or policy-maker, the more we recognize our developing aesthetic about war, the better we will protect human life and the environment.”


Announcing the publication of my new book Unmanned

Unmanned R1-5

UNMANNED is an in-depth examination of why seemingly successful wars never seem to end. The problem centers on drones, now accumulated in the thousands, the front end of a spying and killing machine that is disconnected from either security or safety.

Drones, however, are only part of the problem. William Arkin shows that security is actually undermined by an impulse to gather as much data as possible, the appetite and the theory both skewed towards the notion that no amount is too much. And yet the very endeavor of putting fewer human in potential danger places everyone in greater danger. Wars officially end, but the Data Machine lives on forever.

#PZintel: NRO Monitored the Deepwater Horizon Spill

We’ve been tweeting top secret tidbits about the world of national security for the last few months from our Twitter account @GawkerPhaseZero, using the hashtag #PZintel. Give us a follow; and if you have intel to share, contact me at A round up of our latest tweets can be found on Phase Zero, including: more about the diversion of National Reconnaissance Office satellites to monitor the devastating 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and how there is a new version of Most Wanted Playing Cards in action.

Loitering With Intent: An Excerpt From Unmanned in Harper’s Magazine June 2015 Issue

This month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine features an exclusive excerpt from my book, Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare, from Little, Brown and Company, out next month. A brief intro from the essay has been included below; for the full version, visit Harper’s website.


By William M. Arkin

If you have spent any time thinking about the exponential increase in the use of unmanned vehicles over the past decade, you have probably thought about the Predator drone. Every second of every day, about fifty Predators are airborne. Each weighs more than a ton and has wings that extend the length of four automobiles. They fly at altitudes of 15,000 to 25,000 feet and can stay aloft for more than forty hours. They conduct deadly missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fly quietly over Yemen and Syria, assist law enforcement in Africa and Latin America, patrol borders, monitor oceans, and do civilian and scientific work of all kinds.

Government propaganda, the news media, and Hollywood movies characterize drones almost exclusively as high-flying hunterkillers and all-seeing information machines. In fact, more than 90  percent of the world’s drones are small, short-range, and unarmed. Only about 5 percent of the drones operated by the U.S. government are as large as manned airplanes. Predators, which garner so much of the public’s attention, make up an even smaller subset—there are just a few hundred worldwide. Most U.S. military drones belong to a single type—a 4.2-pound spy machine called the Raven. These and other human-portable devices are all but standard government issue for soldiers these days, like binoculars or radios. They are remarkable, to be sure, but they are remarkable mostly in the way of smartphones: omnipresent, ultraconvenient, annoying, distancing, and subtly threatening to privacy and security. There’s no doubt that they exert an influence on our society, even if the ultimate nature of that influence is unclear.

The civilian market for unmanned vehicles has expanded to serve scientific, industrial, consumer, educational, and entertainment purposes. Drones play an increasing role in industries as diverse as real estate and journalism, weather forecasting and agriculture. They identify forest fires and pipeline leaks, relay radio signals, and assist in archaeological and environmental research. They have also, of course, become popular with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Border agencies and police departments, emulating their military counterparts, have acquired unmanned vehicles not just for bomb disposal and other dangerous missions but also for intelligence collection and surveillance. Advances in information technology, nanotechnology, and even genetics, together with the continued miniaturization of nearly everything, are propelling an astonishing acceleration of drone capabilities. The future promises personal drones of amazing sophistication that weigh just a gram.

#PZintel: Aerostat balloons over Afghanistan and DIA HUMINT at 70+ Embassies!

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @GawkerPhasezero to reveal secrets large and small, as well as speculate on rumors that have echoed from the depths.

Here is a round-up of the intel we’ve published over the last week:

19 May, 2015 : 37 Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS) tethered aerostat surveillance balloons now over AF & Iraq

19 May, 2015 : (DIA) nows has at more than 70 Embassy and non-Embassy locations worldwide, including 12 African countries

18 May, 2015 : New NORTHCOM CONPLAN 3475 dealing with Regional War on Terrorism (RWOT) focuses on counter-narcoterrorism

18 May, 2015 : Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command has grown to 12k soldiers in 30 states & PR

13 May, 2015 : New acronym Persistent (PG) means more than it seems – EVERYTHING feeding into automated picture

12 May, 2015 : Flying from 2 Middle East locs Global Hawk conduct near 24/7 coverage in 5 different mission sets

11 May, 2015 : Underground Facilities Analysis Center (UFAC) working on analysis of UG facilities in .

Phase Zero: Week in Review 5.8.15

The following posts appeared on Phase Zero last week:

The Army Is Developing Killer Robots

Cancel Your Summer Vacation Plans to Afghanistan

We Don’t Know Jack About Joe – and for Good Reason

Targeted Killing is Just Good Business

Behold the Stupidest Government Report Ever

Why Is Jordan so Eager to Suck up to the Pentagon?

Phase Zero: Week in Review 5.1.15

The following posts appeared on Phase Zero last week:

The Secret Mountain Our Spies Will Hide In When Washington Is Destroyed

Drones Author Discusses Imprecision, Legal Blindess, and the CIA : An Interview with Andrew Cockburn

We’ll All Be Thugs Soon

Americans All! (Please Ignore the Mexican Colonels)