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Will Drones Make General Atomics the next Blackwater?

The Nation (2009-08-26) Laura Flanders

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More Info: Blackwater, Iraq War, Private Mercenaries, War Profiteering

posted by Laura Flanders on 08/26/2009 @ 11:25am

A US drone firing missiles into a village in northern Pakistan killed at least 19 people over the weekend. The targets were militants, said the US military. The victims included six dead children, said a local tribal elder.

"Suspected US drone kills Suspected Taliban Commander." That's becoming the stuff of very suspect news stories. The reporting is so weak there's almost nothing confirmed except that the killer operator is far away in front of a computer screen.

Suspected killing of suspected people covered by unsuspicious media? It would be sci-fi if it weren't so here-now, and it's only going to get more so.

The Democratic administration just made a big deal of cutting the cumbersome F-22 fighter jet. "We don't need it any more," said the President. What he didn't say is that the defense department is seeking $3.5 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles a.k.a. "drones." Funding is expected to increase to $55 billion by 2020. The air force is currently training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots.

Drones have been around since the US-led NATO war on the former Yugoslavia. Since '06, drones have launched hundred of missiles along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border killing as many as 700 civilians according to Pakistani officials.

Forbes magazine's "king of the armed drone makers" is a little known company called General Atomics whose founder James Neal Blue came up with the drone as a way of defeating Soviet-backed Sandinistas by blowing up oil pipelines in Nicaragua. He's a fervent anti-communist and quite possibly the next Erik Prince -- only his mercenaries aren't Blackwater's flesh and blood killers, but conveniently bloodless machines.

General Atomics is small by defense industry standards, but it has a lot of friends in Washington. Between 2000 and 2005, GA was the top corporate sponsor of privately funded congressional travel. So perhaps it's no surprise, there's little resistance to more drones in the US arsenal.

Drones are not cheap -- between $10 million and $12 million apiece per GA "Reaper." Their success rate is widely disputed. They kill civilians and even General David Petraeus admits, they make people hate us. But cynical political calculus is on General Atomics' side.

President Obama has a problem. Every American military commander wants more troops, but resistance among foot soldiers is growing and maybe, someday - someday - the president's anti-war base will make itself heard.

How to heed the commanders and quiet the critics simultaneously? Welcome to the super drone bonanza. The pilotless drone is the military's version of cash for very clunky policy.

*The F Word* is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at and The Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on

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Title Will Drones Make General Atomics the next Blackwater?
Publisher The Nation
Author Laura Flanders
Pub Date 2009-08-26
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Keywords Blackwater, Iraq War, Private Mercenaries, War Profiteering
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Media Group News
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Topic revision: r1 - 31 Aug 2009, RaymondLutz
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