The Past, Present and Future of the U.S. Drone Program

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A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a US drone and reading ' Why did you kill my family' on December 13, 2013 in the capital Sanaa.
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A whistle-blower working inside the federal intelligence community has given The Intercept a cache of documents detailing the U.S.'s drone strike assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Intercept Reporter Ryan Devereaux focuses his coverage on the U.S.'s drone program in Afghanistan, in "Manhunting in the Hindu Kush." Devereaux details the intelligence provided by the whistle-blower and the Afghan program intended to be a model for the future of American warfare.

The CIA conducted its first drone strike outside of a declared war zone in November 2002, against Al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to confirm the U.S.'s role in the strike, but he did comment on the death of one of the men involved: Qaed Senyan al-Harthi.

"Needless to say, he has been an individual that has been sought after as an Al-Qaeda member as well as a suspected terrorist connected to the [bombing of the] U.S.S. Cole," Rumsfeld told reporters. "So it would be a very good thing if he were out of business."

But the CIA has a long history of targeted killings, stretching back decades before that first non-war zone drone strike; the military has used surgical strikes for years before the hunt for Osama bin Laden began.

Andrew Cockburn, author of "Kill Chain: The Rise Of The High-Tech Assassins" and Washington editor for Harper's Magazine, explains how the current U.S. drone program compares to our previous use of targeted killings, and examines whether these killings have grown more effective over time.

What you'll learn from this segment:

  • The CIA's history of targeted killings and the military's use of surgical strikes
  • How the moral and ethical justifications for these strikes have changed over time.
  • How this technology is remaking war fare across the world.