The U.S. Military is looking to relocate some of their predator drones, sending some to South and Central America, according to a new article in Wired Magazine.
As US forces come home from Afghanistan, the US military seems to have a surplus of predator drones -- remotely operated unmanned aircraft vehicles often used to carry out attacks and intelligence gathering missions. Drones previously used in Afghanistan will be given to "operational missions by previously undeserved" commands, including those in the Pacific and in Southern America, according to Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Norton Schwartz. While the exact number of drones, which will be sent to Latin America remains unknown, the implications of their presence remain hotly contested.
Some question whether their presence in the region is even necessary or whether they will be effective in thwarting drug traffickers. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations told Wired Magazine that while the drones could help with spy missions in South America, there is no good reason to use their attack capabilities.
“There is no strategic rationale for the United States to be responding to the flow of drugs from Latin America with the tactical use of kinetic force against drug planes or boats you happen to be able to find, ” he said. Furthermore, Zenko noted that the drones might be better used for United Nations peacekeeping operations in regions like Southern Sudan. “3,800 troops deployed right now for an [area] of 2,100 kilometers, with poor roads that wash out in the rainy season,” Zenko told Wired Magazine. “The deployment of these [spy] capabilities, and associated logistics and training infrastructure, would make a huge difference.”
Just days after the announcement that drone presence will be increased in Latin America, the Pew Research Center released a study suggesting that the Obama administration’s use of unmanned drone strikes to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world. On Wednesday, Pew reported that in 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, "more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia," according to The Associated Press. But a majority of Americans, 62 percent, approve the increased drone strikes.
Despite international disapproval of the tactic, the Obama administration insists that the drone campaigns have been effective and have saved American lives. Drone strikes have killed numerous "high-value leaders", "arguably more than any other method including more than a decade of special operations raids inside Afghanistan," according to The Associated Press. Earlier this month, a drone strike killed al-Qaeda's second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi.
"In order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives, the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircrafts, often referred to publicly as drones,” White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said earlier this year, according to The Associated Press.
Predator drones are not just being used abroad, however. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency have increased the use of the aircraft to patrol the Southern borderlands and interior for drug raids. Last month, the agency announced that two new unmanned drones would fly in Washington states' airspace. The drones deployed in Washington will be 10,000-pound Predator-B unmanned aircraft with 950-mile coverage ranges that can stay in the air for up to 20 hours at a time, border patrol spokesperson Gina Gray told The Associated Press. The announcement came as part of the Department of Homeland Security's six year effort to build the nation's "largest fleet of domestic surveillance drones."
Critics of the use of unmanned aircraft on U.S. soil (and airspace) say Predator drones are not as effective as less pricey aircraft in drug-smuggling cases, and could be an invasion of privacy for American citizens. "The border drones require an hour of maintenance for every hour they fly," they cost about $3,000 an hour to operate, and the amount of drugs seized in raids initiated by drone-supplied information was described as "not impressive" by the man who supervises the initiative, according the LA Times. The ACLU called drones "a large step closer to a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities.”
Some believe the use of predator drones in Latin America is not really about making narcotic raids more successful, but more about opening this region of the world to the use of the new technology. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution told Wired Magazine that he suspects the U.S. military wants to use the technology in Latin America to "make sure the system doesn’t get pigeonholed as being just for Afghanistan or Iraq.”
“You want to build up familiarity with the systems and its uses, and even foibles, in other commands, so that when you use it more operationally in the future you have a base to build on.” Singer added, “And finally, as you introduce a system into a new area and to new people, they will innovate and find new uses for it.”
Guatemala's former President Alfonso Portillo arrives to court in Guatemala City, Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. Portillo is required to appear in court once a month until his possible extradition to the U.S., and on Monday the country's top court confirmed Portillo will be extradited to the U.S. where he will face charges of conspiracy to launder money. His date of extradition was not announced. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Former Panamanian general Manuel Noriega was extradited to France in 2010 on charges of money laundering. Noriega was first convicted on drug trafficking charges in the U.S. and sentenced to to 30 years in prison in 1992. In April 2010, he was sent to France after the U.S. State Department authorized his extradition. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison in July 2010 by a French judge, <a href="http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/n/manuel_antonio_noriega/index.html" target="_hplink">according to the NYTimes.</a> Noriega was Panama's longtime intelligence chief before taking power in 1982. He had been considered a valued CIA asset for years, but as a dictator he joined forces with drug traffickers and was implicated in the death of a political opponent. The French claimed Noriega laundered some $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/26/manuel-noriega-to-be-extr_n_552640.html" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost.</a>
Inocente Orlando Montano
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2011 file photo, Inocente Orlando Montano, a former Salvadoran military officer, arrives at federal court in Boston. Montano, accused of colluding in the 1989 slayings of six Jesuit priests, admitted Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in federal court in Boston that he lied to U.S. immigration officials, a guilty plea that could allow him to be extradited to Spain for prosecution in the killings. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
The late Chilean general Augusto Pinochet was captured in London where he had traveled for medical treatment. On October 1999, he was extradited to Spain to stand trial for torture and human rights charges, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/468589.stm" target="_hplink">according to BBC news. </a> Human rights groups hailed the decision. Some of Pinochet's most gruesome crimes were said to be have come during "The Caravan of Death", <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/850932.stm" target="_hplink"> where prisoners who had voluntarily turned themselves in were taken from their cells and summarily executed, often without the knowledge or consent of the local military authorities.</a> Pinochet was under house arrest because of his deteriorating health. He died in December 2006.
This image provided by the DEA shows Eduardo Arellano-Felix in the process of being extradited to the United States from Mexico Friday Aug. 31, 2012. Arellano-Felix will face U.S. charges of racketeering, money laundering and narcotics trafficking. Arellano-Felix was arrested by Mexican authorities in Tijuana, Mexico, on Oct. 25, 2008, following a gun battle with a Mexican authorities. (AP Photo/DEA)
Mario Cardenas Guillen
A Mexican Navy officer stands next to Mario Cardenas Guillen, also known as "El Gordo" and "M-1," during his presentation to the media in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. Authorities says Cardenas Guillen, a top leader of the Gulf drug cartel, is the brother of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who led the cartel until he was detained in 2003. Osiel Cardenas was extradited in 2007 to the United States and sentenced to 25 years in prison. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
FILE - In this April 14, 2012 file photo, police escort Ramon Quintero, a suspected Colombian drug trafficker, as he arrives to Bogota after being deported from Ecuador. Quintero, who is awaiting sentencing in a Miami Federal court, confessed on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 to a charge of conspiracy to import cocaine from Colombia into the U.S. Quintero was extradited to the U.S. in Dec. 2011. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)
The former Guatemalan president during a hearing in court on May 9, 2011 in Guatemala City. A court acquitted Portillo and two former ministers of allegedly diverting $15 million in an embezzlement scheme involving the Ministry of Defense. Prosecutors in New York accused Portillo of using U.S. bank accounts to launder millions of dollars in public funds, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-15750420" target="_hplink">according to BBC. </a>
Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, aka Simon Trinidad, one of the highest ranking officials of the FARC, or Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia was captured in Jan. 2004. In the 1980s, Trinidad was a respected banker in the city of Valledupar, Colombia. He managed the bank accounts of important Colombian figures, he owned a luxury apartment and his kids attended the best private school, <a href="http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/farc/farc-capturado-simon-trinidad.htm" target="_hplink">according to Latin American Studies. </a> In 1987, however, Trinidad decided to join the Northern Caribbean Bloc of FARC. He handled the group's finances. He was captured in Quito, Ecuador in 2004 and <a href="http://www.eluniverso.com/2004/11/06/0001/14/60DC93AD358E473584B1201B8AAB3571.html" target="_hplink">was authorized for extradition in November 2004. </a> One of the first ranking guerrilla members to captured, Trinidad is serving a 60-year sentence in the United States.
Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, aka Jorge 40, was the leader of the Northern Bloc of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), a murderous, right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia. He demobilized with his two thousand men on March 10, 2006. In 2008, the Colombian government took <a href="http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/news/article/354/human-rights-experts-condemn-extradition-of-paramilitary-leaders" target="_hplink">Jorge 40 and 13 other paramilitary leaders from there jail cells</a>. They were extradited to the U.S.
Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela
Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, former founder and leader of the <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/business/inside/colombian.html" target="_hplink">Medellin Cartel</a> was captured in 1995 and held in a Colombian prison. Rodriguez Orejuela was extradited to U.S. in March of 2005 after former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed an executive order. The cartel boss was charged alongside his brother, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela,<a href="http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v04/n1748/a02.html" target="_hplink"> for running a drug network that produced 80 percent of the cocaine entering the U.S. during the 1990s. </a> <a href="http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/colombia/orejuela.htm" target="_hplink">In a federal indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, officials charged that the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, even from prison, wielded enormous influence, running a money-laundering operation to hide $2.1 billion in drug revenue. </a>