drone
from AFP

Into The Breach

By Josh Rushing in Asia

When I was embedded with the US military in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in August I wandered into a tent that I immediately recognized from my days in the military. It was an operations tent, but it was far more technologically advanced than any operations center I ever witnessed as a US Marine. There were rows of tables with soldiers at laptops all facing enormous television screens that were filled with video of a family compound in southern Afghanistan. I was amazed at how clear the drone’s video was, even though it was being filmed in the dark of night.

It was easy in that tent, in the middle of what locals call the desert of death, to see how vital drones had become to the US military for both intelligence gathering and for remote-controlled strikes – bombings that Al Jazeera continuously reports on from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iraq and Somalia.

Standing in the back of the tent gave me cover to observe the video for about 10 minutes before an officer noticed me and escorted me out. He was obviously flummoxed that my embed credentials had allowed me to gain access to such sensitive video. Little did I know at the time, that with a $26 computer programme and a cheap television satellite dish, I could have been seeing everything that the drones were broadcasting. And why not? As the Wall Street Journal reports the signal from drones is unencrypted, a fact militants in Iraq have been taking advantage of and a fact the US military has known about for a decade or more.

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