U.S. drone strikes have reportedly killed more than 2,000 militants in Pakistan, but how will we react when other countries or groups acquire drones and use them to attack enemies? Join Kojo to explore the moral and political implications of using unmanned aircraft for targeted killings.


  • Spencer Ackerman Senior reporter for Wired.com’s “DangerRoom” blog
  • Brian Fishman Counterterrorism Research Fellow, New America Foundation


  • 13:06:46

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast award-winning author and illustrator Peter Sis on his career and his latest work, "The Conference of the Birds." But first, they started out mainly as spy planes, unmanned aerial vehicles called UAVs or drones equipped with cameras that could fly over enemy territory without putting pilots in harm's way.

  • 13:07:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn the decade since September 11th, the U.S. has increasingly used remote-controlled drones to attack, arming them with missiles or explosives and sending them in search of al-Qaida militants in Pakistan and elsewhere. American-led drone strikes have reportedly killed more than 2,000 militants in Pakistan, but experts say the U.S. will soon have company in the skies. More than 50 countries have bought surveillance drones and some are working on adding weapons to them.

  • 13:07:54

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe likely proliferation of drone use around the world, perhaps by terrorist groups as well as warring countries, raises moral and political questions about international security in the not-so-distant future. Joining us in studio to discuss this is Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for Wired.com's "DangerRoom" blog. Spencer Ackerman, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:17

    MR. SPENCER ACKERMANThanks so much for having me, Kojo.

  • 13:08:18

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Brian Fishman, counterterrorism research fellow with the New America Foundation. Brian, thank you for joining us also.

  • 13:08:26

    MR. BRIAN FISHMANThank you.

  • 13:08:26

    NNAMDIWe'd be interested in hearing from you. Call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org, a tweet at kojoshow or ask a question or comment on our website kojoshow.org. How do you feel about U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan that kill suspected terrorists? 800-433-8850. Spencer, we hear a lot about the weaponized drones, but they are in the minority, right? What's the ratio of American surveillance drones to attack drones?

  • 13:08:55

    ACKERMANThat's completely right. Well, first off, really every drone, even the armed drone in the U.S. arsenal, is still a surveillance drone. Everything's got a sophisticated suite of radar, cameras. There's full motion video that people who operate drones like to call Death TV, sort of taken from a 24/7 beam vantage over wherever these drones are flying. By far, the vast majority are not armed at all and that includes drones being flown in Afghanistan over rock, some used in Libya as well during this last campaign.

  • 13:09:33

    ACKERMANAnd increasingly drone technology is shifting away from the wars as the wars recede and civilian law enforcement is interested in them as well and those drones that the cop shops are starting to take a look at aren't armed at all.

  • 13:09:48

    NNAMDIFor a while, the U.S. was building bigger and bigger drones, but now the trend is towards miniaturization. Why is smaller better and how does the new backpack size Switchblade drone work?

  • 13:10:02

    ACKERMANSmaller is typically seen to be better because smaller is typically cheaper. A huge drone like the Global Hawk which is just a massive plane that the Air Force flies for surveillance purposes or even the Predator, the kind of iconic armed drone used in the war over Pakistan are expensive air frames. They cost in the millions of dollars whereas some of the smaller spy drones, like things the Army and Marine Corps uses like the Raven or the Puma which can be even personally transported, are much, much cheaper ranging in thousands of dollars.

  • 13:10:39

    ACKERMANAnd so you can also have them be operated by less experienced, less highly-trained operators, soldiers and marines on the ground who won't necessarily need to go through the same kind of procedures that someone who is sitting in a remote drone base for hours and hours on end will have to with kind of the larger air frames.

  • 13:11:03

    NNAMDINow Brian Fishman this brings immediately to mind a comment by John Villasenora, professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA. He notes that since the army announced the so-called Switchblade drone, that such a weapon would not be beyond the capabilities of a terrorist network.

  • 13:11:24

    FISHMANYeah, and I think that is something that we need to be concerned about. I mean, we've already seen that some of the more sophisticated non-state organizations out there, groups like Hezbollah, have used UAV technology in the past, not in an offensive capability, but for surveillance. You know, essentially this is a radio-controlled airplane, right with a camera on it and that's something that a lot of folks can build a rudimentary version of.

  • 13:11:50

    FISHMANAnd as this, you know, this technology proves its worth, more and more people out there are going to look to use it. I mean, the United States is not the only country that has, not the only entity that has a desire to see what's over the next hill and at the end of the day, that's what these drones are for.

  • 13:12:10

    FISHMANYou know, one way to think about this, too, is that, you know, we talk about these UAVs because they're flying and because some of them have been weaponized, but there are a lot of robots that we use for these sorts of things. And, you know, think about a bomb disposal robot or something like that. In many ways, that's the same kind of concept. You take a remotely operated vehicle, you put it somewhere where you don't want to put human beings and you have it do a job that you would otherwise do with a different kind of tool.

  • 13:12:39

    FISHMANAnd so I think that the UAVs are the most obvious in that sort of evolution of technology, but they're not certainly the only piece of this.

  • 13:12:47

    NNAMDIWhich raises another question that I'll put to our listeners, the number is 800-433-8850. Have we opened a Pandora's Box that will be hard to close through our well-known use of unmanned drones to kill enemies? How will the U.S. react when other countries or groups do the same? What do you think 800-433-8850? Which countries manufacture drones today and which ones have used them for strikes? We know the U.S. is the leader. What about China? What about Iran maybe, Israel?

  • 13:13:15

    FISHMANBoth Iran and Israel manufacture their own drones. Israel is considered way more sophisticated in its drone manufacture than Iran is. Last year Israel also inked a deal with Russia to put one of its drone factories in Russia. So there's clearly a lot of interest in Russia in UAVs. China is still kind of far away. What the Iranians have manufactured is not considered, you know, very sophisticated, but the Iranians are clearly very interested in the stuff as well.

  • 13:13:48

    NNAMDIBrian, an article in The New York Times suggests there's an arms race underway for drones. Is that how you'd describe the growing interest in these unmanned aircraft?

  • 13:13:58

    FISHMANWell, I think that, you know, arms race is a little bit dramatic, but there certainly is the desire to be able to understand the battlefield. I mean, the great utility of these drones-- I mean, certainly, the weaponized drones are important because they allow you to strike theoretically at least with a lot of precision in a place where you couldn't strike otherwise. But the real advantage of these things is their ability to linger and hover and give you sort of eyes in the sky for a long period of time so you can watch an individual or set of individuals or a key area to understand what is going on there.

  • 13:14:32

    FISHMANThat kind of sort of tactical and operational utility is something that every military wants. You know, you'd want to know what's on the other side of the hill before you send human beings there and that core mission, I think, will attract a lot of militaries. Now the question is, how should those drones be used? And that's a little bit more of a complicated one, you know.

  • 13:14:53

    FISHMANDo you use it simply in an area where there are already sort of open hostilities, a place like Afghanistan today or, you know, Iraq? Or do you use it in a place that technically is on the other side of a border, you know, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia? And I think that the question is not so much the technical one, but it's the political one or the legal one or the moral one about when and how these are used.

  • 13:15:17

    NNAMDISpencer Ackerman, same question to you, the characterization of an arms race underway for drones, maybe a slight exaggeration?

  • 13:15:26

    ACKERMANI would agree with that. I would agree with what Brian said with one twist, which is a question about what's technologically capable? What's technologically feasible outpacing strategy and outpacing tactics in some cases? There's a misconception about drones out there largely that when they fire a weapon, a robot is doing the firing and not a human being and that's not the case. Every time a UAV releases a weapon, it's a human being somewhere that's made that decision and actually pushed the button, so to speak, to do that

  • 13:16:00

    ACKERMANAt the same time, trends in drones are increasingly towards automation, towards allowing these things to fly, to operate and to perform ever more complex missions on their own. The military isn't remotely considering crossing that line towards automated strikes, but it's going to be put to the test at some point in the future and things like you mentioned, the tiny Switchblade drone, this thing is crazy.

  • 13:16:35

    ACKERMANThis is the craziest drone I've seen before. It's essentially a hovering missile that performs kamikaze missions. When you release that thing-- and it hasn't been put -- it's been put in very limited use so far. When you release that thing, you've made the decision to kill something, but how it does the killing is kind of, at this point, up to it. So that's at least one technology that's starting to blur the line between human and automated decision-making in the most lethal possible way.

  • 13:17:03

    NNAMDIAnd I'm glad you raised the distinction between human and automated decision-making because what a lot of our listeners might not know is that the Air Force is reportedly now training more pilots to operate drones than to fly fighters and bombers. Are drones going to make manned-attack aircraft obsolete at some point?

  • 13:17:21

    ACKERMANThis is what the Air Force and particularly the traditionalists in the Air Force really fear. But it's important to point out from the perspective of the new breed of drone pilots that the U.S. doesn't really face a combat adversary in the air in the way it did during the Cold War and certainly not, you know, currently with the Chinese. There's really no Air Force from a combat perspective that can even hope to rival the United States. So it kind of raises the question of why we need so many combat aircraft.

  • 13:17:55

    ACKERMANAt the same time, through ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops on the ground have needed air support and that's where you might not want to risk a combat aircraft, although there have been a lot of manned close air support missions. But a drone is both cost effective and arguably more sensible for a battlefield mission like that.

  • 13:18:14

    NNAMDIWell, Brian, the U.S. has used unmanned drones to target and kill militants in Pakistan which angers Pakistanis who feel we're violating their sovereignty. What are the downsides of our ability to target enemies without putting American troops in harm's way?

  • 13:18:29

    FISHMANWell, I think, you know, at the core, I think that you never want to take away a capability because you're afraid of what you might do with it. You know, what you really want is to demonstrate responsibility with whatever capabilities you have. Now, you know, the obvious rejoinder to that is that oftentimes we do not show that sort of responsibility.

  • 13:18:50

    FISHMANIn a place like Pakistan, the use of drones in Pakistan is sort of widely disparaged by the Pakistani public. They think that it is an infringement on sovereignty. There is the perception and a lot of dispute over how many civilians are killed in various drone strikes. You know, there have been claims, you know, out of the government saying that that number is almost zero, which isn't really plausible. And then, there have been a variety of studies, including some by my colleagues at the New America Foundation, that found that, you know, there are a reasonably large number of civilian casualties, but that the vast majority of people that are killed by these kinds of drone strikes in Pakistan are militants or are plausibly believed to be militants.

  • 13:19:38

    FISHMANThe danger here in a place like Pakistan is that the Pakistani government for whatever it says publicly has given tacit permission to the United States to use these sorts of weapons over their territory. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that the Pakistani people agree with that decision and you see a lot of pushback right now and I think you know this is one of the contradictions in U.S. policy is that we're clearly using these sorts of things. It would probably be useful if we could come out and talk about them more openly so we could explain that we're probably not killing that many civilians.

  • 13:20:14

    FISHMANBut the Pakistanis really don't want us to talk about this publicly because they don't want acknowledge that we have -- that they've given permission.

  • 13:20:18


  • 13:20:19

    ACKERMANOne thing that's important to add there is that this is a black box from the perspective of the public. The CIA operates the drone war in Pakistan…

  • 13:20:27

    NNAMDINot the military.

  • 13:20:28


  • 13:20:29

    FISHMANThat's right.

  • 13:20:29

    ACKERMANAnd so nothing that's relevant to this debate, aside from the fact, they can't even say the word drone. That's technically a classified thing. So they just talk about, quote, "A capability" that exists. We don’t know how many civilians they kill. We don't know how many civilians they don't kill and on and on down that road. That's why there have been more and more proposals over recent months to take that program out of the CIA's hands and put it into the U.S. military's hands where the public can know a lot more about it.

  • 13:20:59

    NNAMDIHere is...

  • 13:20:59

    FISHMANIt could be oversight.

  • 13:20:59

    NNAMDI...Amman (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Amman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Amman, are you there?

  • 13:21:05

    AMMAN(unintelligible) yes, yes. Can you hear me?

  • 13:21:09

    NNAMDIYes, we can.

  • 13:21:10

    AMMANYes. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. I just want to take issue for -- with your opening remarks when you say that the drone attacks kill 2,000 militants or terrorists or whatever you put it. Like, how do you know there are, like, 2,000 militants? How do you know, like, over -- were majority of them are civilians, given the fact that there are documented cases where, like, weddings were -- got hit and the among the dead, there are many kids and women. So, like, you kill a lot of people who are civilian, have nothing to do with the conflict. But you take the numbers that provided by the military. (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:21:56

    NNAMDIAnd that's why I said, have reportedly killed, because those are the assessments that have been drawn from news reports that we have been seeing. But you are absolutely correct. As both of our panelists have already pointed out, we have no way of accurately knowing how many civilians were killed.

  • 13:22:12

    AMMANYeah. But, you know, this like a huge moral issue, should be in the center stage of this debate. Because, like, especially given the reports about civilians killed. And for example, take -- if I am a driver and you are watching in the sky, you watching a terrorist who are getting in my car as a driver, you shoot my car and you kill me, you don't think twice about it. But I'm a human being, I am as complex as you are even if I'm a very poor and like live in a...

  • 13:22:43

    NNAMDIYou raise a valid and legitimate issue, Amman. We do have to take a short break right now. When we come back, we will complicate that issue even further by saying if the target happens to be a U.S. citizen, it makes the matter even a little more complicated. Thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We're discussing the moral and political consequences of drone strikes. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:24:52

    NNAMDIWelcome back, we're talking about drone strikes and their possible moral and political consequences with Brian Fishman, counter terrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation. He joins us in studio along with Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for Wired.com's "DangerRoom" blog. We have a link at our website to the small drone that we had been discussing earlier, nicknamed, the Switchblade.

  • 13:25:15

    NNAMDIIt's a video with an article by Spencer Ackerman, you can find it at our website kojoshow.org. Last month, a missile from an American drone killed two American citizens in Yemen, the al-Qaida militant, Anwar al-Awlaki and 25-year-old Samir Khan who ran an online magazine. Their deaths raised new questions about the line between counter terrorism and civil rights, did it not, Brian?

  • 13:25:41

    FISHMANYeah, I think it absolutely did. You know, the United States, we have targeted a wide range of al-Qaida operatives over the last decade using, you know, a variety of different means, including drones. And in some ways what happened with Awlaki is an extension of that strategy. The obvious complication is that he was an American citizen. I think, when we think about whether or not somebody like Awlaki should be targeted, that's not just a question of drones, that's a wider question of policy in whether or not somebody like that is a legitimate target.

  • 13:26:16

    FISHMANIn that, I think there are two questions. One is, what is the standard when we're going to attack somebody like this? Right? Do we -- is it that they must have been engaged in an operational plot? Is it simply that they have become a member of al-Qaida? Is it that they're beyond the reach of U.S. troops or U.S. law enforcement? What exactly is that standard? And then the second issue which I think is distinct from the first is, what is the process by which we decide whether that standard has been met?

  • 13:26:47

    FISHMANAnd so I'm somebody that thinks that Awlaki had made himself a legitimate target. That all things being equal, he had become an enemy of the United States and was a very dangerous man. But I -- am unsatisfied by the process by which that we decided that. I think it -- that needs to be more transparent. I think it needs to be more open. I think there needs to be a public counting when the U.S. government decides that it is going to kill a U.S. citizen and I don't think that we saw that.

  • 13:27:18

    NNAMDIWe mentioned this earlier, but in case you didn't hear at the time, it's not the U.S. military that's operating drone strikes, it's the CIA. And as long as the CIA is in charge, the drone strikes are classified as covert operations meaning the government won't acknowledge them and Congress can't publicly debate them. We got this post on our website. "Who is in charge of making extra judicial decisions regarding American use of deadly force around the world?"

  • 13:27:44

    NNAMDI"There has been decreasing transparency and oversight, all in the name of this permanent open-ended state of "asymmetrical" war against any one joint special operations command deems a terrorist." The increasing ease of the U.S. and other countries use of drones does not bode well for the future of diplomacy in this environment." It seems to me, Spencer Ackerman, will be hearing a lot more of that.

  • 13:28:07

    ACKERMANAbsolutely. It's a really live question. I would echo a lot of what Brian said with the Awlaki case except that I'm far less certain that it seems like you were saying, that Awlaki was the danger that the government made him out to be, simply because I don’t know. The Obama administration disclosed absolutely nothing and it had asserted endlessly, usually through anonymous leaks to the media that the man was an operational threat to the United States but it didn't have to prove anything.

  • 13:28:40

    ACKERMANIt didn't have to show anything before it killed an American citizen. And I think that's a really significant, almost Rubicon like step, not even the Bush administration which so many people derided as Wallace took that step. And as the poster points out, this is just going to be a further live issue on down the road, including with U.S. citizens.

  • 13:29:03

    NNAMDIWell, we got this email from Kareem in New York. "The Talibs have their drones, too, only they call them martyrs, we call them suicide bombers. It seems they're quite effective while the drones are ineffective in stopping the Talibs advances." I assume you mean by that, the Taliban. "Have any of your panelists been in Kabul lately?" I guess that's a rhetorical question, but Brian Fishman, what role does Congress play in war by remote control?

  • 13:29:30

    FISHMANYeah, well, I actually was in Kabul in May or...

  • 13:29:34

    NNAMDIThank you. It was not a rhetorical question.

  • 13:29:34

    FISHMAN...April through May. Yeah, it was not a rhetorical question. I think that he makes a very good point. I mean, different organizations use different means to strike at something that they want to destroy. Taliban use suicide bombers often, we've used drones. There was a case last month where several Chechen militants were killed in Istanbul. And the presumption is that they were killed by Russian secret service folks and assassinated by pistol, right. So this is a broader issue then just drones but it is, how do countries strike at militants outside of their borders?

  • 13:30:12

    FISHMANIn terms of this sort of, the use of drones within that conflict, I think, this distinction that we've been talking about in terms of the military and the CIA is really important and I just wanted to hone in on it a little bit because this lack of oversight over the agency and the lack of ability to discuss these things in public really damages us. Not just in terms of our internal political debate, but the fact that we can't explain our actions to the rest of the world.

  • 13:30:44

    FISHMANYou know, Spencer actually asking very legitimate questions. I mean, I think -- we may disagree a little bit, but his questions are very legitimate. And the fact that the administration and the government can't answer them undermines our overall fight because it weakens the legitimacy of our actions. And when you're fighting a terrorist group like al-Qaida, being seen as legitimate is just as important as getting something done, as getting -- you know, as getting somebody like Anwar al-Awlaki. And so we need a system and a program for managing the use of these drones that allows questions like the one Spencer's asking to be answered.

  • 13:31:19

    NNAMDIHere is Nick in Beltsville, Md. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:24

    NICKYeah, I have just a comment to say that basically -- from what it sounds like with this drone use, it's basically like the gun slinger being America, you know, hustle and then pushing money on the global arena and the stage. And it seems like it -- the gun is going to be pointed right back in the American peoples face. You know, this drone machinery and technology is going to be used to survey and keep tabs on us the same way that the market crisis and the financial crisis that has happened. You know, we were, you know, biting off more than we can chew and we can't, you know, take a dose of our medicine, it seems like.

  • 13:32:08

    NNAMDIDoes technology provide a defensive shield against drones, Spencer Ackerman?

  • 13:32:15

    ACKERMANNo. I mean, I'd be surprised to see if we could ever build a drone shield. I don't really know what that would be or if we have combat air patrols by flying robots of doom over the United States 24/7. If the callers point is that this technology invariably proliferates, it just gets cheaper. It just gets easier for other nations to learn how to use and to fabricate and harder for the originating or innovating nation to put kind of back in a Pandora's box, that's absolutely true.

  • 13:32:44

    ACKERMANAt the same time, it's hard to see, as well, the United States' technical advances in the drone field, stopping. In 2018, the Navy estimates it'll have a killer drone that can land on an aircraft carrier which is one of the hardest maneuvers in aviation. And the Navy's also working on work it calls UUV's or Underwater Unmanned Vehicles. So that's an even further step that drone technology is taking.

  • 13:33:12

    NNAMDIAmerican officials said, last month, that the U.S. is establishing secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula from which they can launch strikes in Yemen and Somalia. Is the Obama administration using drones to escalate its campaign against al-Qaida and in the case of Somalia, Al-Shabaab?

  • 13:33:32

    ACKERMANYeah, I think that it is. I mean, this is something that people forget. You know, we think about these drones being piloted from folks sitting in a box in Nevada somewhere. But they have to take off from somewhere a lot closer to the battlefield. And that's what we're seeing in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. I have concerns. I'm somebody that thinks that the cost of the drone campaign in Pakistan have been worth paying.

  • 13:33:54

    ACKERMANBut I really worry about the expansion of the use of these things in Yemen and Somalia for a variety of different reasons. But one of them is that these places are places where al-Qaida in particular has been able to use events in those areas for propaganda more effectively then they have in South Asia. And I say that because we've studied al-Qaida's Arabic language propaganda.

  • 13:34:17

    ACKERMANAnd one of the things that you find is that al-Qaida's Arabic language -- Arabic speaking audience doesn't care that much about events in South Asia. They're not all that concerned about the, sort of, collateral damage in the Pakistani tribal regions. But they do care about events closer to the heart of the Arabic speaking world and Yemen and even Somalia. And so I think that the negative repercussions from these kinds of strikes in those places will be felt more widely across the region.

  • 13:34:46

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Dawa (sp?) that in a way suggests what the propaganda angle could be. Dawa said "The drone is probably the smartest way of fighting enemies, but seems to me very cowardly, not facing your enemy is the cheap way. We already have a far superior military force, what kind of message are we sending? It seems to me that if al-Qaida's looking at this, that's precisely the message they'll be trying to send, that America is, in fact, cowardly. They are afraid to face us." Spencer Ackerman.

  • 13:35:17

    ACKERMANAnd it's ironic because the U.S. has spent so much time describing suicide bombers as precisely so cowardly in that fashion that you would deliberately attack civilians who can't defend themselves like military can, that you would be disguising yourself in civilian garb instead of wearing a uniform and on and on and on. So it would be a mistake to view the drone as a propaganda weapon for just one side or other. And like Brian saying, this is just a tactic. It has to go in a sensible way into a broader campaign that includes communication. And the U.S. has typically had a problem with developing such a coherent strategy.

  • 13:35:55

    NNAMDIAnd Brian, you mentioned this in a way earlier but I'd like to go back to it. U.S. military commanders say there's very little collateral damage in drone air strikes meaning they don't often kill people other than those who are targeted. But a New America Foundation study showed otherwise. What do the numbers tell us about collateral damage from U.S. drone strikes?

  • 13:36:14

    FISHMANWell, I mean, the New America numbers show that we're a lot more positive then some previous studies that showed that, you know, up to close to 50 percent of the folks targeted or the folks killed by these strikes were collateral damage. A New -- the New American numbers show that that number is, you know, down about 20 percent. You know, but here's the thing, is all of these numbers are based on media reports in very difficult environments. So the margin of error here, even if you're doing the study, is honestly and forthrightly as possible is huge.

  • 13:36:47

    FISHMANNow, compared to what the U.S. government has said about, sort of, obliquely through leeks about CIA strikes in Pakistan is that virtually nobody has been killed as collateral damage in these strikes. And I simply think that's not credible and it's not very helpful to say something that isn't credible like that. You know, I used to be one of these folks that thought that it was useful to continue to maintain the fiction that we're not doing these things in Pakistan. But I think we've passed that point and we really need to explain more fully what we're doing there and explain what people see.

  • 13:37:24

    FISHMANYou know, there would be utility, frankly in my mind, to show some pictures from these drones and show one of these strikes so people can sort of explain what's happening. Now, that's a hard thing -- I mean, that goes against everything in the CIA's culture to do that. But the real challenge is politically with Pakistan because the Pakistani government doesn't want to acknowledge that they have allowed these things to occur.

  • 13:37:46


  • 13:37:46

    ACKERMANOne consequence of this kind of black box situation where the public knows next to nothing about the drone program and the government acknowledges even less, is that you know, what a lot of your callers and your emailers have pointed out, that this just leads to a kind of proliferation in a blind way of these sorts of things. The New America Foundation which tracks the drone program better than I would say any other, certainly from a journalistic standpoint it's very useful, found that in 2010 basically on average there was a drone strike once every three days in Pakistan.

  • 13:38:21

    ACKERMANAnd not even in Pakistan. In a very compact region of Pakistan, what I don’t honestly know, Brian. Maybe you can educate me, something like 30, 40 square miles is really what we're talking about. Imagine a missile strike once every three days in an area like this and you know, I remember the first time I thought about it in those terms after looking at the 2010 drone war numbers and thinking, you know, this is a major war. And it's a war that's gone unacknowledged by the United States of America even as it's waged.

  • 13:38:50

    FISHMANWhat I think -- I'm sorry, Kojo.

  • 13:38:51

    NNAMDIAnd this is the final point you'll have to make, go ahead.

  • 13:38:54

    FISHMANWhat I think is really interesting about this dynamic is that we have, with these drone strikes in Pakistan, we made a choice. And we've sort of ascribed the consequences of this choice to al-Qaida but really it's our choice. And that choice is that we've put pressure on al-Qaida's main organization. And in doing so reduced, I think, their ability to conduct major attacks against the United States. Where you get a lot of people together, you plan out something really big. But the strikes have really alienated people and we've had folks like Faisal Shahzad who tried to do an attack in Time Square, the bomb fizzled.

  • 13:39:26

    FISHMANBut he blamed drone strikes in Pakistan as one of the reasons that motivated him to do one of these attacks. So I think our policy has essentially lead to an evolution in al-Qaida strategy, which is away from the big major sort of 9/11 style attacks into these smaller attacks. We get a lot of, sort of, hand ringing about the fact that al-Qaida has made this choice and these smaller attacks are harder to track down but that's really a consequences of our own actions and we need to look that choice right in the eye.

  • 13:39:53

    NNAMDISpencer Ackerman, what pressure is there on the Obama administration to provide greater transparency or acknowledgement of these attacks?

  • 13:39:59

    ACKERMANThe honest answer is none. Congress is not particularly eager to force the Obama administration to disclose this program. There has been no significant congressional calls, as opposed to calls by outside analysts, for moving the program from the CIA into the military. Congress is very happy to abdicate its oversight job.

  • 13:40:20

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Spencer Ackerman is a senior reporter for wired.com's "DangerRoom" blog. Spencer, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:40:27

    ACKERMANThank you so much.

  • 13:40:28

    NNAMDIBrian Fishman is a counter-terrorism research fellow with the New America Foundation. Brian, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:40:33

    FISHMANThank you.

  • 13:40:34

    NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, award-winning author and illustrator Peter Sis. His new book is called "The Conference of the Birds." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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