AF: How did you get interested in drones?
MB: We saw that the public opinion had been shifting over the years, from one of great support for the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, to more weariness, where Americans didn’t think it was worthwhile to continue to risk the lives of Americans or to pay the massive amounts of money that these wars were costing us. And so the government in the process had started shifting away from the notion of tens of thousands of boots on the ground to the notion of using drones as a preferred way of waging war. And I saw the war spilling over into Pakistan. I visited there several times, heard about the drone victims, and ended up taking a delegation to actually meet with drone strike victims. And more and more I became very concerned about how this technology was allowing the US government to get us involved in conflicts that the American people didn’t even know about because it was being done in a covert way. And how there was something about the technology itself that made it easier to go to war and easier to kill people instead of capturing them.
AF: Your book focuses on drone use abroad. Is drone use a domestic issue too? And if so, what are the implications for security and privacy?
MB: The drone industry is very anxious to sell drones here in the United States, and has been pushing legislation that passed on February 14 of 2012 that US airspace would have to be opened up to drones by September of 2015. The drone industry has been anxious to sell drones commercially and to sell drones for law enforcement purposes. Drones are already being used on the southern and northern border. And while the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to work out how to incorporate drones into our airspace while keeping us safe, there have been several hundred permits given out to experiment with drones, and many of those experiments have been carried out by law enforcement agencies — Homeland Security, FBI, and local police stations. I think the industry would love to sell its drones to the 18,000 police stations in this country.
AF: How has the use of drones affected foreign relations and the US’s standing in the international community?
MB: I think that drones have been counterproductive in terms of creating not only more extremists who join organizations like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or join the Taliban, but also created much more generic anti-American sentiment. There is a misperception that drones are so precise that it only kills the “bad guys,” whereas it seems that drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people, and every time that happens it creates new recruits. I met a man whose son was killed in a drone strike, and he said he certainly wanted to seek revenge. If he could kill Americans, if he could kill American soldiers, he would certainly do that. This was a very nice, educated man who previously had no animosity towards the United States.
AF: In your book, you ask your reader to empathize with Pakistani citizens and to think about what it would be like if other countries — you use the example of China — had this technology and chose to use drones against US citizens. Is the genie out of the bottle? Now that the technology is available, can we stop the use of drones by the US or other members of the international community?
MB: I think that the genie is out of the bottle in terms of the drone technology now proliferating if there are indeed 76 countries that have drones, most of them surveillance drones. But if a number of countries are already in the process of weaponizing those surveillance drones, then it’s going to be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. What needs to be done is to put regulations in place that govern the use of lethal drones. Right now the US has been setting a model that says that the US alone can determine the properties of drones, the US alone can stretch the definition of imminent threat to one that is not in accordance, as I believe, with what would be the real definition of immediate threat. The US has stretched the definition of what is an appropriate target to mean anywhere in the world. Given the model that the US has put forth, I think we are going to see other countries starting to use the drones in a way that we’re going to be very upset about, but yet unable to criticize because of the model we have put forth.