Security concerns over drones

ISIS’s ability to deploy drones is “degraded” but it remains the case that “the group could serve as an inspiration for other terrorists.”
Sunday 12/08/2018
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters fly a drone in Afrin countryside in Syria. (Reuters)
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters fly a drone in Afrin countryside in Syria. (Reuters)

The reported use of drones carrying explosives against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on August 4 was the first alleged assassination attempt against a head of state by drone.

It is unlikely to be the last use of new technologies to wreak havoc and destruction.

Such technologies can be lethal in the hands of terrorists and criminal groups intent on using low-cost innovations to carry out their evil designs.

Drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — have been used in the war waged by governments against terrorism but they have also been used by terrorists in the Middle East. In 2016-17, the Islamic State (ISIS) intensively deployed armed drones in Iraq and Syria. At times, there were scores of its “killer bees” in the air in any 24-hour period. ISIS even released a propaganda video on its use of drones.

In a recent report, the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point pointed out that ISIS’s ability to deploy drones is “degraded” but it remains the case that “the group could serve as an inspiration for other terrorists.”

The report said: “We should expect: Drones similar to the Islamic State’s bomb-drop capable ones to be used in different theatres and by different types of groups.”

This is a frightening prospect, especially because drones are commercially available almost everywhere and can easily be weaponised.

With the fraying of the state and continuation of violent conflict in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 uprisings, no degree of government regulation can offer sufficient protection.

As a region plagued by war, the Middle East has been at the receiving end of destructive technological warfare. Some experts claim that global powers have been using the region as a testing ground for new weapons.

Virtually all foreign military campaigns in the region have been premised on minimising the need for foreign armies to dispatch troops and incur human casualties. Air wars have cut foreign troop losses but obviously not those among the indigenous populations on ground zero. There is now the spectre of “autonomous weapons systems,” with computers essentially replacing humans in the selection and attack of military targets.

In July, more than 2,400 researchers from 170 organisations called for a global ban on such weapons systems, which they say pose a grave threat to humanity and should have no place in the world.

“The decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine,” the letter said.

Obviously, drones, 3D printing, robots and other technological innovations can and will change most people’s lives for the better. However, they can also constitute a security threat to people everywhere, starting with the conflict-plagued populations of the Middle East.

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