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Journalist and attorney Fran Quigley will speak in Bloomington on March 2 about drone warfare and Indiana's connections to it. Purdue University and several Indiana companies are in the drone business.

The U.S. military, especially the CIA, is relying increasingly on unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” to conduct both surveillance and bombing in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Indiana is home to multiple sites of manufacturing, testing and support of drones and drone technology. Purdue University is involved, as are several Indiana companies.

In Bloomington at 7 p.m. on March 2, Quigley will outline those Indiana connections and the legal and moral concerns over aerial robotic attacks. He will also discuss the growing resistance to drone warfare. The talk will take place in room 1B of the public library, and its title is, “Indiana Drones: Robotic Warfare in the Heartland.”

Quigley spent much of 2010 researching drones in Indiana and published a series of three articles on the subject in NUVO and The Bloomington Alternative -- Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Quigley is interested in helping coordinate a statewide campaign that would include:

  • Respectful, direct outreach to Indiana industries/organizations involved in drone activities, along with our Congressional representatives.
  • A series of demonstrations outside the drone warfare support sites in Indiana, coinciding with media and public outreach -- for example, one site each Saturday for a month.
  • Public education about the legal and moral issues surrounding drone warfare.
  • Formal outreach and connection with national and international groups opposing drone warfare.
  • Quigley is a visiting professor at the Indiana University Purdue University School of Law-Indianapolis, an associate director of the Indiana-Kenya Partnership/AMPATH and a staff attorney at Indiana Legal Services. He is a co-founder of the Legal Aid Centre of Eldoret, a human rights law clinic devoted to representing low-income people in western Kenya.

    Quigley was executive director of the ACLU of Indiana and a public defender and civil rights attorney. He has also worked as a journalist and contributes to several publications, including the Indianapolis Star<.em>. His 2009 book, Walking Together, Walking Far, chronicles the U.S. and Kenyan medical school partnership, AMPATH, which is one of the world’s most successful responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and health and poverty crises in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Quigley’s talk is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

    The event is sponsored by the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition and Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Bloomington branch.


    LG: How and when did you become interested in the topic of drones in Indiana?

    FQ: I was -- and have been for a long time -- very concerned about our society’s descent into militarism. And then reading so much and hearing so much over the years about politics and organizing being local, I was intrigued about whether there was any particular activity about drones, a new and disturbing trend in warfare here in Indiana. It turned out to be one of those questions that were hard to answer in full right away because a lot of the information was kept very secret, of course.
    " I have real concerns about it ... because it takes away an inherent limitation of war, and that is that a military force conducting warfare aren’t risking their well-being at the same time."
    I have a background in law and journalism, and as a result I learned to like investigating and digging in a little bit, so I sent out some Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and did some research, and I found out there was quite a bit of drone activity in Indiana.

    LG: How did you do the research?

    FQ: Some of it was old-fashioned Internet research, but a lot of it was sending out FOIAs. It was a whole lot of trial and error, getting little bits of information, old news reports, a news release about how a certain contract went a certain way and a business in Lafayette was making minidrones. FOIAs revealed that there were military contracts that went a certain way, and there was a FOIA that they didn’t comply with. They essentially revealed military contracts.

    LG: What are your ideas about a campaign against drones in Indiana?

    FQ: I was pretty clear, when I was doing my research and my journalism writing about the drones, I was doing it from an activist standpoint so I hope the research and the articles I’ve written so far would serve as an initial step in a campaign. But I think a logical campaign would be to reach out to these organizations and businesses in our state that are involved in drone warfare and express our concern as Hoosiers and citizens about what’s going on, and the same with our Congressional representatives, and then eventually taking some action on connections with those businesses in a way that would bring some media attention and public attention to what’s going on here in Indiana and the questions about drone warfare, the legality, the morality. Ongoing there’s a lot of folks doing a lot of important work nationally and internationally on drones, and we in Indiana who are concerned about it can make some formal links with those groups.

    LG: Can you tell me a little about the drone activity you discovered?

    FQ: To the best of my knowledge -- and I’m always careful to say that because I definitely think there are things I probably haven’t discovered -- I definitely don’t know everything that’s going on in Indiana. A lot of it is hard to find and by nature it’s a pretty secret activity. To my knowledge there are five different locations in Indiana. One is in West Lafayette, where there’s a private company called Light Machines, which manufactures a minidrone, on a multimillion dollar contract with the Navy, and also they have some connectivity with Purdue, and their faculty does some of their own engineering research on drones. In Terre Haute the Air National Guard is analyzing some information. What kind of strategic purpose that’s being used for has not been disclosed. It certainly seems that some of that is choosing targets for drone attacks in Afgahistan, Pakistan.

    LG: What specifically did you outline for the campaign? You listed four different approaches.

    FQ: I hope that others will want to be closely involved not only in actions but in planning the actions. Hopefully this is something where other folks will weigh in and this plan improves as a result. One is what I call respectful direct action, outreach to industries and organizations involved in drone activities along with our Congressional representatives, to contact them directly and bring in our concerns.
    "It’s been proven that drone attacks have led to a lot of retaliation, terrorist attacks, which of course have had significant damage to Americans."
    LG: Do you imagine doing it in person or by letter?

    FQ: Hopefully it would be both. The first outreach would be by letter to introduce ourselves, and then the folks would be meeting with us, and you can’t control the second part. I think one thing to remember about it is in drone activities, a lot of the research and even the manufacture started off with just surveillance techniques. It is not inherently violent, and it could be used for safety purposes, and so there’s a lot of very legitimate uses for video surveillance. However, the technology and the development of the technology, including much of the Indiana connections, has moved more into the weaponized state. It would be a good conversation with folks about whether the technology could be a force for good.

    LG: What do you think are the good uses of it?

    FQ: One use of drones is that in a dangerous setting a drone can be sent ahead of law enforcement or military personnel and take a picture of a particular area where they’re going to see if there’s an improvised explosive device or some kind of danger lurking ahead, and then the alert can be sounded and they can be protected. That certainly seems very legitimate to me, as compared to a Predator drone firing Hellfire missiles.

    The second one would be a series of demonstrations outside drone warfare support sites with media and public outreach. That would be wonderful to coordinate with local activists in the particular areas where the manufacturing is going on so they may have different ideas about how that best can be done.

    LG: Is most of the activity in West Lafayette?

    FQ: There’s some in Terre Haute, as I mentioned. Rolls Royce here in Indianapolis makes the engines for one of the larger drones, and Crane, down in your area, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, has at least passed through millions of dollars in drone research, and they may be actually doing some drone activity. It’s been hard to get a clear picture of what’s going on.

    Finally, here in Indianapolis there is EnerDel, which is a battery manufacturer with a multimillion-dollar contract they just completed to make and refine batteries for use in drones, so Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Lafayette, southwestern Indiana all have some sort of drone activity going on.

    It’s a relatively new technology, not much of it is over five or 10 years old. It’s pretty recent, and certainly it’s the growing trend in militarism, where more and more is drone technology as opposed to
    actual aircraft with live pilots.

    LG: Someone told me that the people who are recruited to “pilot” these drones from remote locations were selected because they were good at video games.

    FQ: I’ve heard that, too, and certainly it would be part of the skill set because it is a remote location. There’s some concern among actual pilots that folks are not well enough trained because they’re literally not inside an aircraft. It’s a similar skill set, right?
    "A little of my concern comes from my lawyer background, and I think they’re clearly against international law."
    LG: What do you think is the morality of remote-controlled bombers?

    FQ: I have real concerns about it, and a lot of folks have real concern about it because it takes away an inherent limitation of war, and that is that a military force conducting warfare aren’t risking their well-being at the same time. In the short term, a person sitting in a dark room at Creech Air Force Base, based in Nevada, piloting a drone that’s over Pakistan is not risking their life at all. There’s immorality -- in making war a little bit too easy. But that’s only short term.

    I think long term it’s not going to be easy. It’s been proven that drone attacks have led to a lot of retaliation, terrorist attacks, which of course have had significant damage to Americans.

    LG: They’re very imprecise; they kill a lot of civilians.

    FQ: If you want to look simply at pure short-term American interests, well it doesn’t hurt any American troops, but that’s very untrue. Some very sophisticated military analysts say that they’re creating more enemies than they’re eliminating.

    LG: I think the psychology of drones is sort of immoral, the fact that people are waging war from a remote site.

    FQ: I’ve read a little and talked to some experts on the law of war, and they talk about -- it almost seems like an oxymoron to have a law of war -- but traditionally there have been some rules to make it somewhat equitable. If you’re going to attack, you’re going to take some risk. Now the technology is such that there are no American lives at risk when we are blowing away people in Pakistan.

    LG: How much does a drone cost?

    FQ: There’s a huge variety in what they are. They can be like a huge airplane to the point where they have very small ones now that can fit in your hand. It depends on what kind. They’re kind of getting out of the military confines and being sold to law enforcement. I think law enforcement can buy smaller drones for thousands of dollars, but larger drones are more than a million dollars. The idea is that they can be very small and have a battery and be in some ways disposable. They can be very small and very cheap.

    LG: Is there anything else people should know about drones?

    FQ: A little of my concern comes from my lawyer background, and I think they’re clearly against international law. Drones are usually used for assassinations, killing folks who are not engaged in active warfare. We’re killing them outside of places where we’re engaged in warfare.
    We’re doing this not with the military but the CIA in secret. We’re not disclosing what we’re doing, all of which are contrary to international law. There’s a lack of accountability inherent there.

    The UN has asked for information on how the U.S. chooses its targets, how many people we’ve killed and how many drones we have, and we’ve refused, which I think is also contrary to international law. It’s un-American to be so undemocratic about this incredibly vicious form of warfare, and finally I think it’s counterproductive.

    In the short term it seems like an almost painless way for the U.S. to attack “terrorists,” and, as you say, civilians get killed in terrorist attacks coming back. I do think there’s no reason for us to be naïve and think that folks who are enemies of the United States are not going to get access to the technology and then at some point use it to attack Americans.

    Finally we have this domestic issue now. There was a big article in the Washington Post this weekend about Texas law enforcement using a drone to spy on somebody they intended to go and conduct a search warrant on their house and arrest them. In Maryland and Florida and Colorado domestic law enforcement are using drones for surveillance. And that’s a little creepy in and of itself as a surveillance project and even a little frightening whenever we have this slippery slope.

    Drones started out with military uses for surveillance and as well you have to be concerned about the fact that this surveillance use is not going to be the only use for law enforcement, which they’ll eventually want to be weaponized and used here in the United States. That’s a particularly frightening prospect.
    "There was a big article in the Washington Post this weekend about Texas law enforcement using a drone to spy on somebody they intended to go and conduct a search warrant on their house and arrest them."
    LG: Speaking of accountability, the people actually operating these drones aren’t held accountable.

    FQ: Certainly their identity is kept secret, and they’re certainly not known and don’t know the names of or see the faces of the folks they’re killing. Now I’ve read something, I don’t know this first hand, but despite the almost antiseptic nature of that killing, there’s been a significant amount of posttraumatic stress on the pilots, that they have
    the remote-controlled aspect of it, the psychological damage is so much. I’d like to know more, but it’s hard, those things are intentionally kept secret, even how many people have been killed and how many civilians have been killed. The U.S. claims that 1,500 people or so and a few dozen were civilians, but it’s more likely it’s hundreds. Of course women and children who are not active in any way in military activity.

    LG: Are the pilots mainly civilians or Air Force people or what?

    FQ: The way that drones are being used in the most common location, in Pakistan, is by the CIA. They’re not military; there are some military operators.

    LG: So the CIA is doing operations and not just surveilling.

    FQ: Correct. They launch missiles from these sites.

    We have an incredibly important international issue happening right here in Indiana, but as it’s local, we can get some national backup for actions. Drones are being made in Indiana, and we have people taking action about it.

    LG: What’s being done in fighting drones internationally?

    FQ: in Pakistan in particular there’s quite a bit of backlash; that’s where they’re killing people, right? Victims there have actually filed suit against the government and have had demonstrations. This is a UN issue, and the UN said the U.S. is using drones contrary to international law.

    LG: What are other places in the U.S. where drones are manufactured or engineered?

    FQ: I don’t know. When folks have taken action, one of the places they’ve done so in Nevada, at Creech Air Force base, where it’s known that pilots are operating drones from. There’s been a group who’ve been arrested on that site. If I’m not mistaken, the Predator drone, which fires Hellfire missiles, is manufactured in southern Indiana. My guess is that most states of the union with a manufacturing base like Indiana probably have similar activity. It’s where there’s a big investment in military spending right now

    Linda Greene can be reached at