Category Archives: drones

The Gatekeepers—Voices from Israel Giving Warnings for the Future?

The Gatekeepers a new documentary movie by Dror Moreh, provides haunting one-on-one interviews with each of the six surviving former heads of Shin Bet—who nearly consecutively ran the secretive, counterterrorist Israeli security service from 1980 to 2011.

While these former heads of the Shin Bet all agree that the fight against terrorism is a necessary and righteous one, their interviews in this film are disturbing—yet honest musings.  And they shed light on the morality and potential effectiveness regarding the way the war on terrorism was fought in their country—and they by extension share hard won wisdom that might be useful in thinking about how the U.S. war on terrorism is now being fought the world over.

Collectively these men—Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri and Avraham Shalom—are powerful dissenting voices to the current Netanyahu government, convinced that Israel is on the wrong track and that the future is “dark,” as Shalom states.  Although disturbed by their country’s responses to terrorism particularly as it broke out in the First and Second Intifadas, they appear to favor a political solution and withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, with dismantling of what they called “illegal” settlements.

The film opened with the statement being made that “Politicians don’t like being presented with many options but prefer black and white binary options,” whereas the security services “operate in shades of grey”.   Indeed they spoke of recruiting collaborators and taking “someone who doesn’t like you and making him do things he never could believe he could do,” as well as carrying out hundreds of thousands of interrogations—using harsh methods on those they suspected of terrorism including blindfolding, hooding, shaking, sleep deprivation, etc. 

And quoting Clausewitz—that “Victory is creating a better political reality,” these men all appeared to fault their politicians for failing to find a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  When asked to comment on the predictions of Israeli intellectual Yeshayahu Leibovitz, who after the 1967 Six-Day War warned that if Israel tried to occupy millions of people it would lead to the decline of Israel’s moral stature and that Israel would become a Shin Bet state—these former security chiefs agreed!

One commented that “making the lives of millions unbearable” and “the prolonged suffering of the Palestinians” had to stop and another saying that serving in the Army changes people’s characters especially when they see they are taking part in a “brutal occupying force”. 

Another stated, “You cannot make peace via military means—you must establish trust.” And that “Overkill—to kill families and children is ineffective and inhumane.”  Although the comment was also made, “In the war of terrorism—forget morality.” 

One even warned that he expects another political assassination (like that of Rabin) if the West Bank settlements are ever dismantled.  And on the topic of the settlements, one states, “They [the Palestinians] wanted a state and got more settlements. We wanted security and got more suicide bombers.”  One security head commented that the “number of settlements around the time of the Second Intifada doubled from 100,000 to 220,000 settlements in a period of six to seven years”

What were referred to as the “Totally illegal settlements” were also credited with having encouraged settlers to other illegal activities—including bomb attacks on Palestinians, thwarted placement of bombs on busses that Palestinians would have boarded and even the know well known plan to blow up the Dome of the Rock with Semtex explosives strategically placed on the Temple Mount.  And the security chiefs were disgusted that after being convicted, the settler underground were shortly thereafter released based on political patronage. 

One of the men also went on to explain that during the Second Intifada, after talking in London to Eyud Sarraj, a psychiatrist who heads the Gaza Mental Health Clinic, that he had the sudden awakening—“that the suicide bomber wants revenge”—and he realized that after terror attacks “the same was true on both sides”. 

And already understanding that both see the other as a terrorist—his side viewed that way because of the collateral damage caused in their counter terrorism attacks—this security chief was amazed when Dr. Sarraj explained to him that the Palestinians understood overwhelming force and didn’t expect to win, but that as Sarraj reportedly put it, “Victory for us is seeing you suffer.  It brings a balance of power.  Your F-16—our suicide bomber.”

Indeed when I spent two years interviewing in the West Bank and Gaza during the Second Intifada, I found this attitude borne out and also found it is often also the view of AQ operatives elsewhere as well—revenge and causing suffering in the other who has caused a high collateral damage has its own distinct pleasure even for those who understand such attacks will not bring about victory.

When Israel first began using targeted assassinations, Martin Indyk the U.S. Ambassador at the time—in July, 2001 (just before 9-11) denounced Israel’s use of targeted killing against Palestinian terrorists stating, “The United States government is very clearly on record as against targeted assassinations . . . They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”  

Times since 9-11 have changed drastically, but perhaps now when our drone attacks are causing a high civilian casualty rate and we too have engaged in disturbing soft torture methods we need to think over the haunted reminiscing’s of Israel’s security chiefs. 

One who mused over the movement from assassinating bomb makers to also targeting ideologues and inciters of terrorism stated that ‘targeted assassinations become a conveyer belt and you ask yourself less and less when to stop.”  Ominously looking back one commented, “Restraint is actually harder than to act.” 

These disturbing interviews of these clearly hardened men—undisputed patriots that worked hard and sacrificed to protect Israeli lives—are of men who wielded incredible power and yet are bewildered by it.  Each seemed clearly in solemn awe of the power to take life in an instant—feeling it even years afterward as a weighty and haunting responsibility.  Perhaps we should learn from them.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Georgetown University Medical School and author of Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”

Raping our Privacy? Our Bodies, Drones, Invasive Search and our Fourth Amendment Rights

When I wrote Fetal Abduction which is the true story of a mentally ill woman who murdered a pregnant woman to take her fetus and try to pass it on as her own I wrote the book because I was concerned about how the justice system seemed to fail a poor, Spanish speaking and mentally ill person who I felt needed an insanity defense. I was also appalled at how the Judge in the case ruled on issues of public safety. He found that evidence collected while Annette Morales Rodrigues was in Milwaukee County Police custody—evidence collected via two invasive vaginal exams—one that the police and the hospital both documented as her having adamantly refused—was allowable as it was in the interest of public safety. The Judge  justified the police decision not to waste their time to read Mrs. Morales Rodriguez her rights and allow her to exercise them because they thought a life may have been saved—although in fact the woman in question was already dead.

Now as we witness the controversy over the use of drones and the public discussion about their use overseas—as well as their future overhead—right here in the U.S.—we must think hard about what other threats we may ultimately face here of accepting too much emphasis on threats to public safety.  We must realize that we will always live with some level of threat—from terrorism and from other types of crimes such as the murder referenced above—and we must come to an acceptable means of balancing those concerns to that of our Fourth Amendment Rights protecting us against undue search and invasion of privacy.

Although vaginally searching a woman while under police custody in an examination she is clearly refusing seems to me to be about the worst case scenario I can imagine—there are other government sponsored invasions to privacy also to consider.  

And I worry that if a judge in Wisconsin can rule that a woman’s vagina can be invasively searched for the interest of public safety while she’s being held without being informed she’s under arrest, without her being able to contact her attorney, and without her rights even having been read to her—and this all done twice against her consent while being held by a police department who have incidentally been facing other scandals now being investigated by the U.S. federal government—then what’s to say drones won’t also be used for highly invasive purposes? Raping us in a sense of our dignity and privacy without us ever having the right to refuse?

In the case of Annette Morales Rodriguez the judge was ruling in reference to potentially saving one woman’s life at the expense of violating the rights of another.  What’s to be said if the government argues that multiple lives might be saved by invasively searching via drones from overhead of all of our back yards, our driveways, our patios, balconies, rooftops, our meeting places, and homes—possibly even our bodies—to learn who we are seeing, who visits us, and what we are doing in the privacy of our own homes? And this carried out via an increasing array of technology that will likely include acute visual, auditory and infrared sensing and much more.

It’s not a fantasy scenario. Indeed in 1989 the Supreme Court ruled in Florida v. Riley that a police helicopter “search” conducted without a warrant over Riley’s back yard in which a helicopter which was flown and hovered four hundred feet overhead allowing the police to see what they suspected—that the man was growing marijuana in a backyard greenhouse—was allowable.  While Riley argued that for the police to hover over his backyard in a helicopter—enabling them to view his private business and allowing them to see inside his fence—violated his expectation of privacy, the court ruled that it did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

However in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Kyllo vs. U.S.—a case again where the police learned that the homeowner was growing marijuana, in this case via heat lamps—that authorities scanning a home with an infrared camera without a search warrant was an invasion of privacy and constituted an unreasonable search barred by the Fourth Amendment.  The Supreme Court stated that a citizen has a “subjective expectation of privacy” in his own home and that a warrant is necessary to use remote sensing devices.

However, remember that this was before the “war on terror” at a time when the U.S. government was still adamantly protesting Israel’s practice of “targeted assassinations” calling them unacceptable extrajudicial killings. And keep in mind we are talking about a U.S. government who in regard to drones has granted to itself the right to strike anywhere, at anytime and in countries that are not at war with the United States and to do so endlessly—potentially setting up an international precedent that may create a significant and terrifying backlash.  There will be a future of drones overhead here in the U.S. and they will be invasively searching our lives—and perhaps even our bodies—unless we all get seriously concerned and speak up against it—before it’s too late.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is the author of Fetal Abduction: The True Story of Multiple Personalities and Murder and Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”



Death from the Skies—Targeted International Assassinations via U.S. Drones

With John Brennan—considered by many to be the mastermind behind U.S. drone policy—nominated to be the next head of the CIA, we are hearing a lot about drones. And unlike those upon who drones reign down terror—it’s not the high pitch of an overhead motor that we are hearing.  Instead the discussion is all about kill rates, kill versus capture, terrorizing innocents and an absence of transparency about policy—particularly when Americans and minors are considered eligible targets.

Surgically precise and effective—drone strikes are argued by many to be useful in decapitating known terrorist leadership. However the truth is that noncombatants are also being effected and the human toll of that fact may be causing as much threat to our national security as live terrorist leaders also pose. 

Much of the damage caused by U.S. drone strikes is clouded in secrecy and the U.S. government rarely acknowledges the full extent of civilian casualties.  And how civilians are categorized is also arguable—for instance all adult males in the strike vicinity are often named as militants.  Data reported by the New American Foundation, informs that in Pakistan alone drones have killed between 1,953 to 3,279 persons since 2004—with between eighteen and twenty-three percent of these being civilians.  (In 2012, the hit rate on militants got better and the civilian kill rate went down to ten percent.)  The New American Foundation also estimates that of the 646 to 928 people killed in Yemen (in a combination of air and drone strikes) four to eight percent were civilians.

In addition to the civilian kills, researchers are finding that armed drones hovering over Pakistani communities day and night and suddenly striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning also causes considerable anxiety and psychological trauma in the daily lives of ordinary civilians—most notably children.  When families fear gathering for funerals; tribal leaders shun gathering in groups—even for tribal dispute resolution; children are kept indoors and community members dread public assemblies, a breakdown in society occurs and anti-American sentiment is greatly fostered.  Likewise when the U.S. becomes known for striking an area multiple times killing those who gather around the first strike—a behavior that unfortunately mirrors al Qaeda type strikes—and rescue and even humanitarian workers fear aiding injured victims—both societies—theirs and ours is gravely injured  in multiple ways (see the Stanford/NYU Living Under Drones Report for more on this).

Indeed as the arguments of today are made in behalf of drone strikes we forget that it was not long ago—only twelve years back, in July, 2001—just before 9-11, that Martin Indyk our then American Ambassador to Israel, denounced Israel’s use of targeted killing against Palestinian terrorists stating, “The United States government is very clearly on record as against targeted assassinations. . . . They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”  Likewise, George Tenet, the then CIA’s agency director argued the week before 9-11 that it would be “a terrible mistake” for “the Director of Central Intelligence to fire a weapon like this.”

Times appear to have changed. 

 That we are winning the so-called “war on terror” by heavy reliance on drone strikes is not necessarily true.  For one thing killing militants versus capturing them means that valuable Intel that might have been collected from prisoners is never gathered.  And as YouTube videos of burnt drone victims—including pictures of child victims—circulate over the Internet and ideologues cry out for more recruits to protect the innocent Muslim ummah against “death from the skies” we may be unwittingly contributing more to global militant jihadi terrorism recruitment than we are gaining by terrorist decapitation. Researchers have long known that when a feeling of personal threat from an outside force increases, so to does social support and endorsement for terrorism among the civilian population thereby increasing the pool of potential recruits.

Moreover when there is a lack of public transparency over U.S. drone strike policies, failure to follow international laws regarding who can and cannot be targeted by lethal force—especially force administered by CIA operatives versus our uniformed military—and repeat strikes kill rescue workers aiding the victims of the first strike—we may be playing with real fire.  Soon other nations will also have drones and all will likely deem whatever practices we follow justifiable.  If all of these concerns are not addressed thoughtfully in the coming months they may conspire to create circumstance in which our government’s moral stance is considered so questionable that in relying on drone strikes we may be doing more—rather than less—to increase the dangers from terrorism.

 Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is author of Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs” available on Amazon at