“Signature” Drone Strikes Far From Surgical

by Mickey Huff
Published: Last Updated on

Truthout’s Adam Hudson’s article, “Thanks to Reliance on ‘Signature’ Drone Strikes, US Military Doesn’t Know Who It’s Killing,” highlights the United States military’s recent shift in “the war against terror,” in the form of unmanned drones that carry out lethal strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. These attacks are based solely on information that’s gathered electronically and through drone surveillance. These attacks have resulted in the deaths of more than 4,500 Pakistanis, Somalis, and Yemenis since 2009. Of the 4,500 that were killed, it is believed that 563 to 1,213 were civilians. Eight US Citizens were also killed in the Middle East due to these US-lead drone strikes.

Signature Strikes are drone attacks that are done without a set target in mind. The strikes are usually carried out during routine drone surveillance, when the US military deems there is enough information to constitute a person or location as a threat. This information can be as little as a drone spotting three men doing jumping jacks in the backyards of their homes, determining that the residence is a terrorist training compound that needs to be eliminated. Or the information can be gathered electronically, with the NSA routinely monitoring known terrorist’s cell phone SIM cards and then striking those locations, without actually confirming that the target is even there during the time of the attack. This lack of human information and fact checking by the US military before each drone strike has lead to the large number of civilian casualties.

Corporate media coverage on signature strikes has been scant at best. Instead of focusing on the questionable tactics that lead up to each strike, mainstream media instead chooses to proliferate the targets of each attack, with articles in The Wall Street Journal whose titles range from “Reasonably Certain Drone Strikes Killed Jihadi John” to “US Drone Strike Kills Islamic State Hacker.” Corporate media also routinely downplay the number of drone attacks, with the Washington Post going so far as to say, “Obama wants to move away from signature strikes.” In fact, drone strikes have been on the rise exponentially since Obama took office. George W. Bush launched 51 drone strikes during his 8 years in office, while so far, 419 strikes have taken place in Pakistan alone under President Obama. Not only have the number of strikes increased, but a Government Accountability Office report states that the Department of Defense has bolstered its drone armory by forty fold from 2002 to 2010. With the number of civilian casualties so high and the unpredictability of each signature strike, maybe it’s time for the US to reign in its unmanned synthetic army.


Adam Hudson, “Thanks to Reliance on ‘Signature’ Drone Strikes, US Military Doesn’t Know Who It’s Killing,” Truthout, August 04, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32166-thanks-to-reliance-on-signature-drone-strikes-us-military-doesn-t-know-who-it-s-killing

 Student Researcher: Joshua Stone (Diablo Valley College)

 Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)