TBR News December 19, 2015

Dec 18 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. December 18, 2015: ” Current Saudi officials rarely acknowledge the links between the militant ISIS religious fanaticism and their own Sunni Muslim faith’s propagation of intolerance towards all others.

Current jihadist Muslim fanatics follow an extreme Sunni interpretation of Islam’s Salafi branch, of which Wahhabism was the original strain, and whose clerics regard Shi’ite adherents as heretics, extol the concept of jihad, urge and demand hatred of there concept of infidels and support harsh penalties for religious offences.

One driving force of support for Islamic State has been a rise in sectarian anger, much of it driven by the proxy wars emerging from a political struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.

In that context, the absence from Riyadh’s coalition of Iran and its allies Iraq and Syria seemed to suggest that it may hope eventually to use its Muslim coalition against terrorism as a Sunni bloc that could isolate Tehran’s Arab Shi’ite proxies.

Riyadh, the founder and supporter of ISIS, describes the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi Shi’ite militias, (which have been accused of killing Sunni civilians) as enemies of Islamic State on the battlefield, as terrorist groups.

Their own terrorists are, of course, sainted religious heros.”


The Blind Leading the Blind

The Pentagon confirmed that LDS or Laser Dazzle Sight weapons, formerly under manufacture in New Hampshire and Florida, had been shipped to Iraq for exclusive use by the mercenary units of Blackwater, Inc. a South Carolina-based private militia once under contract to the American government. There name has been changed to “Xe Services.”

These weapons have been designed specifically to permanently blind opponents by destroying their optic nerves. First developed by the British in 1990 by the British Ministry of Defense, Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE) in conjunction with the Admiralty Research Establishment, these weapons were initially installed on ships of the Royal Navy.

They have been called ‘Low energy laser weapons with an anti-eye capability,’

The United States military worked on a similar program in 1982 identified in military reports as a “battlefield antisensor close-combat laser assault weapon” called C-CLAW. This was a combination of two lasers which could operate together at three different wavelengths. One of the lasers was a 1-kilowatt pulsed CO2 device using a high pulse repetition frequency and a wavelength of 10,600 nanometers. The other was a Nd:YAG laser that could be used either at 1,060 nanometers or frequency doubled at 530 nanometers.

This program was officially cancelled in 1983 because of the high costs and excessive weight of the weapon. Information on this project had leaked to the media and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army officially dropped the project as a result of public objections.

This project was restarted under the title STINGRAY which is an optical and electro-optical LEL weapon designed to blind the enemy forces facing it and was designed for mounting on the Bradley MW Infantry Fighting Vehicle but also was intended for mounting on attack helicopters.

The STINGRAY program was sponsored by the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) and was contracted by Martin Marietta Electronics Systems in Orlando, Florida.

An evaluation by the Department of Defense in 2003 stated that “when the power level is increased and beam is narrowed to concentrate its energy on an enemy soldier it can do tremendous damage, and has the potential to damage, permanently, the eyes of enemy soldiers, both temporarily and permanently. It is estimated that many, if not all, of the targets can be injured in such a way that will render them legally blind for the rest of their lives.”

The U.S. Army also had another STINGRAY-related LEL designed for attack helicopters called the CAMEO BLUEJAY. This was a lighter version of STINGRAY and was designed to be mounted on an Apache attack helicopter.

Another U.S. Army laser weapon is called DAZER and is a frequency-agile LEL portable anti-eye laser weapon that uses an alexandrite laser designed as “a man-portable laser device for use by infantry to provide a soft kill against personnel.” This system was under the control of U.S. Army’s Missile Command (MICOM) and was built by the Allied Corporation’s Military Laser Products Division of Westlake, California.

Because of public knowledge, albeit highly restricted in scope, of these laser-blinding weapons, serious questions of violations of international law arose and the Clinton Administration officially banned their use. The weapons continued to be built, however, and the Bush Administration permitted their release for use against what were termed “massive and dangerous armed mobs of Islamic fanatics” in occupied Iraq.

It has been conservatively estimated that over 4,000 Iraqis were permanently blinded by the use of these weapons. It should also be noted that both Israel and Saudi Arabia have made application to the U.S. mlilitary to obtain these weapons.

The phrase ‘plausible deniability’ was, and is, used by Pentagon sources concerning the use by foreign governments and American-paid mercenary units of these weapons. Members of these units who might be identified as participating in these “off-the-books” actions can be officially distanced, returned to the United States and not identified to avoid possible criminal prosecutions.


Navy SEALs, a Beating Death and Claims of a Cover-Up

December 17, 2015

by Nicholas Kulish, Christopher Drew and Matthew Rosenberg

New York Times

The three Navy SEALs stomped on the bound Afghan detainees and dropped heavy stones on their chests, the witnesses recalled. They stood on the prisoners’ heads and poured bottles of water on some of their faces in what, to a pair of Army soldiers, appeared to be an improvised form of waterboarding.

A few hours earlier, shortly after dawn on May 31, 2012, a bomb had exploded at a checkpoint manned by an Afghan Local Police unit that the SEALs were training. Angered by the death of one of their comrades in the blast, the police militiamen had rounded up half a dozen or more suspects from a market in the village of Kalach and forced them to a nearby American outpost. Along the way, they beat them with rifle butts and car antennas

A United States Army medic standing guard at the base, Specialist David Walker, had expected the men from SEAL Team 2 to put a stop to the abuse. Instead, he said, one of them “jump-kicked this guy kneeling on the ground.” Two others joined in, Specialist Walker and several other soldiers recounted, and along with the Afghan militiamen, they beat the detainees so badly that by dusk, one would die.

The four American soldiers working with the SEALs reported the episode, which has not previously been disclosed. In a Navy criminal investigation, two Navy support personnel said they had witnessed some abuse by the SEALs, as did a local police officer. Separately, an Afghan detained with the man who died provided a detailed account of mistreatment by American troops and Afghan militiamen in an interview with The New York Times.

The SEAL command, though, cleared the Team 2 members of wrongdoing in a closed disciplinary process that is typically used only for minor infractions, disregarding a Navy lawyer’s recommendation that the troops face assault charges and choosing not to seek a court-martial. Two of the SEALs and their lieutenant have since been promoted, even though their commander in Afghanistan recommended that they be forced out of the elite SEAL teams.

“It just comes down to what’s wrong and what’s right,” Specialist Walker said in a recent interview. “You can’t squint hard enough to make this gray.”

Even before the beatings, some of the SEALs had exhibited troubling behavior. According to the soldiers and Afghan villagers, they had amused themselves by tossing grenades over the walls of their base, firing high-caliber weapons at passing vehicles and even aiming slingshots at children, striking them in the face with hard candy.

Abuse of detainees is among the most serious offenses an American service member can commit. Several military justice experts, who reviewed a Naval Criminal Investigative Service report on the case at the request of The Times, said that it had been inappropriate for the SEAL command to treat such allegations as an internal disciplinary matter and that it should have referred the case for an Article 32 review, the equivalent of a grand jury, to consider a court-martial.

It’s unfathomable,” said Donald J. Guter, a retired rear admiral and former judge advocate general of the Navy, in charge of all its lawyers. “It really does look like this was intended just to bury this.”

Navy officials defended the handling of the case, saying the SEAL captain who oversaw it had had full authority to decide it as he saw fit. The captain, Robert E. Smith, who was then in charge of SEALs based on the East Coast and is now a military assistant to the secretary of the Navy, said in a recent statement that the Team 2 members had denied abusing the detainees.

Captain Smith said that he had found inconsistencies in the soldiers’ accounts when they were questioned five months later, and that conflicting statements from the Army and Navy witnesses “did not give me enough confidence in their overall accuracy to hold the accused accountable for assaults or abuse, or warrant Article 32 proceedings.”

While he said it was “evident” that the Afghan militiamen had mistreated the detainees and that the SEALs had not reported it, he dismissed charges for failing to make such a report.

What happened in Kalach involved just one death in a conflict that has taken thousands of lives, but it had broader consequences. Instead of winning over the local population, the goal of the mission, the reported abuse further alienated villagers. It drove some previously cooperative Afghans to leave for Taliban-controlled areas, residents said.

The SEALs’ failure to restrain the Afghan Local Police, who were supposed to protect villages but instead often terrorized them, helped erode confidence in the American and Afghan governments, whose forces have repeatedly been accused of abusing or killing civilians.

During the United States’ engagement in Afghanistan, now stretching into its 15th year, the American military has expanded the mandate for SEALs, sometimes assigning them roles for which they are neither suited nor trained.

Brushing away serious charges, military justice experts said, reflects a breakdown of accountability that feeds the perception that SEALs and other elite Special Operations units get undue leeway when it comes to discipline. In murky wars with unclear battle lines, they warned, that can corrode ethical clarity and undermine morale.

What’s the message for the 10,000 guys that were in the same moment and said, ‘No, we’re not crossing this line’?” asked Geoffrey S. Corn, a former military lawyer who was the Army’s senior expert adviser on the law of war. “It diminishes the immense courage it takes to maintain that line between legitimate and illegitimate violence.”

This account of the events at Kalach, in southern Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province, and how the Navy handled them is based on interviews with dozens of current and former military personnel. Reporters located victims and other villagers in Afghanistan and

tracked down the four American soldiers who made the abuse allegations, who are now scattered across the United States. Most were initially reluctant to speak.

The Times also obtained the report prepared by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, including sworn statements by Army, Navy and Afghan witnesses. All names were redacted in the document, acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, but several people familiar with the investigation confirmed them. The report was reviewed by four former military lawyers and a civilian military law expert.

In addition to describing misconduct by the SEALs, villagers complained that the Americans had empowered the local militia to act with impunity — taking goods from shops in the market, ransacking homes and delivering a rifle butt to the belly of those who resisted them.

The Afghan militiamen in Kalach “were like dogs, and the Americans were the masters,” said Hajji Ahmad Khan Muslim Gizabe, a prominent elder there. “The masters would follow behind the dogs, telling them what to do.”

Mr. Gizabe said that he had been among the Afghans who aided Hamid Karzai, the future president, in 2001 when he was flown into Oruzgan with American forces to foment resistance to the Taliban. But after what happened in 2012, he said, “I cannot support the Americans.”

Everything Changed

The small base at Kalach was just a speck in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, dwarfed by the mountains behind it. The stone wall surrounding the outpost was barely chest-high, offering little protection from a Taliban attack. The objective was to get Americans close to the people they were training, instead of living behind high blast walls and shiny razor wire like most of the troops in the United States-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The outpost was set up by Green Berets, the Army Special Forces troops who recruited the Afghan Local Police. The militia program had become a crucial element of the American strategy to win over villagers and undercut the Taliban. The emphasis on counterinsurgency, as the strategy was known, aligned with the skills of the Green Berets, who were trained to wage guerrilla campaigns by working with irregular militias and supporting local communities.

The Navy’s nine SEAL teams, in contrast, typically conduct capture-and-kill missions and train militaries and counterterrorism forces in other countries. In a place like Kalach, “you need a combination of T.E. Lawrence, John Rambo and the Verizon guy,” said Scott Mann, a former Green Beret who helped design what were known as village stability operations in Afghanistan. “There’s a lot of the Special Ops community that would much rather shoot somebody in the face than do this kind of work.”

Kalach lies in a belt of territory in Oruzgan Province that separates Afghanistan’s central highlands — dominated by members of the Hazara ethnic group, Shiite Muslims who were brutally repressed under Taliban rule — from the southern heartland of the Pashtuns, the predominantly Sunni Muslim ethnic group from which the Taliban draws almost all its support. The groups live separately in Kalach, a village of several thousand people, and the volunteers for the militia were all Hazara, a problem the Green Berets were eager to fix.

The villagers asked me to talk to the Americans,” said Hajji Muhammadzai, a Pashtun mullah. The Green Berets promised to build schools, roads, bridges and a clinic in return for help recruiting local police officers, Mullah Muhammadzai recalled. Even though the Green Berets found no takers among the Pashtuns, the soldiers addressed the elders with respect, drank tea with them and tried to sway them through persuasion rather than threats, he said in an interview.

An infantry squad that included Specialist Walker, the Army medic, arrived at the outpost shortly before Christmas in 2011. With broad shoulders and blond hair — his nickname was Thor — Specialist Walker could not have looked more foreign to Afghans. But he forged a relationship with the father of a boy whom he was treating for leukemia, and the man continued to drop by the clinic after his son’s death, sometimes passing on information such as when Taliban spotters were watching the outpost. The soldiers also got to know the militiamen, teaching them how to use their weapons and repel the Taliban. There were shared feasts, even a snowball fight.

But the Green Berets rotated out in early 2012 and were replaced by a detachment from SEAL Team 2, whose men had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the years for operations targeting militants. Other members of the team were scattered across villages beyond Kalach.

We had to fill so many emerging requirements with units that weren’t necessarily as prepared as they could have been,” said Mr. Mann, the former Green Beret. “There’s a whole mind-set and training curriculum that goes with Green Berets that’s radically different from Navy SEALs.”

The change in tone was soon apparent. Staff Sgt. David Roschak, the Army squad leader at Kalach, said the new arrivals assumed “anyone near the base was, or linked to, the Taliban.” Some of the Team 2 members saw their job as killing enemies, not making friends, he and other soldiers said in interviews.

Several seemed absorbed with the SEALs’ growing celebrity, the soldiers said: They talked about the SEAL Team 6 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and debated whether to write books like “Lone Survivor,” the account of a SEAL who survived a disastrous mission in 2005. One night, some of them insisted that the soldiers watch a movie, “Act of Valor,” that starred active-duty SEALs.

Serious discipline issues emerged, according to the soldiers. Apparently bored by the routine of life on the small outpost, several of the SEALs began using their weapons for sport. One shot his pistol wildly at a kitten under the ammunition shed, the soldiers said; anyone at the small base, then full of people, could have been hit by a ricochet. Another pulled a handgun on a soldier in the base gym, apparently as a joke.

They were very sloppy, very boisterous: ‘We’re here to destroy everything,’ ” Specialist Walker said. In a situation with “a gun battle every day, that’s perfect,” he continued. But “we’re here to train people, assist, not there to gag ’em and bag ’em.”

Afghans described in interviews how the new group of Americans would shoot at the ground around farmers in wheat fields and almond groves near the base, or on the road to the market. A few times, they shot at trucks moving along a ridgeline. “They weren’t trying to kill anyone,” Mr. Gizabe, the Kalach elder, said. “They were toying with them, I think.”

The tenor of the meetings between the Americans and the elders changed, too, villagers said. The SEALs often shouted at the Afghans; when they disagreed, several elders recounted in interviews, the SEALs sometimes grabbed them by their shirts, lifted them off the ground and cocked their arms back as if preparing to hit them. “Each and every time we went to their base, we feared we would not come back out,” Mullah Muhammadzai said.

According to Specialist Walker, one Team 2 member grew annoyed with the repeated visits of the man whose child had died of leukemia. Specialist Walker found the father one day with two missing teeth, a scraped lip and a contusion that ran from under his left eye down to his jaw. The man, he said, told him that the American had punched him in the face.

Rounding Up Suspects

The explosion at the checkpoint in May 2012 kicked a cloud of dust high into the sky. Afghan militia members jumped on their motorcycles and rode down to investigate, soon returning to the base with their fallen comrade in the back of a truck.

Their search for suspects led them to a trio of itinerant scrap merchants and some villagers who had contact with them. The three men, Pashtuns who had been in town for little more than a week, eked out their living collecting junk: old car parts, empty oil drums, aluminum cans. One of the three, Assadullah, 25 — who, like many Afghans, goes by only one name — said they had risen before dawn to secure the cargo in their three-wheel motorized rickshaw and had been eating bread and drinking tea before the bomb exploded.

The police officers entered the room in a market stall where the men were staying and began bludgeoning them — Mr. Assadullah; Muhammad Hashem, about 24; and Faisal Rehmat, about 25 — with their rifle butts. “They just started hitting us,” Mr. Assadullah recalled in an interview, “on our shoulders, on our backs, everywhere.”

They bound the men’s hands with their traditional wool scarves and marched them to the outpost more than a kilometer away. “Along the road, they were beating us with stones and rifles,” Mr. Assadullah said. He added that he had seen other Afghan civilians at the base but that they had been kept separate during questioning.

The mistreatment was hardly unique for some of the police militias. From the outset of the program, the Americans running it found that some officers used their newfound power to engage in everything from petty theft and bullying to extortion rackets and killings.

An American military report released in December 2011  found that local police militias were illegally taxing villagers and committing assaults, yet also concluded that the militias were effective.

By the day of the episode in Kalach, the Americans were getting ready to move to another region with higher security needs. Just 14 American servicemen remained: six Navy SEALs, four naval support personnel and four soldiers, plus an interpreter hired through a private contractor.

The soldiers provided security for the outpost while three of the SEALs helped question the prisoners, who were handcuffed with their arms behind them.

Sergeant Roschak and Specialist Walker stood on the roof of the meeting room, about 60 yards from where the detainees were being questioned. They and other witnesses, who had different vantage points, said there had been six to eight prisoners. The other two soldiers were on the roof of the SEALs’ barracks, about 135 yards away. “Enjoy the show,” one of the SEALs said, according to Sergeant Roschak’s statement to the N.C.I.S.

The three enlisted Team 2 members — David Swarts and Daniel D’Ambrosio, who were petty officers first class, and Xavier Silva, a petty officer second class — took the lead in interrogating the detainees, the soldiers told investigators. Their officer, a young lieutenant junior grade named Jason Webb, was mostly engaged elsewhere at the base, they said.

Mr. Assadullah said three Americans and an Afghan militia commander had interrogated him three times, for up to 10 minutes each time. The Americans grabbed him by the throat and kneed him in the stomach several times, he recalled, and said he would be freed if he told them who had set off the bomb. “But I didn’t know who did it,” Mr. Assadullah said.

The soldiers told investigators that they had seen the three enlisted SEALs kick prisoners and fire handguns next to their heads; at one point, two of them forced a detainee’s legs apart so they could drop a large rock on his crotch. Three of the soldiers said that the SEALs had also dropped stones on other prisoners. One soldier recalled seeing a Team 2 member standing on a detainee’s head “maybe eight to 10 times.” In his sworn statement to investigators, he recounted, “When he would step on the guy’s head, I could see the detainee’s legs move a little.”

Specialist Walker told investigators that he had seen one of the SEALs “straddling the detainee over his upper torso area and pouring water on the detainee’s head.” Another soldier told N.C.I.S. agents that he had watched as an American poured water on a detainee who was lying on his back. He said that he had not seen the water going into the man’s mouth, but that it had appeared he was choking. The process, the soldier said, was repeated with four more prisoners, including one with a cloth in his mouth.

After about two hours, by Sergeant Roschak’s estimate, the SEALs told the soldiers to stand down, saying they had the situation under control. The soldiers complied — in part, several said, because they did not want to see any more.

While the SEALs and militiamen remained suspicious of some detainees, they let them all go by midafternoon. Before setting them free, the Americans took one of the junk merchants, Mr. Hashem, who was bloody and weak from the ordeal, and placed an AK-47 across his chest for a photograph, Mr. Assadullah said. He said he figured it was because Mr. Hashem had a long beard and looked more like a Taliban fighter than anyone else.

The villagers from Kalach were told to walk in one direction and the three scrap dealers in another, up a hillside. Mr. Hashem could barely move, Mr. Assadullah recalled. He was bleeding from a gash near the top of his skull, and his back was injured from repeated blows from rocks and rifle butts.

Mr. Hashem made it only a short distance before collapsing. Some militiamen rushed over and began hitting the three men again, Mr. Assadullah said. “ ‘Why can’t you climb? Why aren’t you climbing the mountain like we said?’ ” he recalled them asking. “I could not carry him because I was also beaten.”

After the militiamen left, Mr. Hashem showed his friends his abdomen, which was bloody and bruised. “I feel pain here, and I cannot walk,” he said, according to Mr. Assadullah.

Mr. Assadullah said that some Americans — it is not clear who — had come with water and a stretcher. He and Mr. Rehmat lifted the injured man onto it, then dragged the stretcher up the dirt road, Mr. Hashem moaning with each bump. Every time they stopped, Mr. Assadullah said, someone fired at them from the base.

Once out of sight, they paused to rest under a mulberry tree. Mr. Hashem became silent, Mr. Assadullah remembered. Soon after, he died.

The two surviving junk sellers found a truck driver willing to drive them all night back to Mr. Hashem’s home village, Shamakhel. In accordance with Islamic custom, Mr. Assadullah said, a funeral and burial were quickly arranged, drawing 200 people. Mr. Hashem left behind a wife and newborn son.

Report of a Cover-Up

The day after the detainee episode, the Taliban began threatening reprisal attacks over the radio, Sergeant Roschak told investigators. He inquired about the threats with the deputy commander of the Afghan Local Police, who responded, “The A.L.P. and SEAL guys beat that guy, and he died.”

Sergeant Roschak went to two of the SEALs. “ ‘Tell your guys not to talk to anyone about what happened outside of this camp,’ ” one of them responded, the sergeant said in his statement. “ ‘You know, no one needs to know we were involved. Just say an I.E.D. went off, and one A.L.P. guy died; we sent A.L.P. to check it out, but they didn’t find anything.’ Worried, the soldiers kept quiet. “The next few days became very uncomfortable,” Sergeant Roschak told investigators. “It was difficult to get any type of privacy on the phone and on the computers.”

The Americans withdrew from the Kalach outpost two days later, on June 3, 2012, to a larger base at Tirin Kot, the provincial capital. In an email, Sergeant Roschak alerted his superior, writing, “My squad is being involved in a cover-up regarding the possible killing of detainees.”

Cmdr. Mike Hayes, the officer in charge of SEAL Team 2 and head of a Special Operations task force in southeastern Afghanistan, took quick action after learning of the claims. He called in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and ordered the four accused SEALs’ guns taken away.

The soldiers were moved to a nearby base, where they were questioned by two N.C.I.S. investigators and gave closely matching sworn statements. The four Team 2 members asked for lawyers and declined to speak to investigators.

The N.C.I.S. agents reviewed the classified report that the SEALs had filed about the bomb at the checkpoint. It did not mention any detainees or that they had been mistreated.

Two Navy personnel from the outpost backed up the accounts of abuse in part, blaming the Afghan militia but also describing some mistreatment by the SEALs. A Seabee, a member of the Naval Construction Forces, told investigators that he had seen a Team 2 member firing his pistol near a detainee’s head. A Navy medic said he had seen a different member drag a prisoner by a scarf around his neck.

A Navy intelligence specialist said he had seen no abuse by American personnel, adding that only he and one of the SEALs had questioned the detainees. “At no point did I observe any U.S. personnel punch, kick, strike or act inappropriately towards any of the detained persons,” he told the investigators. The soldiers said in their statements to the N.C.I.S. that the intelligence specialist had left the scene as the abuse began.

Two of the SEALs who were present but not implicated in abuse said they had been focused on watching for security threats and had not seen their comrades mistreating detainees. One said he thought the shots fired might have been general warning shots.

The other told investigators that he had seen cases of water being brought to the interrogation area but did not know “if any of the detainees got any water.” He also described how one detainee kept lying on his side. “When I got to him, I shoved him with my foot to get his attention,” he said. “This happened five or six times in a row.”

The group’s interpreter first told investigators he had seen abuses by the Afghan police, but none by the SEALs. In a later sworn statement, he said he had seen one of the SEALs “put his foot on one of the prisoners’ stomach.” He had been reticent initially, he told the N.C.I.S. agents, because he “was afraid of getting hurt from the guys on the SEAL teamOn June 26, 2012, Commander Hayes sent the accused men back to Little Creek, Va., where Team 2 is based, for his superiors to handle the disciplinary proceedings. Navy investigators traveled to the former base at Kalach on Aug. 13, more than two months after the episode, and interviewed four Afghans who were brought to them by the same local police unit accused of committing the abuses. Afghan officials said they had not investigated the suspected mistreatment of detainees by the police.

One of the Afghan militiamen corroborated the soldiers’ story. He said he had “observed the detainees being assaulted by A.L.P. and U.S. personnel,” according to the report, with the police using “stones and sticks” and the Americans “yelling, slapping and kicking.” He said he believed Mr. Hashem’s death had been caused by the Afghan abuse, which was harsher, but noted that he had only observed a few minutes of questioning.

A local shopkeeper, the only detainee among the witnesses gathered by the police, described being taken to the small outpost along with his nephew, a farmer and another merchant. He told investigators that the police militiamen, but not the Americans, had assaulted him and the other detainees with stones. “He observed the dead body after the assault,” the N.C.I.S. report said.

Two of the accused, Lieutenant Webb and Petty Officer Swarts, declined to comment when reached by phone. Another, Petty Officer D’Ambrosio, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Petty Officer Silva said only, “If you knew what it was like on the ground, it would look different.”

Captain’s Justice

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq, American military leaders recognized the ethical perils and strategic damage prisoner abuse could wreak and made its prevention a priority. The reports of beatings in Kalach immediately caught the attention of officials at the N.C.I.S. headquarters in Quantico, Va.

Susan C. Raser, then the head of criminal investigations for the organization, said she and other top officials there had been impressed by how consistent the Army witnesses were  in describing the abuse they said had occurred. “I didn’t doubt it for a second,” she said in a recent interview.

In reviewing the report in late August 2012, Navy officials said, a lawyer at the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps regional office in Norfolk, Va., recommended that Captain Smith, who had just taken over as commander of the East Coast-based SEALs, charge the three enlisted men with assault and failure to report the abuse by the Afghans, and that he further investigate Lieutenant Webb.

But the lawyer, whom the Navy declined to identify, said Captain Smith could handle the matter through an internal disciplinary procedure known as a captain’s mast, typically used for infractions like fistfights among sailors or failure to appear for duty. The lawyer cited possible problems at trial without forensic evidence or Afghan victims available.

The military experts who reviewed the N.C.I.S. report contend that such serious abuse allegations warranted an Article 32 hearing to decide whether a court-martial was justified. Such hearings are public and allow prosecution and defense lawyers to present evidence and question witnesses, which the experts said was the best way to resolve conflicting statements between the Army and Navy witnesses.

Commander Hayes weighed in against the four SEALs, sending a letter to Captain Smith recommending that they be kicked out of the teams. But what turned out to be most influential was a videoconference among the Army witnesses and a half-dozen senior enlisted SEALs known as master chiefs, during which, the soldiers said, the chiefs badgered them to change their stories.

They were “implying that we were making it up” to get out of deployment, Sergeant Roschak said in an interview, adding that as a veteran on his fourth combat tour, he had felt insulted. Another soldier, then a sergeant, said the master chiefs had tried to “put words in my mouth.” Like a fourth soldier, he spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to talk publicly about a confidential investigation.

The chiefs focused on details like the exact number of rounds the SEALs had fired next to detainees’ heads and how many times they had dropped rocks on detainees’ chests, the soldiers said. “They were more concerned with the fact I couldn’t remember how many rounds were fired, instead of why they used a weapon at all while questioning the detainees,” Sergeant Roschak said.

Cmdr. Jason P. Salata, a spokesman for the SEAL command, said the master chiefs recommended that Captain Smith not bring assault charges, and he agreed. By the time the Team 2 members faced Captain Smith at the mast hearing on Nov. 5, 2012, the only charges they faced were related to the alleged failure to report abuse by the Afghan militiamen.

The captain’s mast procedure gives broad leeway to the presiding commander. “It really is like ‘The People’s Court’ with Judge Wapner or whatever, and the commander is the judge,” said Mr. Corn, the former Army lawyer. The hearing is closed, with no transcript provided, no impartial officer presiding, no prosecutor and no defense counsel.

There’s no accountability,” Mr. Corn said. “There’s no transparency.”

Only two of the soldiers, Specialist Walker and Sergeant Roschak, were asked to join by videoconference; no explanation was offered for why the other two were not. The four accused SEALs were standing at attention off to the side. Captain Smith did not challenge the soldiers’ accounts, they said in recent interviews. He was polite, apologized for the tough questioning in the first teleconference and thanked them for coming forward.

Later that day, Captain Smith issued his ruling, dismissing the only charges. He opted to give the SEALs non-punitive “letters of instruction” — not even letters of reprimand — suggesting that they could improve their “leadership and decision making,” and reassigned them within the SEAL teams.

In his statement to The Times, the captain said the SEALs believed that “their actions de-escalated what was developing into a very dangerous situation.” He also said that the soldiers had not seen firsthand everything they described in their initial statements to investigators, and that they had “partially misinterpreted what they saw from a distance.”

He did not provide any examples. Other Navy officials could identify only one possible inconsistency, saying Sergeant Roschak had not seen the SEALs dropping rocks on detainees but had stated that they did so based on what his men had told him. But the three other soldiers swore to the N.C.I.S. that they had seen SEALs dropping the rocks.

Rachel E. VanLandingham, who was the United States Central Command’s chief legal adviser on detainee and interrogation issues from 2006 to 2010, called for the case to be reopened, as did several other military lawyers who reviewed the N.C.I.S. report.

There’s more than sufficient information, evidence, data in the documents to more than warrant a new investigation,” Ms. VanLandingham said. “The decision to dispose of these charges via anything but criminal prosecution was grossly flawed.”

In recent interviews, all four soldiers said they stood by the accounts they had provided in their sworn statements to the N.C.I.S. “It’s hard to forget what happened when it’s the truth,” Specialist Walker said.

He and the other soldiers expressed surprise that none of the accused SEALs had faced any punishment. “If it was the other way around, me and my guys would be in trouble,” Sergeant Roschak said. “We’d be locked up.”

In the Kalach area, the Taliban have extended their influence in the three years since the Americans departed. Recently, they even drove off the Afghan soldiers who had been using the former United States outpost, and destroyed much of it with the help of villagers.

Mr. Assadullah still walks with a slight hunch because of the wounds he sustained that spring day at the base. When interviewed in Kabul, the Afghan capital, he pulled up his shirt to show the deep scars on his back. “I feel pain in my whole body, and in the morning I cannot get up,” he said. “I don’t have money to treat this or to go to a doctor. I cannot pay for medicine.”

Abdul Aziz — the brother of Mr. Hashem, who was killed — traveled with Mr. Assadullah to Kabul and said that in the weeks and months after the episode, he had sent complaint letters to the American military commanders in Oruzgan, the national police and other officials. No one responded.

“I want the Afghan government to ask why they were beating men who were innocent,” Mr. Assadullah said. But “we can’t do anything to those American soldiers. They are very far away.”

Nicholas Kulish reported from California, Colorado, Georgia and Louisiana; Christopher Drew from Washington, Maryland and Virginia; and Matthew Rosenberg from Kabul, Afghanistan. Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington, Nooruddin Bakhshi from Kabul and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Kitty Bennett and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.


Stingrays: A Secret Catalogue of Government Gear for Spying on Your Cellphone

December 17, 2015

by Jeremy Scahill, Margot Williams

The Intercept

The Intercept has obtained a secret, internal U.S. government catalogue of dozens of cellphone surveillance devices used by the military and by intelligence agencies. The document, thick with previously undisclosed information, also offers rare insight into the spying capabilities of federal law enforcement and local police inside the United States.

The catalogue includes details on the Stingray, a well-known brand of surveillance gear, as well as Boeing “dirt boxes” and dozens of more obscure devices that can be mounted on vehicles, drones, and piloted aircraft. Some are designed to be used at static locations, while others can be discreetly carried by an individual. They have names like Cyberhawk, Yellowstone, Blackfin, Maximus, Cyclone, and Spartacus. Within the catalogue, the NSA is listed as the vendor of one device, while another was developed for use by the CIA, and another was developed for a special forces requirement. Nearly a third of the entries focus on equipment that seems to have never been described in public before.

The Intercept obtained the catalogue from a source within the intelligence community concerned about the militarization of domestic law enforcement.

A few of the devices can house a “target list” of as many as 10,000 unique phone identifiers. Most can be used to geolocate people, but the documents indicate that some have more advanced capabilities, like eavesdropping on calls and spying on SMS messages. Two systems, apparently designed for use on captured phones, are touted as having the ability to extract media files, address books, and notes, and one can retrieve deleted text messages.

Above all, the catalogue represents a trove of details on surveillance devices developed for military and intelligence purposes but increasingly used by law enforcement agencies to spy on people and convict them of crimes. The mass shooting earlier this month in San Bernardino, California, which President Barack Obama has called “an act of terrorism,” prompted calls for state and local police forces to beef up their counterterrorism capabilities, a process that has historically involved adapting military technologies to civilian use. Meanwhile, civil liberties advocates and others are increasingly alarmed about how cellphone surveillance devices are used domestically and have called for a more open and informed debate about the trade-off between security and privacy — despite a virtual blackout by the federal government on any information about the specific capabilities of the gear.

We’ve seen a trend in the years since 9/11 to bring sophisticated surveillance technologies that were originally designed for military use — like Stingrays or drones or biometrics — back home to the United States,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has waged a legal battle challenging the use of cellphone surveillance devices domestically. “But using these technologies for domestic law enforcement purposes raises a host of issues that are different from a military context.”

Many of the devices in the catalogue, including the Stingrays and dirt boxes, are cell-site simulators, which operate by mimicking the towers of major telecom companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. When someone’s phone connects to the spoofed network, it transmits a unique identification code and, through the characteristics of its radio signals when they reach the receiver, information about the phone’s location. There are also indications that cell-site simulators may be able to monitor calls and text messages.

In the catalogue, each device is listed with guidelines about how its use must be approved; the answer is usually via the “Ground Force Commander” or under one of two titles in the U.S. code governing military and intelligence operations, including covert action.

But domestically the devices have been used in a way that violates the constitutional rights of citizens, including the Fourth Amendment prohibition on illegal search and seizure, critics like Lynch say. They have regularly been used without warrants, or with warrants that critics call overly broad. Judges and civil liberties groups alike have complained that the devices are used without full disclosure of how they work, even within court proceedings.

Every time police drive the streets with a Stingray, these dragnet devices can identify and locate dozens or hundreds of innocent bystanders’ phones,” said Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The controversy around cellphone surveillance illustrates the friction that comes with redeploying military combat gear into civilian life. The U.S. government has been using cell-site simulators for at least 20 years, but their use by local law enforcement is a more recent development.

The archetypical cell-site simulator, the Stingray, was trademarked by Harris Corp. in 2003 and initially used by the military, intelligence agencies, and federal law enforcement. Another company, Digital Receiver Technology, now owned by Boeing, developed dirt boxes — more powerful cell-site simulators — which gained favor among the NSA, CIA, and U.S. military as good tools for hunting down suspected terrorists. The devices can reportedly track more than 200 phones over a wider range than the Stingray.

Amid the war on terror, companies selling cell-site simulators to the federal government thrived. In addition to large corporations like Boeing and Harris, which clocked more than $2.6 billion in federal contracts last year, the catalogue obtained by The Intercept includes products from little-known outfits like Nevada-based Ventis, which appears to have been dissolved, and SR Technologies of Davie, Florida, which has a website that warns: “Due to the sensitive nature of this business, we require that all visitors be registered before accessing further information.” (The catalogue obtained by The Intercept is not dated, but includes information about an event that occurred in 2012.)

The U.S. government eventually used cell-site simulators to target people for assassination in drone strikes, The Intercept has reported. But the CIA helped use the technology at home, too. For more than a decade, the agency worked with the U.S. Marshals Service to deploy planes with dirt boxes attached to track mobile phones across the U.S., the Wall Street Journal revealed.

After being used by federal agencies for years, cellular surveillance devices began to make their way into the arsenals of a small number of local police agencies. By 2007, Harris sought a license from the Federal Communications Commission to widely sell its devices to local law enforcement, and police flooded the FCC with letters of support. “The text of every letter was the same. The only difference was the law enforcement logo at the top,” said Chris Soghoian, the principal technologist at the ACLU, who obtained copies of the letters from the FCC through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The lobbying campaign was a success. Today nearly 60 law enforcement agencies in 23 states are known to possess a Stingray or some form of cell-site simulator, though experts believe that number likely underrepresents the real total. In some jurisdictions, police use cell-site simulators regularly. The Baltimore Police Department, for example, has used Stingrays more than 4,300 times since 2007.

Police often cite the war on terror in acquiring such systems. Michigan State Police claimed their Stingrays would “allow the State to track the physical location of a suspected terrorist,” although the ACLU later found that in 128 uses of the devices last year, none were related to terrorism. In Tacoma, Washington, police claimed Stingrays could prevent attacks using improvised explosive devices — the roadside bombs that plagued soldiers in Iraq. “I am not aware of any case in which a police agency has used a cell-site simulator to find a terrorist,” said Lynch. Instead, “law enforcement agencies have been using cell-site simulators to solve even the most minor domestic crimes.”

The Intercept is not publishing information on devices in the catalogue where the disclosure is not relevant to the debate over the extent of domestic surveillance.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this article. The FBI, NSA, and U.S. military did not offer any comment after acknowledging The Intercept’s written requests. The Department of Justice “uses technology in a manner that is consistent with the requirements and protections of the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment, and applicable statutory authorities,” said Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesperson who, for six years prior to working for the DOJ, worked for Harris Corp., the manufacturer of the Stingray.

While interest from local cops helped fuel the spread of cell-site simulators, funding from the federal government also played a role, incentivizing municipalities to buy more of the technology. In the years since 9/11, the U.S. has expanded its funding to provide military hardware to state and local law enforcement agencies via grants awarded by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. There’s been a similar pattern with Stingray-like devices.

The same grant programs that paid for local law enforcement agencies across the country to buy armored personnel carriers and drones have paid for Stingrays,” said Soghoian. “Like drones, license plate readers, and biometric scanners, the Stingrays are yet another surveillance technology created by defense contractors for the military, and after years of use in war zones, it eventually trickles down to local and state agencies, paid for with DOJ and DHS money.”

In 2013, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported the purchase of two HEATR long-range surveillance devices as well as $3 million worth of Stingray devices since 2008. In California, Alameda County and police departments in Oakland and Fremont are using $180,000 in Homeland Security grant money to buy Harris’ Hailstorm cell-site simulator and the hand-held Thoracic surveillance device, made by Maryland security and intelligence company Keyw. As part of Project Archangel, which is described in government contract documents as a “border radio intercept program,” the Drug Enforcement Administration has contracted with Digital Receiver Technology for over $1 million in DRT surveillance box equipment. The Department of the Interior contracted with Keyw for more than half a million dollars of “reduced signature cellular precision geolocation.”

Information on such purchases, like so much about cell-site simulators, has trickled out through freedom of information requests and public records. The capabilities of the devices are kept under lock and key — a secrecy that hearkens back to their military origins. When state or local police purchase the cell-site simulators, they are routinely required to sign non-disclosure agreements with the FBI that they may not reveal the “existence of and the capabilities provided by” the surveillance devices, or share “any information” about the equipment with the public.

Indeed, while several of the devices in the military catalogue obtained by The Intercept are actively deployed by federal and local law enforcement agencies, according to public records, judges have struggled to obtain details of how they work. Other products in the secret catalogue have never been publicly acknowledged and any use by state, local, and federal agencies inside the U.S. is, therefore, difficult to challenge.

It can take decades for the public to learn what our police departments are doing, by which point constitutional violations may be widespread,” Wessler said. “By showing what new surveillance capabilities are coming down the pike, these documents will help lawmakers, judges, and the public know what to look out for as police departments seek ever-more powerful electronic surveillance tools.”

Sometimes it’s not even clear how much police are spending on Stingray-like devices because they are bought with proceeds from assets seized under federal civil forfeiture law, in drug busts and other operations. Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland police forces have all used asset forfeiture funds to pay for Stingray-type equipment.

“The full extent of the secrecy surrounding cell-site simulators is completely unjustified and unlawful,” said EFF’s Lynch. “No police officer or detective should be allowed to withhold information from a court or criminal defendant about how the officer conducted an investigation.”

Judges have been among the foremost advocates for ending the secrecy around cell-site simulators, including by pushing back on warrant requests. At times, police have attempted to hide their use of Stingrays in criminal cases, prompting at least one judge to throw out evidence obtained by the device. In 2012, a U.S. magistrate judge in Texas rejected an application by the Drug Enforcement Administration to use a cell-site simulator in an operation, saying that the agency had failed to explain “what the government would do with” the data collected from innocent people.

Law enforcement has responded with some limited forms of transparency. In September, the Justice Department issued new guidelines for the use of Stingrays and similar devices, including that federal law enforcement agencies using them must obtain a warrant based on probable cause and must delete any data intercepted from individuals not under investigation.

Contained within the guidelines, however, is a clause stipulating vague “exceptional circumstances” under which agents could be exempt from the requirement to get a probable cause warrant.

“Cell-site simulator technology has been instrumental in aiding law enforcement in a broad array of investigations, including kidnappings, fugitive investigations, and complicated narcotics cases,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates.

Meanwhile, parallel guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security in October do not require warrants for operations on the U.S. border, nor do the warrant requirements apply to state and local officials who purchased their Stingrays through grants from the federal government, such as those in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Florida.

The ACLU, EFF, and several prominent members of Congress have said the federal government’s exceptions are too broad and leave the door open for abuses.

Because cell-site simulators can collect so much information from innocent people, a simple warrant for their use is not enough,” said Lynch, the EFF attorney. “Police officers should be required to limit their use of the device to a short and defined period of time. Officers also need to be clear in the probable cause affidavit supporting the warrant about the device’s capabilities.”

In November, a federal judge in Illinois published a legal memorandum about the government’s application to use a cell-tower spoofing technology in a drug-trafficking investigation. In his memo, Judge Iain Johnston sharply criticized the secrecy surrounding Stingrays and other surveillance devices, suggesting that it made weighing the constitutional implications of their use extremely difficult. “A cell-site simulator is simply too powerful of a device to be used and the information captured by it too vast to allow its use without specific authorization from a fully informed court,” he wrote.

He added that Harris Corp. “is extremely protective about information regarding its device. In fact, Harris is so protective that it has been widely reported that prosecutors are negotiating plea deals far below what they could obtain so as to not disclose cell-site simulator information. … So where is one, including a federal judge, able to learn about cell-site simulators? A judge can ask a requesting Assistant United States Attorney or a federal agent, but they are tight-lipped about the device, too.”

The ACLU and EFF believe that the public has a right to review the types of devices being used to encourage an informed debate on the potentially far-reaching implications of the technology. The catalogue obtained by The Intercept, said Wessler, “fills an important gap in our knowledge, but it is incumbent on law enforcement agencies to proactively disclose information about what surveillance equipment they use and what steps they take to protect Fourth Amendment privacy rights.”

Research: Josh Begley


Merkel defends Nord Stream-2 pipeline

December 18, 2015


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the planned Nord Stream-2 pipeline that would deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. The deal is being criticized by Eastern European countries, left out of the project.

I made clear, along with others, that this is a commercial project; there are private investors,” Merkel said Friday.

Russia’s Gazprom holds a 50 percent stake in the project. The other 50 percent is divided equally between Royal Dutch Shell, Germany’s E.ON and BASF, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie.

In September, Gazprom signed a deal to begin construction of Nord Stream-2. It will include two new pipelines that will deliver an additional 55 billion cubic meters to the existing Nord Stream pipeline which bypasses Ukraine.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said the project would cost his country $2 billion annually in transit fees.

According to Merkel, there is a willingness to keep Ukraine as transit country. “That’s the political wish,” she said.

The debate heated up this week after the Italian Prime Minister joined the coalition against the project. Italy’s energy giant was a big investor in the South Stream project, which would have delivered Russian gas to southern Europe. The project was cancelled by Gazprom last December after continuous conflicts with the EU.

Merkel replied it was “normal” that EU leaders have different views on some issues from time to time.


How to Shoot Down a Drone

Don’t. But if you’re going to…

by Eric Limer

Popular Mechanics

You’re hanging out in your backyard when suddenly a drone approaches, a friendly little recreational quadcopter. It zooms over your house before it doubles back and sits there in the sky, hovering over you and staring you down. It doesn’t look so friendly anymore. It looks like a spy.

In the past few years, there’s been a lot of time and effort devoted to the complicated question of whether you ought have the right to shoot that sucker down. Last month, a Kentucky man was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and wanton endangerment for doing just that. In 2014, a New Jersey man faced similar weapons charges for shooting down a drone over his property. The state of Colorado smacked down a fervent effort to bring about official “drone-hunting licenses” and the FAA has come out to ask that you please not shoot drones, citing dangers of collateral damage and firing guns into the air.

The ways you can end up in a sticky legal situation by shooting at a drone are many and terrifying. I reached out to Brendan Schulman, drone-lawyer turned VP of Policy & Legal Affairs for drone company DJI, for specifics on the legal nightmare. Naturally, it depends a bit on state law, but the broad strokes are widely applicable:

In some states, you could face reckless endangerment charges or be prosecuted under laws relating to the discharge of firearms.  By destroying the drone, you may be liable for civil damages to its owner.  Although I have not seen it raised yet, there is also a federal crime in Title 18 relating to destruction of an aircraft that could apply, and that would involve very serious penalties.

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All that is to say that shooting drones is probably a bad idea and we don’t recommend it. But let’s set that all aside for just a second and ask a different question: What’s the best way to do it anyway?

To that end, I had a chat with Marque Cornblatt, founder and CEO of Game of Drones which specializes in DIY drone-kits and heavy-duty airframes. These are the kind of drones designed for in-air, BattleBot-style shenanigans. He’s overseen his fair share of durability tests, including ones that involved the (safe and controlled) firing of actual guns at actual flying drones.

You don’t need much stopping power

Taking a drone out of the sky, especially with an actual gun, does not take a whole lot of firepower. According to Cornblatt, “Drones are so fragile that almost anything that hits them or touches them is likely to cause them to crash or lose orientation.”

That being the case, virtually any firearm can absolutely thrash a drone if it draws blood, so to speak. 9mm pistols on up to full-on sniper rifles stand roughly the same chance of turning a hit into a kill. Even lowly pellet guns—some of which have muzzle velocities on order with that of a .22 caliber rifle—stand a good chance at doing fatal harm. “If you were to hit a drone with [a BB], that pellet would penetrate and certainly cause some damage,” Cornblatt told me. Should you find yourself in range to hit it with a rock or a baseball, that’s likely to be a game-ender as well.

Consumer drones aren’t designed with a whole lot of redundancy in mind. A quad needs every single one of its rotors to stay in controlled flight. Yes, software that can dynamically reroute power to help a crippled quad hobble to safety does exist, but you won’t find it in whatever winds up on the wrong end of your barrel, at least not yet. Add to that the fact that most consumer quads have frames that are designed to be lightweight and compact and it is easy to see how a direct hit to anything but the landing gear is going to be serious trouble.

Hitting is the hard part

But while the typical quad is a fragile target, it’s also an elusive one which takes most pistols and rifles—even scoped ones—off that table at ranges that aren’t straight up point-blank. Cornblatt has seen actual trained snipers take on moving drones on a firing range. “The snipers only hit it after five or six shots, and that was in a completely controlled environment. You can imagine a guy running out into his back yard with a .22 just taking potshots at the sky, he’s never gonna hit it.”

That’s not to mention that firing a rifle into the air is a horrifically bad idea, as the Kentucky drone shooter William Merideth was quick to point out in an interview with Ars Technica:

Now, if I’d have had a .22 rifle, I should have gone to jail for that. The diameter of those things are going to come down with enough force to hurt somebody. Number 8 birdshot is not. Number 8 is the size of a pinhead.

Go figure, the guy who shot a drone is onto something. Yes, a shotgun is your best bet at taking down a drone. Preferably one loaded with the largest spread ammunition you can find. You’ll want to go with birdshot (more, smaller pellets) over buckshot (fewer, larger pellets). In fact, you’ll want as many pellets per cartridge as you can reasonably find. Drones are so structurally weak but so elusive to actually hit that you want maximize your chance of touching the thing at all—stopping power should be the least of your worries.

A shotgun is your best bet at taking down a drone

Number 8 birdshot, like Merideth used, is a good start, but you can go further; the higher the better. Number 10 birdshot will net you around 1,000 tiny pellets per 1 oz. cartridge. Number 12 birdshot (which tends to be harder to find) has as many as 2,500 tinier ones. The only time you might need to go bigger is if that drone is way off in the distance, in which case you should double-triple think your decision to fire at it.

Non-lethal can work as well

Of course not all methods of taking out a drone need to involve literal firearms. A shotgun loaded with birdshot is clearly the most effective option, but it’s worth considering some alternatives that don’t necessarily involve traditional “guns.”

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First, what doesn’t work. Paintballs are a no-go. Yes, it hurts to get blasted by one of the suckers, but they’re actually very specifically bad at injuring drones. What you’re looking for is a concentrated jolt of force. Paintballs offer the exact opposite. “Paintballs have no effect on the airworthiness of a drone,” Cornblatt says. “They’re designed to hit and splatter with no real force.”

Not even a direct shot to the rotors will do much. Don’t believe it? I didn’t either but Cornblatt’s had a bit of experience:

Along the same lines, Airsoft guns and other plastic-pellet guns are worthless, as are Nerf guns presumably (and obviously). But Super Soakers, on the other hand, can actually work—if you manage to hit the drone. Cornbatt’s testing (with his closed-body drones) showed that high-pressure sprinklers can throw a drone off-course but not necessarily crash it. But on a less robust drone where the water stands a chance of getting inside, a few electrical shorts would spell doom.

Other good non-gun options include pretty much any other solid-projectile slinger. Slingshots will  likely work—again, assuming you can hit. Slingshot master Joerg Sprave has a few designs that would probably take out a drone with ease. Along those same lines, you can probably do well with a potato gun or similar DIY cannon, barring aim issues. If you were to load the thing with DIY buckshot, perhaps. But now we’re just getting back to gun territory aren’t we?

Last but not least, you never want to underestimate the power of just throwing crap. A rock, a baseball, anything you can fling straight, accurate, and fast. All it takes to down a drone is a bent propeller or enough of a jolt to flip it.

All it takes to down a drone is a bent propeller

According to drone-downer William Merideth, the offending quadcopter was floating just 10 feet above the ground just before he shot it, a claim the drone’s owner refutes. If it actually was that low, he might have been better off just beaning it with a freakin’ rock. Had he hit, at least his claims about the drone being close would be virtually air-tight.

Of course that wouldn’t have gotten him—and won’t get you—off scot-free. There’s still the matter of civil damages to deal with, and broader endangerment offenses. As drone-lawyer Brendan Schulman pointed out to me over email, not using a “gun” is a pretty weak dodge around the very letter of the law (and one that might not even work):

I suppose you might avoid [state laws specific to the discharge of firearms] by using something other than a gun, such as a rock.  But I think the best response is a telephone call to the police, not the intentional destruction of someone else’s property. …There are many existing technology-neutral laws that apply to activity that would fall into the categories of stalking, peeping or unlawful surveillance. 

So if you want to take down a drone, the order goes: Shotgun loaded with birdshot, maybe a Super Soaker or a hose, followed by a rock or a baseball, and never ever a pistol or a rifle. All of which is superseded, of course, by not being such a drama queen cowboy, cooling your jets, and calling the cops instead.

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