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from Breakingviews:

Amazon’s drone promise is yet more jam tomorrow

By Robert Cyran

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Amazon is promising yet more jam tomorrow – this time from drone deliveries. Jeff Bezos, the online retailer’s chief executive, expects to be able to use unmanned aircraft to deliver small packages within a few years. It’s a striking vision, but it seems as overly optimistic as investors’ expectations of the company overall. Amazon’s market value has ballooned to $180 billion despite big profits always hovering in the future.

Drone technology has advanced tremendously over the past decade because of improvements in software, robotics and networking. The use of these unmanned vehicles is already common in the military, and cheap, fast and automated shipping could benefit all kinds of businesses. Bezos says Amazon could use drones within four or five years, delivering goods weighing less than five pounds inside 30 minutes.

It’s perhaps fitting that a long-term thinker like Bezos should be testing the boundaries of what’s possible. But at best it’s a very long way off. The Federal Aviation Administration may start allowing commercial drones to operate in 2015, but widespread use is likely to come only many years later. Letting robots fly freely in densely populated areas poses all kinds of safety, security and privacy questions – never mind logistical challenges and concerns that hackers or old-fashioned villains might intercept the vehicles or the packages they carry.

from The Great Debate:

The 4 reasons why Amazon won’t be shipping by drone anytime soon

This weekend Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes that he wants small unmanned aerial vehicles -- drones -- to speed packages to online shoppers as early as 2017, cutting delivery times to as quick as 30 minutes.

It's a bold, imaginative plan -- one that could propel a host of technological and legal advancements.

from David Rohde:

How fear of al Qaeda hurts U.S. more than al Qaeda

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Three disclosures this week show that the United States is losing its way in the struggle against terrorism. Sweeping government efforts to stop attacks are backfiring abroad and infringing on basic rights at home.

CIA drone strikes are killing scores of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.  The National Security Agency is eavesdropping on tens of millions of phone calls worldwide -- including those of 35 foreign leaders -- in the name of U.S. security.

from David Rohde:

Obama’s overdue step on drones

President Obama’s decision to restrict drone strikes and again try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison are overdue steps in the right direction. Myself and many other analysts have called for these very measures over the last year.

Obama must actually follow through on implementation of his proposals, including pressuring Congress to close Guantanamo. And he should fully enact changes that can be carried out by the executive branch, such as handing over responsibility for drones strikes to the U.S. military and making them fully public.

from Stories I’d like to see:

The revealing Rutgers report, job number revisions, and Trayvon, Inc

1. The Rutgers basketball coach scandal as a window on NCAA sports:

Some of the stories about the firing of Rutgers basketball coach Michael Rice after a video of him abusing his players in practice was aired on ESPN referred to a 50 page report the university commissioned from an outside lawyer after the videos were first brought to school administrators’ attention. It’s this report that provided the rationale for the school initially to suspend and fine Rice but not dismiss him.

For reporters and columnists (like the New York Times’ Joe Nocera) who have been highlighting how the NCAA has become a profit machine that abuses its unpaid players, the report is worth diving into. It presents an amazingly candid, and grim, view of college athletics, and it would be great to get university presidents far and wide on the record commenting about it.

from The Great Debate:

Prying open drone secrets

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A federal appeals court rebuffed the Obama administration's drone policy on Friday, ruling that the CIA stretched its considerable secrecy powers “too far.”  The stinging decision may be the biggest news in the war on terror that you've never heard about.

The ruling lays down a key marker for a significant shift in counterterrorism policy. Under President Barack Obama, the United States has moved from detaining suspected terrorists to killing many of them in targeted attacks. There were 10 times as many drone deaths in 2010 as 2004, according to the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.  This is why there are now fewer pressing questions about detention or Guantanamo, a vestige of post-September 11 battles. The United States hardly ever captures any new terror suspects.

from David Rohde:

Obama’s legacy of secrecy

John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was a microcosm of the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism: The right assurances, with little transparency.

Brennan said the United States should publicly disclose when American drone attacks kill civilians. He called waterboarding “reprehensible” and vowed it would never occur under his watch. And he said that countering militancy should be “comprehensive,” not just  “kinetic,” and involve diplomatic and development efforts as well.

from David Rohde:

The ‘trust me’ administration

In a bold second inaugural address, one line was my favorite.

“We will defend our people and uphold our values,” President Barack Obama declared, “through strength of arms and rule of law.”

Obama was right to describe the “rule of law” as a weapon the United States can use to defend itself. But the administration’s insistence on enveloping its counter-terrorism efforts in excessive secrecy flouts the rule of law. A proud American ideal is being turned into a liability, not an asset.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

At war’s end, ramping up drone strikes in Afghanistan

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The United States carried out more drone strikes in Afghanistan this year than it has done in all the years put together in Pakistan since it launched the covert air war there eight years ago.  With all the attention and hand wringing  focused on the operations in Pakistan, it's remarkable that such a ramp-up just over the border has gone virtually unnoticed.

The two battlegrounds are not the same, of course. Afghanistan is an open and hot battlefield where U.S. forces are deployed and the drones are part of the air support available to troops. Pakistan is a sovereign nation and the United States is not in a state of war with it and so you wouldn't expect the same pace of operations, even though U.S. commanders say the Taliban insurgency draws its sustenance from the sanctuaries in the Pakistani northwest.

from David Rohde:

How Obama’s drone war is backfiring

This essay was originally published in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office three years ago, no one associated the phrase "targeted killing" with his optimistic young presidency. In his inaugural address, the 47-year-old former constitutional law professor uttered the word "terror" only once. Instead, he promised to use technology to "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories."

Oddly, technology has enabled Obama to become something few expected: a president who has dramatically expanded the executive branch's ability to wage high-tech clandestine war. With a determination that has surprised many, Obama has embraced the CIA, expanded its powers and approved more targeted killings than any modern president. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush. And after promising to make counterterrorism operations more transparent and rein in executive power, Obama has arguably done the opposite, maintaining secrecy and expanding presidential authority.

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