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America's Secret Empire of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed for the First Time, by Nick Turse

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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These last weeks, there have been two "occupations" in lower Manhattan, one of which has been getting almost all the coverage -- that of the demonstrators camping out in Zuccotti Park.  The other, in the shadows, has been hardly less massive, sustained, or in its own way impressive -- the police occupation of the Wall Street area. 

On a recent visit to the park, I found the streets around the Stock Exchange barricaded and blocked off to traffic, and police everywhere in every form (in and out of uniform) -- on foot, on scooters, on motorcycles, in squad cars with lights flashing, on horses, in paddy wagons or minivans, you name it.  At the park's edge, there is a police observation tower capable of being raised and lowered hydraulically and literally hundreds of police are stationed in the vicinity.  I counted more than 50 of them on just one of its sides at a moment when next to nothing was going on -- and many more can be seen almost anywhere in the Wall Street area, lolling in doorways, idling in the subway, ambling on the plazas of banks, and chatting in the middle of traffic-less streets.

This might be seen as massive overkill.  After all, the New York police have already shelled out an extra $1.9 million, largely in overtime pay at a budget-cutting moment in the city.  When, as on Thursday, 100 to 150 marchers suddenly headed out from Zuccotti Park to circle Chase Bank several blocks away, close to the same number of police -- some with ominous clumps of flexi-cuffs dangling from their belts -- calved off with them.  It's as if the Occupy Wall Street movement has an eternal dark shadow that follows it everywhere.

At one level, this is all mystifying.  The daily crowds in the park remain remarkably, even startlingly, peaceable.  (Any violence has generally been the product of police action.)  On an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly police officers could easily handle the situation.  There is, of course, another possibility suggested to me by one of the policemen loitering at the Park's edge doing nothing in particular: "Maybe they're peaceable because we're here."  And here's a second possibility: as my friend Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, said to me, "This is the most important piece of real estate on the planet and they're scared.  Look how amazed we are.  Imagine how they feel, especially after so many decades of seeing nothing like it."

And then there's a third possibility: that two quite separate universes are simply located in the vicinity of each other and of what, since September 12, 2001, we've been calling Ground Zero.  Think of it as Ground Zero Doubled, or think of it as the militarized recent American past and the unknown, potentially inspiring American future occupying something like the same space.  (You can, of course, come up with your own pairings, some far less optimistic.)  In their present state, New York's finest represent a local version of the way this country has been militarized to its bones in these last years and, since 9/11, transformed into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state. 

Their stakeout in Zuccotti Park is geared to extreme acts, suicide bombers, and terrorism, as well as to a conception of protest and opposition as alien and enemy-like.  They are trying to herd, lock in, and possibly strangle a phenomenon that bears no relation to any of this.  They are, that is, policing the wrong thing, which is why every act of pepper spraying or swing of the truncheon, every aggressive act (as in the recent eviction threat to "clean" the park) blows back on them and only increases the size and coverage of the movement. 

Though much of the time they are just a few feet apart, the armed state backing that famed 1%, or Wall Street, and the unarmed protesters claiming the other 99% might as well be in two different times in two different universes connected by a Star-Trekkian wormhole and meeting only where pepper spray hits eyes.

Which means anyone visiting the Occupy Wall Street site is also watching a strange dance of phantoms.  Still, we do know one thing.  This massive semi-militarized force we continue to call "the police" will, in the coming years, only grow more so. After all, they know but one way to operate. 

Right now, for instance, over crowds of protesters the police hover in helicopters with high-tech cameras and sensors, but in the future there can be little question that in the skies of cities like New York, the police will be operating advanced drone aircraft.  Already, as TomDispatch regular Nick Turse indicates in his groundbreaking report, the U.S. military and the CIA are filling the global skies with missile-armed drones and the clamor for domestic drones is growing.  The first attack on an American neighborhood, not one in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, or Libya, surely lurks somewhere in our future.  Empires, after all, have a way of coming home to roost. Tom

America's Secret Empire of Drone Bases
Its Full Extent Revealed for the First Time

By Nick Turse

They increasingly dot the planet.  There's a facility outside Las Vegas where "pilots" work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth at an air base in the United Arab Emirates that almost no one talks about. 

And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide.  Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America's ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous -- until now.

Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases -- some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment -- are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war.  They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad -- in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign "footprint" and little accountability.

Using military documents, press accounts, and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by TomDispatch has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations.  There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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