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General News    H2'ed 5/5/12

About "Those Other Things that Fly"

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I attended Foreign Affairs Day on May 4. No, it wasn't the Secret Service's foreign affairs, but the annual unclassified briefing by senior State Department officials to their retired colleagues.

The State Department's Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (again, not like the not-so-secret Secret Service members public affairs in Colombia) Michael Hammer gave a quick verbal tour of the hot spots of the world and the US government's approach to resolving conflicts.   

During his talk, Hammer commented on security for the largest US Embassy in the world. He said that the State Department now has its own air fleet -- fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters -- at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.

During a short question-and-answer period after his presentation, I asked Mr. Hammer about other types of aircraft that were reported by the New York Times in January, 2012 to be circling US Embassy Baghdad -- drones used for surveillance over the huge Embassy compound.

I asked, "We have read that the State Department is now operating other types of aircraft at the US Embassy in Baghdad -- drones. With the proliferation of drones throughout the world; with the US trying to sell $1 billion of drones to NATO countries; with Israel selling drones to many countries including $100 million in drones to Russia, should the United States government expect blowback from those who violently disagree with its use of drones for extrajudicial executions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and the execution of three American citizens last year?"

In addition, I asked -- "With Russian officials announcing that Russia has the right to make pre-emptive strikes on the US missile defense system, should we anticipate they might decide not to risk the life of a Russian bomber pilot and instead use one of the drones purchased from the Israeli government to blow up one of the facilities in the American missile defense system?"

Hammer didn't even try to answer the question about proliferation of drones and the Russian comments on their right to preemptively destroy a weapon system that they say threatens their national security.   

Instead Hammer became tongue-tied about discussing drones at the US Embassy in Baghdad. In fact, he couldn't even say the word "drones." Hammer said he couldn't comment on "those other things that fly."

I immediately reminded him that Obama's chief of counter-terrorism John Brennan, just days ago, on April 30, 2012, had given a long speech acknowledging what the world has known for years, that the US uses drones to kill those whom they determine are a threat to the United States.

As the chief of the office charged with explaining US foreign policies, Hammer lamely said, "I can't discuss this."

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Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand (more...)
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