It is hardly surprising that Yemen’s most vocal activist, Baraa Shiban, was
detained and interrogated at a U.K. airport, given the
explicit public relations battle over dronesbeing waged by the Western Intelligence Community.
Shiban was quoted in the Guardian as saying an official “had detained me not merely because I was from Yemen, but also because of Reprieve’s work investigating and criticising the efficacy of US drone strikes in my country.”
“Reprieve,” Shiban said to the organisation, “has been working to support the relatives of civilian victims of drone strikes who are seeking legal redress and recently found evidence which, it said, showed the UK supports the US operations through the provision of communications infrastructure and intelligence.”
Not exactly the type of PR that Western militaries needs for an already unpopular program.
Despite the prominent activist’s pleas to authorities that his subject matter had nothing to do with drone security, he was ignored.
For good reason: in their eyes and the eyes of the state the covert drone war’s biggest weakness is not its highly classified internal workings, but its public face.
Another recent NSA story out of the Washington Post and Barton Gellmann detailed the battle between Al Qaeda and militant operatives and the West’s drones.
Among other things, it covered jammers and hackers and even model planes as possible mitigating approaches targeted “terrorists” would use.
What we thought was most interesting, though, was the CIA’s battle and concern over messaging.
One 2010 report predicted that drone operations “could be brought under increased scrutiny, perceived to be illegitimate, openly resisted or undermined.”
In response, intelligence agencies floated their own ideas to influence public perceptions.
“Strikes connote a first attack, which leaves the victim unable to respond. Other phrases employed to evoke an emotional response include ‘Kill List,’ ‘Hit Squads,’ ‘Robot Warfare,’ or ‘Aerial Assassins.’ ”
This battle for messaging goes beyond just cracking down on activists.
Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye spent three years in prison on “terrorism” charges following his highly controversial reporting of a U.S. drone strike gone bad and several interviews with known Al Qaeda members.
Foreign Policy notes that his imprisonment drew “criticism” from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation.
In fact, journalist Jeremy Scahill reports that a direct phone call from American President Barack Obama to the president of Yemen stayed a pardon of Shaye early in his incarceration.
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