Archives for posts with tag: drones

[G. Sallust, our reprehensible founder called the other day, and I was the one who answered the phone. So, being startled and at a loss for words, I asked the obvious question. “G,” I said, “you left us a while back to elope with a 19 year old; so how’s your sex life?” First he said nothing, then mumbled something that sounded like “not interested,” and “creepy old man,” then changed the subject. “There may be UFOs in New York,” he said, “and I want to look into it.” It seems that he read our post on printing money, especially the end part about watching the skies, and heartily agrees. The skies shouldn’t be left to NASA and DoD. We all need to be vigilant.

This is Fred, by the way. Normally UFOs are part of my beat here at the Zoo, but G. Sallust is the boss, even though many of us would rather not be seen in public with him, so he gets to go anywhere and discuss anything he wants. But there’s more to it than that. It – the UFO story – starts in Upstate New York, where he’s currently lurking, and he is our expert on what happens up there. That’s because he was raised in the area, and knows a little bit about the deep background of the locality: about the depressed economy, local native tribes, religious communities, witch covens, political movements, criminal enterprises and local oddities, plus the numerous local colleges, public and private; all percolating amongst the dairy farms and hollow cities. So I guess he’s the one best qualified to do our first report on who’s seeing UFOs today.]

You bet I am. But let’s start with today’s theme, which is watching the skies. It dates back to 1951, when Hollywood unleashed The Thing from Another World[1] on the American public. Wikipedia says it is “now considered by many to be one of the best films”[2]of that year and I’ll not dispute them on that. I searched for it on YouTube, and it no longer seems to be available as a free download, which implies that today it’s still worth something to somebody. Nevertheless the mantra of “watch the skies” was pretty common back in the 1950’s, and still resonates today. We were mostly looking for Russian bombers, but space aliens were always a possibility. You can see that if you take a look at a film clip that actually is available on YouTube, i.e., the one at

For a while the Air Force ran a program to investigate UFO sightings and perhaps uncover the truth about them. It was called Project Blue Book.[3] But that was discontinued around 1970 after publication of the so-called Condon Report.[4] Of course the Report didn’t actually disprove all such sightings. That would have involved proving a negative, i.e., that something [space aliens, interdimensional beings, etc.] did not exist. That’s hard to do, unless one can identify – conclusively – something previously unidentified. What the Report said, instead, was

“In our study we gave consideration to every possibility that we could think of for getting objective scientific data about the kind of thing that is the subject of UFO reports. As the preceding summary shows, and as is fully documented in the detailed chapters which follow, all such efforts are beset with great difficulties. We place very little value for scientific purposes on the past accumulation of anecdotal records, most of which have been explained as arising from sightings of ordinary objects. Accordingly in Section I we have recommended against the mounting of a major effort for continuing UFO study for scientific reasons.”[5]

The record was not useful. End of story, at least for the Air Force. Eventually private sources began to collect and report on the more recent sightings, the two most important sources currently being MUFON[6] and NUFORC.[7] These aren’t Government entities, of course; they’re enthusiasts, probably working as volunteers[8]; and mostly they take reports.

Now comes the good news!  Someone is analyzing the current data! I found this out from, of all places, the New York Times.[9] I know a lot of you don’t trust that paper but even today it’s full of reporters and occasionally they do turn up things which, mirabile visu, the Times reports! In this case it was a story about UFOs that’s datelined “Syracuse!” Then I looked a little further and found that Central NY also has a blog[10] that concerns itself with UFOs and their comings and goings. But for the Times, I wouldn’t have known any of that. And finally, there’s a book just out that analyzes UFO sighting data for the last 15 years.[11] Whose data? Why the sighting reports collected by MUFON and NUFORC.

So I ordered the book; it’s called the UFO Sightings Desk Reference[12] and I’ve been paging through it. It’s massive and very interesting. It says, for example, that annual UFO sightings have increased dramatically in the last 15 years, from 3479 in 2001 to 11,868 in 2015.[13] In total MUFON and NUFORC collected over 121,036 sighting reports over the sample period.[14] When you think about it, that’s quite a few, and they’re all eyewitness accounts. Are they all “vetted,” i.e. personally examined by somebody in MUFON or NUFORC? Not likely. The Government used to do that kind of thing back in the 1950s and 1960s, but gave that up when it ended Project Blue Book. MUFON and NUFORC vet reports from time to time, but lack the resources to do it consistently. That would require an “army of volunteers” that currently doesn’t exist.[15]

Nevertheless, the numbers are interesting. They’ve gone way up in the last 15 years. If somebody decided to look at the underlying reports, would that disprove all of them? Probably not. Does that mean some of them are true? No. Most likely it would mean that there’s not enough evidence to decide one way or the other. It’s like the search for extraterrestrial life in general. Absence of proof [that such life exists] is not proof of its absence. It’s not proof that it exists, either. It simply means that we have to look further to decide.

Now let’s get back to the data, unreliable as it may be. In general UFO sightings are trending up, dramatically up; but the trend isn’t uniform; some states lead the pack, like California, which has had a 15 year total of 15,836 sightings;  followed by Florida [7787], Texas [7058], Washington [5226], Pennsylvania [5176], New York [5141], Arizona [4726], Illinois [4191], Michigan [4160] and Ohio [4115].[16] But that’s not nearly as interesting as what’s happened in small parts of individual states. You see, Costa and Costa also break out their data by county, and some of those seem to be virtual beehives of UFO activity.

Take, for example, Onondaga County in Upstate New York, where the authors live. [It’s named after the Onondaga Nation, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederation.] Anyway, the county started in 2001 with 3 sightings, and eventually progressed to 29 in 2015. Sightings for the past 5 years have been 14 in 2011, 18 in 2012, 22 in 2013, 21 in 2014 and, of course, 29 in 2015.[17] That’s a lot for a small area.

It seems to me that, with all the advances in recent decades made in sensor technology, we ought to be able to solve the problems that government investigators had in Project Blue Book. Instead of going in after-the-fact to study events, today our Government ought to select 5 or 10 areas that are known hotbeds of UFO activity, like Onondaga County; blanket them with the latest sensor technology; and wait to see what turns up. Because we’d be setting up in advance, rather than after the fact, we could lay careful plans and use anything that might work: spy satellites; airborne reconnaissance [e.g., loitering drones]; ground sensors and even stuff we haven’t heard about yet. The public doesn’t need to know what’s deployed; just that the Government is back on the job. Details of the effort should be highly classified.

Anyway, that’s my modest proposal to repel UFOs and other night-time intruders. And please don’t thank me, all of you residents of Onondaga County! I’m just trying to keep us safe.

[1] Wikipedia does a good job with this kind of thing, so for more information check out its piece on the movie at .

[2] Id at Critical and box office reception. See also the Internet Movie Database at for a somewhat unenthusiastic posting about the Thing from Another World. It’s at

[3] Wikipedia has a good piece on Project Blue Book. It’s at

[4] If you’re interested, a copy currently is maintained on the internet by NCAS [National Capital Area Skeptics] at . The official citation for the report would be, I guess, Condon,  Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Conducted by the University of Colorado under Contract No. 44620-67-C-0035 with the United States Air Force (1968).

[5] Id. at Conclusion, p. 67.

[6] That’s the Mutual UFO Network, at .

[7] That’s the National UFO Reporting Center at  .

[8] Don’t hold me to that. This is America, after all. No doubt somebody is drawing a salary.

[9] See New York Times, Blumenthal, People Are Seeing U.F.O.s Everywhere, and This Book Proves It (April 24, 2017), available at

[10] The blog is called New York Skies, and it’s hosted by the Syracuse New Times at

[11] It’s Costa & Costa, UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015 (March 24, 2017). I bought our copy from Amazon, where else? I found it at

[12] See Costa & Costa, UFO Sightings Desk Reference, United States of America 2001 – 2015 (Dragon Lady Media 2017), hereafter cited as Costa & Costa at __.

[13] See Costa & Costa at p. 5.

[14] See Costa & Costa at p. 1, 121,036 Eyewitness Accounts.

[15] See Costa & Costa at p. 21.

[16] See Costa & Costa at p. 7.

[17] See Costa & Costa at p. 240.

[This is Fred, and we’re back again, a little earlier than expected. Last time we discussed Cyber War and potential U.S. countermeasures against cyberattacks. Terrorism was the subtext of the piece; it concluded with a hypothetical terror attack on a U.S. nuclear plant; and suggested that physical retaliation might be justified. At some point cyber wars could lead to shooting wars. That part, we think, is valid. But our tacit assumption that terrorists would cause many or most cyber conflicts was simplistic at best.

Here’s the situation as we now see it. There are dangerous hackers – those who have the knowledge and cyber resources necessary to mount cyberattacks of “significant consequence[1]” – and there are the people who want to do that kind of thing. No doubt terrorists want to attack us through cyberspace, but they seem to lack that capability. Instead they’ve pretty much confined their activities to blowing up buildings, attacking night clubs, bombing public squares and things of that sort.

A picture, it’s said, can be worth a thousand words, so I’m going to lay a couple of simple diagrams on you. If terrorists aren’t capable of mounting cyberattacks, then the situation is as depicted in Figure 1. The universe of dangerous hackers would not include any terrorists. But if terrorists later acquire those capabilities, then the situation is different: It looks a lot like Figure 2. There is some overlap between the two groups.


Sorry, Figure 1 and Figure 2 haven’t reproduced at this site. Use your imagination or, if you want a copy of this post as it’s supposed to be, feel to request a pdf of the draft. Do that by leaving a comment at this site.


The point is that if we search for terrorists to find dangerous hackers, we may not find any [hackers, that is] or perhaps only a few. No doubt there are dangerous hackers everywhere, but generally they don’t seem to hang out with terrorists. Instead they work for or with state actors [Russia, China, North Korea, Israel, us and so forth]; organized crime, especially in the identity theft or ransomware rackets; private clubs or associations; and software or network services companies.

My point, of course, is that if we’re really concerned about dangerous hackers, we shouldn’t fixate on terrorism. We should look for the hackers who can do substantial harm, and then develop appropriate countermeasures. For my part, I wouldn’t rule out kinetic solutions, to counter cyber aggression.[2] A solution is “kinetic” when we actually blow something up.

Anyway, that’s my opinion, and only mine. This is a very large subject, so I checked with Larry to see if he turned up anything new. He said yes, in that recently the White House[3]  gave us more insight into how and why bureaucrats unleash drones on terrorists. The process is impressive and looks as though it could be adapted to include dangerous hackers. The question is, should it?

It all sounds a bit speculative to me but, on the other hand, I’ll take speculation over nothing, which is all that I currently have. So let’s hear from Larry.]

All right, we’ll begin with a quick review of terrorism and cyberwar.

DoD and Cyberattacks

Last time we said that DoD leads the U.S. in preparing for a cyberwar. “In concert with other agencies,” it says, “[DoD] is responsible for defending the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests from attack, including attacks that may occur in cyberspace.”[4] DoD has “capabilities for cyber operations and is integrating those capabilities into the full array of tools that the United States government uses to defend U.S. national interests, including diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial and law enforcement tools.”[5]

A cyberattack has to have “significant consequences” [presumably bad] for the U.S. before DoD would get involved. What are they? Well, “… significant consequences may include loss of life, significant damage to property, serious adverse foreign policy consequences, or serious economic impact on the United States.”[6] Those are just examples; they’re not an exclusive list of what might be considered.[7]The decider of what’s “significant” will be a civilian, either the President or the Secretary of Defense,[8] and he or she will decide on a case-by-case basis.[9] Of course, whenever the President is involved, the “national security team”[10] must be consulted.

Presidential Policy Guidance

And this brings us to today’s new information. We all know that the President, any President, gets to decide lots of stuff, much of it controversial and very involved; and probably most of us have a rough idea of how he does it. Basically the parties interested in a particular thing [bureaucrats, stakeholders, etc.] or a subset of them get together and write a memo; he reads it, or somebody in his office reads it; and then he or someone in his office responds.

Some matters, however, are so delicate that they require special handling. Drone strikes against terrorists seem to qualify in this regard, so much so that in May of 2013 President Obama issued a special policy stating how and by whom they would be considered before any reached him for approval. That document, aka “Presidential Policy Guidance,” is called Procedures for Approving Direct Action against Terrorists Located Outside of the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.[11]

The Administration regarded this policy as very sensitive; the whole document was marked “TOP SECRET/ NOFORN” when first issued; but eventually the American Civil Liberties Union pried it out of the Government in a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.[12] We, of course, are citing you to the declassified version, which has some redactions.

In the Cross Hairs

So what terrorists are covered by the policy? Not the ones who live in this country. Once we know about them the Administration can send someone from DOJ, or DHS or even the local police around to arrest them. Drone strikes would not be required. Or, anyway, I don’t think they’d be required. Perhaps we’ll talk about that another time.

How about terrorists on an active battlefield? Well, those guys are pretty much subject to the tender mercies of DoD. As we all know, or should know, DoD fights battles under what’s popularly known as the Law of War.[13] The PPG doesn’t cover those situations, either. It’s focused instead on the terrorists who slink around the world, outside of the zones of combat, and plot actively to endanger U.S. persons or interests. That’s my conclusion.

The PPG speaks generally of high value terrorists [HVTs][14] but doesn’t expressly define who they might be; but apparently our security establishment knows them when it sees them. A person gains HVT status by being nominated for it (i) by a security agency (ii) that has authority to take direct action against the nominee. “In particular, whether any proposed target would be a lawful target for direct action is a determination that will be made in the first instance by the nominating department’s or agency’s counsel (with appropriate legal review …) based on the legal authorities of the nominating department or agency and other applicable law.”[15] Also direct action is not limited simply to previously identified HVTs. Other targets may be added if necessary.[16]

When to Strike

HVTs are considered legitimate targets, but they’re not always struck. Direct action should be taken against them only when there is “near certainty” that the individual targeted is, in fact, the HVT, and “located at the place where the action will occur.”[17] Also “[a]bsent extraordinary circumstances, direct action will be taken only if there is near certainty that the action can be taken without injuring or killing non-combatants.”[18] That last requirement, for “near certainty,” I believe was added in 2013.

Add Dangerous Hackers?

So, can we solve the problem of dangerous hackers simply by adding them to the legitimate targets listed in the President’s special guidance on terrorists? I think not. Currently most terrorists are not hackers, and most hackers are not terrorists. There’s very little commonality – or similarity – between the two populations.

We’re at war with terrorists. If a terrorist is also a dangerous hacker, presumably he will be detected because of his [or her] terrorist associations, ideology, etc. That’s if our security people are as good as they say they are. There’s no need to throw a bunch of non-terrorist hackers into a list of potential targets.

But there is a need to identify the truly dangerous hackers out there, just to know their capabilities, who they work for, and whether, and by whom, they might be used against us. We should track them for the same reason we track all the military capabilities of potential enemies; not because we’re currently at war with them, but because we might be at some future date. My guess is, that’s a job for DoD.

[I agree. If I were on staff in the White House, I think I would want to leave the hacker problem up to DoD, and make sure that they had the resources to do a good job. I might request a periodic report, a cyber threat assessment as it were, but I wouldn’t expect to authorize any drone strikes any time soon. I hope.

If I were in the White House

[1] See DoD, The Department of Defense Cyber Strategy (April, 2015) at p. 3, available at  Henceforth this document will be cited as Cyber Strategy at __.

[2] Neither would DoD. See Cyber Strategy at p. 11: “The United States will continue to respond to cyberattacks against U.S. interests at a time, in a manner, and at a place of our choosing, using appropriate instruments of U.S. power and in accordance with applicable law.”

[3] See Presidential Policy Guidance, Procedures for Approving Direct Action against Terrorist Targets Located Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities (May 22, 2013), available from the American Civil Liberties Union at .  Henceforth the document will be cited as PPG Direct Action (2013) at __.

[4] See Cyber Strategy at p. 2.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. DoD has written this very carefully, to avoid foreclosing Presidential discretion. This is only natural. After all, under our Constitution the President is Commander-in-Chief, and outranks anyone in DoD. See U.S. Constitution, Article II, Sec. 2: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States …” The Constitution is available from many sources; our favorite is the National Archives, at  Look around that site and you can find all of the Amendments, as well.

[8] See Cyber Strategy at p. 5: “If directed by the President or the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. military may conduct cyber operations to counter an imminent or ongoing attack against the U.S. homeland or U.S. interests in cyberspace.”

[9] Id.

[10] Id. See also Cyber Strategy at p. 6: “Any decision to conduct cyber operations outside of DoD networks is made with the utmost care and deliberation and under strict policy and operational oversight, and in accordance with the law of armed conflict.”

[11] See PPG Direct Action (2013), cited at n. 5.

[12] See ACLU, Kaufman, Details Abound in Drone ‘Playbook’ – Except for the Ones That Really Matter Most (August 8, 2016), available at  See also Fox News, US discloses more conditions for lethal drone strikes (August 6, 2016), available at .

[13] See, e.g., DoD, Law of War Manual (June 2015), available at

[14] See PPG Direct Action (2013) at p. 1: “Absent extraordinary circumstances, direct action against an identified high-value terrorist (HVT) will be taken only when there is near certainty that the individual being targeted is in fact the lawful target and located at the place where the action will occur.”

[15] Id.

[16] See PPG Direct Action (2013) at §1.D, p. 4; and §4, p. 15-16.

[17] See PPG Direct Action (2013) at p. 1.

[18] Id.