The Global Assassination Grid: The Infrastructure and People behind Drone Killings

Presented at 33C3 (2016), Dec. 27, 2016, 11:30 a.m. (60 minutes)

As they say in the Air Force, ‚No comms no bombs‘, – A technician’s insight into the invisible networks governing military drones and the quest for accountability

Cian has spent a great deal of time thinking about the issues of responsibility in, and how communications technology has been used to distance people from the act of killing. Rising superpowers around the world are working day and night to build the next stealth drone that can penetrate air defense systems. The automation of target selection processes, navigation and control are incentivized by the vulnerability posed by the signals drones rely upon to operate.

A drone is merely a networked platform that moves across a grid, much like a mouse. It’s „mind“ is distributed among dozens of individuals located around the globe, controlling separate parts of the the overall mission using data derived from surveillance, and processed using algorithms that may or may not reflect the reality on the ground. Cian challenges the common notion that drones are the most effective tool for combatting terrorism and seeks to explain why this is so, as well as how mistakes happen. The automation of these processes will further take the responsibility out of the hands of individuals and disperse them further. This calls for a new level of ethical considerations and accountability mechanisms to be developed.


  • Cian Westmoreland
    In 2009, Cian Westmoreland was one of the US Air Force communications personnel who built a critical component of the global communications infrastructure underlying the drone program in Afghanistan through the 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron. It’s area of responsibility covered 621,000 square kms over Afghanistan, and assists in networking disparate ground and air assets across coalition forces and service branches, in addition to drones. It helps connect the battlefield to the Combined Air Operations Center in Al Udeid, Qatar and Ramstein, Germany. At the end of his tour he received a document stating that he assisted in 200+ enemy kills, while the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reports 359 civilians killed that year. Cian began speaking openly about his role in November of 2015, along with three other former servicemen to the Guardian and DemocracyNow.


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