Saturday, 1 December 2012
Friday, 16 November 2012
For Teliasonera, of course, providing access to telecommunications including the internet is the business model. This business model includes freedom of expression, so that our subscribers can communicate, and protection of privacy, so that our users feel trust in our services. [...] Human rights are an area which is constantly evolving, and any measures against individuals must be based on the rule of law. Companies need to abide by local legislation whilst respecting human rights. These two aspects show, that telecoms and human rights at times are in conflict and require difficult tradeoffs, both democratic and economic terms. This means working out and establishing processes based on firm principles. The way forward is not easy, the challenges must be met jointly by the industry, and national as well as international organizations...It's a positive sign that Teliasonera is recognising that telecommunications companies need to respect human rights, and that a company providing access to telecommunications must respect freedom of expression and protect privacy. But what I would like to hear more about is the action Teliasonera has taken to put these principles into practice. I would be interested to hear from citizens in countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan about whether or not there are still situations in which they find themselves called in for interrogations after saying things critical about the ruling government on a phone call or in an email or text message. I can't imagine that Teliasonera has had much success trying to convince secret police in Azerbaijan, for instance, that they should start respecting privacy and stop using the "black boxes" to sift through emails and identify dissidents. Ultimately, if Teliasonera is still operating in these countries, then on some level it seems realistic to suggest that it will remain complicit in human rights violations — violations that will almost inevitably occur as a result of authoritarian governments abusing the power that they hold to spy on people. At the internet governance conference I mentioned above, Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission, gave a stern speech in which she condemned Azerbaijan's human rights record: "In this very country, we see many arbitrary restrictions on the media," she said. "And we see activists spied on online, violating the privacy of journalists and their sources." What happened after Kroes speech was telling and indicative of the scale of the problem in a country like Azerbaijan: members of her team had their computers reportedly hacked. "I'm presuming it was some kind of surveillance," one said. [To reiterate: I'd be keen to hear from any activists, journalists, telecom engineers, politicians, anyone in this region with more information about the current state of surveillance in the former Soviet Republics. Info on Teliasonera's continuing role would be especially welcome.] UPDATE, 17.11.12: A kind gentleman has emailed me a link (.doc) to a very interesting full transcript of a meeting at the recent internet governance conference in Azerbaijan, which representatives from Teliasonera participated in. Here are some notable snippets from speakers who identified themselves as representatives of Teliasonera or its subsidiary in Azerbaijan, Azercell (emphasis added):
...as a telecom company we do not participate in the decisions on proportionality between national security and human rights. That's something which is done by legislator and authorities.and:
...the frequencies in this country [Azerbaijan] have been owned by the government, and we just lease them, so we just own the infrastructure, and the lease for those contracts are like for 20, 25 years, we lease the frequencies from the country, and then those -- and the government has the right to interfere in accordance with the different legislations, so whenever those defined cases are, they can take the information even without the notification to the company in accordance with the whole legislation so whatever Teliasonora operate in the local market they do operate in accordance with the legislation.and:
...because the frequencies have been owned by the government, we don't even have to have this [secret "black box"] room or whatsoever. Because it is the property of the government.The Teliasonera representatives also said that the company is trying to improve transparency in relation to its human rights efforts by publishing information on its website, and is working to "improve processes when it comes to government demands" such as by "maybe seeking judicial review." I had a quick scan through one of the key documents over at teliasonera.com, which is supposed to be an overview of Teliasonera's "action programme" related to telecommunications and human rights. One of the most striking passages, in a document (.pdf) headed "Freedom of expression and privacy – the international framework," is as follows (emphasis added):
The requirements generally imposed on a telecoms operator that are sensitive from the point of view of rights and freedoms are those allowing the police and national security services to intercept and monitor telecommunications traffic in secret, or to gain access to information on subscribers and historical information on telecommunications traffic and on the location of mobile phones. There may also be requirements to shut down all or part of a telecommunications network, block individual messages and block specific websites on the Internet. One aspect that national regulations have in common is that the telecoms operators do not participate in public authorities' decisions to take a particular action. Local laws sometimes require decisions to be made by a court or by an individual public authority. The choice of decision-making body may be influenced by the nature or severity of the threat and how time-critical the measures are. One recurring feature of national regulations is that details concerning public authorities' decisions, requirements and work in these areas are strictly confidential and telecoms operators are not given any information on why a particular measure is to be adopted.What these snippets illustrate is the deeply conflicted position Teliasonera has put itself in by doing business in countries such as Azerbaijan. The company says that it is committed to protecting human rights, freedom of expression and privacy, and yet in the same breath admits that it must adhere to "local laws" in these authoritarian countries and in some cases has no say in decisions about "proportionality between national security and human rights." It is definitely a good sign that Teliasonera has at least recognised that it must do more to address these problems, as I mentioned above. But any telecom company that chooses to continue operating in countries where crackdowns on activists and journalists are rife at the present time is still on some level taking a decision to put financial considerations first, while implicitly turning a blind eye to ongoing human rights violations facilitated with communications surveillance.
Members of the public have a right to know, but journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to get answers to the simplest of questions on their behalf. A creeping control culture means that face-to-face contact, and even telephone calls being replaced by carefully managed email exchanges. De-humanised, sterile, and obstructive, this trend poses a serious threat to journalism and genuine transparency – at all levels.It is definitley a threat – but I'm not sure how journalists collectively can respond. As the public relations industry grows, in stark contrast, journalism is struggling to survive. There are less and less publications out there able to invest in time-consuming, laborious investigative reporting, which is hugely detrimental to society and to the health of democracy. One solution might be for the government to create a kind of investigative journalism fund to help reporters and media outlets finance important investigative projects. This has been supported by a House of Lords committee – but is probably unlikely to come to fruition at least in the near future due to the wider economic crisis. Yet it's not as if public funding for investigative reporting isn't financially viable, even in the grip of a recession. Recently, the government wasted an estimated £40 million on a botched rail contract. Yes, £40 million. Even a fraction of that amount could have funded valuable muckraking projects and helped to push back against the polluting culture of public relations.
Thursday, 25 October 2012
The Security Service is undertaking a number of major projects covering estates, business continuity, core IT systems and improving its digital investigative capabilities. A notable success during the reporting period was the completion of the Digital Intelligence (DIGINT) programme, which aimed to improve systems for the collection and analysis of intelligence material gathered electronically. The Director General explained: "One of the things that really drove us on the investment of DIGINT was a discussion where the relevant directors explained that actually, of all the material that we’ve caught, over half was not being processed. Now, as an intelligence organisation, that’s a nightmare. I mean, quite frankly, I would rather not have the intelligence at all and miss something than have the intelligence and not actually having processed it… We have made real progress on that, and I’m very proud on DIGINT." (Emphasis added)What this comment suggests, for the sake of clarity, is that the UK's spy agencies in recent years have been mining and storing quantities of electronic data — or "digital intelligence" — so large that they have not been able to analyse it. The data, most of it I would expect is mined from the internet, has probably been gathered and then left to sit and gather digital dust in a secret storeroom somewhere. The claim from Evans in the above quote is that MI5 has worked to address the problem as part of a new programme, which presumably involves a great deal of automated analysis. But the statement also illustrates how new surveillance powers currently being proposed in the UK could pose problems for the UK if the security services are already near a point where they are drowning in data. There tends to be two main schools of thought within the intelligence community. Some believe that targeted surveillance of specific individuals and groups is the best method, because it provides information that can be dissected and acted upon fairly quickly by human analysts. The other school of thought, and the one which seems to be prevailing, is that a kind of dragnet surveillance is superior. What this entails is gathering huge quantities of data based on key words, locations, phrases, and then mining through it to find anything useful. From a rights and civil liberties perspective, targeted surveillance is clearly more attractive because it is likely to involve much less intrusion of innocent individuals' communications. But rights and civil liberties do not appear to be high on the agenda at our secret agencies, and so what we get is something closer to the dragnet option. I should add that surveillance in the UK is not without regulation. To intercept domestic communications, police and security services require ministerial authorisation, and must show that any interception is in the interests of national security, safeguarding economic well being, or to prevent and detect serious crime. That said, these justifications are fairly broad, and there were 2,911 interception warrants granted in 2011 — but any one warrant can cover countless individuals, so we actually have little idea how many people had their communications snooped on. (Also, to monitor content posted on social networks and other "open source" websites, there are no laws or restrictions at all. So websites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare are all fair game for the likes of MI5's "DIGINT" team to gather data from.)
Monday, 22 October 2012
We are trying to transplant a modern system of politics invented in Europe — characterised among other things by the division of the Earth into the independent secular states based on national citizenship — in a land where the belief in a secular civil government is an alien creed. Iraq was a cesspool for the British when they occupied it in 1917. It will be a cesspool for us as well.Within about two minutes Hedges was getting booed. People in the audience began shouting things like "moron" at him, and eventually large sections of the crowd stood up and turned their backs. The microphone plug was pulled on a couple of occasions, with a member of the college's staff having to step in to ask that people please give Hedges time to speak. He eventually managed to finish, but not before one or two people attempted to rush the stage as others shouted things like "USA! USA! USA!", "God bless America", and "get him off the stage!" Astonishingly, in the days after the incident, the president of the college, Paul Pribbenow, issued an apology to the students (not to Hedges). He circulated a letter telling them that: "Unfortunately, our commencement address this past Saturday did not focus on your educational accomplishments and the challenges you will meet in the future ... Our speaker presented his ideas in a style that suggested the day was about him and not you. For this, I am very sorry." And Hedges' then-employer, the New York Times, accused him of breaching its "ethics code" because he had "engaged in public discourse concerning his political or personal views." (He ended up leaving the newspaper, largely due to the critical position he took on Iraq. Ironically, in 2004, the Times published an apology for its Iraq coverage, telling readers that some of its reporting on the threats allegedly posed by Iraq, used to justify the invasion, had been "insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged ... we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.") Though the college's president told his students that Hedges' speech on that day was about "him and not you" and had no bearing on the "challenges you will meet in the future," saying so was myopic and wrong. Granted, the speech was hardly an uplifting one for a graduation day. But it was hardly a self-interested rant. It was clear to me that Hedges was attempting to communicate something meaningful and important to the students about the dark turn the US was taking into dangerous and tumultuous territory — which had a direct bearing on their future as young American graduates. Despite the booing, the jeering, the back-turning and the microphone unplugging, most of what Hedges said on that day has turned out to be accurate. I reported earlier this year that the attempt to transplant a western-style democracy in Iraq has led to sectarian divisions, heightened violence and corruption — not to mention an appalling death toll of more than 100,000 civilian dead. Like Hedges predicted, Iraq did become a "cesspool" for the US and the allied forces, which is ultimately why Barack Obama's administration was forced to pull out last December. It has not brought peace to the region, and nor has it lessened the threat of terrorism or led to a world that is more stable and secure. When it emerged that the case for the invasion of Iraq had been built on disinformation, I wonder what those people who turned their backs on Hedges thought about. When they read that an estimated 35,000 civilians died in the first three months, along with countless young American soldiers, I wonder if they regretted their actions. And I wonder if almost a decade on since the invasion they would today listen to Hedges' analysis and still decry him as a "moron." I doubt it. Watch/read the speech here: part one; part two; part three; part four; transcript.
Sunday, 30 September 2012
This demonstrates only too clearly that although the aim of the American state secrets privilege is to protect national security, in practice it is often used to eliminate embarrassment — political, bureaucratic, organisational or individual embarrassment at past failures ... It also shows how giving a government agency an absolute right to secrecy encourages bad behaviour. The American agencies could easily have stopped the defrauding of British citizens without the matter going to court, given their enormous leverage in the matter. Instead, they chose to suppress justice.Could the current attempt to stop the case against the NSA over the domestic surveillance programme be a similar bid to "suppress justice" and protect reputations? It is not a far-fetched possibility. One key figure in the warrantless wiretapping saga has even openly gloated about how he is pleased state secrets privilege is being used to shield him. General Michael Hayden, who was the director of the NSA between 1999 and 2005, said with a smirk a few weeks ago that he was "personally grateful to Obama for using the state secrets argument to stop some of these court proceedings — because I am personally named in some of these courts." Perhaps most alarming, though, is the bigger picture at play here. When any democratic government repeatedly resorts to secrecy to protect the disclosure of information the public has a right to know, it has lost its way. It is broken, existentially fractured. In my own experience as a journalist, the US has a stronger culture of freedom of information than the UK does, but at the highest echelons of power there remains a definite absence of transparency and accountability. The ongoing surveillance case, and the aggressive bid to suppress it, is only the latest example.
Sunday, 9 September 2012
On 11 September 2001, the day of the Twin Towers attacks, Hayden explained how he stood behind blacked out curtains at an NSA building in Washington and thought to himself, "things are going to be different around here tomorrow. We have entered into an entirely new era." Within about two hours of the first plane striking the first World Trade Center tower that morning, Hayden said he had used his authority to "dial things up a little bit" at the NSA in order to give the agency "a higher probability we would intercept those kind of messages that would tell us about the next attack." Hayden didn't elaborate exactly on what it means to "dial things up," but I think it's safe to assume it means intercepting a much larger volume of communications. (Hayden said that because he had "dialed things up" then-CIA director George Tenet a few days later joked to him that he was "going to jail" but President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney said it was alright because they would "bail him out.") In the weeks ahead, President Bush gave Hayden more powers. This led to the domestic wiretapping scandal revealed by the New York Times in 2005, which exposed how the NSA had been granted authority to spy on "the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible 'dirty numbers' linked to al Qaeda." But that was just the start. And despite the controversy around the domestic wiretapping exposed by the New York Times, as Hayden said in his speech, a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act "not only legitimated almost everything President Bush had told me to do under his article two authorities as commander in chief but in fact gave the NSA a great deal more authority to do these kinds of things." Aside from the surveillance, Hayden also overseen a variety of other ghoulish new tactics brought in amid the terror fears. There was the kidnapping, or extraordinary rendition, of suspects from one country to the other — often to countries where they were allegedly subject to torture, like Egypt and Libya. There was also the secret black sites — hidden prisons in locations such as Poland and Thailand — where terror suspects were subjected to a variety of so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' like waterboarding, which makes a person feel like they are drowning. Not to mention the Guantanamo Bay prison, the indefinate detention of accused terrorists, and the birth of remote-controlled drone strikes as a method of 'targeted killing' or extrajudicial assassination — however you want to term it. None of this Hayden has any reservations about. In his speech he explained it was all about how America had to "take the fight to the enemy" wherever he (or she) may be. He even recounted a meeting in Germany during the spring of 2007, where he gave a speech to a room of about two dozen people including representatives from every country in the European Union. He spoke about extraordinary rendition and America's tactics in the War on Terror. Not one person present in the room, he said, agreed with any of the justifications he gave for the use of such tactics. But this didn't dissuade him. His essential position could be summarised as, "how could we possibly be wrong?" Perhaps a mindset that can be attributed to American exceptionalism, the belief that the US has a unique mission in the world to spread its ideals. Hayden was evidently not preoccupied at all with minor irritations like human rights obligations and international law. Rather, he explained how his main concern was in early 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in to the White House. He was worried that Obama, a Democrat who had voiced strong criticism of George W. Bush's counter-terror policies, might seek to scale back efforts in the War on Terror. Hayden had at this point moved to the CIA, where he was director. But his fears about Obama being a soft touch were quickly alleviated. Obama continued almost all of Bush's policies, Hayden explained, because he realised "we are at war" with al-Qaeda and its affiliates. In the end, there was a "powerful continuity" between Bush and Obama, Hayden said. "Targeted killings have continued, in fact if you look at the statistics targeted killings have increased under Obama" ... "renditions, that's the extrajudicial movement of suspected terrorists from place A to place B — our policy is the same under President Obama as it was under President Bush and President Clinton." He went on: Obama "didn't shut Guantanamo" and he also took the same position as Bush on "indefinite detention and state secrets" ... "I am personally grateful to Obama for using the state secrets argument to stop some of these court proceedings — because I am personally named in some of these courts." Perhaps most revealing, the one discontinuity between Bush and Obama from a counter-terror perspective, Hayden said, was (and is) the difference between the presidents when it comes to killing or capturing terror suspects. Under Bush many suspected insurgents were captured, incarcerated and interrogated. Under Obama, according to Hayden, just one person has been held outside of Iraq and Afghanistan since January 2009. Obama has been accused of preferring to kill than capture, though this is something he has denied. He said in a recent interview that "our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence" but that it’s sometimes "very difficult to capture them." According to Hayden, however, the kill rather than capture policy is a political decision. "We have made it so politically dangerous and so legally difficult that we don't capture anyone anymore. We take another option. We kill them," he said. And in a thinly veiled criticism of Obama's aggressive killing policy, Hayden added: "We're losing the opportunity to interrogate and to learn about our enemy." contravene international law, the interrogation techniques widely considered to constitute torture, the extrajudicial killings in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where there has been no formal declaration of war. And here he is applauding Barack Obama, a president elected on a platform oppositional to many of these tactics, for keeping up a "powerful continuity." In fact, his only criticism of Obama is that he is doing too much killing.
Approximately two hours after the first terror attack on New York in September 2001, Hayden used his authority as chief of the NSA to "dial things up" and get more "aggressive" with communications interception. This prompted a colleague at the CIA to tell him, jokingly, that he was "going to jail," and in turn led President George W. Bush to authorise the domestic wiretapping program that permitted the NSA to spy on emails and phone calls of Americans without a warrant. Hayden is "personally grateful" to President Barack Obama for protecting him from being held to account in a court of law by invoking state secrets privilege. A 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act "legitimated" everything president Bush had authorised the NSA to do regarding the domestic wiretapping of communications and "gave the NSA a great deal more authority to do these kinds of things." Hayden says there has been "powerful continuity" between the counter-terror tactics used by President Bush and President Obama, including on extraordinary rendition. However, he said one area of discontinuity is that Obama has a preference for killing terror suspects as opposed to capturing them — because it is now considered "so politically dangerous and so legally difficult" to capture.
The other thing that struck me about Hayden in this speech was his general demenour. The way he was making quips and smirking about how he was thankful Obama was protecting him from being held to account in American courts over the actions of the agencies he was in charge of. There was an arrogance about his comments, an air of impunity. Hayden came off as a man with an almost sociopathic disdain for the basic rule of law.His justification for the controversial tactics was simple: al-Qaeda and its affiliates constitute a "new threat to old institutions." Terror groups have no regard for laws like the Geneva Convention and blur the distinction between civilian and combatant. Therefore, and this is the core logic underpinning Hayden's remarks, America's security apparatus has to do the same. It has to evolve (or, rather, regress) and "take the fight to the enemy" using whatever means necessary. The problem is that there is no conclusive evidence anywhere to suggest that this is a successful method of combating the threat in the first place. Killing people and indefinitely detaining them, implementing secret systems of mass surveillance — these are things that have lowered America's standing in the world. If you flout the rule of law, if you sink to a level of legal nihilism, you immediately lose the moral high-ground. You also make more enemies than friends. As we are seeing with US drone strikes in Yemen, where many civilians have been killed by American missiles, the US may only be inspiring a new generation of Jihadists by spreading fear across entire regions of countries while pursuing small handfuls of men who have been deemed a threat through a process that is itself contentious and conceivably highly flawed. Hayden seems convinced that what he presided over at the NSA and CIA was right, just, and absolutley necessary to protect America. But he has not won the argument and I don't think he ever will. He told the audience at one point that they, as Americans, in reference to the CIA, were "blessed as a people with the talent and the morality of the folks who are in your chief espionage service." I couldn't help recall at this point the case of a Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar. He was accused of plotting terrorism and snatched by CIA agents from a street in Milan, Italy in broad daylight on 17 February, 2003. Omar was taken to Egypt where he was imprisoned in Tura, 20 miles south of Cairo, and handed over to Egyptian security services. He said he was twice raped, suffered electroshock treatment and lost the hearing in his left ear due to repeated beatings. He was eventually released by the Egyptian government in 2007, after a state security court ruled that his detention was unfounded. There are many cases similar to this. All of them call into question the morality of those involved, and that includes General Michael Hayden and the staff he commanded.
Tuesday, 4 September 2012
I think that as networking technologies become increasingly powerful and increasingly ubiquitous, their ability to oppress a people also grows. You know, you can't take a utopian view of the Internet and of network technologies. In fact, a government with malignant intent can bend these networks to infiltrate, monitor and manipulate what's happening there, and to surveil its citizens.
This is something that, let me be blunt, it really scares me. I've got a five year old, a seven year old, and a nine year old, and the world that they grow up in is going to be a very different one that the world that I did, in terms of hyper-transparency and in terms of near constant surveillance.
The responsibility of the State Department - there are a couple of things. First of all we restrict the sale of technologies which can be used to oppress people in countries where we have sanctions. In other cases there are export controls, where we can help inform the licensing of certain products and services.
But in your question you made the right point. Certain of the use of these technologies are utterly benign. So the same thing which can be used to inspect a packet to determine whether people are organising a protest can also be used to reasonably filter out spam. So you've got to remember that the very same technologies that can be used for reasonable and benign purposes can also be used for malignant purposes.
[What's an example of one of those technologies that might be restricted?]
There are a variety of different technologies that governments - the Syrian government, the Iranian government, and others - have tried to access, either from the United States or from Europe. The problem is, just to be blunt, there are a lot of vendors out there now. You know, we can restrict the sale of exports from American companies. I'm really glad that the Europeans have joined us in similarly restricting sales of a lot of things from Europe, to certain of these oppressive environments. But then they are able to turn around and buy it from another country.made it into the hands of despots despite US trade embargoes. Several US companies also participate in ISS World, a series of international surveillance industry conferences organised by an American businessman, where governments from all corners of the globe come to purchase the latest spy tools and learn about new surveillance techniques. And the US itself is hardly a surveillance-free zone. Serious questions remain unanswered about a new National Security Agency data centre in Utah which it is alleged will intercept and store "complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter'." Not to mention the role so-called 'Fusion Centres' play across the US, monitoring 'suspicious activity' and keeping tabs on social networks. I could go on... That said, Alec Ross is one of a tiny handful of political figures who appears to be clued up on the complex issues - political, moral, technological, legal - around surveillance and its rapid, incremental encroachment across the world. You will see few senior political figures in any country talking publicly on this topic as Ross does, and that in itself is worth something. Last year, for instance, I interviewed Jerry Lucas, the American who organises the ISS World surveillance conferences. During the interview, extracts from which were later published in an article for the Guardian, Lucas gave some freakishly blasé responses to my questions about surveillance tools being sold to repressive governments. He was dismissive of human rights concerns, compared mass surveillance tech to "cars and trucks," and said that "you can't stop the flow of surveillance equipment." Shortly after, Alec Ross issued a stern public condemnation of the businessman's comments, telling him he should "be more thoughtful about the consequences of his beliefs. With all due respect, Mr. Lucas, people are tortured + there can be life/death consequences to sales of these products." Of course, actions speak louder than words. More could certainly be done by legislators in the US to crack down on, and hold to account, companies exporting surveillance technology to places where it may be abused. And, as mentioned above, the US has its own serious, unresolved domestic issues regarding surveillance. However, at the very least it is somewhat reassuring to know that there is a senior adviser in the State Dept. who seems to have a grasp on the basic fact that there is a problem. In the UK that is far from the case, which is a cause for considerable concern. I can't name one senior British political figure - or an adviser to a senior figure - who has spoken out about the myriad problems heralded by the booming surveillance industry. Advisers in London could probably learn a thing or two from Ross by trying to engage with the subject in a public forum. But I won't be counting on that happening any time soon.
You know, there are not two or three or four companies out there selling gear. And it's a very remunerative environment. I mean there are countries around the world who are spending billions - tens of billions of dollars – to try to monitor its information environment. Whenever you've got that much money at play, there are going to be people who are trying to make the money. And so this has been a big problem.
Saturday, 1 September 2012
Monday, 27 August 2012
Saturday, 25 August 2012
As a result of the UAV strikes, Malik Jalal and others residing in the area live in constant fear. There are very often UAVs hovering overhead. Members of Malik Jalal's tribe cannot tell whether they are intending to fire missiles or simply for surveillance, and the knowledge that any one of them at any time could launch a missile is unbearable. Malik Jalal as the tribal elder feels particularly helpless that he is unable to stop the UAVs and he fears for the physical safety of his family as well as the psychological effects, especially on the young, of the UAVs' presence. Even young children are aware of the UAVs and can see them and hear their buzzing overhead. The UAVs also affect the economy and daily life. People are scared to be out together in large groups or to travel with others in case they are mistaken for militants and targeted, and many parents are reluctant to send their children to school in case they are hit during the journey.You can read the full lawyers' letter here. It is estimated that up to 3,303 people have been killed in US drone strikes on Pakistan since 2004, including as many as 880 civilians. The issue is causing huge tension in the country and politicians have repeatedly called for America to stop its attacks - to no avail. The BIS told me that it "takes is export licensing responsibilities seriously" but said that "we do not comment on individual licence requests, the application or the end user." Of more interest was what a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told me when I called to query how the Royal Air Force uses drones. In an apparent attempt to distance the MoD from the increasingly controversial US bombings in places like Pakistan, the spokesman said: "I wouldn’t want you to confuse the way we operate drones with the way the Americans operate drones. They use them for wholly different missions."