What Drones See
Never mind the cheeky play on everyone’s go-to food porn image sharing service. Dronestagram (@dronestagram) is laying bare something much, much more cold and unappetizing, something that the shadowy side of US anti-terror operations abroad have been taking extreme pains to keep unseen: The bulls eye’s of the CIA’s covert aerial robot wars throughout the Middle East and Horn of Africa.
It’s a deceptively perverted twist on the pleasure of looking down on Earth. America’s drone wars are far from secrets, of course. But gathering definitive strike and victim tallies are notoriously difficult tasks. Many of these strikes occur in the sort of remote and craggy tribal areas that are typically off limits to both foreign and local press. Intel is spotty, at best, being passed down, as it’s often the case, from locals who, understandably, are pissed off over the endless buzz and missile rain of hunter-killer drones like the Predator and the Reaper. Until now, it’s been tough to visualize—indeed, to personalize—the scope of these bloody, hotly contested campaigns.
That’s where Dronestagram comes in. The project’s conclusions are in the public domain, pulled from local papers and international news wires (Associated Press, AFP, Reuters, Yemen Post, Long War Journal, Xinhua, to name a few). As James Bridle explains over at the New Statesman, a variety of sources are used “to locate a suitable view for each image.” This includes everything from original media reports, local government and media sites, even Wikipedia, which are often translated from Arabic to English using Google’s translation engine. And given the sheer remoteness of many of these strikes, where and when pinpoint locations are unavailable the Google Map view should still hit within a couple kilometers of ground zero. But all names, places, and landscapes are confirmed.
“They are the names of places most of us will never see,” Bridle adds. “We do not know these landscapes and we cannot visit them.” Only now, something like Dronestagram is “[m]aking these locations just a little bit more visible, a little closer. A little more real.”
A little more real, yes. And for all the calm, detached, oddly serene God’s eye vibe that comes off the images, a hell of a lot more chilling, as well.