Tag: piracy

Pirates, Hackers, and Terrorists

A hypothesis: Pirates, hackers, and terrorists are perennial actors in international relations. They will never be permanently defeated; the frontier will never be permanently settled.

The underlying material reason that these actors exist is actually quite simple. Each of these (Weberian) ideal type actors emerges as a consequence of the (proto-capitalist or industrial-capitalist) overproduction and networking of standardized technologies. [I am considering them as separate types even though they may overlap in practice.] Overproduction and networking creates vulnerabilities as access is dispersed and familiarity increases. Technologies may be reverse engineered, hijacked, or even commandeered if there is sufficient familiarity with the operational system. As technologies that connect people and places experience a paradigmatic shift, waves of piracy, hacking, and terrorism will recede until the new technology once again becomes overproduced, common, and accessible.

Although each type of actor has occasionally been licensed and/or supported and sheltered by state actors, state support for terrorism, hacking, and pirating is not critical. State support may enhance the lethality and frequency of activities but the activities are not dependent on state support. It is worth considering that the withdrawal of state sponsorship may actually create greater instability as happened in the Caribbean for example from the 16th to the 18th century when unemployed privateers would turn to piracy in peacetime. While some of these activities can be materially lucrative (e.g. ship piracy and ransom), they may be motivated by other psychological factors such as an anti-social disposition or a politico-religious ideology for example. State counter-actions may work to displace the physical and virtual sites from which pirates, hackers, and terrorists operate, but new sites will always emerge even if particular actors or organizations are dismantled. The reason is that the panoptic powers of states are never uniform and cooperation between states is often ephemeral in global politics.

Computer or cell phone hacking seems to be a relatively new and distinct activity, but before hacking there was phreaking of the 2600 Hz variety and hacking is basically a new label for burglary, espionage, and sabotage.  As computer programs are merely solvable mathematical equations, any computer system can be hacked — just as any lock can be picked — if there is the possibility of access. And access is always a possibility.

Okay, so what does all of this mean? I am not sure, which is why this is just being posted as a hypothesis, but here are some tentative thoughts…

First, it means that those who believe that drones and biometrics will pacify the “non-integrated gap” fail to understand the political economy of technology. While technology and biopolitics may temporarily calm a restive area, that technology will eventually be overcome. Drones and biometric devices will be hacked and pirated. These technologies which are currently giving states an advantage, if they continue to proliferate, will most likely be used against state actors in the future.

Second, while ideology or religion may matter in recruiting/retaining individuals in these types of activities, it is important to think through the material forces that enable these activities. The argument is not to replace one form of mono-causal thinking (i.e. ideational) with another (i.e. materialist), but to think through the ways in which material resources facilitate certain types of ideologically motivated political action in a dynamic manner.


Piracy as a Signal of Value?

[Cross posted at bill | petti)

Christopher Penn crafts an interesting piece arguing that piracy (i.e. copyright infringement) is, among other things, a market signal:

Piracy indicates that something is sufficiently valuable enough that it’s worth stealing. It’s worth making an illegal copy and spreading without compensating the creator.

Do you want the most accurate, unbiased, unmanipulated measure of how popular and valuable something is? Go hit up a site like The Pirate Bay or Demonoid or any of the other file sharing services and see if someone is stealing it.

Now, I think this is an interesting observation, as well as a logical one. It seems intuitive that someone must value a product in order to go to the trouble of illegally copying and distributing it. This act takes time as well as incurs particular risks if one is caught. Similarly, for someone to illegally download a product they too incur some level of risk and therefore must believe the product to be worth the risk they are taking on. However, I would have to disagree with Christopher that using file sharing services as an index for how valuable something is constitutes the optimal way to measure value.

In most cases (and I stress most, leaving room for a few exceptions), the market price of a product can indicate three things: level of demand, level of supply, and/or price of inputs for that product. When price rises either demand has increased, supply has decreased, or the cost of inputs has increased. If consumers keep consuming the product at the higher price it indicates that they place a higher marginal utility on that product (fancy way of saying they value or like it more). If consumers are not willing to pay the higher cost the market will correct itself–as demand drops, supply increases, etc.–leading to a lower price for the product.

With piracy, we lose the power of the price signal. ‘Producers’ in this scenario essentially have no production costs, as it is incredibly easy to produce and distribute pirated products electronically. They also have no concerns for inventory, since ‘digital shelf space’ is infinite. Additionally, consumers bear no immediate costs for consuming the product. That is the whole point of illegal file sharing–one does not have to pay for what one consumes. Without any kind of feedback besides pure demand, it is hard to gauge how valuable something is since consumers are not being asked to sacrifice anything of value for the product.

However, there is one possible bit of cost that we could incorporate–risk. Copyright infringement is illegal (well, most places) and, if caught, one could face stiff fines and penalties for either ‘producing’ or ‘consuming’ illegal content. We woul need to incorporate a measure of risk that takes into account the severity of the possible penalties and multiply that times the likelihood that one would be caught and that the harshest penalty would be applied. Say, for example, R=P x L where R equals the total risk assumed, P equals penalties, and L equals the likelihood of being penalized. This measure could denote the actual ‘price’ that people are willing to pay to either distribute and consume specific illegal products.

I think if we look at it this way we would find that the value of these goods (in most cases) is far less than Christopher thinks they are, as the probability of being caught is quite low for most participants in this type of economy. If that is the case, the rate of piracy would not necessarily indicate that consumers value the product more, but actually that they value it less since R would likely be less than the market price ($). I think there is a philosophical dimension to piracy that Christopher does not incorporate into his theory (more on this below).

Christopher makes another point with regards to marketing:

Unlike commercial markets where marketers spend time, energy, and money to get you to buy things, no commercial marketer actively goes out and tells people to steal their products and not pay them. That’s completely irrational.

Give away for non-monetary currency, sure, through inbound links or reputation, through legitimate venues like your web site or iTunes, but no one wants to confer any level of legitimacy on pirate markets. Thus, when you see something in a pirate market that is actively being traded (meaning someone right now is seeding or leeching, uploading or downloading), it’s a good indicator to me that there’s value being exchanged, even if the creator isn’t getting compensated.

This is true in most cases, except that whether you pay for a product or not you have still been exposed to the barrage of marketing activities that promote the product.

Finally, piracy as a signal runs into problems due to the philosophical/psychological dimensions to the practice. Peter emailed me to discuss the post and lays out some of the basic logic that I was alluding to above regarding philosophical/psychological factors to piracy:

On piracy–there is also a social/normative component, in that people want to identify as Pirates because Pirates are cool.

Sometimes you’ll have folks who want something but don’t want to pay, and there’s an economic signal there. But, you will also have an identification element at work–I’m a Pirate, i don’t pay for anything (even if the cost is negligible), mainly for the self image of romantic hero bucking the system, rebeling against the Man. Pirates are, after all, cool. They even have a major political party in Europe that won seats in the EU parliament.

I agree with Peter, and this fact further complicates using piracy as a signal of value. Furthermore, we know from experimental work that simply making something free can alter how the item is perceived and, consequently, consumed.

[BTW, Peter and Patrick are supervising some really sharp undergrads who are doing some independent Piracy research this summer, and this identification element becomes a strong running theme for them, as the modern notion of piracy contains a romantic and heroic element to it. They have a great blog on the project: https://roguishcommonwealth.blogspot.com]

Overall I think the idea is very interesting and we likely can extract some additional measure of value from file sharing sites. But piracy is just one input among many that we could use to devise a more complete index for value.

(via chrisbrogan)


Piracy and International Law

Before heading over to the YouTube Conference keynote, I tuned in for a few hours Thursday morning to the Harvard University Humanitarian Law and Policy Forum‘s latest live webcast. (Recording can be accessed here.)Thursday morning’s discussion: the status of pirates and piracy in international law.

I didn’t catch the whole thing because I had to run to an 11:00 meeting, but key points of discussion included:

1) Practical concerns such as the implications of listing pirates as terror groups (because then no ransom can be paid), the risks of using lethal force, etc.

2) The human rights of pirates

3) Policy options (including rerouting shipping around the Cape of Good Hope) and countermeasures (including PSCs on merchant ships)

and of most interest to me:

4) The legal status of pirates (defined not in humanitarian law but in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and

5) How to reconcile universal jurisdiction and national sovereignty

As a crime of universal jurisdiction, all countries may capture pirates (if they fit a rather limited definition) on the high seas and prosecute – but, this does not hold true in a country’s territorial waters because of sovereingty issues (the patchwork of domestic jurisdictions / national laws of littoral states complicates a coordinated response to the problem.

I’m not trained in law (maybe I need to be in order to understand developments in this area), but a question left in my mind after the discussion is this: Why are the UNCLOS provisions being so strictly adhered to in what clearly remains a failed state situation? Legal analysts and policymakers seem hell bent on upholding Somali “sovereignty.” But what sovereignty? Beginning with SCR’s authorization of UNOSOM in 1991, the UNSC set a precedent of ignoring the requirement of state consent for operations needed for international peace and security in cases (also Somalia at the time) in which no functioning state is present to give consent.

Of course, even if it were recognized that countries besides Somalia have a right (and responsibility) to deal with piracy within Somali territorial waters, that does not solve the wider problem of how to restructure maritime law to deal with piracy as a global problem. The four United Nations Security Council Resolutions to date deal only with the situation in the Gulf of Aden; but many of the issues raised in that area apply broadly, so a patchwork approach really won’t do.


There Be Game-Changes Afoot

OK, in between wrapping up my tenure statement draft and taking my daughter to the orthodontist, finally a moment for some Monday pirate blogging. As Peter notes, the big news story since Sunday was the rescue of Captain Richard Philips off the coast of Somalia: as I implied earlier, the capture of American hostages was bound to be a game-changer in the region and globally.

A few thoughts:

1) First, irrespective of any further US leadership on the issue now that our man is safe, there’s the copycat factor. The US’ precedent could be repeated by any vessels in the region, but whether this will solve the problem or make it worse is unclear. The pirates themselves are “vowing to retaliate.” Yeah, right. Pirate spokesmen seem to be claiming that their unbroken record of not mistreating captives might be coming to an end, but if their policy is to immediately kill captives whose countries approach the vessels, seems like that will put a damper on negotiations for ransom? One could imagine calling the pirates’ bluff but only through coordinated and systematic games of chicken. I think this could work in the long term: emerging naval technologies are going to make it easier, not harder, to pick off pirates in situations like this, and the US could consider sharing the technology with regional forces willing to help it police shipping lanes. Nonetheless, this approach, even if effective in the long-term, would certainly come at the expense of hostages’ lives in the short-term. I predict the exhiliration will quickly wear off and the issue of extrajudicial killing of pirates become a hot legal topic at the UN Security Council in short order – a good thing. High time we resolved this one.

2) One idea floating in the public discourse is a strategy of prevention, rather than retribution: arming merchant vessels. But there are many good reasons not to go this route, particularly in cases of supertankers filled with flammable liquid. But I wonder why non-lethal weapons such as long range acoustic devices are not being routinely deployed on such vessels. They’ve had success at repelling pirate attacks on cruise ships, why not merchant ships as well? Perhaps a global strategy of subsidizing the acquisition of such systems by commercial shippers would be less costly than an all out war against piracy on the high seas, or the kind of sanctions regime it would take to force countries and companies to stop making ransom payments.

3) On the other hand, the Obama Administration appears to be developing a more comprehensive preventive strategy: to go after pirate bases on land while resolving Somalia’s failed state status once and for all. A noble idea, but don’t expect it to be very politically popular, or to bear fruit overnight.

4) There is an opportunity here to solidify a security regime drawing in a number of regional maritime powers including Iran. Securitizing piracy in the Gulf of Aden could create a focal point for diplomacy between the US/EU and Iran. Roger Cohen has more. On the other hand, as John Boonstra points out, there is also an opportunity to muck up through a blustery unilateralism this emerging security community. Will Obama seize, squander or squelch this range of possibilities?

UPDATE: At Fox News, Paul Wagensell answers my question about sonic weapons: they’re not as effective as one might hope due to the availability of easy countermeasures. He lists a variety of other anti-piracy weapons that might, however.


Well, well, well.

From the AP:

“Somali pirates on Wednesday hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 American crew members onboard, hundreds of miles from the nearest U.S. military vessel in some of the most dangerous waters in the world.

It was the sixth ship seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

In a statement, the company confirmed that the U.S.-flagged vessel has 20 U.S. nationals onboard.

It is not clear whether the pirates knew they were hijacking a ship with American crew members.”

Now we’ll see what develops.


On Norm-Building as a Vocation

On the last day of class in “Rules of War,” I ask my students what kinds of things are needed to strengthen the regime governing the conduct of war. They come up with all kinds of nifty ideas, and then I ask them what they’ll personally do to move the world in that direction. For awhile they struggle to come up with anything more concrete than “raise awareness,” but after awhile they will say things like, “run for office,” or “join the State Department,” or “go to work for Doctors Without Borders.”

They rarely say they’ll join the military and work from within to uphold the spirit of the Geneva Conventions. This year, I asked my students if any of them would consider this. A few raised their hands, but most shook their heads, almost in disbelief. I asked why. Someone said, “Because the culture of the military pushes you in the opposite direction.”

It was an interesting moment for me as an educator, to realize how many of my students had taken this message away from class, when in fact military culture can and does push in either direction, depending on the nature of the policy, the circumstances and in particular, the leadership. And when in fact the relevant question to ask is whether other institutional cultures in US foreign policy are really more Geneva-friendly than the military. I have my doubts, but I had failed somehow to cultivate those in my students.

Maybe it was all the atrocity literature we’d read, the Milgram and Stanford prison studies, and the detailed case material on Abu Ghraib that made them so certain that if you want to protect innocent people, the military – or any institution that teaches obedience first and foremost – is the wrong place to be. Maybe my error was in not balancing the story of Lieutenant William Calley out sufficiently with the story of Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, the helicoper pilot who put himself between Calley’s men and the civilians of My Lai. Perhaps in dwelling too much on the surveys from Iraq showing that more than a third of US troops think torture is sometimes OK, I missed the important comparison, which is what percentage of the US civilian masses, or policymakers, answer the same way on such surveys. Turns out that for the general public, at least, it’s around the same – 38%, according to a 2006 Gallup poll.

Or maybe it was the absence of active-duty military personnel in this particular class. (This was an important shift from the normal distribution of students I would teach at University of Pittsburgh, which in the past included an Army Chaplain whose policy paper argued for incorporated laws-of-war training into first-person-shooter games to prime enlistees to respect civilians in urban areas, and Roy Nickerson, whose blog posts from Iraq regularly include notes like the following:

“It’s the children that make me feel it: hope. Not some hope related to grand government programs, campaign promises, or lofty world peace solutions, but a next-day type of hope. A hope that maybe these kids will come closer to a reliable sewer system, sanitation, clean water, and consistent electricity. The hope that maybe life for them gets a little bit better tomorrow.”)

At any rate, I thought about that student from this year’s class, at once ready to join the State Department and forego military service, when I read this news story about the UN response to piracy off the Horn of Africa. The Security Council has authorized governments to use “all necessary means” to stamp out piracy on Somalia’s coast, essentially sanctioning the use of ground forces against pirate strongholds. It’s interesting to note that the US State Department pushed for this very approach, but the Pentagon is more cautious. Why? Because of the potential for collateral damage:

“The commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet expressed doubt last week about the wisdom of staging ground attacks on Somali pirates. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters it is difficult to identify pirates and said the potential for killing innocent civilians “cannot be overestimated.”

While US military personnel do not think as one, I think this anecdote suggests an important line of inquiry for teachers and students of international security norms: which institutional cultures in the US (and in other countries) are actually most and least predisposed to restraint in the use of political violence, and what does this mean for generating compliance with the rules of war? It’s an interesting academic question, but also one with a direct bearing on the tactical decisions of our human-security minded youth as they make decisions about where to best leverage their own professional capital in pursuit of their values.


Pirates and Sovereigns

This post began as a response to the comments on Peter’s recent post on pirates, but they got to be so long, and required hyperlinks, I decided to start a new thread.

In his comment to that post, T. Greer asks what the pirates who hijacked the oiltanker Sirius Star were thinking, since they can’t deal with the logistics involved in selling the cargo and were certainly likely to provoke the great powers (further) by targeting such a prize.

Somali pirates want two things, as far as I can tell:

1) Money, which is why their strategies have been based on ransom demands – they don’t care about docking in port and selling cargo, they care about getting shipowners and their insurance companies to buy back their property and their crewpersons’ lives. This also explains (I think) why the hijackers of the Faina continue to negotiate at sea with the Ukrainian shipowners, rather than identifying buyers of the ships’ military cargo within Somalia (for which there is a market aplenty). Ransom is now Somalia’s fastest-growing industry and is contributing to an economic boom there, which is one reason why marrying daughters off to pirates has recently become an coveted indicator of upward mobility among villages within coastal Somalia.

2) Domestic Legitimation (which is why they tend to avoid killing hostages if possible and why they are seizing larger and riskier targets). The longer they keep the world powers at bay, the more powerful they seem and the more credible their claims to be “protecting” the Somali coast from rampant global capitalism and illegal fishing/dumping by other nations, which was destroying the local fishing industry (many of the pirates are former fishers out of work) and polluting the coastline. This legitimation helps them maintain their credibility and social power among land-based Somalis, which reinforces their economic gains.

None of this justifies piracy, of course, but just my two cents from following the complexities of it a bit over the past three years. Best to think of them not just as theives but as political players in the region.

In this sense, there are genuine parallels with eighteenth and nineteenth century maritime piracy. Janice Thomson’s landmark study of the relationship between piracy, privateering and state-building early in the Westphalian system situates earlier pirate bands as alternate forms of non-territorialized governance aimed partly at resisting the emerging European state system’s reliance on property rights and ability to discipline labor. It’s no surprise to me that as state system loses its grip on markets, its role as container of political identity, and even its monopoly on the use of legitimate force, piracy has reemerged not only as a practice (this has been going on for least 20 years) but now also as a political discourse.

Aside from how to solve the immediate problem, the constitutive and legal questions here abound. If political players they are, rather than mere brigands, then what political rulesets should guide diplomacy with these people in order to both bring about a useful causal outcome (the protection of shipping lanes, the reconstruction of a country), while contributing constructively to reconstituting international law / institutions to account for the exercise of political violence by non-state actors through asymmetrical means?

I don’t know. But that’s one frame for understanding the kinds of discussions that are needed here – they are not so different from the discussions, such as those taking place at Complex Terrain Lab, about how to reconceptualize the state-centric law of armed conflict to account for / bring into the fold non-state actors. Only difference is, most of that discussion has taken place regarding the law of land warfare only, rather than maritime war law, as Ken Anderson pointed out recently: all should read his complete Opinio Juris post on the matter.


Bestir Yourselves, Ye Councils of Nations, and Smartly

International Talk Like a Pirate Day ends at midnight, and once again pirate lovers around the world are gleefully splicing the mainbrace with their mateys and poking fun at the bilge rats who don’t get that it’s, well, Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Pirate Dictionary here for the uninitiated; a superior and more scholarly resource is George Choundas’ A Pirate Primer.)

While that’s all in good fun, the time seems right to remind ourselves that maritime piracy is resurgent globally (the International Maritime Bureau reported rates of four attacks per week in April) and that it represents a scourge, not something to be romanticized. Also an interesting case for those interested in how the international community attempts to solve its common pool resource problems, like how to secure the lawless seas.

Some news stories to this effect from just the past week or so:

Piracy is particularly notorious off the coast of Somalia, where ocean-going robbers are not only threatening the lives of seafarers in a geopolitically important shipping lane, but have been looting aid intended to stem the humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa. 55 vessels have been attacked this year; 11 were being held hostage simultaneously last week alone.

After rescuing several of its own nationals held hostage earlier this week, France has recently called for “a global effort” to combat piracy; but what is meant by this is not clear: a global effort or an effort globally? The International Shipping Association’s Round Table joined this call today, but it seems they want a global effort to protect specific shipping lanes, demanding:

“real and immediate action against brazen acts of piracy, kidnapping and armed robbery, carried out with increasing frequency against ships in the Gulf of Aden, by pirates based in Somalia.”

My two pieces of eight:

1) The effort needs to occur globally and not focus piecemeal on patching together regional regimes to protect specific shipping lanes. Piracy hotspots move. Four years ago the Straits of Malacca were the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world, but a coordination regime between Indonesia, Malasia and Singapore reduced the incidence markedly. It has been during the same period, however, that pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa have increased as maritime marauders have sought a more lawless region to ply their trade. And Somalia is not the only hotspot today; piracy remains a problem around in South Asia and off the coast of Nigeria, in particular.

2) The efforts need to be global (that is multilateral) but that doesn’t mean the UN is the right body to do the work, as shippers claim. The UN has no global police force, and was designed to prevent territorial aggression among middle powers, not solve transnational security threats. In fact the Charter regime is part of the problem: ships on the high seas cannot legally pursue pirate boats into the territorial waters of sovereign countries; and some littoral states are ill-equipped to themselves police their shorelines. On a case by case basis, the UN Security Council can authorize exceptions to this rule, but this approach hasn’t worked well in Somalia, partly because governments also need to be required to actually do the policing. As TFS Magnum writes: “It seems just ridiculous to think the UN will solve this problem.” But governments acting together on this specific issue can. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have already shown that to be the case, at least in the Straits of Malacca. Given that, there’s little excuse for failing to take this seriously. Diodotus points out that an alternative forum for a discussion of new rule-sets might be next year’s World Oceans Conference.

3) Meantime, in Somalia, if Western powers want to solve the immediate problem, they might consider recognizing Puntland and Somaliland as legitimate political entities, which will strengthen their ability to bring rule of law to the region; and addressing the sources of the pirates’ legitimacy within Somalia itself. For more on both these arguments, see here.


Meanwhile, Outside of the Caucasus…

Rodger and Peter remind us that many things are happening out there besides the commotion between Russia and Georgia. For example:

Canada has dispatched the naval frigate HMCS Ville de Québec to the waters off the Horn of Africa, in the hopes of stemming pirate attacks that have in recent months drastically curtailed the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia’s war-affected masses. It’s unclear whether a single additional vessel will be up to the task, even if its mission is to rather single-mindedly protect World Food Programme shipments, rather than to police the waters more generally. Still, it’s heartening to see Canada’s open securitization of maritime piracy: see the long quotation by Rear-Admiral Dean McFadden in Daniel Skeritch’s post at Modern Day Pirate Tales.

Relatedly, the Dallas News reports on Somalia’s humanitarian crisis, now characterized as the “worst in the world.” (Some helpful perspective: compare the “catastrophe” of between 10,000 and 30,000 refugees in N. Ossetia to the following:)

“The United Nations estimates that at least 14 million people in the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of food aid due to conflict, dramatic rises in food costs and severe drought.

Two countries most threatened by this crisis are Somalia and Ethiopia, where 2.6 million and 4.6 million people, respectively, face severe food shortages.

Somalia is already in the grip of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It has been without an effective government for nearly two decades – but since 2007, the situation has declined sharply. Conflict, failed rains and hyperinflation have made staple foods such as rice and corn unaffordable for many.”

Finally, while two nuclear-armed superpowers step up increasingly belligerent rhetoric in the UN Security Council and beyond, it makes sense to mention the recent passage of the 63rd anniversary of the bombing of Hirsohima. Peace groups commemorated the event last week, and the mayor of Hiroshima asked the US to back a ban on nuclear weapons. Hmm. Might be an auspicious time to think about it.

The Human Security Report’s News Service provides a helpful roundup of other key stories.


The Year’s Under-reported Stories

Foreign Policy has released its annual “Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2007.” Among the contenders:

1. The Cyberwars Have Begun. However, see Miriam Dunn Cavelty’s article “Cyberterrorism: Looming Threat or Phantom Menace” in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics.

2. US Navy is in Iraq for the Long Haul. And a good thing too, if trade in the Arabian Gulf is to be protected from the emerging threat of piracy, which is on the rise off the coast of Iraq and is already thriving in other areas of the world characterized by state failure. See the International Analyst Network for more.

3. Rifts Within Al-Qaeda Widening. But is this really news? The movement has always been less monolithic than it has been portrayed by the West.

4. And my favorite, we have evidently “entered” the era of robot warriors. According to FP:

“Although militaries have used robots for everything from minesweeping to defusing bombs, the new “special weapons observation remote reconnaissance direct action system”–or SWORDS–is different. For one, it’s packing heat: an M249 machine gun, to be exact. It can fire on a target from more than 3,000 feet away. So far, three of these $250,000 robots have been deployed to Iraq to conduct dangerous ground operations that would otherwise put soldiers’ lives at risk.”

Well, now we’re ready to crush the rebels! On to Planet Hoth!


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