UK Drone Strike Activity Needs To Become Transparent

Alice K Ross

The British government should be more transparent about intelligence-sharing that leads to covert drone strikes, say MPs in a report published today.

The call for greater transparency ‘in relation to safeguards and limitations the UK Government has in place for the sharing of intelligence’, came in a report on drones by the Defence select committee. The report acknowledged that intelligence-sharing was outside the committee’s remit and called on the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the issue.

The report adds that it is ‘vital’ that a ‘clear distinction’ is drawn between UK drone operations and covert strikes such as those conducted by the US in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The British government has refused to confirm or deny whether it shares locational intelligence with the US that could lead to drone strikes, including contesting a court case brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani tribesman whose father was killed in an attack in March 2011.

However, Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism who has conducted a year-long investigation into the use of armed drones by the US, UK and Israel, told a parliamentary meeting last year that intelligence ties between the UK and US are so closely intertwined that it is ‘inevitable’ such sharing had taken place.

The select committee considered submissions from 21 experts and organisations including the Ministry of Defence (MoD), defence manufacturers, activist groups, and academics. Madeleine Moon MP, a Labour member of the committee, visited several British drone bases and spoke to pilots as part of the inquiry.

The Bureau submitted evidence highlighting the prominent role played by UK-piloted drones in Afghanistan — data obtained by the Bureau shows that they have carried out over a fifth of all drone strikes in the country, and the proportion of strikes carried out by UK pilots has grown over time. The Bureau’s submission outlines the need for transparency on drone strikes.

Read more