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Kill Chain: Drones and The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  565 ratings  ·  94 reviews
An essential and page-turning narrative on the history of drone warfare by the acclaimed author of Rumsfeld, exploring how this practice emerged, who made it happen, and the real consequences of targeted killing.

Assassination by drone is a subject of deep and enduring fascination. Yet few understand how and why this has become our principal way of waging war. Kill Chain un
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Chris Chester
Feb 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
tl;dr Starting back in WWII, Cockburn assiduously documents the origins of drone program's "targeted assassinations," diving not only into the flawed weapons systems themselves, but the misbegotten logic that underpins their use.

In Kill Chain, Andrew Cockburn looks at the historic context for and modern implications of a number of concepts central to the American drone program: that it's possible for remote sensors to offer command a God-like view of the battlefield; that enemy organizations can
Jul 10, 2014 rated it liked it
An accessible and well-written history of drone warfare from the perspective of the policymakers, targeters, pilots, targets and unintended victims. Cockburn argues that drone warfare is not as effective, discriminate, and cheap as its proponents claim.

Cocksburn argues that, rather than completely revolutionary and unprecedented, drone warfare has roots in strategic bombing (dating from World War Two), the evolution of technology to observe and control the battlespace (dating from Vietnam) and t
Mar 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Those with strong opinions on the US' increasingly frequent use of military drones should read this informative review of the history of unmanned warfare - it goes back farther than you'd think. The facts largely support the popular narrative that drones are highly imprecise, far-reaching in collateral damage, and used with astonishing insouciance. Amazingly, our military has no problem with a drone strike on a high level target that results in up to 29 civilian casualties. (30 or more, and you ...more
Jim L.
Jan 12, 2015 rated it liked it
The author takes us on a very thorough exploration of the subject of the US drone strategy. He examines the issue from 3 perspectives - military/historical, political and technological. Going back to WW2 and in particular Vietnam, he reviews the military strategy of going after 'high value' targets which started out as infrastructure targets but are now persons; explores the gradual changes in technology that have resulted in the current drone and surveillance technology; and discusses the polit ...more
Sharon Gardner
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
People tend to split into two groups, those who attack George W. Bush as the fascist, stupid monster who dragged an unwilling America into two foreign wars and those who attack Barrack H. Obama, as the socialist destroyer of our democracy who is coming for our guns. Unfortunately, both men's foreign policy should be castigated. Both Bush and Obama have executed American citizens without trial. Both men have waged foreign wars that are not only immoral but stupid, chief stupidity being the relian ...more
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Unlike dry histories, Andrew breathes life into our long path of corruption to modern assassination techniques. Through rich storytelling he creates a relationship with the actors in Washington and the corporations that pulled strings back over the past century. The light he sheds on modern policies is unapologetic and precise. Highly recommend.
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Terrific book that details the history of our reliance on technology. The author details how the U.S. military and intelligence community slowly moved away from a reliance on humans for information and decision making and swayed to technology. Further, our reliance on technology coincided with the tactic of targeted killings of enemy leadership despite massive evidence that adversary leadership at all levels is quickly replaced, sometimes by more competent and ruthless people.
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
Very one sided and negative. Contradictory in that one minute the author states the technology doesn't work or live up to it's claims, and the next that it is too effective and being directed by unfeeling, heartless pyschopaths. From listening to the author, every strike is a mistake that is too easy to make. ...more
Mar 16, 2021 rated it liked it

MARCH 16, 2021 Day of the Drone By Conn Hallinan.

In the aftermath of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, drone warfare is being touted as the latest breakthrough in military technology, a “magic bullet” that makes armored vehicles obsolete, defeats sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, and rout entrenched infantry.

The Drone Age Kill Chain

While there is some truth in the hype, one needs to be especially wary of mi
This was a very interesting book, but it seems like the author misses his own point. His argument against high-tech weaponry (drones, etc) seems to boil down into two critiques: 1) it doesn't work or isn't a good replacement for human decisions making and 2) it is being employed in a counterproductive method.

On the first critique, many of his arguments lack forward-thinkin. Sure, the drones may have problems, like a tendency to crash or more limited resolution than a low-flying manned craft, but
Ernest Spoon
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
How anyone could think the US government capable and competent enough to put together are far reaching, complex, complicated conspiracy is beyond me.

Unlike Jeremy Scahill's "Dirty Wars," Andrew Cockburn's "Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins" is a straight forward history of how the US Defense Department and the CIA have pissed away untold amounts of taxpayer dollars on high-tech detection and assassination systems which never delivered as advertised.

Also, unlike Scahill's "Dirty Wa
Ubaid Dhiyan
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
I don't really know what to make of this book - at one level it is a history of the CIA and the U.S. Military's "targeted killing" program - at another it is a hopelessly biased rant against the entire U.S. Military and to America's political approach to war and fight against terrorism. There is some well deserved criticism of the drone program and of the "military-industrial" complex but much of the book comes across as a rant. Cockburn dismisses practically all of the technological superiority ...more
Craig Fiebig
Feb 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Great discussion of the complexity created by too much information presented to decision-makers too far removed from the conflict. Also very helpful on inadequacy of horrible defense acquisition practices. Marred by deliberate mid-use of elementary business statistics. The author so frequently wanders back and forth between growth in revenue and growth in profit that he's either ignorant or malicious. Given that 100% of his 'errors' serve to bolster his point one is forced to conclude for malice ...more
Robert Davidson
May 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Informative and very enlightening as to how Drones are unreliable,very expensive to build and maintain and how often they are used to kill innocent people. When they do manage to eliminate a high ranking terrorist, the person is replaced very quickly and so the cycle of elimination continues. The Author provides a solid argument against the increased use of these Drones but so far no one is listening.
Ciaran Buckley
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
A disturbing read, analyses the myth that hi-tech war can be more humane than traditional horrible old war. Questions that assumptions that a) it's possible to accurately pinpoint the leaders of your enemies, rather than killing the wrong people and b) that the people who replace those leaders will be less cruel. ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it did not like it
Interesting book but honestly I couldn't finish it. The high level of anti-military, anti-UAV, anti-intelligence is so prevalent through this book that I found it highly distracting from what I was hoping to be a well-researched and at least moderately unbiased look at a shadowed side of military weaponry. Cockburn must have a pretty significant ax to grind with the U.S. military. ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-the-world
Well written. Kept me engaged through the entire book. I knew some of the information in this book, but I had never heard so many of the problems with the military technology. I can't recommend this enough. ...more
Mills College Library
623.7469 C665 2015
한 카트
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Summary: If you're hell bent on killing people, avoid using a drone - They're not as smart as they make them to be. ...more
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good information overall but it required a lot of attention in order to connect all the dots that the author was dropping.
Jun 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by a good friend at work. Coincidently, I have a different book called Kill Chain on my to-read list as well which made it a little confusing and I had to confirm that this was the one he wanted me to read. My friend and I are both in the Army but these days I work the Army equivalent of a desk job. I am a data analyst for the Army now after nearly a decade on the bomb squad. My friend works for an organization with a dedicated assistance and training mission. He ...more
Lionel Taylor
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
While I think that this book definitely deserves 4 stars I am hesitant to say that I "liked" it. This is because it is such a depressing topic and there seems to be no way out of the mess that it describes. More than sixty years ago President Eisenhower warned against the "military-industrial" complex in his farewell speech to the nation. It would seem that he prediction was not grim enough. This book is about the U.S's half century quest to have total battlefield awareness and the ability to wa ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To military planners, drone warfare makes a lot of sense and embodies the "enduringly desirable attributes of ‘speed, range, precision, and lethality'": it requires fewer troops on the ground, has the opportunity to kill only targeted individuals, and—theoretically—doesn't require a lengthy campaign. Yet as national security specialist Cockburn (Rumsfeld) shows in this history of the practice, the grim reality is often anything but. Cockburn's contacts in the military apparatus allow him to desc ...more
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is about perpetual motion machine.

On its surface, Kill Chain tells about high-tech, like automated surveillance and detection, unmanned drones and smart bombs, but it really tells about the military-industrial-congressional complex, and how it has become a self-sustaining machinery.

Military comes up with new threats and big arms business invents new ways to tackle them (with increasing price tags, naturally.) Congress supports everything thrown at them (as long as it's about defending
Chris Bogg
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great book. Really brutal critique of the military industrial complex.

1. I’m fine with drones that are meant to work with ground troops if they’re designed well. The integration of air to ground was comically bad in 2004 when I worked with them. From reading this it doesn’t sound like anything has improved much.

2. I’ve said for years - Why are we fighting the Taliban? They’re just the locals who don’t want us there. I have no faith that if we can’t have American police handle tribal warfare in
Sep 28, 2019 rated it liked it
About the military-industrial complex, specifically the use of unmanned weaponry. This goes well beyond what today are called drones.

The book is a indictment of the backroom deals & collusion and graft between the US government, the armed forces and the defense industry (with people rotating between those) -- billions of dollars for weapon systems that do not work, at least not anywhere close to what was promised. And when the do work, they tend to kill the wrong people.

The writer gives many exa
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cockburn seems clearly to have it in for the CIA and the military, and I am quite sure that "the other side" of this story has equally engaging defenders. That said, I wholly endorse anyone, left or right, giving this story a hearing. Just the greed of the Beltway Bandits is enough to call into question any number of features of how we've gotten to this point where the US can rain down death, almost at will, several thousand miles away - and it seems for the most part to have mostly only hardene ...more
Jean Dupenloup
May 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Written a tad too drily for my taste, Andrew Cockburn’s book is still a fascinating narrative on a relatively new type of warfare.

If drone assassinations have captured the public’s imagination, it’s because they embody something too terrifying to ignore: swiftly executed death delivered by an unerring robot.

And yet, as Mr. Cockburn reveals in this expose, drone strikes are a thoroughly human process, with many weak links, and a slew of opportunities for error.

Kill Chain raises questions that a
Pete Zilla
The author weaves an interesting narrative about the history of US targeted killing and the use of technology dating from WWII to today and I think makes a compelling argument that it’s less effective than we’d like to believe, while also problematic at times from legal and civilian casualty perspectives. But the author does not present a balanced argument, clearly articulating counterpoints, and argument is degraded from the broad use of un identified sources that are clearly spilling classifie ...more
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Andrew Cockburn is the Washington Editor of Harper's magazine and the author of many articles and books on national security, including the New York Times Editor's Choice Rumsfeld and The Threat, which destroyed the myth of Soviet military superiority underpinning the Cold War. He is a regular opinion contributor to the Los Angeles Times and has written for, among others, the New York Times, Natio ...more

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