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

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  509 ratings  ·  88 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
...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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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
...more
Jerome
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
...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
Ben
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
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.
Gordon
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
Aseel
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what America does with drone and how they are a literal bully that kills people all across the world. The wars they fight are not because they are altruistic or even want to protect their own people, but because the military companies, the defence areas (army, navy etc) want money. They are literally creating wars and killing people all across the world for money. There are multiple reports that shows that certain drones don’t even work at all an ...more
Marc
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.
Daniel
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.
Marc
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.
Kelsey
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
...more
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
...more
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.
Molly
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.
Andy
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.
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.
Kevin
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.
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
Drone
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
Jyri
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
...more
djcb
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
...more
Eric
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
...more
Travis Lupick
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This review was originally published in the Georgia Straight newspaper.
The United States military’s desire to kill without putting its soldiers at risk began earlier than many realize. In Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, veteran Washington reporter Andrew Cockburn begins the story of America’s modern assassination program in the 1960s, on the Ho Chi Minh trail in North Vietnam.
Neither the technology nor public opinion was ready, he writes. “Amid the general horrors of the war, th
...more
Alex
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it
A damning exposé on the America's obsession with drones and the drive to be everywhere and know everything. An argument that the programs costing unimaginable amounts of money do more harm than good; create very wealthy government contractors even though the results, often times, simply don't work.
Definitely makes you wonder what this country could've been if all that money was directed elsewhere. Universal healthcare and free college anyone?
Denton Holland
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
After reading this book, I've concluded the Military-Industrial-Congressional Conspiracy seeks not to end war but to perpetuate it in a highly managed way that promotes their successes just enough to keep the money flowing and buries their failures by obfuscating the facts. As Walt Kelly's Pogo said yeas ago, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"
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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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