Drones for coercive influence operations

Kerry Patton

Coercive influence is arguably construed as a dark art within the intelligence arena. Used to force people to do things they ordinarily wouldn't do, it is a tactic used for influence and shaping operations. Historically, some coercive influence techniques came from torture, blackmail, and even "sexpionage." Today, America has incorporated a new tool used in coercive operations--Drones.

The psychological effect of fear plays heavily in coercive influence operations. Fear that a spouse would find out their lover has been cheating on them, fear that economic hardships or criminal prosecution would evolve if blackmail payments stopped, fear that the tortured would never see a loved one again all come into play. Fear that that the heavens would open up a barrage of hell fire missiles on your home from an unnoticeable drone also promotes psychological effects.

For several years, the United States has been consumed with incorporating drone strikes on high valued targets. Senior Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, Al Qaeda's Inspire Editor in Chief Samir Khan, and most recently Aslam Awan, also known as Abdullah Khorsani ,were all killed by drone strikes. Imagine being in a vehicle near the terrorists and suddenly observe them blown to smithereens. There is no question that this tactic can also be construed as a coercive influencer.

Former Special Forces pilot, entrepreneur, and author of the book Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, John Robb, had recently described the incorporation of drones for coercive influence as "relatively cheap, don't require many people to deploy/operate, don't put personnel directly at risk, can be easily outsourced, can be micromanaged from Washington, and are very effective at blowing things up."

The former Special Forces operative's description of today's drones is precise to say the least.  Interestingly enough, Robb ends his thoughts by adding an alarming depiction towards the United States and our love of drones. Simply put, he alluded to the fact that with a continued economic dilemma and need for dramatic budget cuts, the United States could eventually witness drone operations even inside America.

Drones inside the United States shouldn't be the only thing feared pertaining to our government's love of these technical operations. We should also fear eliminating the human elements of war fighting and intelligence operations. Technology is a great tool but we must understand it is only a tool and it cannot replace the human body and mind.

Drones, signals, along with measures and signatures intelligence compounded with cyber warfare are an incomplete picture within the intelligence arena. They are technical tools deservingly needed to be placed in a national security toolbox--a tool box complete with every tool needed to ensure the United States and our national interests remain unharmed.

America gravely induced by its risk adverse posture, fears emplacing humans on the ground within areas of concern.  If we truly care about coercive influence operations, humans are desperately needed. One sided violent force only goes so far (as in America doing all the physical work). If you want true regime change, negotiations among regime oppositions must entail. With that, it is critical to provide adequate "Train, Mentor, and Advise" operations to those opposition elements. 

Clandestine operations have a much longer lived successful track record than any technical means. In fact, if one observes the Cold War then compares it to today's war on terror, they will find that based on economics, duration, and success, we won the Cold War strictly through clandestine and covert operations--today's wars ends are nowhere in sight and we have limited clandestine operations taking place but a vast array of technical operations which include drone strikes.

There will be a time when we execute these drone operations to a point where another nation state gets overly ticked and decides to unleash its junkyard dogs on either national assets abroad or here at home. When that happens, our dependency on technical tools will backfire because we will not have the mental and physical necessities to counter those nations' activities i.e.: human elements. We are a nation of dependency yet we cannot get dependent on our technical capabilities.

Coercive influence is a great influencer and shaper.  We can fulfill our coercive influence operations through a varied means. Drones can assist in fulfilling the task but let's not depend exclusively on them.


Kerry Patton, a combat service disabled veteran, is a senior analyst for WIKISTRAT and owner of IranWarMonitor.com.  He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security and interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban.  He is the author of Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies and the children's book American Patriotism.  You can follow him on Facebook.

Coercive influence is arguably construed as a dark art within the intelligence arena. Used to force people to do things they ordinarily wouldn't do, it is a tactic used for influence and shaping operations. Historically, some coercive influence techniques came from torture, blackmail, and even "sexpionage." Today, America has incorporated a new tool used in coercive operations--Drones.

The psychological effect of fear plays heavily in coercive influence operations. Fear that a spouse would find out their lover has been cheating on them, fear that economic hardships or criminal prosecution would evolve if blackmail payments stopped, fear that the tortured would never see a loved one again all come into play. Fear that that the heavens would open up a barrage of hell fire missiles on your home from an unnoticeable drone also promotes psychological effects.

For several years, the United States has been consumed with incorporating drone strikes on high valued targets. Senior Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, Al Qaeda's Inspire Editor in Chief Samir Khan, and most recently Aslam Awan, also known as Abdullah Khorsani ,were all killed by drone strikes. Imagine being in a vehicle near the terrorists and suddenly observe them blown to smithereens. There is no question that this tactic can also be construed as a coercive influencer.

Former Special Forces pilot, entrepreneur, and author of the book Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, John Robb, had recently described the incorporation of drones for coercive influence as "relatively cheap, don't require many people to deploy/operate, don't put personnel directly at risk, can be easily outsourced, can be micromanaged from Washington, and are very effective at blowing things up."

The former Special Forces operative's description of today's drones is precise to say the least.  Interestingly enough, Robb ends his thoughts by adding an alarming depiction towards the United States and our love of drones. Simply put, he alluded to the fact that with a continued economic dilemma and need for dramatic budget cuts, the United States could eventually witness drone operations even inside America.

Drones inside the United States shouldn't be the only thing feared pertaining to our government's love of these technical operations. We should also fear eliminating the human elements of war fighting and intelligence operations. Technology is a great tool but we must understand it is only a tool and it cannot replace the human body and mind.

Drones, signals, along with measures and signatures intelligence compounded with cyber warfare are an incomplete picture within the intelligence arena. They are technical tools deservingly needed to be placed in a national security toolbox--a tool box complete with every tool needed to ensure the United States and our national interests remain unharmed.

America gravely induced by its risk adverse posture, fears emplacing humans on the ground within areas of concern.  If we truly care about coercive influence operations, humans are desperately needed. One sided violent force only goes so far (as in America doing all the physical work). If you want true regime change, negotiations among regime oppositions must entail. With that, it is critical to provide adequate "Train, Mentor, and Advise" operations to those opposition elements. 

Clandestine operations have a much longer lived successful track record than any technical means. In fact, if one observes the Cold War then compares it to today's war on terror, they will find that based on economics, duration, and success, we won the Cold War strictly through clandestine and covert operations--today's wars ends are nowhere in sight and we have limited clandestine operations taking place but a vast array of technical operations which include drone strikes.

There will be a time when we execute these drone operations to a point where another nation state gets overly ticked and decides to unleash its junkyard dogs on either national assets abroad or here at home. When that happens, our dependency on technical tools will backfire because we will not have the mental and physical necessities to counter those nations' activities i.e.: human elements. We are a nation of dependency yet we cannot get dependent on our technical capabilities.

Coercive influence is a great influencer and shaper.  We can fulfill our coercive influence operations through a varied means. Drones can assist in fulfilling the task but let's not depend exclusively on them.


Kerry Patton, a combat service disabled veteran, is a senior analyst for WIKISTRAT and owner of IranWarMonitor.com.  He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security and interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban.  He is the author of Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies and the children's book American Patriotism.  You can follow him on Facebook.