Uneasy Listening

Collaboration with Tom Tlalim

These drones hover our heads constantly and one can always hear the buzzing, mosquito-like sound they make.

As US strategies around the War on Terror shifted from secret prisons and detention camps to targeted assassination under the Obama Administration in 2009, Predator and Reaper drones have come to saturate the airspace over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Northwest Pakistan. These armed drones troll the topographies of FATA in search of targets whose names are provided by the weekly Kill List compiled on infamous “Terror Tuesdays” at the White House. Their ubiquitous presence signaled by high-frequency emissions has become a permanent feature of the skies along the Afghan border. Although various organizations, most notably the Bureau of Investigative Journalism based in the UK, try to maintain comprehensive datasets of reported casualties (fatalities and injuries) from drone strikes in Pakistan, these numbers do not begin to represent the injurious nature of what it means to live under the constant sonic menace of drones.

In the absence of data documenting the actual numbers of drone missions flown over Pakistan it is useful to extrapolate from similar data collected in Afghanistan to get a sense of the general ratio between sorties and strikes; a calculation, which indicates that for every thirty armed drone sorties flown only one actual strike results. Given this ratio the approximate number of drone sorties conducted over FATA during the Obama years from January 2009 to June 2013 may have already reached a possible 9,500, given a roughly equivalent ratio of sorties to strikes as occurred in Afghanistan. This puts the figure of Obama-era drone hours flown over FATA, a geographical region of 27,220 km2, at between 133,000 and 399,000 hours if flight patterns are somewhat analogous to those in Afghanistan. 

This staggering figure is further underscored by the fact that these flights are not short missions that traverse sovereign Pakistani airspace in search of targets and then head directly back to their Kandahar airbase in southern Afghanistan. On the contrary, these are extended sorties that track moving vehicles, loiter over villages and towns, and target adversaries for up to two days at a time without returning to refuel. The density of armed drone surveillance is also much higher in the towns of Miranshah and Mir Ali, where virtually around-the-clock drone surveillance is being reported. An altogether different dimension of the War on Terror and its impacts upon civilian life on the ground would emerge if flight logs documenting the hours that drones spend cruising the skies of FATA were made public.

Description: Surround-sound audio installation that simulates the 150 kHz  frequency and loitering of armed combat drones in FATA, Pakistan. Created in Supercollider & Protools.  Plexi-mounted digital C-print of President Barak Obama.

Uneasy Listening was produced by Casino Luxembourg with additional support provided by Canada Council for the Arts.