from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

A Primer on Drones

December 05, 2012

A MQ-1 Predator drone prepares to take off on a mission (Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester/Courtesy U.S. Air Force).
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Whenever I speak about the emergence of drone warfare and how it has been used for U.S. targeted killings, people react with a mix of unease, fascination, and curiosity. They also often ask for suggested readings on drones, and I rarely have a good answer readily available.

Compared to just four years ago, the number of people researching and analyzing drones has grown significantly. It is a part-time job just keeping up with all the new work that comes out each week. As a result, my list of ten recommended readings below does not begin to capture all of the excellent drone-related content that is out there. Please let me know if there are other “must-reads” that I have omitted. (Also check out my earlier primers on air power and military force.)


P.W. Singer, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (NY: Penguin Press, December 2009)

Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (Dispatch Books, May 2012)

Daniel Klaidman, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of Obama’s Presidency (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2012)

David Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (Crown, June 2012)


Jane Mayer, “The Predator War: What Are the Risks of the C.I.A.’s Covert Drone Program?New Yorker, October 26, 2009.

Thomas P. Ehrhard, Air Force UAVs: The Secret History, Mitchell Institute, July 2010.

Scott Shane, Mark Mazetti, and Robert F. Worth, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” New York Times, August 14, 2010.

Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” New York Times, May 29, 2012.

Living Under Drones, International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law, September 2012.

Greg Miller, “Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists,” Washington Post, October 23, 2012.