How the U.S. drone program became central to the Obama administration’s counterterrorism efforts. The president has presided over 268 covert drone strikes, five times what George W. Bush ordered:

But the implications of drones go far beyond a single combat unit or civilian agency. On a broader scale, the remote-control nature of unmanned missions enables politicians to wage war while claiming we’re not at war – as the United States is currently doing in Pakistan. What’s more, the Pentagon and the CIA can now launch military strikes or order assassinations without putting a single boot on the ground – and without worrying about a public backlash over U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags. The immediacy and secrecy of drones make it easier than ever for leaders to unleash America’s military might – and harder than ever to evaluate the consequences of such clandestine attacks.

‘Drones have really become the counterterrorism weapon of choice for the Obama administration,’ says Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor who helped establish a new Pentagon office devoted to legal and humanitarian policy. ‘What I don’t think has happened enough is taking a big step back and asking, “Are we creating more terrorists than we’re killing? Are we fostering militarism and extremism in the very places we’re trying to attack it?” A great deal about the drone strikes is still shrouded in secrecy. It’s very difficult to evaluate from the outside how serious of a threat the targeted people pose.’

“The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret.” — Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone

See also: “Predators and Robots at War.” — Christian Caryl, New York Review of Books, Sept. 20, 2011