Side Note

The era of presidential assassination by drone has arrived

Though thousands of people are killed by drone strikes each year, including 801 innocent civilians killed in Syria and Iraq by U.S. airstrikes in 2017, a drone has never targeted a head of state. On Saturday, that seemed to have changed.

While Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was giving a televised speech to the nation’s troops, two drones made by the manufacturer DJI — each armed with a kilogram of C4, a plastic explosive — exploded not far from Maduro. (Maduro was unharmed.) After reviewing the video footage, experts agreed this week that the drone explosions were no accident: for the first time in world history, someone was trying to assassinate a head of state by drone.

Though Maduro, who is overseeing a country in which two-thirds of the population reported losing an average of 20 pounds because of food insecurity and whose continued elections are blatantly rigged, has blamed his political rivals for the drone assassination, investigators haven’t determined a culprit.

What is especially frightening is that the same DJI drones used to target the Venezuelan president are publicly available. Though the U.S. conducts more drone killings than any other nation, ISIS militants and Mexican drug cartels have each adopted weaponized drones in recent years, and more groups are poised to do the same. In late July, officials in the UAE dismissed terrorists who threatened to send a drone armed with explosives to the airport in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital.

The U.S. seems to have ushered in an era of drone assassinations, and the technology — which is increasingly trying to mask its danger by plastering cute animal emojis on its exterior — is spreading. “We will see more attacks, as the technology has a very low barrier to entry,” Peter W. Singer, a drone expert at the New America Foundation, told Motherboard. “Indeed, it is harder to get the bomb than it is to get the drone.”