At the first stage of what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process, the Information Commissioner has upheld the Ministry of Defence’s refusal to reveal to Drone Wars UK the number of Britain’s armed drones currently deployed.
Despite the fact that the MoD are happy to give such details about other surveillance and attack aircraft taking part in operations against ISIS, the MoD insists that the number of drones deployed nor their location can be released for reasons of operational security.
Our appeal, submitted to the Information Commissioner in June 2016, sought to overturn the MoD’s refusal to release the information. It argued that:
MoD has released details of the numbers of other UK military aircraft engaged in military operations against ISIS without it being perceived in any way as prejudicial to their security, capability or effectiveness.
MoD has regularly reported that Tornado, Typhoon and other UK military aircraft are based at, and undertaking missions against ISIS, from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus without it being perceived as prejudicial to their security, capability or effectiveness
MoD quite happily released both the number of Reapers drones engaged in combat operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the location of their then base in Afghanistan (Kandahar Airfield) without security problems.
MoD regularly publishes updates on UK air military operations in Iraq and Syria including details of air strikes carried out by Reapers and other aircraft which it could be argued, gives a greater insight into tactics and strike capabilities than the number of aircraft deployed.
In April 2016, MoD invited a small number of media organisations – The Sun, Sky News and The Daily Signal – to visit the location of (at least some of) UK’s Reaper drones in order to interview RAF personnel operating the aircraft. While the location of the base and the drones was not directly mentioned, there was enough information contained in the reports to easily identify the base.
In response to our complaint, the Information Commissioner asked the MOD for further submissions on exactly why the information should be exempt from disclosure. Following these extra submissions – which we are not allowed to see – the Information Commissioner decided to uphold the MoD’s decision. The ICO Decision Notice states:
“Although the Commissioner cannot set out in any detail in this notice why she has reached this decision, she wishes to emphasise that she has considered, and paid particular attention to, the specific points advanced by the complainant.”
We are now preparing to appeal to an Information Tribunal.
Keeping it covert
Despite regularly arguing that armed drones are no different from its other military aircraft, in refusing to release this information to campaigners and MPs, the MoD are clearly treating them differently. While it is happy to name and number other aircraft deployed on overseas operations, the MoD want to keep the number and location of its armed drones secret. This appears to be because the MoD wants to use them – or at the very least have the option to use them – on covert operations. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Drone Wars UK website.