Someone stuffed a coffee into the president’s hand as he entered the Situation Room. He glanced around. If it was a full-blown meeting of the National Security Council, there were a few people behind him, but there were also a handful of extras, mostly from the military or intelligence. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs looked as groggy as he felt.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he said as he took his seat. “Well, technically morning. What was so important that you had to get me up at 3 AM? Are we at war?”
“No sir,” the Director of National Intelligence said. He looked over at the director of the CIA. “Jim, can you brief the president?”
“Good morning Mr. President. Our sources tell us that the dictator of Iritastan has been assassinated.”
“Iritastan?” The president looked unsure. “I guess get State to write up a nice condolence and I’ll look at it in the actual morning. Where’s Carol?”
“Sir, this isn’t a matter for State,” the director of the CIA said. “We have no diplomatic relations with Iritastan. In fact, we don’t even recognize it as a state. Only two of its neighbors, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, recognize it. Russia even claims sovereignty over the land, but of course doesn’t enforce it. They have no common borders and Iritastan is one of the poorest countries in the world. It would be a burden on Russia if they did take it over, so they claim it only because there was never a formal handover when the Soviet Union dissolved.”
“Then why couldn’t this wait until morning? I mean proper morning.”
“It was the method of assassination. Mr. Secretary?”
The Secretary of Homeland Security waved to a couple of people standing in a corner. They came forward, one carrying a large hobbyist style drone, which he placed in front of the Secretary. The other had a small case, which she put on the conference table near the Secretary. Both of them wore gloves.
“The performance on this drone is about as good as it gets for the hobbyist, that is, for people who don’t hold special licenses,” the Secretary said. “But it’s been modified to be even faster and more maneuverable. And then there is this.”
The woman with the case pulled out a cell phone.
“A smart phone?” the president asked.
The Secretary nodded. “And this.”
The woman pulled out a steel tube. There was a small block at one end.
“What’s that? It looks a little like a toy gun, but no handle. Or trigger, actually.”
“Not a toy, sir,” the Secretary said. “It is a very small caliber, single shot pistol. It has been modified so it can be remotely triggered. Of course, it is very inaccurate and not powerful, so it would have to be very close to the target to kill.”
“So what you are telling me is that someone put a gun on a drone, remotely flew it in and assassinated this dictator of, what was it? Irritablestan?”
“Iritastan.” The Secretary looked around the room. Everyone squirmed nervously. “If that’s all it was, we’d wait for a more reasonable hour. This drone was 100% autonomous, a killing robot.”
“That’s right, sir, a killing robot. The phone has freely available navigation software. It’s been hacked, but the changes were small. It uses the phone’s GPS for its current position and uses topo maps, with all obstructions marked, to find a path in 3-D to its target. It is done in real time, with no caching of data, so there is no way to figure out where it started or the route it took.”
“Wouldn’t it still hit something? A building? A person?”
“There is a weak radar installed, similar to what your car uses to warn you when you are close to something. Also, it uses the phone’s camera for obstacle avoidance.”
The president whistled.
“The phone also has publicly available face recognition software. Once it was in the vicinity of its target, it would fly a random pattern. When it ‘saw’ a person, it would zoom in and check to see if it was the target. On positive identification, it would get close enough and pull the trigger, of course constantly verifying the target.”
“And you say the machine makes the decision? There’s no person controlling it or pulling the trigger?”
“That’s right, sir, it is completely autonomous, a robot. The battery is extra-large, so we believe it could have been hidden near the target days or even weeks before the assassination. Something woke it. A remote signal, a timer, something. But once awake, it ran its program and did the assassination.”
“Sounds pretty advanced. Do you think it was a government?”
“That’s the thing, sir. It uses all COTs, commercially available off the shelf technology. There have been some modifications. Most of them you can find on the Internet. Others a clever person could figure out. If it were a government agent, I would think it would be more sophisticated. Unless, of course, they are trying to hide their tracks.”
The president looked at the drone, the smart phone and the gun. He raised an eyebrow, as if a thought suddenly struck him.
“I thought you said we don’t have relations with I-whatever-stan. Did that change with the assassination? In fact, when did this occur? How did we get this stuff here so fast? Or did we do it?”
The Secretary looked around the room again. There was more fidgeting.
“Sir, the assassination occurred two hours ago. We had nothing to do with it. We intercepted a video that showed the assassination taking place.” The CIA director nodded. “The original drone flew over the horizon and has yet to be recovered.”
“From a grainy video you assembled this stuff? And so this is all wild conjecture? You woke me up for theories?”
“No sir.” There was more nervous squirming. “The Secret Service discovered this.” The Secretary pointed to the drone.
“On the White House property. It was tangled in some netting. We believe that it couldn’t detect the netting in the dark. Uhm, we think it crashed into it at about 11:30 last night.”
“11:30? Why, that’s about the time I was being dropped off by Marine One.”
“So this isn’t the drone that was used against the dictator of whatever you called that place? Yet it is an assassination drone. It was found here… This was programmed to assassinate…?”
“You. Yes sir. Defense has had people working all night and we think we can stop this type of attack in the future. It’s actually simple to build an EM ‘wall’ around you so the radar won’t let it come close enough for the gun to be effective. However, once whoever sent this discovers how we blocked it, they will try another way. It may become a type of arms race.”
“Of course, sir, it might not happen,” the CIA director said. “It is possible that this was just a one-off attempt. Or they may think that taking out the dictator of a small poor country is easy, but the Leader of the Free World too difficult to bother and not send a second or third one”
“But we can’t guarantee they won’t try again. Or others who are influenced by the events in Iritastan,” the Homeland Security Secretary said.
The president leaned back and looked out of the window. The horizon was beginning to glow. He, like everyone else in the room, was aware that they were witnessing the dawn of a new era, an era of fear.
— — — —
I created this story several months ago, when reading about killer robots. I was going to write it up, but then decided not to. I don’t want the FBI to knock on my door ;) I have no idea how possible it really is, or, if not with today’s technology, how soon it would be possible. Also, I purposefully made the Administration vague. No (or few) names are used in the story. This is not about anybody in any office today! It is 100% fiction in an Alternative US in some parallel universe.
After my Friday Fictioneer post, I decided to write this up and post it.
I usually don’t write disclaimers, but just in case the FBI does show up…