Aug 29, 2014 · 2 minutes

ISIS, the terrorist organization that the War Nerd has covered extensively, has gotten its hands on a drone.

It's just a little one, equipped with a "smart" camera instead of the missiles attached to drones used by the United States, but it's already been cited as a factor in the group's ability to capture an air base in Syria, which was the last bastion of the Syrian government's power in the region.

Business Insider reported on the drone's use in the attack, and explained its value to ISIS:

While the drone may not have been critical in taking the base, it gave militants situational awareness they wouldn’t have had otherwise, [associate political scientist at RAND Corp Colin] Clarke said.

“Any small advantage helps. I’d say it’s kind of a force multiplier,” he said. “Any time you can get advanced information by scouting out a position before attacking it is helpful because it helps you plan exactly what kind of resources you are going to need.” This shouldn't come as a surprise. ISIS has demonstrated its fondness for tech by using tools like Twitter, Diaspora, and YouTube to spread its message; using a drone to gather information before sending suicide bombers in to weaken a target's defenses isn't much more complicated. (There's a reason why the Federal Aviation Agency wants to restrict drone use so badly, and it's got at least something to do with the ease with which anyone can operate the robotic floaters.)

And should anyone really be surprised that a terrorist organization hell-bent on creating an Islamic state would use a drone when companies like Facebook and Google are working to fill the skies with the damned things? Both companies have decided that the devices can help them with their mission to gather information from as many people as possible -- does it really seem all that strange that a group like ISIS would follow their lead and use drones to their own ends?

Private companies are using drones. Western governments have been using drones for years. People can buy the things for a few hundred dollars and, assuming they aren't followed around by a police helicopter, can fly them around without having to worry too much about it. By now, it would be more surprising if groups like ISIS weren't using drones to gather information than to learn that it used one to help it capture a high value target like a Syrian government air base.

But, then, I suppose that uploading a video of drone footage to YouTube and allowing the media to work itself into a frenzy over its "new" capabilities serves ISIS -- and the media -- just fine. It makes the group seem even scarier than it's already been portrayed, and it combines two things (terrorists and tech) that are guaranteed to get people talking.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]