CIA Told to Be More Careful With Their Drones


The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the White House and the CIA's battles over drone strikes. The American people, of course, are not party to those debates, so the conclusions from the story optimistically headlined "CIA Tightens Drone Rules" are mixed:

The disputes over drones became so protracted that the White House launched a review over the summer, in which Mr. Obama intervened.

The review ultimately affirmed support for the underlying CIA program. But a senior official said: "The bar has been raised. Inside CIA, there is a recognition you need to be damn sure it's worth it."

Among the changes: The State Department won greater sway in strike decisions; Pakistani leaders got advance notice about more operations; and the CIA agreed to suspend operations when Pakistani officials visit the U.S.

The Pakistan drone debate already seems to be influencing thinking about the U.S. use of drones elsewhere in the world. In Yemen, the CIA used the pilotless aircraft in September to kill American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a suspected terrorist. But the White House has for now barred the CIA from attacking large groups of unidentified lower-level militants there.

The CIA concessions were detailed by high-level officials in a series of interviews with The Wall Street Journal. But in a measure of the discord, administration officials have different interpretations about the outcome of the White House review. While some cast the concessions as a "new phase" in which the CIA would weigh diplomacy more heavily in its activities, others said the impact was minimal and that the bar for vetting targets has been consistently high.

"Even if there are added considerations, the program—which still has strong support in Washington—remains as aggressive as ever," said a U.S. official.

Emphasis added. The rest here.

So, what does this actually mean, considering some of the recent controversies over the targeted killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (and weeks later, the supposedly accidental killing of Awlaki's Denver-born 16-year-old son) and the more recent news that a Pakistani teenager who wanted to document the effects of drones on his country was killed (along with his 12-year-old cousin) in yet another strike? 

Maybe not much. Even though it's heartening to see any White House attempts to rein in the CIA, its policy effect may not ever be clear. The only thing the Obama administration has made clear, after all, is that the whys and whos of drone strikes is entirely their call.

Adam Serwer, in a blog over at Mother Jones, delves deeper into the Journal story and explains the basic difference between the types of drone strikes, and some of their effects:

There are basically two kinds of strikes the CIA carries out—strikes on specific targets and "signature strikes," which target groups of individuals the government suspects are militants. How does it know they're actually militants? It "tracks their movements and activities for hours or days before striking them." Which is to say, the CIA thinks it's getting the right people, but it doesn't always know for sure. And when asked, the government claims that the CIA almost never makes mistakes. White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan said in June that there hadn't been "a single collateral death" from the drone program in almost a year.

Third-party evaluations of the drone program say otherwise. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism concluded in a report released in August that "at least 392 civilians" were among the estimated nearly 2,500 people killed in drone strikes since 2004. 

Reason on drones, on the CIA, and on war.

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  1. I’m pretty unclear on how the govt would even know if they killed an innocent person with these strikes. “Collateral deaths” usually refer to people who were not intended targets (and even this number would be hard for the US to determine in foreign territory). So mistakenly targeted people are not included among “collateral deaths”.

    1. I’m pretty unclear on how the govt would even know if they killed an innocent person with these strikes.

      Given the nature of AQ and the Taliban, I’ve wondered that as well. How do you establish the innocence (or guilt) of anyone (not counting small children) killed by a drone?

      1. Drone process.

      2. If the drone fails, they are innocent.

        1. Trial by ordeal, I like it.

          This must be made into a reality show.

      3. Anyone that runs is an AQ. Anyone that stands still is a well-disciplined AQ.

  2. They have a sort of DC-9 shaped drone, now?

    1. And Xenu wept.

    2. Target drone: http://en.ruvsa.com/catalog/do_dt45/

      Kinda’ cool looking, all the same.

  3. Regardless of what you think about drone strikes, putting State in the loop strikes me as delusionally bad.

    If nothing else, it makes State not a diplomatic agency, but a military agency. And that cannot but interfere with their core diplomatic mission.

    1. Letting the CIA (the Central INTELLIGENCE Agency for those scoring at home) run kenetic military operations is delusionally bad.

      A good portion of the problems we face today can be traced back to the CIA winning the turf war with DOD over who would handle detainees back during the Bush Administration. Since it won that war and became an operational agency outside of DOD and DOS, things have only gotten worse.

      1. You mean the agency that appears to consider 1984 to be an instruction manual?

    2. Hilary = the new Mcnamara

      1. Except that, in some instances, McNamara actually told both Kennedy and LBJ that their actions were flat-out stupid and wrong.

  4. “Get your freak on girl” should be written on the side of that drone.

    1. …for the win.

      1. Now that would have been a funny alt text.

        1. That was pretty good. I’m going to start outsourcing my alt text to the highest bidders.

          1. + a Royal Welch Fussilier for the Sigfried Sassoon reference.

            1. + a my undying respect for you for that comment.

          2. Or at least those who appreciate the subtle humor of Hogan’s Heroes.

            1. Those people aren’t real.

              1. Um, yes we are, Lucy.

                Yes. We. Are.

  5. “White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan said in June that there hadn’t been “a single collateral death” from the drone program in almost a year.”

    Fuck Off.

    1. they have a sign up which reads “There have been no collateral drone deaths in 16 days”

      The number is switched out daily

  6. Dear Lucy,

    My mother in law is from another country. she gave my five year old a shirt that depicts two brown-skinned people wearing masks cooking a white person and a blue gorilla in a large pot and bearing the caption “what’s Cooking.”

    While I’m generally not a hyper-sensitive PC douche, the shirt did push my “That’s raaaaaacist!” button. However, my kid loves it and his grandma. What should we do?

    1. Being half blue gorilla I don’t think you should sweat it.

      1. Thanks, but I don’t take advice from mulattoes.

        1. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

          That’s the hardest I’ve laughed in quite some time.

          1. This and Mongo’s comment above were both pretty damn epic.

        2. Well, that’s your problem.

          1. this is different. One mulatto cancels out another one.

  7. As the administration bangs the war drums, a complicit media and silent opposition party sit idly by.

    Our reputation for fairness and tolerance on the world stage went out the window a long time ago. The fact that our NPP-winning president hasn’t been called out like his predecessor was is the only thing I find surprising here.

    1. In this case the opposition party supports the war too. It’s the administration’s own party that purportedly represents the antiwar movement.

      1. It’s all so confusing.

        1. I’m still scratching my head as to why the Pauls aren’t calling for impeachment.

          1. Impeach Obama — Stop the wars.

            1. Well, it’s a start.

          2. I believe Paul did say he supported impeachment over the killing of Awlaki. I’m guessing he’s not pushing it for political reasons (no chance of succeeding, high chance of derailing what small hopes he has of getting the GOP nomination).

        2. Every since Chef died it’s been one big morass for me.

        3. for Obama and can’t find the spine to fight its way out. Bombs away with Major Media’s Blessing.

  8. Maybe not much. Even though it’s heartening to see any White House attempts to reign in the CIA, its policy effect may not ever be clear. The only thing the Obama administration has made clear, after all, is that the whys and whos of drone strikes is entirely their call.

    See, I think this is it. Obama doesn’t care who gets blown up in what part of the world for whatever reason. What he cares about is who has their hand on the joystick.

    1. To be fair, hands on ‘joysticks’ tends to be a sensitive issue for most men.

  9. Lucy, holding on firmly to the lead for best non-intern/associate editor.

    Now, I don’t understand. The CIA is supposed to be an itelligence agency not a combat one so wouldnt these drone strike be restricted to military command?

    And also, I think Obama is so weak with his executive that the CIAA/FBI/DOJ/Military all do what they want and really don’t give a shit what he says.

    1. The CIA has always been involved in black operations. Whether that is a good idea or not is another story.

  10. Dear Lucy,

    I stopped finding women my age attractive some time ago. While I enjoy the fact that I date women typically 10-15 years yonger than me, it causes some friction between me and my parents (who would like to see me remarried eventually) as well as me and my friends wives/girlfriends who think I am a bad influence on their men.

    What should I do?*

    *Oh, and my neighbor, who is my age, is mildly stalking me because we got drunk a few times and fooled around.

    1. Is there some new meme I missed? Are we done gamboling and groveling for adjectives and now pretending Hit and Run is an advice column?

      1. I’m not done groveling…never was much of a gamboler though.

      2. Wow Lucy. You really do read the comment threads. What on earth posseses you to do it?

        1. I imagine there is a staff policy that an editor must breifly peruse the comments to make sure they are working but not stay too long…cause if I worked at reason i would write one article and then spend 43 straight hours beating the crap out of commenters with pointless drivel. I don’t think the Jacket would appreciate that.

        2. Been readin’ comments longer than I’ve been writin’ blogs. I mostly lurked in the old days, but I got the point of your incestuous in-jokes and memes which stretch backs years.

          (Obviously many of you entertain me enough to keep responding.)

          1. HOLY Son of a Diety on a triskit! Reason is ACTUALLY PUBLISHING H&R commenters/lurkers. When does HERC get his own column?

          2. By “mostly lurked”, you mean that you have commented. NAME NAMES, damn you! Who were you?

            1. I used the exceedingly clever nomme de commenter “Lucy.”

              1. Ooh, bad move.you probably have MiNGe, Tony and a few others scouring H&R for your old comments so they can throw them in your face if you’ve ever said anything out of character or have said anything that could be taken out of contest.

                And you probably have a few perverts fapping away at old posts as well.

                1. contest=context in case Mr. Mark is reading this. Stupid fucking autocorrect.

      3. Dear Lucy asked us for advice. That’s a switch.

        Anyway, on the Puppet thread, someone suggested that we start a commenter-based advice column, addressing the queries to you.

        You’re the life-line, and the H&R commentariat is like “ask the audience.”

        1. Wow, I’m touched that that was a plan and that you explained it to me. Thank you. I’m enjoying everyone’s letters to each other.

          1. To each other?

            I need your advice, goddammit, not these mongoloids.*

            *No offense meant to the H&R commentariat.

            1. Hey! Just because I’m retarded doesn’t mean my advice about Thailand is bad.

              BTW, adam’s apple = ladyboy > tebow.

            2. My advice is always the following: http://mitchclem.com/mystupidlife/43/

            3. *No offense meant to the H&R commentariat.

              None taken…

              Hey, ever wonder what your home town would look like if it were razed?

              1. Detroit

    2. Here Lucy, let me help:

      Dear Poet Laureate sloopyinca,

      Thanks for your letter. I suggest that you change your name to The Poet Laureate sloopyinca and that you lie about the age of these younger women. The disapproving females in your life will be amazed at their youthfulness and will spend all of their time asking the women how they manage to stay so young-looking.


      1. Dear Pro Lib,

        If I wanted advice from the kind of person who prefers deep-dish to actual pizza, then I’d spend my days writing letters to the lunatic asylums that litter the south side of Chicago, or the many Special Ed schools in the greater Tampa-St. Pete metroplex that cater to the retarded and spastic alike.

        Warmest Personal Regards,

        Poet Laureate sloopyinca

        1. Dear The Poet Laureate sloopyinca,

          You’re a fool to reject my sage counsel.

          [Dials phone]

          Your mother would like to speak with you.

          Everlastingly yours,

          Pro Libertate

          1. Dad?

            1. Why can’t you bring home a nice girl, instead of those tattooed sluts?

              1. Um, because I prefer the tattooed sluts.

                Nice girls? Nice girls? Nice girls are for the insecure and/or making babies. And since I’ve already got two kids, I don’t require the services of a human oven anymore.

                1. Your mother and I want more legitimate grandchildren before we die.

                  What about that nice girl we met last year? She says you never call.

                  1. My kids are legitimate. I know this because they are both completely white, and my wife at the time only slept with me and black guys.

                    1. While I didn’t go out with anyone that much younger than me, I don’t miss the subtle mother pressure on me finding a spouse. Of course, in my case, I didn’t have kids (my wife is my only wife and no prior children-making).

                    2. I…I, I am struck dumb. This is probably one of the funniest things i have ever read.

                    3. CB,

                      If you are talking about the comment about the wife only sleeping with him and black guys, so am I. I don’t think ever actually laughed out loud over something on one of these threads. But I did to that.

                    4. yup.

    3. First off, stop bragging, it makes us married guys jealous.

      1. I, for one, don’t miss dating at all. Of course, I’m still very happy with my wife, which seems to be a minority view to take.

        1. You content monogamists make me want to vomit.

          1. It’s patently offensive, I know. I’m not sure it’s even legal anymore.

            1. I’ve heard of these people who cling to their guns, monogamy and monocles.

              1. It’s all about the mono with us. Monopoles, monopolies, monogamy, monocles, monograms.

              2. I’ve heard of these people who cling to their guns, monogamy and monocles.

                No true libertarian can remain married for very long….he must be a secret conservative.

                1. And our monologues.

                  1. Not to mention, most of all, our monomania.

        2. I haven’t met anyone who isn’t happy with your wife.

          1. Low-hanging fruit, bro.

            1. Low-hanging fruit, bro.

              So now we’re talking about Sugar Free’s Dippin’ Dots-encrusted balls?

              1. Oh, you and your pathetic attempts to muddy the waters!

        3. I’m actually quite happily married as well. It’s just that tappin’ some young hotties ain’t so bad either.

        4. I’m quite happy with my wife too.

          She is also young and attractive, so there’s that.

    4. I know, tell her you want a pre-nup. Or start smoking.

    5. I don’t think sloopyinca’s problem would be such a big deal, except that he is only 28, which means you have to move to Thailand where the age of consent is 200 Baht.

      1. Thailand where the age of consent is 200 Baht.

        I am totally stealing that.

        1. I knew a former Army MP who worked in Asia. I asked him if there was a problem with servicemen sexually assaulting women.

          “Hell no! We do the honorable thing. We pay for it. What do you think we are, sailors?”

          1. There used to be a very famous midget prostitute up along the DMZ in Korea. It was a very big deal to get “midget qualified”.

      2. How many yen is that in dog years? I’m, uh, asking for a friend of mine.

      3. I haven’t dated a female too young to drive in months.


        1. Sloopy’s backyard is a field of broken dreams and rusting training wheels.

        2. For the first monht of our relationship, my last girlfriend was too young to drive.

          A rental car.

          With a Senior’s discount.

        3. So, no one under 16 months?

  11. It “tracks their movements and activities for hours or days before striking them.” Which is to say, the CIA thinks it’s getting the right people, but it doesn’t always know for sure.

    Hey listen buddy, we are experts. Why, police forces and SWAT teams all over the country learn their surveillance techniques from us. Which is why they never get the wrong location either.

  12. I still await my real world version of Barry Bostwick’s Megaforce!

    1. Man, that would so rule!

  13. Just out of curiosity, why does “FBI Party Van” show up on my current list of WiFi providers?

  14. Even if this is true, it doesn’t really mean anything. The CIA isn’t being reined in for moral reasons; it’s being reined in for political reasons. As soon as the politics changes (which will be 5 minutes at the outside) the restraint will disappear.

  15. I love the way this is presented as a negotiation between the CIA and the White House, as though the CIA is making concessions because it wants to be a good sport. Legally, President Obama is in charge of the CIA. He’s negotiating with himself. He’s the one who murdered a “suspected terrorist,” not the CIA.

    1. After the horrendous day the threads have had, I never thought I would actually be happy to see Alan Vanneman.

      Sherlock Holmes and the Gambolin’ White Indian would make a rockin’ book, Alan.

      1. And the bastard actually made an intelligent comment. That happens about as often as the Cubs winning the World Series. Mark it down.

        1. His trolling sock puppet, Anal, is seething right now.

  16. Among the changes: The State Department won greater sway in strike decisions;

    Hillary “Give me the power to kill.”

    Obama “no”

    Hilary “then i will run against you in 2012”

    Obama “How many drones did you say you wanted?”

    1. I picture some State Department intern being given Bill’s little blakc book and being told to find all of the GPS coordinates.

    2. Now we’re proposing conspiracies are how the White House runs it’s foreign…

      Damn. That sounds about right.

  17. Dear Lucy,

    I’m having a hard time juggling my relationships. On the one hand, I’ve got a few buddies who have a little blood on their hands and want to keep control of killing people outside of my jurisdiction. They say they can control how it gets to the media by obfuscation, and I tend to believe them.

    On the other hand, I’ve got a sorta-friend who said if I don’t let her kill whoever she wants, she’s gonna tell everyone in school all the shit her husband dug up on me over the past three years and then run against me for President.

    On top of that, my wife is an overbearing bitch that demands to be treated as royalty, and a cabinet made up of policy debutantes that are more concerned with class warfare than sound policy. Good thing I’ve got a complicit media empire, or I’d be totally fucked.

    What am I to do?


    1. Some of these terrorists must die for my reelection bid 2012. Imagine if I weren’t here now, what would you have.

  18. You rein in, rather than “reign in.”

    While a ruler may reign over a land, you rein in a horse. The term comes from the equestrian dashboard, as opposed to letting them have cake.

    Awlaki’s dead…boo-hoo. I can hardly see the screen before me through the tears.

    Who the hell is the “Bureau for Investigative Journalism”?

    1. Yes, let us all raise a glass to extrajudicial death sentences. It’s the best way to quash the speech of those American citizens who talk badly of us overseas.

      Evidence that he committed treason? We don’t need that. Why, the Constitution defined it but that doesn’t matter.

      Mr. Mark, you are a fuckwit.

      1. And Awlaki’s a smoking hole.

    2. Who the hell is the “Bureau for Investigative Journalism”?

      Fucking google, how does it work?

    3. Thanks — “reign” has been turned to “rein.”

    4. that WHO song?

  19. They want us to believe a government entity “almost never makes mistakes.” HA!

    1. Fuck, I didn’t mean to hit the LAUNCH button on my Blackberry. Shit — tell the CIA we got another terrorist ready to WMD America!

  20. So, how long until Anonymous or some enterprising young Russian or Chinese hackers hijack the drones to wipe Washington off the map?

    1. However long it takes is one day too many.

  21. Absolutely infuriating. Your job Mr. Government is to protect American citizen’s rights not minimize collateral by any means necessary.

      1. Are you disgusted at Mr. Government’s content monogamy or my implicit sexism? I MUST KNOW.

    1. Fucking A.

      Good man. “It’s time the baaaaaastard fell” is a cathartic line when your city is invaded by 1000 riot cops, but it’s also great for everyday use when living in DC!

      1. when your city is invaded by 1000 riot cops, but it’s also great for everyday use when living in DC!

        Why the redundancy?

        Enjoy The Jam in all it’s glory.

  22. The last American president to try to reign in the CIA was JFK. Every subsequent prez got the message.

  23. Everybody on the Walsh thread fuckfest needs to Take It Easy…ska-style.

  24. tha’s rally the high technology unclear.

  25. I hope you might have a wonderful day! Quite beneficial report, very well written and quite thought out. I’m hunting forward to reading far more of your posts inside the long term.

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