CIA

More Hazy Details From Obama's Drone Wars

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Over at The Washington Post, Greg Miller has a detailed look at Obama's controversial drone program. Or rather, as many details as anyone can hope to get about a program which doesn't officially exist.

Some of the more interesting bits include the reminder that Obama is not the sole mastermind behind the program. Indeed his level of input seems debatable, with one official saying he's very attentive and keen on reducing as much "collateral damage" as possible and the other saying he's much more hands-off. Also, there is not one, but two, secret kill lists:

The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.

In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don't match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.

The rest of the article suggest that this is not some sophisticated security maneuver, but more of a classically slow bureaucratic inability to focus and fix this problem. Or nobody in intelligence wants to fix what isn't broken, certainly the CIA has never been known for its deep desire to be overseen by members of Congress.

But there are at least debates about the level of security towards the program. Several anonymous officials would be glad to let people know more details about the how and why of targeting people with drones since the cat is out of the bag that this is happening whether the strikes are technically unofficial or not.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence is described as having "awe and concern" in respect to the drone program. She is glad that the program doesn't endanger Americans "But I worry about how this develops. I'm worried because of what increased technology will make it capable of doing."

An official in the article says we shouldn't worry that the relative ease of this kind of warfare will be an excuse for striking everywhere, but the numbers do confirm that Obama has happily embraced the tactic more than previous presidents. (To say nothing of the "775 Predators, Reapers and other medium- and long-range drones in the U.S. inventory, with hundreds more in the pipeline.")

Senior administration officials said the escalating number of strikes has created a perception that the drone is driving counterterrorism policy, when the reverse is true.

"People think we start with the drone and go from there, but that's not it at all," said a senior administration official involved with the program. "We're not constructing a campaign around the drone. We're not seeking to create some worldwide basing network so we have drone capabilities in every corner of the globe."

Nevertheless, for a president who campaigned against the alleged counterterrorism excesses of his predecessor, Obama has emphatically embraced the post-Sept. 11 era's signature counterterrorism tool.

When Obama was sworn into office in 2009, the nation's clandestine drone war was confined to a single country, Pakistan, where 44 strikes over five years had left about 400 people dead, according to the New America Foundation. The number of strikes has since soared to nearly 240, and the number of those killed, according to conservative estimates, has more than quadrupled.

Trust us, this is acceptable war, these people deserved it, the causalities are minimal; this is the impression that the Obama administration is trying to convey. But they also don't have prove a damn thing:

The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.

It has parried reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents by saying that drones, with their surveillance capabilities and precision missiles, result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons.

Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years — resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan — it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.

At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in response to the WaPo article that he is puzzled that anyone ever considered Obama the drone aficionado a dove. And:

Drones are a perfect weapon for democracy. One gains all of the political credit for killing the country's enemies, and none of the blame for military casualties. The occasional slaughter of a 16-year old boy is surely regrettable, but of almost zero political import….But I wonder about that 16 year old's younger siblings, about what they think of country they executes children a world away with a joystick. I wonder about their anger. 

That 16-year-old is of course the son of assassinated American citizen and alleged (yes, even in death, he gets to keep the alleged. Not an an encouraging sign, that) al-Qaeda operative Anwar Al-Awlaki. And once again, the government claims the son was not purposefully targeted, but was just in the way of the missile. 

And at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum responds to Miller's WaPo article and notes the convenience of drone warfare when Republicans love "killing bad guys" no matter how it's done and Democrats are too partisan to object when it's their guy doing the dirty work. Writes Drum, this newer, quieter warfare is all too easy. It's alright when we've declared war properly, as we did in Afghanistan, but:

Somalia is next on the list, and an administration official tells Miller that it's an inviting target not because the host government would cooperate, but because there's basically no host government to worry about. That's one more step along a slippery slope to simply using drones wherever we want because nobody is really paying much attention. That's not a slope we should be happy to slide down.

Reason on drones and the war on terror; Jacob Sullum on President Obama's power to assassinate his enemies. 

NEXT: Katherine Mangu-Ward on the Joys of Immigration in The Wall Street Journal

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  1. The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.

    This smacks of “a feature, not a bug”-ism. Tyrants and their lackeys love to operate in the legal penumbras of “we’ll know it when we see it” definitions of pornography, drug possession/trafficking and terrorism.

  2. Don’t drone me bro!

    1. Funny thing; I heard on the radio that they were coming out with a Taser-equipped drone for police use.

  3. Let me be clear. There are those who would accuse me of waging an undeclared worldwide campaign of drone terror. Those people are mistaken. MOTHERFUCKING NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, BITCHES.

    1. Also per the the Washington Post (that’s our capital for you crackers)…

      “… he’s very attentive..)

      1. I can kill anyone in the world from the golf course!

  4. It’s a job created or saved.

    1. Dude, through the magic of Aggregate Demand, all jobs are fungible and therefore extrajudicially executing a current jobholder is equivalent to creating two new jobs through simultaneously reducing the labor pool and creating a job opening.

  5. We’re not seeking to create some worldwide basing network so we have drone capabilities in every corner of the globe.

    It’s funny.

    Until I read this denial, it would never have occurred to me to think that we had a deliberate policy of creating a worldwide network of bases to have drone capabilities over the entire globe.

    But after reading this denial, I am forced to conclude that our policy is now exactly that.

    1. That’s exactly what I thought upon reading that quote.

  6. Second time this month I’ve found myself in agreement with Drum. Must be a record.

    1. Yeah. I have to admit to a knee-jerk reaction to anything published in Mother Jones, but it can be overcome at the appropriate time. This is one of them.

      1. Mother Jones is cloyingly leftist, but they have their moments and I find it worthwhile to see what they’re blogging about.

        1. absolutely. imo, reading MoJo is essential, just like reading NR is.

  7. fuck the nobel prize committee

    Worse than Bush

  8. OT: Would you back in time and stop the creators of The Big Bang Theory from creating the Penny character?

    My answer: an emphatic yes.

    1. Let me revise my earlier opinion: I’d got back in time (And yes, I would waste my one and only opportunity in a time machine for this!) and prevent the casting of Kaley Cuoco.

      The character herself is fine. It’s Kaley’s interpretation of the character that drives me crazy.

      1. Why are you watching that show in the first place? Utterly boring cookie cutter sitcom garbage right down to the canned laughter.

        1. In all honesty, I stopped watching the show after season 3. It’s recently gone into syndication, so I’ve been catching up on some of the story lines.

        2. …and yes, Leonard is still the emotional bitch of both Sheldon and Penny.

        3. Wow, you’re harsh. I like it because it’s the geekiest humor this side of Futurama.

          1. There isn’t even a remote comparison between the wit of Futurama and a standard-format piece of shit sitcom like BBT.

            If your show has a laugh track, you’re already stomping on the unfunny accelerator.

          2. It’s complete and utter crap, mindless, ridiculous, and insulting to anyone with a brain.

            It doubles the craptitude that the characters are supposed to be really smart, nerds. Gee, that’s original.

          3. Futurama is meh, and BBT is worse.

            Thorugh in some references to pop-sci-fi and mention some physics and build it around the stereotype that smart nerds are socially disfunctional and call it a wrap – leaves plenty of time for the writers to snort a couple of lines of coke.

            1. Futurama is meh, and BBT is worse.

    2. It’s turned into The Sheldon Show anyway. But the show does need a non-nerd for the benefit of the audience, and if she’s also halfway decent eye-candy, so much the better.

      Much more importantly, you should be watching Community instead. Six seasons and a movie!

      1. I watch Community.

        1. Heh, I think Community has more geek cred than BBT.

  9. Y’all watch way too much TV.

  10. Hmm, I’m wondering – if, say, a very large and strong boy in junior high went over to the local elementary school and beat up the third graders, would he be a bully even in the absenceof any possible retaliation from his victim’s?

  11. Drone pilots are without doubt the biggest COWARDS of them all!

    http://www.privacy-works.tk

  12. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens

    California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence is described as having “awe and concern” in respect to the drone program. She is glad that the program doesn’t endanger Americans

  13. And once again, the government claims the son was not purposefully targeted, but was just in the way of the missile.

    Look, the 9/11 hijackers weren’t targeting the towers, they just got in the way. Jeez, chill out America.

  14. Somalia is next on the list

    “Where we’re going, we don’t NEED roads.”

    “Good, because they definitely don’t have them.”

    (Back to The Future 2 deleted scene)

  15. Drones really shoot rockets like that? I thought armed drones were themselves flying bombs. Wouldn’t it be simpler that way — no separate guidance needed for the missile?

  16. How the hell did the CIA end up in the driver’s seat/one of multiple driver’s seats of the Drone Wars?

  17. …She is glad that the program doesn’t endanger Americans…

    Except for, you know, the ones already assassinated.

  18. She is glad that the program doesn’t endanger Americans…

    Except for, you know, the ones already assassinated.

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