Gordon Lubold | Foreign Policy
In May, the White House leaked word that it would start shifting drone operations from the shadows of the CIA to the relative sunlight of the Defense Department in an effort to be more transparent about the controversial targeted killing program. But six months later, the so-called migration of those operations has stalled, and it is now unlikely to happen anytime soon, Foreign Policy has learned.
The anonymous series of announcements coincided with remarks President Obama made on counterterrorism policy at National Defense University in which he called for “transparency and debate on this issue.” A classified Presidential Policy Guidance on the matter, issued at the same time, caught some in government by surprise, triggering a scramble at the Pentagon and at CIA to achieve a White House objective. The transfer was never expected to happen overnight. But it is now clear the complexity of the issue, the distinct operational and cultural differences between the Pentagon and CIA and the bureaucratic politics of it all has forced officials on all sides to recognize transferring drone operations from the Agency to the Defense Department represents, for now, an unattainable goal.
Greg Miller, Julie Tate and Barton Gellman | The Washington Post
It was an innocuous e-mail, one of millions sent every day by spouses with updates on the situation at home. But this one was of particular interest to the National Security Agency and contained clues that put the sender’s husband in the crosshairs of a CIA drone.Days later, Hassan Ghul — an associate of Osama bin Laden who provided a critical piece of intelligence that helped the CIA find the al-Qaeda leader — was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt.
(Obtained by TWP/Obtained by TWP) – Hassan Ghul.
The U.S. government has never publicly acknowledged killing Ghul. But documents provided to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden confirm his demise in October 2012 and reveal the agency’s extensive involvement in the targeted killing program that has served as a centerpiece of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy.An al-Qaeda operative who had a knack for surfacing at dramatic moments in the post-Sept. 11 story line, Ghul was an emissary to Iraq for the terrorist group at the height of that war. He was captured in 2004 and helped expose bin Laden’s courier network before spending two years at a secret CIA prison. Then, in 2006, the United States delivered him to his native Pakistan, where he was released and returned to the al-Qaeda fold.But beyond filling in gaps about Ghul, the documents provide the most detailed account of the intricate collaboration between the CIA and the NSA in the drone campaign.
Northrop Grumman / Chad Slattery / Handout via Reuters
A review of classified US intelligence records has revealed that the CIA could not confirm the identity of about a quarter of the people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan during a period spanning from 2010 to 2011.
According to a purportedly exclusive report by NBC News that mirrors findings of an April analysis by McClatchy, between September 3, 2010 and October 30, 2011 the agency’s drone program over Pakistan routinely designated those killed as “other militants,” a label used when the CIA could not determine affiliation, if any.
The review by NBC News paints both a confusing and troubling picture of the CIA’s reported drone strike success, which three former Obama administration officials feared could have missed or simply ignored mistakes.
Of the 14 months worth of classified documents reviewed, 26 out of 114 attacks designate fatalities as“other militants,” while in four other attacks those killed are only described as “foreign fighters.”
Even more irregular are the cases when entry records conflict on the number of those killed, with one such example indicating a drone attack had killed seven to 10 combatants, and another estimating 20 to 22 fatalities. Read More
Micah Zenko | Foreign Policy
Finally, proof that the United States has lied in the drone wars.
It turns out that the Obama administration has not been honest about who the CIA has been targeting with drones in Pakistan. Jonathan Landay, national security reporter at McClatchy Newspapers, has provided the first analysis of drone-strike victims that is based upon internal, top-secret U.S. intelligence reports. It is the most important reporting on U.S. drone strikes to date because Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides — that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland — is false.
Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter’s right to self-defense. A Department of Justice white paper said that the United States can target a “senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Attorney General Eric Holdersaid the administration targets “specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces,” and Harold Koh, the senior State Department legal adviser dubbed them “high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.” Obama said during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012: “These strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after al-Qaeda suspects.” Finally, Obama claimed in September: “Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.”
As the Obama administration unveils its promised and overdue targeted-killing reforms over the next few months, citizens, policymakers, and the media should keep in mind this disconnect between who the United States claimed it was killing and who it was actually killing.
Landay’s reporting primarily covers the most intensive period of CIA drone strikes, from September 2010 to September 2011. “[T]he documents reveal estimates of deaths and injuries; locations of militant bases and compounds; the identities of some of those targeted or killed; the movements of targets from village to village or compound to compound; and, to a limited degree, the rationale for unleashing missiles,” he writes. Read more
Charlie Savage | The New York Times
WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court held Friday that the Central Intelligence Agency must disclose, at least to a judge, a description of its records on drone strikes in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The 19-page opinion by Judge Merrick B. Garland rejected an effort by the Obama administration to keep secret any aspect of the C.I.A.’s interest in the use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects abroad.
It does not necessarily mean the contents of any of those records will ever be made public, and it stopped short of ordering the government to acknowledge publicly that the C.I.A. actually uses drones to carry out “targeted killings” against specific terrorism suspects or groups of unknown people who appear to be militants in places like tribal Pakistan. The Obama administration continues to treat that fact as a classified secret, though it has been widely reported.
But the ruling was a chink in that stone wall. Judge Garland, citing the C.I.A. role in analyzing intelligence, as well as public remarks by a former director and other top officials about what they asserted was the precision and minimal civilian casualties caused by drone strikes, said it was a step too far to ask the judicial branch to give its “imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible.” Read More