The Soon to Be Announced War in Yemen

In response to my speculation that the Administration might be treating UndieBomb 2.0 as one part of a larger secret including our war against Yemeni insurgents led out of the NSC, a reader Mark Hosenball alerted us to Mark Hosenball’s reporting that drone strikes are not included among the leak investigations.

Recent revelations about clandestine U.S. drone campaigns against al Qaeda and other militants are not part of two major leak investigations being conducted by federal prosecutors, sources familiar with the inquiries said.

Most detailed information on the drone wars, which were initiated by the George W. Bush administration but expanded by President Barack Obama, is highly classified, officials said.

But Obama and top administration officials, including White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, recently have been alluding more openly to drone operations in public remarks, and detailed news coverage has been widespread.

The CIA has not filed a “crime report” with the Justice Department over reports about Obama’s drone policy and a U.S. “kill list” of targeted militants, an action which often would trigger an official leak investigation, two sources familiar with the matter said. They requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

By contrast, the CIA did file a “crime report” following publication by the Associated Press last month of a report disclosing the foiling of a plot by Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack an airliner using a newly designed underwear bomb, sources said.

It’s worth remembering, btw, that Hosenball was the person who reported that John Brennan revealed information that led Richard Clarke to learn that UndieBomb 2.0 was actually carried out by a Saudi asset. Just saying.

Meanwhile, the AP reports that the White House is going to acknowledge our undeclared wars in Yemen and Somalia in a report to Congress today.

For the first time, the White House’s semiannual report to Congress on the state of U.S. combat operations abroad mentions what has been widely known for years but never formally acknowledged: The U.S. has taken “direct action” against al-Qaida members in Yemen and Somalia.

All this comes in advance of a June 20 deadline (I will be on a beach in England with the in-laws) in one of the ACLU’s FOIAs on drones (the one on the Awlaki OLC memo) in which the CIA will have to decide whether it can confirm that it has a drone program.

Call me cynical, but I’m still waiting for the Administration to say all this non-specific disclosure means it can tell the ACLU to take a hike.

Ultimately, though, we have yet to see whether the kill list stories–which the AP reported to be out of date before they came out–will be presented in FOIA response as the current state of affairs in our drone war in Yemen.

Update: Here’s the language on Yemen.

The U.S. military has also been working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous affiliate of al-Qa’ida today. Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests.

The United States is committed to thwarting the efforts of al-Qa’ida and its associated forces to carry out future acts of international terrorism, and we have continued to work with our CT partners to disrupt and degrade the capabilities of al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. As necessary, in response to the terrorist threat, I will direct additional measures against al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces to protect U.S. citizens and interests. It is not possible to know at this time the precise scope or the duration of the deployments of U.S. Armed Forces necessary to counter this terrorist threat to the United States. A classified annex to this report provides further information.

Very interesting, particularly the nod to the classified annex, which presumably is more forthcoming about all the insurgents we’ve now promoted into “operatives and senior leaders” than we get here. And what’s that construction about, anyway? “Operatives and senior leaders”??? To say the least, the order is odd.

Update: the comment from Hosenball was not from him himself–I’ve changed the post accordingly.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. priceman says:

    Interesting, indeed. I have to wonder if the classification of women and children within the vicinity of these drone strike operations are now ultimately coined as “Operatives” and “Senior Leaders.” As if that makes it better. I believe Jeremy Scahill coined it right. This kind of war operation is murder.

    I assumed we were at war with Yemen and Somalia, even though UndieBomb 2.0 was actually carried out by a Saudi asset as you said. This is very clarifying and depressing, but so very important.

    If only there was a consistent disdain for these never ending global war on terror associated neoconservative forces in a Democratic administration among Democratic voters; the kind told they need to eat kindler and gentler austerity for a fake deficit crisis while all this is going on. It’s all connected. Oh well, they need to read you more, Marcy.

    BTW, it was great meeting you in Providence.

  2. Friday Afternoon Newz Dump says:

    The report applies only to usa military operations, including those by special operations forces – not those conducted by the CIA.

    how convenient.

  3. MadDog says:

    I noticed the repeated usage of the phrase “associated forces” as if the constant repetition would somehow magically make it appear in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force approved by Congress.

    Of course, it doesn’t, but for the US government, hope springs eternal.

    “…And what’s that construction about, anyway? “Operatives and senior leaders”??? To say the least, the order is odd.”

    Their usage of “operatives” makes sense if they wanted to make the point that the targets for killing in the Global War on Terrorism are those who conduct actual operational terrorism acts against the US.

    Their usage of “senior leaders” is I believe an attempt to give themselves legal cover for the assassinations of people who have conducted no actual operational terrorism acts against the US.

    Should there be any light provided by the US government in response to the ACLU and NYT FOIA litigation on June 20th, such as a partial redacted release of the OLC opinion justifying and authorizing the assassination of al-Awlaki, then you can be sure the phrase “senior leaders” will figure prominently in it as a US government-defined appropriate assassination target.

    And regarding the order of the construction, it looks like the US government is attempting to conflate the 2nd with the 1st. As in “associated” forces.

  4. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: There are a number of other interesting things to note about this Presidential letter to Congress.

    Not least of those is the title’s reference to “2012 War Powers Resolution”.

    Does anyone remember Congress authorizing what the Administration includes in this letter? I sure as heck don’t.

    The title’s reference to “2012 War Powers Resolution” appears to be an attempt of legal legerdemain by the Administration to seem to be complying somehow with the War Powers Resolution passed by Congress in 1973.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @Billy Chen: I hope so! I’ve got a beachfront room I paid extra for. Or maybe I didn’t figure it was worth my money, given that the beaches here look far more beautiful by comparison.

  6. P J Evans says:

    @MadDog:
    Terms like ‘operatives’ and ‘senior leaders’ (and I would expect ‘junior leaders’ somewhere in there also) allows them to kill pretty nearly anyone they feel like.
    Maybe they’d get the idea faster if we started referring to House members as ‘operatives’ and senators as ‘senior leaders’.

  7. Rayne says:

    Perhaps it’s because I’ve been out of the loop for quite a while that I don’t know what end’s up, but I’m scratching my head over this mess. It sure looks like some weird sleight-of-hand, a shell game going on under our noses.

    Executive Order dd. 15-MAY-2012 Blocking Property of Persons Threatening the Peace, Security, or Stability of Yemen addresses threats formulated by “certain members of the Government of Yemen and others” who “threaten Yemen’s peace, security, and stability,” and authorizes the Treasury to take action.

    Not merely or just insurgents, but elements of the government of Yemen.

    Meanwhile, John Brennan, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, is running a “secret war” against AQAP in Yemen.

    At what point are these things no longer separate–elements of the Yemen government and AQAP? Have the American people been clearly offered adequate assurance that elements of the Yemen government are NOT AQAP (or are)? Actions against elements of a sovereign government are war; has there been any effort at all to offer clear delineation between Brennan’s work under the 2001 AUMF Against Terrorists and the work authorized under the 2012 Executive Order?

    And at what point should there be a true debate about war–armed or asymmetric–on Yemen if indeed the US is targeting elements of a sovereign nation’s government, apart from Treasury activity sanctioned by the Executive Order?

    This mess sure looks like the perfect opportunity for the White House to conveniently forget or ignore the War Powers Clause.

    EDIT: Adding an excerpt here of 2001 AUMF, note the bold:

    Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces
    (a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
    (b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
    (1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
    (2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

    I cannot believe that the seated Congress in 2001 ever envisioned using this AUMF to attack government officials of a sovereign nation, apart from Afghanistan, more than a decade later without some additional Congressional debate and approval under the War Powers Clause. The American public is owed some clarification and distinction as to what it is we’re doing in Yemen, and under what authority.

  8. orionATL says:

    Meanwhile, the AP reports that the White House is going to acknowledge our undeclared wars in Yemen and Somalia in a report to Congress today.

    emptywheel sez:

    (I will be on a beach in England with the in-laws)

    the irish vacation in the territory of the hated/brutallly repressive english?

    what happened to the 1000 year war?

  9. travelite says:

    ach! Beaches in the UK and Ireland are mostly rocks or mud. Go with the flow… Keep the in-laws and the husband happy and have a good time. Maybe the sun will be out. Should be a relaxing get-away.

    Following you for almost 10 years. Thank you!

    Cheers!

  10. joanneleon says:

    Does this mean I no longer have to say “Shhh don’t talk about that other war we’re in in Yemen” anymore in my dkos comments?

  11. joanneleon says:

    It’s like they’re saying, meh, what’s a couple more wars? The world is our battlefield!

  12. Jeff Kaye says:

    Um, maybe we’ve been at war there for some time already. The US has had no compunction re waging secret wars, the massive bombing of Cambodia, for instance, being a noted instance.

    I recently tweeted this:

    Docs show over 1 million (!) US military personnel given housing allowance $$ in #Yemen in Nov 2010 http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/pdc-archive/appendix-k/PDF/Yemen.pdf Surprising figures!

    Now, I don’t know if it’s one million discrete personnel, or these included repeat deployments or figure, or even amount of dependents. But it’s a hell of a lot.

    I don’t think what’s happening in Yemen is actually being reported in a comprehensive fashion. The drone killings certainly are an issue of importance, but I’d like to see more emphasis on military deployment in general.

  13. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Jeff Kaye: My apologies: I should have known better than trust first look at the DoD doc I linked to. It gives the amt for housing allowance in the country’s currency, so the 100,000s for each category are not figures for number of personnel, but amount each personnel category is allowed for housing. So while the document may be of some interest, such interest is quite minor.

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