Once Again, Congress Reads Stuff It Should Have Received from the Administration in NYT

Remember the excuse an anonymous Administration source Senator gave to explain why the Administration was not sharing some of the OLC memos on drone killing with the intelligence committees that by law oversee them?

Because the agreements with Pakistan and Yemen were too sensitive.

A senator who sits on the Intelligence Committee and has read some of the memos also said that the still-unreleased memos contain secret protocols with the governments of Yemen and Pakistan on how targeted killings should be conducted. Information about these pacts, however, were not in the OLC opinions the senator has been allowed to see.

In a preview of his new book, Mark Mazzetti describes what is surely in one of them: the “side payment” strikes — targeting Pakistan’s enemies, not our own — we carried out so as to gain access to Pakistani airspace so we could target others.

Mr. [Nek] Muhammad [a Pakistani Taliban ally] and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.

[snip]

Pakistani officials had, for several years, balked at the idea of allowing armed C.I.A. Predators to roam their skies. They considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, and worried that they would invite further criticism of Mr. Musharraf as being Washington’s lackey. But Mr. Muhammad’s rise to power forced them to reconsider.

The C.I.A. had been monitoring the rise of Mr. Muhammad, but officials considered him to be more Pakistan’s problem than America’s. In Washington, officials were watching with growing alarm the gathering of Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas, and George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, authorized officers in the agency’s Islamabad station to push Pakistani officials to allow armed drones. Negotiations were handled primarily by the Islamabad station.

As the battles raged in South Waziristan, the station chief in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ehsan ul Haq, the ISI chief, and made an offer: If the C.I.A. killed Mr. Muhammad, would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas?

In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets.

[snip]

The ISI and the C.I.A. agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.

So in the name of the war on al Qaeda we’re killing non-al Qaeda so as to win the ability to kill al Qaeda.

And the Administration didn’t want to explain all that to the intelligence committees.

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.

16 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    They should have to explain it to the public, in public. Along with why we’re there at all.

  2. Clark Hilldale says:

    I’m old enough to remember when just putting a horse’s head in someone’s bed was enough to convince them to do you a favor.

  3. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    As with Vietnam including Cambodia and Laos the War Crimes committed by the U.S. and partners ensured defeat. Then came South and Central America, more War Crimes, and defeat. Then the Middle East and Afghan and Pakistan, War Crimes, defeat.

    Where will these soldiers for democracy be deployed next?

    North Korea looks ripe but tricky, so more likely Central Africa.

    Will the Tax Havens leak slow this endless drive for war profits?

  4. jo6pac says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): You have posted the definition of insanity and I’m pretty sure everyone inside the beltway is a cycle-0-path except for dam few.

    South America looking like it could use some good Amerika know how and I’m sure state and cia are working on hugo world.

  5. ess emm says:

    The memos have allegedly been released to the Intelligence committees. And Wyden’s been pretty quiet. So my guess is he knows what can get an American killed by his government and he’s fine with it.

    I dont feel very good.

  6. Snoopdido says:

    As Lawfare’s Jack Goldsmith (http://www.lawfareblog.com/author/jack/) was then running things in 2004 at the OLC when these secret protocols with the governments of Yemen and Pakistan (and perhaps other countries) were incorporated into these still classified OLC opinions, it might be worthwhile to delve into his previous Lawfare blog posts on the subject of US drone strike authority. Perhaps he told us more than we then knew.

  7. ess emm says:

    @emptywheel:
    Thanks for the response.

    Feinstein on March 5: I have reached an agreement with the White House to provide the committee access to all OLC opinions related to the targeted killing of Americans in a way that allows members to fulfill their oversight responsibilities. I am pleased the administration has made this information available. It is important for the committee to do its work and will pave the way for the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director.

    Just realized the tenses dont work in her statement. If she was talking about the other 7 memos the statement would have read “I am pleased the administration will make this information available.”

    So I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. Either,

    1. DiFi played us, and the media did some bad reporting to link that statement to all the memos.

    or

    2. Brennan got his nomination confirmed and the WH and DOJ cynically lost all interest in following through on their promises.

    In any event, there’s no followup reporting. Targeted killing has dropped out of the media discussion—except for our host and Mazzetti.

  8. GKJames says:

    This highlights yet again the Administration’s game-playing on what it reports (or doesn’t) to Congress. If it really is a matter of sensitivity surrounding secret protocols with Pakistan and Yemen — and the specific concern that the US as hit-man is not something that either government wants to have publicized — surely that’s something that can, and should, be disclosed to the Intelligence Committee with only minute risk of disclosure.

    This latest explanation for the Administration’s not sharing all memos is no more viable than the previous ones. The memos go to the LEGAL foundation for lethal, non-military operations. The legal rationales of which Washington — in a reincarnation of the group-wank perfected for Vietnam — long ago convinced itself in connection with the scope of the AUMF and the definition of “imminent threat,” have no bearing on the FACT question as to the quid pro quo for Pakistan and Yemen.

    At heart, the Administration is adamant that it be the American public — on whose behalf and is whose name the killing is being done — who must remain in the dark. It’s the public’s responsibility to remind the Administration to the contrary, and to insist that elected representatives press the point.

  9. harpie says:

    b at Moon of Alabama makes an important observation about Mazettii’s story:

    […] It presents the drone war as an alternative to the CIA’s torture prisons and is thereby justifying it in a false choice…By presenting the problem as false choice the author is making a sorry propaganda excuse for an evil program. […]

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