Drones

Mike Rogers Throws Tantrum Over Obama’s Drone Policy

It seems that Mike Rogers lately is aiming to take over the Emptywheel blog. When he’s not yapping about criminalizing journalism or dissembling about Congressional briefings on the Patriot Act renewal, he’s putting out bloodthirsty endorsements of drone violence. When we last heard from him on the drone front, he was joining the mad rush to come up with the most damning indictment of Hakimullah Mehsud after the US disrupted Pakistan’s plans to start peace talks the very next day with a Taliban group headed by Mehsud. Yesterday, Rogers used a hearing of his House Intelligence Committee as a venue in which to pitch a tantrum over the US daring to adjust its drone policy, leading to fewer strikes.

Now, almost exactly three months after the Mehsud drone strike, we see the prospect for peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban disrupted again. As I mentioned yesterday, Taliban negotiators fear that Pakistan’s government may be planning to scuttle the talks in order to launch an offensive against the Taliban in tribal areas, which might also play into a desire by Sharif’s government to be in line for counterterrorism funds which the US might not be spending in Afghanistan.

The Washington Post has Rogers’ tirade. First, there is news of a pause in drone strikes in Pakistan:

The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.

“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.

Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.

Oooh, look! There’s Marcy’s favorite word again, “imminent“. But this lull in drone strikes, coupled with the explanation offered in the Post, tells us that no suitable al Qaeda targets with credible plans against the US presented themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas for over a month. That didn’t deter Rogers; he’s upset that any potential targets aren’t blasted immediately: Continue reading

The Unspeakable Tragedy of Homeless Drones

Yesterday, I speculated on whether Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was turning his back on his campaign promise of peace talks with the Taliban so that he could seek US counterterrorism funds suddenly not being used in Afghanistan. Today’s New York Times joins me in pointing out the key role of counterterrorism in an important US-Pakistan meeting in Washington today:

Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Pakistan’s foreign and national security policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, here on Monday, and counterterrorism operations are to be a major subject of discussion, a senior State Department official said Sunday.

The Times article, however, centers on a key piece of context that I hadn’t brought into yesterday’s speculation. The growing likelihood that all US troops will be forced to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year in the absence of a signed Bilateral Security Agreement means that the US needs a new home for its drones:

 The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.

/snip/

The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year.

If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed, according to administration officials, because it could no longer be protected.

Oh, the horrors of it all! Who can bear the tragedy of all those poor, homeless drones, wandering around the world with no base close enough for a rapid trip inside the borders of a sovereign nation that has stated in no uncertain terms that it considers drone strikes to be illegal and to be war crimes?

The Times article reminds us that the US once used a base inside Pakistan for drone flights:

Their base inside Pakistan was closed after a shooting involving a C.I.A. security contractor, Raymond Davis, and the raid into Pakistani territory that killed Osama bin Laden, both in 2011.

That bit simplifies the Shamsi Air Base story a bit. While it is true that Pakistan stated that they were kicking the US off the base in June of 2011, not very long after the Osama bin Laden raid (and a bit longer after the Raymond Davis fiasco), the US didn’t actually leave the base until December, after the US killed 24 Pakistani troops at a border station.

So it would seem to me that in today’s talks with Aziz, Kerry will be dangling a couple billion dollars that will be Pakistan’s for the taking, but only if they meet two conditions. Condition one will be to continue Sharif’s new-found enthusiasm for attacking militant groups and condition two will be to re-open Shamsi air base for the US to continue drone operations.

Should such an agreement come to pass, it would completely invalidate the elections that Pakistan held last May, in which Pakistan for the very first time experienced a peaceful transition from one elected government to another. One of Sharif’s main campaign points was the establishment of peace talks with the Taliban. He now is carrying out military actions against them instead. Imran Khan, who came in second in the election, campaigned on a pledge to end US drone strikes. Opening a base inside Pakistan for US drones would render votes cast for Khan meaningless.

Perhaps the only solace that the US would be able to offer Pakistan should they agree to re-open Shamsi to drones would be that after the formal US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the base in Shamsi would almost certainly be used by the US to violate Afghanistan’s sovereignty on a regular basis, just as the US has been doing lately to Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Attacks and Counterattacks: TTP and Pakistani Military Escalate Actions

The past three days have seen a number of major attacks between Pakistan’s Taliban, known as the TTP, and Pakistan’s military. On Sunday, a bomb exploded in a van transporting Pakistani troops, killing 20. This attack took place in Bannu (Bannu will return to this story in a moment). On Monday, a suicide bomber killed 13 just a few meters from the outside wall of the General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army in Rawilpindi. Today, Pakistani jets killed at least 24 with bombs dropped in North Waziristan.

It appears that in the Sunday attack, the bomb was in a vehicle rented for transporting troops:

“The explosion took place in a civil Hiace van inside Bannu Parade Ground at 8:45 am,” a senior military official told The Express Tribune. The blast occurred just as Frontier Corps (FC) troops had stepped into the van ahead of their departure.

“The K-P paramilitary unit had rented a vehicle from the market for movement of its troops,” he added. The vehicle was supposed to carry the soldiers to Razmak, a town in North Waziristan Agency.

/snip/

“It wasn’t immediately known whether it was a suicide bombing or the device was detonated through a remote control,” he added. “The van driver was also killed in the blast.”

The suicide bomber in Monday’s attack was first seen on a bicycle:

District Coordination Officer Sajid Zafar Dall said that at the time of the attack a gaggle of children were heading to school. “Our initial assessment is that the bomber was possibly on a bicycle and he then approached the target on foot,” he added. Since it was morning time, RA Bazaar was bustling with office-goers and schoolchildren.

Quoting eyewitnesses, Sardar Zulfikar, the SHO of RA Bazaar police station, said the bomber was walking towards the GHQ but detonated the explosive vest the moment he saw army troops at RA Bazaar’s main roundabout, T-Chowk. The building of National Logistics Cell is located nearby.

/snip/

The RA Bazaar is considered a high security zone due to its proximity with the GHQ. Police investigators believe the bomber intended to target the military headquarters. However, he couldn’t get to his target due to the tight security.

Today’s bombing by the Pakistani Air Force appears to be in response to these attacks:

Several suspected militant hideouts were trampled by Pakistan’s military’s fighter jets in Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan, killing at least 24 persons and wounding 15 more, various local news channels reported on Tuesday.

The air strike followed a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan in the past week, including Monday’s blast on a check post in Rawalpindi that martyred 6 army personnel and 7 civilians. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed the responsibility for the attack. The events had led to a mounting pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher decisions in response to the recent attacks by TTP.

“This hadn’t been planned before, and Pakistan Air Force jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces,” said one military official speaking on condition of anonymity.

It appears that the operations by Pakistani forces are continuing in several locations in North Waziristan.

At least one key TTP figure killed in today’s bombing has been identified. He has a very interesting history: Continue reading

The Virgin Rebirth of CIA’s Drone Wars and NSA’s Cyberwars

The DC press is buzzing about how little President Obama will do tomorrow to rein in the dragnet. The most telling description of Obama’s thought process is this one, which makes it clear Obama worries about a backlash from the Deep State if their authorities are reigned in.

The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Mr. Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies.

But two other developments probably reflect a better sense of where we’re headed: WaPo’s report that the Omnibus Spending bill defunds any effort to shift our drone war to DOD control.

Congress has moved to block President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department, inserting a secret provision in the massive government spending bill introduced this week that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counterterrorism operations, U.S. officials said.

The measure, included in a classified annex to the $1.1 trillion federal budget plan, would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, officials said.

The article names Barb Mikulski and Dianne Feinstein as possible culprits for this move.

Still, senior lawmakers have been vocal in expressing concern about the prospect of the CIA ceding responsibility for drone strikes to the military. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said last year that she had seen the CIA “exercise patience and discretion specifically to prevent collateral damage” and that she “would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that well.”

[snip]

Among Feinstein’s colleagues on the Intelligence Committee is Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who is chairman of the appropriations panel responsible for the budget bill.

But I am skeptical such a thing would have happened without buy-in — if not direct orders — from John “Always Already Gone Native” Brennan (described as such by an anonymous Senior Administration Official who was shocked that Brennan was moving to keep the drone war contrary to the propaganda the White House had released while he was there).

Then there are the multiple reports on the spending bill’s doubling of CyberCommand’s budget to $447 million, largely to hire 4,000 more staffers (that compares with a less than 5% increase in the cyber budget for DHS, which is supposed to have the lead on domestic defense).

Whether or not Obama supports CIA retaining control of the drone war, he surely supports this doubling of CyberCommand’s budget, as it is consistent with Obama’s pre-emption, in December, of his Review Group’s recommendation to split NSA and CyberCommand. With that decision, Obama made it clear he intends to prioritize cyberoffense over cyberdefense of the US.

Obama’s going to get up tomorrow to try to pretend to respond to the many criticisms of his NSA’s dragnet. But whether because he has lost control of his wars to the Deep State, or because he wants to continue to approach risks using tools of war, the entities driving this issue seem to be the Deep State (and the contractors it keeps fat).

Jeremy Scahill: Two Degrees of Separation from the Dirty Wars Dragnet

Congratulations to Jeremy Scahill and the entire team that worked on Dirty Wars for being nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar.

This post may appear to be shamelessly opportunistic — exploiting the attention Dirty Wars will get in the days ahead to make a political point before the President endorses the dragnet on Friday — but I’ve been intending to write it since November, when I wrote this post.

Jeremy Scahill (and the entire Dirty Wars team) is the kind of person whose contacts and sources are exposed to the government in its dragnet.

To write his book (and therefore research the movie, though not all of this shows up in the movie) Scahill spoke with Anwar al-Awlaki’s father (one degree of separation from a terrorist target), a number of people with shifting loyalties in Somalia (who may or may not be targeted), and Afghans we identified as hostile in Afghanistan. All of these people might be targets of our dragnet analysis (and remember — there is a far looser dragnet of metadata collected under EO 12333, with fewer protections). Which puts Scahill, probably via multiple channels, easily within 3 degrees of separation of targets that might get him exposed to further network analysis. (Again, if these contacts show up in 12333 collection Scahill would be immediately exposed to that kind of datamining; if it shows up in the Section 215 dragnet, it would happen if his calls got dumped into the Corporate Store.) If Scahill got swept up in the dragnet on a first or second hop, it means all his other sources, including those within government (like the person depicted in the trailer above) describing problems with the war they’ve been asked to fight, might be identified too.

Scahill might avoid some of this with diligent operational security — a concerted effort to prevent the government from tracking him along with terrorists (though remember two things: one purpose of the dragnet is to discover burner phones, and his computer got hacked while he was working on this book). But the government’s intent is to sweep up records of any conversations that get as close to those hostile to American efforts as Scahill does.

One of my favorite figures in Scahill’s book was the Heineken and Johnny Walker swilling Mullah Zabara, a Yemeni tribal leader from Shabwa who expressed the ambivalence Yemenis might feel towards the US.

Several souther leaders angrily told me stories of US and Yemeni attacks in their areas that killed civilians and livestock and destroyed or damaged scores of homes. If anything, the US air strikes and support for Saleh-family-run counterterrorism units had increased tribal sympathy for al Qaeda. “Why should we fight them? Why?” Continue reading

More Fallout From Hakimullah Mehsud Drone Killing: Polio Vaccines Halted in Waziristan

Yesterday, we got the tremendous news that after having lead the world in the number of polio cases as recently as 2009, the World Health Organization announced that there have been zero polio cases in India for three consecutive years. In today’s Express Tribune, we see a discussion of whether and how Pakistan can now rise to the challenge of polio eradication. In the article, we learn that the US drone killing of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud not only disrupted the developing plans for peace talks between the Taliban and Pakistan’s government, but it also affected polio vaccinations in North and South Waziristan:

According to the State Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarrar, NWA and South Waziristan did not receive any immunisation in months, contrary to former North Waziristan Agency (NWA) surgeon Jan Mir Khan, who was part of recent polio efforts. “After the drone strike that killed Hakimullah, it all stopped. Not just the peace talks, but also our efforts,” she says.

The terrible impact of the CIA’s vaccination ruse employing Dr. Shakeel Afridi in the search for Osama bin Laden has been extensively documented here, but this is the first time I have seen a suggestion that backlash to a drone strike directly resulted in polio vaccines being denied to children. Tarrar is not ready to give up, however, and believes that Pakistan and the Taliban will eventually come to an agreement that will allow vaccinations to resume:

Saira Tarrar also emphasised that the people of the area need to be part of the solution. “Parents are now sick of the ban; this pressurises the Taliban.”

“There is an accessibility problem in Fata, but by 2014, we will get a bargain and get some access.” And access is key, as far as Elias Durray, the head of Polio Eradication at the World Health Organization in Pakistan is concerned. “Immunisation prevents circulation. The virus won’t vanish on its own.”

Let us hope that Pakistan can achieve full vaccine coverage and have polio disappear as quickly in Pakistan as it did in India. Of course, this will require the US actually letting peace negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistan come to fruition, so success is far from guaranteed.

The Senate Torture Report and CIA’s Lies about Hassan Ghul’s 2004 Torture

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In my last post, I noted that in his report that Hassan Ghul served as a double agent before we offed him with a drone, Aram Roston stated, without confirming via sources, that Ghul is the person whose name was not entirely redacted on the bottom of page 7 in the May 2005 Convention Against Torture (CAT) torture memo. I noted that if Ghul is the detainee (and I do think he is, contrary to what sources told AP when the CIA was hunting Ghul down with drones in 2011), then we’re going to be hearing about him — and arguing about his treatment — quite a bit more in the coming weeks.

That’s because, according to information released by Mark Udall, the detainee named in the CAT memo is one of the detainees about whose treatment the CIA lied most egregiously to DOJ. This is apparently one of the key findings from the Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report that CIA is fighting so hard to suppress.

Mark Udall’s list of torture lies

Back in August, Mark Udall posed a set of follow-up questions to then CIA and now DOD General Counsel Stephen Preston. Udall was trying to get Preston to endorse findings that appeared in the Torture Report that hadn’t appeared elsewhere (in his first set of responses about CIA’s lies to DOJ, Preston had focused on CIA’s lies about the number of waterboardings, which the CIA IG Report had first revealed). Udall noted that that lie (“discrepancy”) was known prior to the Torture Report, and asked Preston to review the “Representations” section of the Torture Report again to see whether he thought the lies (“discrepancies”) described there — and not described elsewhere — would have been material to OLC’s judgements on torture.

Udall gave Preston this list of OLC judgements that might have been different had CIA not lied to DOJ. (links added)

The 2002 memo is the original Abu Zubaydah memo, the lies in which (pertaining to who AZ was, what the torture consisted of, what had already been done to him, and whether it worked) I’ve explicated in depth elsewhere. The 2006 memo authorizes torture in the name of keeping order in confinement and the 2007 memo authorizes torture (especially sleep deprivation); both of these later memos not only rely on the 2005 memos, but on the false claims about efficacy CIA made in 2005 in their support. The lies in them pertain largely to the purpose CIA wanted to use the techniques for.

Which leaves the claims behind the 2004 letters and the 2005 memos as the key lies CIA told DOJ that remain unexplored.

The 2004 and 2005 lies to reauthorize and expand torture

I’m going to save some of these details for a post on what I think the lies told to DOJ might be, but there are two pieces of evidence showing that the 2005 memos were written to retrospectively codify authorizations given in 2004, many of them in the 2004 letters cited by Udall.

We know the 2005 memos served to retroactively authorize the treatment given to what are described as two detainees in 2004, purportedly in the months after July 2004 (though this may be part of the lie, in Ghul’s case) when DOJ and CIA were trying to draw new lines on torture in the wake of the completion of the CIA IG Report and Jack Goldsmith’s withdrawal of the Bybee Memo.

We know the May 10 Combined Memo was retroactive because Jim Comey made that clear in emails raising alarm about it.

I just finished a long call from Ted Ullyot. He said he was calling to tell me that “circumstances” were likely to require that the second opinion “be sent over tomorrow.” He said Pat had shared my concerns, which he understood to be concerns about the prospective nature of the opinion and its focus on “prototypical” interrogation.

[snip]

He mentioned at one point that OLC didn’t feel like it could accede to my request to make the opinion focused on one person because they don’t give retrospective advice. I said I understood that, but that the treatment of that person had been the subject of oral advice, which OLC would simply be confirming in writing, something they do quite often.

This memo probably, though not definitely, refers to a detainee captured in August 2004 in anticipation of what the Administration claimed (almost certainly falsely) were election-related plots in the US.

And we know the May 10 Techniques and May 30 CAT memos are retroactive because we can trace back the citations about the treatment of one detainee, the detainee who appears to be Ghul, to the earlier letters from 2004.

Just as an example, the August 26 letter cited in Udall’s list relies on the August 25 CIA letter that is also cited in the CAT Memo using the name Gul (the July 22 and August 6 letters are also references, at least in part, to the same detainee).

So we know the 2005 memos served to codify the authorizations for torture that had happened in 2004, during a volatile time for the torture program.

The description of Hassan Ghul in the lying memo

There are still some very funky things about these memos’ tie to Hassan Ghul (again, that’s going to be in a later post), notably that Bush figures referred to the Ghul of the August letters as Janat Gul, including in a Principals meeting discussing his torture on July 2, 2004; sources told the AP after OBL’s killing that this Janat was different than Hassan and different than the very skinny Janat Gul who had been a Gitmo detainee.

But this description — the timing of the initial references and the description of his mission to reestablish contact with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — should allay any doubts that Ghul is one of two detainees referenced in the CAT memo.

Intelligence indicated that prior to his capture, [redacted] “perform[ed] critical facilitation and finance activities for al-Qa’ida,” including “transporting people, funds, and documents.” Fax for Jack Goldsmith, III, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, from [redacted] Assistant General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency (March 12, 2004). The CIA also suspected [redacted] played an active part in planning attacks against United States forces [redacted] had extensive contacts with key members of al Qaeda, including, prior to their captures, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”) and Abu Zubaydah. See id. [redacted] was captured while on a mission from [redacted] to reestablish contact with al-Zarqawi. See CIA Directorate of Intelligence, US Efforts Grinding Down al-Qa’ida 2 (Feb 21, 2004).

Ghul was captured by Kurds around January 23, 2004, carrying a letter from Zarqawi to Osama bin Laden.

So while there are a lot of details that the Senate Torture Report presumably sorts out in detail, it seems fairly clear that Ghul is the subject of some of the documents in question, and that, therefore, there are aspects of the treatment he endured at CIA’s hands that CIA felt the need to lie to DOJ about.

We’ve known for years that CIA lied to DOJ about what they had done and planned to do with Abu Zubaydah. But a great deal of evidence suggests that CIA lied to DOJ about what they did to Hassan Ghul, a detainee (the Senate Report also shows) who provided the key clue to finding Osama bin Laden before he was tortured.

If that’s the case, then I find the release of a story that, after that treatment, he turned double agent either directly or indirectly in our service to be awfully curious timing given the increasing chance we’re about to learn more about these lies and this treatment with any release of the Torture Report.

Drones and Double Agents: Hassan Ghul

On September 30, 2011, a drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a person long suspected of being a US double agent gone bad.

On October 1, 2012, a drone killed Hasan Ghul (see this post for background on Ghul), whom a new report from Aram Roston reports was a double agent gone bad.

In 2006, the U.S. sent Ghul back to Pakistan, where he was taken into custody by the Inter-Service Intelligence agency, the country’s version ofthe CIA. The next year, the ISI quietly set him free, with the full agreement of American intelligence authorities, according to a Pakistani insider. “He was released and both parties agreed on this,” he says. “Both countries were on board in releasing him.”

The insider declined to discuss Ghul’s status as an informant. But three intelligence sources with knowledge of the issue say Ghul was one of those who agreed to cooperate and provide information about terrorists if he was released.

[snip]

Yet another source says that Ghul initially agreed to the project while he was still in American custody, before he was released to the Pakistanis. “Hassan Ghul,” says one former counterterrorism official who is familiar with the case but declined to discuss it in depth, “may have been, probably, one of the highest penetrations of Al Qaeda.”

[snip]

Whatever Ghul’s agreement with the Americans or Pakistanis, by the time Bin Laden was killed, it appears to have ended. One Pakistani source with knowledge of the case says that Ghul eventually “vanished” and that “the deal was rescinded.” Yet he would not say anything about exactly when after his release Ghul lost contact with the ISI.

Now, there are a number of aspects of this story that are unclear, which (if clarified) might explain this further. For example:

  • The report does not note the chronology of Ghul’s torture. According to Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, Ghul was cooperative right after being captured in 2004. Yet we proceeded to torture him. This chronology would suggest Ghul was cooperative, then tortured, then cooperative, then not cooperative.
  • The report makes no mention of Ghul’s alleged ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a crucially important detail when you’re discussing whether the US or the Pakistanis were running him as a double agent. We would have a real incentive to recruit Ghul to inform on LET (which is, after all, what we did with David Headley and may have been what Ray Davis was trying to do, recruit LET informants). But the Pakistanis would never stand for it. If Ghul indeed was a “triple agent,” his ties to LET (and Pakistani interest in obscuring LET to us) may explain that entirely.
  • The report states, without citing any source, that Ghul is the person referred to in a May 2005 OLC memo (sources told the AP in 2011 he was not that detainee; though Roston also states he was a large man, which would support the claim). I will show why, in an follow-up post I’ve been noodling for months, why this is so crucially important. But suffice it to say that if Ghul is the detainee in the memo, anonymous sources have a very significant incentive to spin his torture positively right now (and we will be hearing far far more about him in the coming weeks).

In any case, the report presents important new explanations and questions about Hassal Ghul.

It also makes you wonder how many of our drone strikes have been used to take out our former informants.

It Was JSOC, with the Errant Drone Targeting, in the Yemeni Countryside

Michael Isikoff reported yesterday that the Administration is conducting an investigation into the drone strike that reportedly killed a wedding party back in December. While the investigation is, by itself, intriguing, I’m just as interested in Isikoff’s report that JSOC, not the CIA, conducted the strike.

U.S. and Yemeni officials say the drone strike was carried out by the Defense Department’s Joint Special Operations Command, not the CIA, which operates its own drones in Yemen.

He also quotes a human rights activist, Baraa Shiban, suggesting someone fed the US bad intelligence.

Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist who interviewed local villagers two days after the  strike, said he saw no sign that  Badani was anywhere near the village, noting that he was from another region of Yemen, and, as a “stranger” to the area, was unlikely to have been invited to a gathering celebrating the wedding between a groom and bride in two neighboring villages.

“There was clearly a wedding party,” said Shiban. He said he believes U.S. officials “may have been fed the wrong intel. They saw a group of people waiting in trucks for a convoy and they assumed they were militants, so they made the decision to strike.”

Between 2009 and 2011, that happened a lot to JSOC, which is one reason the CIA got to operate in Yemen (or, viewed another way, it is one reason the Saudis got to take a larger role in our drone targeting in Yemen). The timing of the errant JSOC strike is all the more interesting, coming as it did just weeks after confirmation that Brennan was not giving up his drones.

But I’m just as interested in another bit of timing. As Isikoff reminds, the errant drone strike took place one week after the December 5 AQAP attack on Yemen’s Ministry of Defense, which also killed innocent people in an attached hospital (which they subsequently apologized for), but which was targeted at what AQAP claimed was the Yemeni operations center for drone targeting. No one has ever confirmed whether they did breach that operations center. And Yemeni officials remain really squirrelly about who died in the MoD attack and whether there were any non-Yemenis among the non-hospital victims.

At one level, AQAP-partisans within the Yemeni government might have fed JSOC bad intelligence to create a disaster bigger than the hospital attack. But I also wonder — whether or not there were Saudis or Americans in that attack — if the targeting process got disrupted by the MoD attack, resulting in the attack on the wedding.

Out of Control? NATO to Khan: We Have Nothing to Do With Brennan’s CIA Drone Strikes

One tidbit in the long Washington Post profile of Pakistan’s Imran Khan stands out from the standard language describing the former cricket star who has developed a strong enough political movement to control one province. Just over halfway through the article, we have this description of Khan being summoned to a meeting of NATO diplomats after his blockade of the NATO cargo route through the north of Pakistan had become established:

In a blunt signal of the coalition’s unease, about 20 diplomats from NATO countries, including the United States, summoned Khan for dinner in early December at the German ambassador’s residence in Islamabad. According to Khan and others present, the encounter became tense.

“They kept saying, ‘Look, we have nothing to do with it; it’s all the CIA’ ” carrying out the drone attacks, Khan recalled.

Think about that for a minute. The war in Afghanistan is being fought under the NATO banner. Diplomats representing the top countries in that alliance summoned Khan and then lectured him to stop interfering with their supply convoys. They tried to convince Khan that they, as the leaders of the coalition, have no control over John Brennan’s drone strikes inside Pakistan.

But these strikes, of course, are described by the US as serving to protect US troops within the NATO coalition. And the coalition leaders tell Khan that he should stop his blockade of their supplies because they have no control over the drone strikes that have his constituents so upset. In other words, NATO has no control over John Brennan. He makes his decisions on timing and location of drone strikes with no NATO oversight or even input.

Khan instantly saw the absurd depravity of that argument from NATO. The quote from the Post article above cuts the final sentence from the second paragraph. Here is that sentence, which continues Khan’s description of the meeting to the Post:

“I said, ‘Look, you are all coalition partners.’ ”

Khan understands that in a real coalition, the partners would have a say in actions with as much import as drone strikes. But the NATO representatives, who took it upon themselves to lecture Khan about his blockade, had no objection to Brennan being out of their control. Instead, they were using it as an excuse to try to convince Khan to stop obstructing their convoys.

Who is the one with moral rectitude here? The one who understands how members of a coalition should behave or the one who insists that he needs no oversight on any front for raining down death from the sky?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @JohnAmato @ddayen David, I just gave @laRosalind and @JasonLeopold a heads up too.
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bmaz RT @JohnAmato: Next Friday @ http://t.co/hfoB0Hi6u1 RT @ddayen: @JohnAmato @bmaz I guess my invite got lost in the mail
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bmaz RT @rdevro: Re-upping @SarahKnuckey's excellent piece on the familiar, frustrating and predictable cycle of following US strikes http://t.c…
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bmaz @JoshMBlackman Not that coherent if he really thinks those amendments will pass.
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bmaz @kevinjonheller @lyssophobe @MaxBlumenthal I have a couple of deadbeat clients that won't pay me. #IBlameMax
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bmaz Obama Signs Into Law Non-Bill-Of-Attainder But Issues Signing Statement Saying He Won't Enforce It http://t.co/iILOG81G6t via @JoshMBlackman
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bmaz RT @moorehn: What Obamacare doesn't cover- the little costs that add up. Asthma inhalers and others. http://t.co/vRymBitQYn
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bmaz @gideonstrumpet Hasn't worked so good for Mary Ann Franks.
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bmaz @ColMorrisDavis At least we are consistent, as we also drone execute for Christmas too.
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bmaz @MarkSZaidEsq @BradMossEsq @emptywheel @Thomas_Drake1 Your augment this morning has not displayed that preference.
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emptywheel @zeynep Oh, I like @wunderground's redesign. I find the Graph very useful, even the wind graph.
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bmaz @BradMossEsq Or maybe the accusation is still a load of shit and respect does not not equal agreement.
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April 2014
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