NBC published a fascinating article yesterday that provided new and interesting details on the events surrounding the escalation of drone strikes in Yemen that took place in response to the “intercepted conference call” that wasn’t a conference call. Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito and Jim Miklaszewski report on the personnel and policy changes that were taking place in the Obama administration as these events unfolded and how these changes had led to a decrease in drone strikes:
Obama announced that he had chosen Lisa Monaco to replace Brennan as his top counterterror official on January 25, and she officially assumed the role of Homeland Security Advisor on March 8. The U.S. launched four strikes on Yemen between January 19 and January 23, just before Obama’s announcement about Monaco, but didn’t launch another until April 17.
“With Brennan going over to CIA and Monaco replacing him, it took time,” said a senior counterterrorism official. “This was a while coming. JSOC (the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command) was pushing for more strikes and more operations but the White House slowed everything down.”
Those three strikes in mid-April were followed by another lull in strikes until mid-May, when there were two strikes just before Obama’s drone policy speech:
In tandem with the drone speech, the President issued new internal guidance to officials that tightened controls on what targets could be hit and who could make the decision to launch a drone.
What followed, sources said, was more frustration from Defense Department officials, and a third, seven-week-long interruption in drone strikes that led to a backlog of identified militant targets in Yemen.
But the “targeting” done by JSOC in Yemen isn’t of the same quality as the information prepared for targeting by the CIA for strikes in Pakistan, according to the NBC report:
In May, around the time of Obama’s speech, senior military officials prepared “targeting packages” for Monaco, with a roster of suspected militants in Yemen that they wanted to eliminate. The “targeting packages” contain background information on the identified targets. The CIA’s packages for Pakistan are often very detailed, while the Defense Department’s research on Yemeni targets was sometimes less detailed.
In fact, the JSOC apparently even admitted that some of these recent targeting packages pertained to lower level targets, but in an apparent use of pre-cogs, they claimed these were going to be important al Qaeda figures in the future and the administration had to deal with the question of “pain now, or pain later” in their recommendation to take out these lower level operatives.
Keep in mind that these meetings to discuss drone targets, also know as “Terror Tuesday” meetings, are populated by high level security personnel from many agencies. Both JSOC, as the target developer for drone strikes in Yemen, and NSA, as the purveyor of information gleaned from surveillance, would of course be present.
As @pmcall noted to me on Twitter, the “intercept” then magically appeared and opened the floodgates for strikes:
@JimWhiteGNV Let’s see military frustrated no drone strikes approved & all of a sudden a magic message intercepted. Full speed ahead again
— pmcall (@pmcall) August 16, 2013
Here’s how the NBC article described that: Continue reading