The US insists that the deaths of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were a “mistake”. Both the New York Times and Washington Post open their articles about the drone strike that killed them with descriptions couched in the language of error. The Times:
The first sign that something had gone terribly wrong was when officers from the C.I.A. saw that six bodies had been pulled from the rubble instead of four.
And in the Post:
After weeks of aerial surveillance, CIA analysts reached two conclusions about a compound to be targeted in a January drone strike: that it was used by al-Qaeda militants and that, in the moment before it was hit, it had exactly four occupants.
But as six bodies were removed from the rubble, the drone feeds that continued streaming back to CIA headquarters carried with them a new set of troubling questions, including who the two other victims were and how the agency’s pre-strike assessments could have been so flawed.
Consider that for a moment. Despite all the blathering from John Brennan about “near certainty” in his infamous drone rules (whose legal basis the government still steadfastly refuses to release), we are dealing yet again with deaths of innocents from a signature strike. In those strikes, the US kills without knowing precisely who the targets are. Instead, the US claims that the pattern of activities by those targeted match those of terrorists intent on striking out against the US. The more cynical among us note that there is hubbub over this strike merely because the innocents who were killed happen to be white instead of brown. But the outcome is the same: making the decision to kill based on incomplete evidence that doesn’t even include the actual identities of those in the crosshairs is bound to result in the collateral deaths of many who are not enemies of the US.
Recall that John Brennan made a power grab in the spring of 2012 to take charge of ordering signature strikes when JSOC told the White House that such strikes were not needed in Yemen. And, of course, Brennan immediately started using this tool as a political cudgel as well as the strategic weapon it was believed to represent. But let’s go for a moment to a part of Greg Miller’s Washington Post article linked above:
The deaths of the hostages follow other recent developments that have revealed divisions among the CIA and other agencies over whether to capture or kill a U.S. citizen.
Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh was recently arraigned in a U.S. court on federal terrorism charges after he was captured by Pakistan and secretly flown to New York. His arrest raised questions about the frequency with which the U.S. government asserts that capturing terrorism suspects is not feasible. The CIA had been pushing to kill Farekh for more than a year before his arrest, current and former U.S. officials said.
Isn’t that interesting? It appears that Farekh was on CIA’s list of targets it would like to have killed in a targeted strike, with part of the justification for killing him being that it wouldn’t be feasible to capture him. And yet the Pakistanis did capture him. And that development points out an even bigger problem with the decision to hit the compound where Weinstein was killed: that compound is in the southern part of North Waziristan. Recall that Pakistan’s offensive to clear the tribal areas of terrorists began last June. See the map embedded in this post where I discussed the beginning of the offensive. Weinstein and Lo Porto were being held in the Shawal Valley, which is at the very southern end of North Waziristan. Miram Shah and Mir Ali, two of the hottest targets for US drone strikes sit in the central part.
Just a little more patience on the part of Brennan and his signature strike shop might have led to a very different outcome. In November, Pakistan’s military claimed that 90% of North Waziristan had been cleared of terrorists. And in the very same week of the strike that killed the hostages, Pakistan noted that the Shawal area was slated for clearing:
During a journalists briefing here, about the current visit of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to Britain, he said operation Zarb-e-Azb was continuing successfully in North Waziristan and many areas including Mir Ali, Mirshah and Dattakhel were cleared of terrorists, many of whom were killed and arrested and their infrastructure was destroyed.
In these troubled areas, militants had set up infrastructure, training and call centres and they were making phone calls to people in other parts of the country for ransom, he added. Before start of the North Waziristan operation, Pakistan informed Afghanistan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), so that they could take action against terrorists who cross over the border.
Operations were continuing along the border areas with Afghanistan, with whom Pakistan had improved its relations and both countries were sharing intelligence, he added. He said in the next few months the remaining areas including Shawal would be cleared.
Although Pakistan’s military is not particularly noted for protecting citizens during these clearing actions in the tribal areas, it still stands out that Weinstein and Lo Porto were killed in Shawal on January 15 and Pakistan announced on the 18th that Shawal was next up for clearing. Would Pakistani forces have rescued the hostages? We will never know.
Even worse, Brennan was supposed to have stopped signature strikes in Pakistan. Returning to the Times article:
The strike was conducted despite Mr. Obama’s indication in a speech in 2013 that the C.I.A. would no longer conduct such signature strikes after 2014, when American “combat operations” in Afghanistan were scheduled to end. Several American officials said Thursday that the deadline had not been enforced.
Brennan will never give up his prized signature strikes. Greg Miller does note, though, that this strike was one of the last ones for “Roger”, who headed the counterterrorism center and was Brennan’s right hand man for signature strikes. But I’m pretty sure that we can count on Brennan to get Roger’s replacement up to speed on his prized tool very quickly.
It will likely be some time, if ever, before one of our enemies succeeds at doing more than launching limited, opportunistic drone strikes at the US. By contrast, every day brings new revelations of how our enemies and rivals are finding new vulnerabilities in American cyber-defense.
Which is why it is so curious to compare this account of the multi-year process that has led to an expansion of DOD’s authority to approve defensive cyber-attacks with this account of Obama’s close hold on DOD’s drone targeting.
In both cases, you had several agencies — at least DOD and CIA — in line to execute attacks, along with equities from other agencies like State.
An interagency process had been started because cyber concerns confront a variety of agencies, the intelligence community and DoD as well as State, Homeland Security and other departments, with each expressing views on how the domain would be treated.
For much of Obama’s term, it seems, both DOD drone attacks outside of the hot battlefield and cyberattacks had to be approved by the White House. With drones, Obama wanted to retain that control (over DOD, but not CIA) to prevent us from getting into new wars.
But from the outset of his presidency, Obama personally insisted that he make the final decision on the military’s kill or capture orders, so-called direct action operations. Obama wanted to assume the moral responsibility for what were in effect premeditated government executions. But sources familiar with Obama’s thinking say he also wanted to personally exercise supervision over lethal strikes away from conventional battlefields to avoid getting embroiled in new wars. As responsibility for targeted strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and, over time, Pakistan shifts to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, Obama will be the final decider for the entire program.
With cyber, White House control was designed partly to limit blowback — almost the same purpose as his micromanagement of drone targeting — but also to mediate disputes between agencies.
In every instance where cyber was involved, the NSC had to be involved. That helped settle some of the disputes between agencies by limiting any independent application of cyber capabilities, but was useful neither for expediting any cyber action nor for integrating cyber into larger military capabilities. Several sources said that this has slowed the integration of cyber into broader military tactics, possibly giving rivals without the same hesitation, like China, a chance to become more adept at military cyber.
Because every decision had to be run through the West Wing, potential political blowback limited the use of cyber tools, the former senior intelligence official said. “If they can’t be used without a discussion in the West Wing, the president’s got no place to run if something goes wrong when he uses them,” he said. Those decisions included what to do if the US confronted a cyberattack.
But over the course of the Obama Administration, DOD lobbied to increase its autonomy in both areas, in drones via the year-long process of crafting a drone rulebook, and with cyber, via the three year process of drafting new standing rules of engagement.
It had far more success in its efforts to expand autonomy with cyber.
Last Friday, former Deputy Director of CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and FBI Philip Mudd defended the use of signature strikes when used against multinational networked organizations that hide in safe havens.
Signature strikes have pulled out these lower-level threads of al Qaeda’s apparatus — and that of its global affiliates — rapidly enough that the deaths of top leaders are now more than matched by the destruction of the complex support structure below them. Western conceptions of how organizations work, with hierarchal structures driven by top-level managers, do not apply to al Qaeda and its affiliates. These groups are instead conglomerations of militants, operating independently, with rough lines of communication and fuzzy networks that cross continents and groups. They are hard to map cleanly, in other words.
Part of the reason signature strikes have become so prominent in this global counterterror war is, simply put, geography. Local terrorist groups only become international threats if they have leadership that can execute a broad, globalist vision, and if that leadership has the time and space to plot without daily distractions from armies and security services — as in safe havens like Yemen, Somalia, the Sahel, and the tribal areas of Pakistan. These are exactly the places where the United States cannot apply conventional force and where local governments lack the capability or will to counter the threat. Exactly the places where drones offer an option to eviscerate a growing terror threat that has a dispersed, diffuse hierarchy. [my emphasis]
Of course, Mudd is crazy to suggest that the networked organization of terrorism is not found in the West. Indeed, corporations in the West pioneered the concept, with cell structures that provided them legal opacity. Though the safe havens they hid in were named Jersey and Cayman Islands rather than Yemen or Somalia.
So it seems this defense of signature strikes should be read as one of two things. Either, a case that the best defense against the damage banksters have caused is the fairly indiscriminate killing of their mid-level managers. Or, if that solution seems barbarous at its core, then perhaps this is a good case study in how extreme the idea of signature strikes would seem if it weren’t couched in a sloppy kind of Orientalism advocating it for others but not for our own.
Update: In his speech, Obama took clear responsibility for killing Awlaki.
And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki.
Daniel Klaidman remains the Administration’s go-to guy for stories that report facts that contradict the spin he gives them. Today’s installment explains that Obama insisted on retaining direct say over DOD drone strikes in part to ensure we don’t get embroiled in new wars.
Obama wanted to assume the moral responsibility for what were in effect premeditated government executions. But sources familiar with Obama’s thinking say he also wanted to personally exercise supervision over lethal strikes away from conventional battlefields to avoid getting embroiled in new wars.
But at the same time reports that Obama didn’t exercise direct control over those strikes — in Pakistan and, starting in 2011, in Yemen — that have threatened to embroil us in new wars (and indeed, in the case of our strikes on the Pakistani Taliban, led directly to terrorist attacks on the US as well as the Khost attack).
While Obama had broadly signed off on the CIA’s targeted killing program through a presidential finding for covert action, he did not authorize individual killings except in rare instances.
Effectively, by the time Obama overruled the military in the fight Klaidman portrays in this piece last year, all of the strikes away from battlefields were conducted by the CIA, the strikes Obama apparently took no moral responsibility for.
Klaidman’s report includes another laugher, one which undermines the central Administration claim that today’s speech will represent new drone guidelines.
Lethal force can only be used against targets who represent a “continuing, imminent threat,” and where “capture is not feasible,” Holder said in his letter. It is unclear whether that would signal an end to the controversial practice of “signature strikes,” where groups of suspected terrorists have been targeted even though their identities were not known. (The tactic is believed to have led to significant civilian casualties, while at the same time increasing the number of high level al Qaeda members who were killed.) One senior Obama administration official said the question of signature strikes, sometimes referred to morbidly as “crowd killing,” has yet to be resolved.
I guess my earlier suggestion that the word “ongoing” will be defined so broadly as to allow a great number of problematic drone strikes was correct: it apparently might even include signature strikes.
But ultimately, this is the funniest thing about this perfectly time advertisement that on drones Obama is (yes, Klaidman uses this term) “the decider.” Klaidman’s headline (one he likely didn’t choose) is,
Obama: I Make the Drone Decisions
His closing two sentences are,
Obama won’t be declaring the end of the war anytime soon. And that is why his finger will still be on the trigger.
Yet the day before this obviously sanctioned story, Obama’s Attorney General sent out a letter that shielded the President from all responsibility for the decision to kill an American citizen. Again, maybe Obama will change this trend today by taking responsibility for personally ordering the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki. But it seems as though, even as the Administration boasts of “unprecedented transparency,” they still want to legally protect one of the most important facts about drone killing.
In his letter to Eric Holder, AP’s President Gary Pruitt emphasized how inexcusably overbroad the call record seizure had been.
Last Friday afternoon, AP General Counsel Laura Malone received a letter from the office of United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. advising that, at some unidentified time earlier this year, the Department obtained telephone toll records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists. The records that were secretly obtained cover a full two-month period in early 2012 and, at least as described in Mr. Machen’s letter, include all such records for, among other phone lines, an AP general phone number in New York City as well as AP bureaus in New York City, Washington, D.C., Hartford, Connecticut, and at the House of Representatives. This action was taken without advance notice to AP or to any of the affected journalists, and even after the fact no notice has been sent to individual journalists whose home phones and cell phone records were seized by the Department. [my emphasis]
AP’s most recent story on the seizure seems to suggest that “full two-month period” spanned April and May of last year.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012.
If so, it means the government grabbed phone records for Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo, Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan, and Alan Fram for three weeks after (and five weeks before) the UndieBomb 2.0 story Goldman and Apuzzo by-lined.
That would mean they’d get the sources for this Kimberly Dozier story published May 21 which starts,
White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets.
The move concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones at the White House.
The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists.
Within 10 days of the time Dozier published that story, John Brennan had rolled out an enormous propaganda campaign — based on descriptions of the drone targeting process that Brennan’s power grab had replaced, not the new drone targeting process — that suckered almost everyone commenting on drones that drone targeting retained its previous, more deliberative, targeting process, the one Brennan had just changed.
And that propaganda campaign, in turn, hid another apparent detail: that UndieBomb 2.0, a Saudi sting had actually occurred earlier in April, and that UndieBomb 2.0 preceded and perhaps justified the signature strikes done at the behest of the Yemenis (or more likely the Saudis).
April 18: Greg Miller first reports on debate over signature strikes
Around April 20: UndieBomb 2.0 device recovered
Around April 22: John Brennan takes over drone targeting from JSOC
April 22: Drone strike that–WSJ reports, “Intelligence analysts [worked] to identify those killed” after the fact, suggesting possible signature strike
April 24: Robert Mueller in Yemen for 45 minute meeting, presumably to pick up UndieBomb
April 25: WSJ reports that Obama approved use of signature strikes
April 30: John Brennan gives speech, purportedly bringing new transparency to drone program, without addressing signature strikes
May 6: Fahd al-Quso killed
May 7: AP reports on UndieBomb 2.0
May 8: ABC reports UndieBomb 2.0 was Saudi-run infiltrator
May 15: Drone strike in Jaar kills a number of civilians
Now, frankly, I think the witch hunt response to the UndieBomb 2.0 plot was mostly just an excuse to start investigating the AP, though it did lead John Brennan to make it clear that it was a Saudi-manufactured plot in the first place.
But the response to that Dozier article, which provided the final piece of evidence for the timeline above showing Brennan grabbed control of drone targeting at roughly the moment we started signature strikes in Yemen, was more dramatic, at least in terms of the breathtaking propaganda the White House rolled out to pretend the drone strikes were more orderly than they actually were.
I’m guessing, but when Pruitt says this,
These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.
I’m guessing he might have other AP stories in mind.
I know I’m as least as worried about DOJ targeting Dozier’s sources, who revealed a critical detail of how illegal the drone program was, as I am about the original UndieBomb 2.0 story.
In a remarkable ruling (pdf), the Peshawar High Court has ruled that US drone strikes carried out within Pakistan are illegal, that they are war crimes and that they must be stopped immediately. The court also directed Pakistan’s military to intervene should drones enter Pakistan air space.
As described by Alice Ross at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this ruling comes in a case brought by the son of one of the tribal elders killed in the March 17, 2011 drone strike that killed as many as 40 innocent elders gathered to discuss mineral rights:
The judgment applies to a lengthy case against the CIA brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights on behalf of Noor Khan, a tribesman whose father was among dozens of civilians killed in a drone strike on a gathering of tribal elders on March 17 2011. Last year, Noor Khan also attempted to bring legal action against the UK government for providing information that could lead to deaths in drone strikes, in a case backed by legal charity Reprieve. The attempt was refused but he is appealing.
Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who argued the Peshawar case, said: ‘It is a landmark judgment: drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This ruling will also prove to be a test for the new government as if drones continue and government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.’
The Independent described the case and ruling further:
In what activists said was an historic decision, the Peshawar High Court issued the verdict against the strikes by CIA-operated spy planes in response to four petitions that contended the attacks killed civilians and caused “collateral damage”.
Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the petitions, ruled the drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter on human rights. The court said the strikes must be declared a war crime as they killed innocent people.
“The government of Pakistan must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future,” the court said, according to the Press Trust of India. It asked Pakistan’s foreign ministry to table a resolution against the American attacks in the UN.
“If the US vetoes the resolution, then the country should think about breaking diplomatic ties with the US,” the judgment said.
For more background on the Peshawar High Court itself, this web page describes its jurisdiction and also has links to its history and other relevant information.
The ruling itself runs 22 pages. It begins by reciting the facts and requests provided by the petitioners to the court (emphasis added): Continue reading
As I noted Gregory McNeal has a fascinating series of posts at Lawfare on how the government develops kill lists (this post even has a mock-up of a Kill List baseball card). But I find this post, which describes how the Kill List makers use network analysis to pick and choose whom to kill, the most interesting. It implicitly reveals one of the most fundamental problems with the way we’re doing drone targeting.
McNeal describes how the government uses network analysis to find the most crucial people in the functioning of a terrorist network. Those people, he explains, may not be the most senior or public members of the group.
Networked based analysis looks at terrorist groups as nodes connected by links, and assesses how components of that terrorist network operate together and independently of one another. Those nodes and links, once identified will be targeted with the goal of disrupting and degrading their functionality. To effectively pursue a network based approach, bureaucrats rely in part on what is known as “pattern of life analysis” which involves connecting the relationships between places and people by tracking their patterns of life. This analysis draws on the interrelationships among groups “to determine the degree and points of their interdependence.” It assesses how activities are linked and looks to “determine the most effective way to influence or affect the enemy system.”
Viewing targeting in this way demonstrates how seemingly low level individuals such as couriers and other “middle-men” in decentralized networks such as al Qaeda are oftentimes critical to the successful functioning of the enemy organization. Targeting these individuals can “destabilize clandestine networks by compromising large sections of the organization, distancing operatives from direct guidance, and impeding organizational communication and function.” Moreover, because clandestine networks rely on social relationships to manage the trade-off between maintaining secrecy and security, attacking key nodes can have a detrimental impact on the enemy’s ability to conduct their operations.
McNeal’s description of the role of network analysis is not entirely new. We’ve seen hints of it in the drone speeches made by various officials. But the description greatly fleshes out what the government thinks it is doing when it engages in pattern of life analysis.
From there, McNeal explains that a range of outsiders — NGOs, journalists, even family members — may not be able to see what the network analysts privy to this magic information can see, the crucial role someone has in a terrorist network.
Thus, while some individuals may seem insignificant to the outside observer, when considered by an analyst relying on network based analytical techniques, the elimination of a seemingly low level individual might have an important impact on an enemy organization. Moreover, because terrorist networks rely on secrecy in communication, individuals within those networks may forge strong ties that remain dormant for the purposes of operational security. This means that social ties that appear inactive or weak to a casual observer such as an NGO, human rights worker, journalist, or even a target’s family members may in fact be strong ties within the network. Furthermore, because terrorist networks oftentimes rely on social connections between charismatic leaders to function, disrupting those lines of communication can significantly impact those networks. [my emphasis]
Even assuming the software that lays at the core of network analysis provides better knowledge than the deeply embedded understanding of those more familiar with the culture in question (and for a robust view on that, see Haley Barbour on steak power lunches), there is a serious problem with this result.
The most complete description of the network analysis that lies behind our drone killing makes it clear that members of a target’s own community may not understand why he was targeted.
Adam Baron, describing the aftermath of the drone killing of the Yemeni Adnan al Qadhi in Beit al Ahmar last year, shows what happens when members of a target’s community don’t understand why he was killed.
Few here dispute Qadhi’s open sympathy toward AQAP. After all, the target’s house, modest compared to nearby fortress-like compounds, sticks out because of a mural on one side that shows al Qaida’s signature black flag.
But his relatives and associates say there’s more nuance to Qadhi’s story. While he was labeled as a local leader of AQAP after his death, as recently as last winter he’d participated on a team that mediated between the government and AQAP-linked militants who’d seized control of the central town of Rada. The scion of a prominent local family who still held a position as an officer in the Yemeni military, Qadhi had refused to take part in the fighting, relatives said. They said he stayed home even as other AQAP militants carved out a base in the southern province of Abyan.
“He may have supported al Qaida, but he wasn’t taking part in activities,” said Abdulrazzaq Jamal, a Yemeni journalist and analyst who met with Qadhi shortly before his death. “There were connections, but there wasn’t perceptible tangible support.”
While Qadhi appeared to make little secret of his extremist ideology, his relatives said the strike against him came as a total shock. There had been no indication that he was a potential drone target, they said. Had they known he was considered such a high-value target, they claimed, they would’ve assured his cooperation with the authorities.
His neighbor, Mohamed Abdulwali, took a break from repairing a water canister to chime in: “Any action has a reaction. Any violence will breed violence.” [my emphasis]
It’s not that Qadhi’s neighbors didn’t know about his support for AQAP. But they had a very different understanding of what kind of threat he posed — particularly given his role in mediating between locals and AQAP and his decision not to engage in hostilities — then the network analysts in the US who ordered up his death.
And that different understanding made the US strike illegitimate in their view, a perceived violation of rule of law. It led to open calls for a violent response.
In short, it converted an otherwise neutral community into one opposed to the United States.
If network analysis results in killings that local communities do not understand and therefore consider illegitimate, it will lead to us losing the political battle for hearts and minds.
There are more potential problems that come from network analysis killing. For example, unless the analysts are also doing network analysis of the surrounding community, they may miss the role a person — and Qadhi is a perfect example — might play in persuading locals to turn against al Qaeda. That is, killing someone like Qadhi may rule out what we did with the Sons of Iraq, effectively undercutting a really violent insurgency by buying the loyalty (or perhaps renting, as this violence is returning now) of key leaders within the insurgency. Aiming to kill the key figures in the network may not be the most efficient way of achieving peace and stability, even if it allows Administration figures to boast about stomping out the enemy.
But at its core, it’s the (claimed) asymmetric understanding of this network that makes this kind of killing so stupid. Drone killing that presumes a special knowledge about individuals’ roles in a terrorist network — but doesn’t share it with the people whose sympathy we must have to win this fight — is bound to backfire.
Update: McNeal reminds me that network analysis involves human analysts assisted by software, not just software. It’s a fair point. To be clear, though, I’m not dismissing the value of network analysis (though I question how good our HUMINT going into it is). I’m suggesting that information asymmetry makes it really dangerous to use.
ProPublica has a very worthwhile article drawing attention back to signature drone strikes.
My favorite part is their focus on John Brennan’s effort to dodge a question about signature strikes last year, which happened not long before anonymous sources working on Brennan’s behalf launched his Kill List Shiny Object campaign, which served to distract from the signature strikes he had just approved for use in Yemen.
Brennan was asked about signature strikes last April but sidestepped the question. He replied: “You make reference to signature strikes that are frequently reported in the press. I was speaking here specifically about targeted strikes against individuals who are involved.”
He continued that “everything we do, though, that is carried out against Al Qaeda is carried out consistent with the rule of law, the authorization on the use of military force, and domestic law… that’s the whole purpose of whatever action we use, the tool we use, it’s to prevent attack [sic] and to save lives.”
The article also catalogs how Brennan and the Administration have dodged questions from Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, and Bobby Scott, as well as from John McCain.
The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently sent his own letter to Brennan asking several pointed questions on signature strikes.
“How do ‘signature strikes’ square with your statement that targeted killing operations are only approved when a targeted individual poses a ‘significant threat to U.S. interests?’” McCain asked, quoting a speech Brennan gave on drone strikes last April.
“How can the Administration be certain it is not killing civilians in areas, like many parts of Yemen and Pakistan, where virtually all men, including civilians, carry weapons?” the letter continued.
A McCain spokesman said the senator had not received a response.
In any case, go read the article. But read it in conjunction with this remarkable Lawfare post on How to Make a Kill List, from Gregory McNeal, who once worked in counterterroism at State (though this work derives from a range of sources). McNeal has a follow-up on network analysis, which I’ll return to later.
McNeal’s post is notable because it is, as far as I know, one of the first times that someone has gone on the record admitting that our drone war is, in part, targeting people our allies pick, effectively us waging their counterinsurgency for them.
There are three basic categories of targets who might find their way onto a kill-list: (1) Targets who fall within the AUMF, and its associated forces interpretations [AUMF Targets], (2) targets who fall within the terms of a covert action finding [Covert Action Targets], and (3) targets provided by allies in a non-international armed conflict in which the U.S. is a participant. [Ally Targets or derisively “side payment targets.”] [my emphasis; all other brackets original]
“Side payment targets.” Wow. Evocative.
The reason I say this article should be read in conjunction with the ProPublica one is that the two places where we know the US is engaging in counterinsurgency targets, Pakistan and Yemen, are also the two places we know we’ve used signature strikes. Continue reading
Back when the Administration dug in its heels over releasing 7 OLC memos on targeted killing, I suggested at least some of the authorized targeted killing in places we’re not at war.
This National Journal story seems to suggest that that’s correct, at least in the case of Mali and Algeria.
Others may have been signed with the leaders of Algeria and Mali, the legal expert said. Given the widespread unpopularity of the drone program, the disclosure of these agreements could prove extremely embarrassing both for the United States and partner governments.
I have also suggested (though usually verbally) that others of the missing 7 memos authorize signature strikes in the two places we’re using them — Pakistan and Yemen. And while the NJ story is more confused on this point (it seems unclear how many memos there are, for example), it does appear that several of the memos involve secret protocols with those two countries.
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.
I’d be really curious how much the Yemeni memo involves protocols with Yemen, and how much it involves protocols with our buddies the Saudis.
The best part of the story, though, is the cranky Administration figure who may or may not be Tommy Vietor bitching that Dianne Feinstein would use this opportunity to force the Administration to hand over what it would otherwise refuse to hand over.
An Obama administration official who is familiar with the negotiations with Feinstein’s committee indicated that the White House was miffed at efforts by the senator and her staff to obtain all the memos at once, because such efforts play into the Republican strategy of using the dispute to delay the confirmation of John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA and the main architect of the drone program, as well as Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary.
“These guys don’t even know what the hell they’re asking for,” the official said. “They think they can ‘reverse-engineer’ the [drone] program by asking for more memos, but these are not necessarily things that exist or are relevant…. What they’re asking for is to get more people read into very sensitive programs. That’s not a small decision.”
Uh, last I checked the only Republican — on the Senate Intelligence Committee, at least — who has made a stink about the OLC memos is Susan Collins (though given the reporting on this front, which says only Democrats care about memos, I think she may have flipped parties). The Democrats — plus Collins — who are pushing for memos are pushing to conduct oversight, not to delay the confirmation of Brennan and Hagel per se.
Maybe if the Administration hadn’t adopted a worse transparency standard than Bush lawyer Steven Bradbury, it wouldn’t leave key votes like this the only opportunity to conduct oversight.
But that’s a choice the Administration made, not some Republicans — or even Democrats — in the Senate.
I had missed Christiane Amanpour’s Monday evening interview with Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman, but an article in today’s Express Tribune alerted me to it. Video from the interview is embedded above. Putting aside the ridiculous crap added by CNN producers (I’m assuming Amanpour has better journalistic sense than to clutter news with this crap) alluding to “the marriage from hell” and the god-awful Elton John reference, the key revelation in the interview is that Rehman maintains that even though the US apologized and Pakistan reopened supply routes, that does not mean that Pakistan has agreed to more drone strikes. Further, Rehman emphasized how the strikes produce more insurgents.
From the Express Tribune article:
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Ambassador Rehman said America’s drone war “radicalises foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region. And what we see, really, is that increasingly Pakistan is feared as a predatory footprint.”
In response to a question, she denied the assertions that apology over the Salala incident meant that Pakistan had allowed the drone programme to continue. However, she said that the apology over the incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has “opened the space for an opportunity where we can have constructive conversations that might be to the satisfaction of both sides. Right now, we have not given a go-ahead at all”.
But she categorically emphasised that Pakistan’s concerns over the drone strikes could not be ‘brushed aside’.
Ambassador Rehman said that CIA’s covert drone war ‘tests’ the relationship between Pakistan and the US at every juncture. “We honestly feel that there are better ways of eliminating al Qaeda now, which can be done with our help. And we have been doing that consistently. We’re the heavy lifters in this relationship.”
CNN chose not to include in the video this bit of the interview which the Express Tribune found significant:
When questioned about whether Pakistan accepted the accounting of how the Obama administration identified militants, Rehman said it was worrisome “because this leads to what you call signature strikes, if I’m not mistaken, where a certain level of suspected activity generates or motivates the trigger for – I really don’t know what motivates the trigger for X level or Y level of drone strikes.”
I guess CNN doesn’t want us worrying about how the Obama administration might be killing people who don’t deserve it. That would upset the bullshit story they are trying to reinforce. They probably should add a note warning us not to read Glenn Greenwald on this question, either.
At least Rehman understands that when you take the signature strike concept to its extreme and send in follow-on strikes to hit people who are digging through the rubble of the first strike in a search for possible survivors, you are going to radicalize those most closely affected by these actions: the tribes and villages who lose members in these horrific strikes. The CIA’s choice to kill in this manner is clearly assuring the CIA of an even larger group of targets in the future, because for each victim killed in this manner, many new insurgents take up arms.