LAT: The CIA Hasn't Yet Added al-Awlaki to its Kill List

The most interesting thing about Greg Miller’s story on whether Anwar al-Awlaki has been added to the CIA’s list of assassination targets is how it differs from the two stories already written on this subject. Miller says that al-Awlaki has not yet been added to the list.

No U.S. citizen has ever been on the CIA’s target list, which mainly names Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, according to current and former U.S. officials. But that is expected to change as CIA analysts compile a case against a Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico but now resides in Yemen.

Anwar al Awlaki poses a dilemma for U.S. counter-terrorism officials. He is a U.S. citizen and until recently was mainly known as a preacher espousing radical Islamic views. But Awlaki’s ties to November’s shootings at Ft. Hood and the failed Christmas Day airline plot have helped convince CIA analysts that his role has changed.

That accords with what ABC reported on January 25.

White House lawyers are mulling the legality of proposed attempts to kill an American citizen, Anwar al Awlaki, who is believed to be part of the leadership of the al Qaeda group in Yemen behind a series of terror strikes, according to two people briefed by U.S. intelligence officials.

One of the people briefed said opportunities to “take out” Awlaki “may have been missed” because of the legal questions surrounding a lethal attack which would specifically target an American citizen.

But not with what Dana Priest wrote on January 27.

Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added. [Update, February 17, 2010: WaPo has since retracted the report that CIA had US citizens on its kill list.]

I’d suggest Priest’s initial focus on JSOC (though Miller, too, confirms that al-Awlaki is on JSOC’s list) may explain this flurry of articles describing the government’s ultra-secret kill list(s). That is, Priest’s focus on JSOC may suggest the long-brewing turf war between JSOC and CIA on such issues is bubbling up to the surface. That also might explain the spin of the other two article. ABC’s article seems designed to force someone’s hand by painting the CIA as incompetent for missing al-Awlaki in the past. And it might explain CIA spokesperson Paul Gimigliano’s snippiness about the public nature of this debate.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano declined to comment, saying that it is “remarkably foolish in a war of this kind to discuss publicly procedures used to identify the enemy, an enemy who wears no uniform and relies heavily on stealth and deception.”

Now, whatever the differences in the article Miller doesn’t appear to have asked some of the obvious questions any more than Priest or ABC. If we haven’t even tried indicting al-Awlaki yet (particularly with all the increased presence we’ve got in Yemen to pick him up), then how do we have enough information to assassinate him? And why didn’t our vaunted surveillance system pick up this apparently growing threat from al-Awlaki?

As to what new information has come up to merit al-Awlaki’s placement on the kill list (whether CIA’s or JSOC’s)?

But it was his involvement in the two recent cases that triggered new alarms. U.S. officials uncovered as many as 18 e-mails between Awlaki and Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major accused of killing 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas. Awlaki also has been tied to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of attempting to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound flight.

At least on first report, the emails were not sufficiently damning to concern the FBI. Has that changed? And the phrase “Awlaki has been tied”–you’re going to put someone on a kill list using a passive construction? Really?

  1. emptywheel says:

    Incidentally, one thing I’m fascinated by in both the Priest and the Miller is the reference to the Derwish killing. From Priest:

    In November 2002, a CIA missile strike killed six al-Qaeda operatives driving through the desert. The target was Abu Ali al-Harithi, organizer of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Killed with him was a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, who the CIA knew was in the car.

    I find the mention of it interesting for several reasons. One, because of the implication that they were happy to piggyback an American killing on top of the al-Harithi killing. Is that what they had decided in the Christmas Eve assassination attempt, to take out al-Awlaki plus?

    Also, note the timing, which didn’t seem all that interesting then but does now. The strike took place on November 3, 2002. While we don’t yet know when Rahim al-Nashiri was taken into US custody from Abu Dhabi, he was in US custody by then.

    What I find interesting is that al-Harithi–accused of being the Cole mastermind–was killed just as we started torturing al-Nashiri, accused of being teh Cole mastermind (though of course he had already been tortured for a month locally). Which is it?

    Or was al-Harithi the excuse to get to Derwish, accused (like al-Awlaki) of recruiting Americans into terrorism–in his case, Yemeni youth from Lackawanna.

  2. allan says:

    Or was al-Harithi the excuse to get to Derwish, accused (like al-Awlaki) of recruiting Americans into terrorism–in his case, Yemeni youth from Lackawanna.

    Derwish’s killing made it impossible for the Lackawana Six to mount an effective defense.
    He was the only person who could have testified as to whether they knew what they were getting into
    when they traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  3. joanneleon says:

    “No U.S. citizen has ever been on the CIA’s target list…”

    That is about as strong and definitive a statement as anyone could make. Now, if this is so true, why hasn’t Miller been able to source that statement to a specific person or persons, by name?

    That is the kind of statement that, IMHO, would only be printed by a responsible journalist if he could source it to a named CIA official.

  4. freepatriot says:

    Obama is a lawyer, right ???

    so he understands the concept of premeditated murder, right ???

    we got laws, Mr Obama, knock yerself out

    but you might want to consider that the federal death penalty statute has been upheld by the Supreme Court

    I expect Barack Obama to uphold and defend the Constitution and laws

    and I expect the next President to do the same …

    • joerobertson says:

      Yes and Yes, but…

      Obama does not uphold the Constitution or does Bush. The use of the Executive Powers has trumped. We are in trouble and too drunk with dis-information to see it.

      Illegal wars, Contract Law out the window (ask GM and Chrysler bond holders), Sitting POTUS Chairs UN Security Council, Economic Hit-men, Foreign Troops on US Soil in Joint Exercises, Katrina trashes 2nd Amendment and on…

  5. eCAHNomics says:

    you’re going to put someone on a kill list using a passive construction?


    This has been another episode of simple …

  6. applepie says:

    This should have been the policy years ago! The Bush grandfather who sold weapons to the Nazis….he could have been taken out, and it would have saved the nation from the Great Recession, numerous useless wars, and the general degradation of intelligence and morality that the US govt now promotes.

    Oh yeah, the CIA wasn’t around then. Imagine that.

  7. quanto says:

    If another country came to the U.S. with “death squads” to try to make itself feel safer there would be holy hell to pay, but we can romp around the world killing people with impunity.

    I don’t know why they hate us./s