“Pattern of Life” Drone Strikes

The LAT reports that targeting for most of the drone strikes that have killed more than 500 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been based not on information about an individual’s ties to terrorism, but rather on “pattern of life” analysis that targets the actions of a person.

The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

Think about that: we’re potentially killing people based not on what we know about an individual, but what we have observed solely through the camera of a drone. Or, if we’ve got particularized information from someone on the grounds, it’s as likely to be someone from Blackwater or an even more disreputable contractor posing as PsyOp warriors. And this includes strikes in Pakistan, a country with which we are not at war, supposedly. And among those targeted in such a manner may be associates of Faisal Shahzad.

Remember that old Bush ditty, that we were fighting them over here so we didn’t have to fight them here? Apparently that has now been turned on its head: we are targeting them from here which may make it more likely we’ll be fighting them here.

25 replies
  1. Leen says:

    And Obama jokes about this “pattern of life” not funny. Bet the families of the innocents who have been killed by the U.s. do not think this is funny

  2. JThomason says:

    So now the US is engaged in a Somali style tribal genocide which it attempts to “fig leave” as reasonable behavior with the rational euphemism “pattern of life.” I suppose the argument is that the technological sterility distinguishes this from a Somali-style tribal rampage. Am I getting this right?

    • Leen says:

      and how much do you hear Ed, Chris Matthews, Keith and Rachel reporting about the drone strikes and innocents killed? How many times during one evening do they need to repeat the same f—ing information about the oil leak or the Times Square bomber. Same info for four hours in a row. As if nothing is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, drone strikes killing innocent people.

      • bobschacht says:

        If we want to hear more about that from the MSM, we need to use the “Spotlight” feature more. And not just one or two of us.

        Bob in AZ

  3. orionATL says:


    a substantial group of afghani are gathered together, some men carrying rifles,

    must a bunch of insurgents plotting to do in americans.

    permission to “engage”.

    permission granted.

    look, how was i supposed to know it was a goddamned wedding?

    it was night; the camera image wasn’t that good.

    whad’ya want me to do? pass’em over and miss a chance to get some tb’s ?

  4. Leen says:

    not a whisper about the trial in Gitmo on MSNBC’s echo chamber last night. Not a whisper

  5. orionATL says:

    leen @5

    i dont watch teevee except for sports,

    but just yesterday i wondering the same thing about newspapers.

    where did the gitmo trials story dissappear to?

    • Leen says:

      I spread my attention on the news around. From the right (national review, weekly standard) to the left in the Mainstream to the leftie blogs. Not a whisper about the gitmo trial, drones, Iraq, returning soldiers. For four hours on Msnbc last night it was all oil leaks, Time square bomber with a tiny twist on each program. Echo chamber with a twist.

      They wonder why we run for the blogs?

    • Leen says:

      no need to wonder why we run for the blogs. Especially FDL, Washington Note, Race for Iran, Prof Cole’s

    • Leen says:

      the latest rave in all of the bars in D.C.

      Think the echo chamber with a twist has been around for decades in D.C. and in the mainstream media but just more extreme with the flashing lights and all on Ed’s, Keiths and Rachels. Those lights are distracting but when you listen to their coverage it is all of the same

      Just keep expecting more…foolish

  6. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    Marcy I thought of you this morning. Around 9:30am I was watching CNN or MSNBC and congress critter was on talking about how it is a great idea to be able to strip terrorists of their citizenship. Well he goes on to specifically mention the guy you have been writing about Al-Awlaki (not sure of spelling) but I immediately recognized him as they guy you have speculated they are targeting by targeting others around him.

    Would it not be much easier to target this US Citizen abroad if we can simply bureaucraticly strip him of citizenship and then give the green light to target him?

    The congress person went on to say of course there will be an appeal process…but then goes on to say he would have to come here to appeal, but he can’t do that because he is on the no-fly list.

    So what does this guy know that they want him dead so badly as to make an act of congress to do it?

    I would also caution, that stripping U.S. born natives of citizenship will make them stateless individuals. This is a very dangerous situation and is inhumane. We had riots in our Oakdale, LA prison by Cubans who are detained indefinitely because Cuba will not take them back they have become stateless. We do not want to create an additional problem of stateless people. If they are criminals, charge them and put them in jail.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Pattern of life” attacks. I assume that uses statistical modeling and behavioral studies (culturally adapted to current patterns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which would be different than, say, New York, London or Riyadh), possibly supplemented, or not, with signals and human intel about specific, real people our government is targeting for death.

    That sounds like a war crime. Using patterns that inevitably, predominantly involve innocents, with only a statistical chance (Cheney’s or bmaz’s?) that any single actor within that pattern is actually engaged in behavior that threatens imminent violent harm to the United States or its allies.

    Death by computer. That was a reach even for Star Trek. Imagine if the police used that in Chicago, Cleveland, Miami or L.A.

  8. tjbs says:

    Listening to eric the prince they all deserve to be driven back to their caves or whatever. Must be “pattern of life”to be born over there.

    This is a continuation of the crusades, just like the minor bush said.

  9. DWBartoo says:

    One had best hope that one’s “pattern of life” is not perceived to be “belligerent”, for then, one would become “unprivileged” and subject to whatever the elite and most “astute” Wisdoms of Supremacy determine is “proper”. It will, of course, all be quite “legal”, in some, “quaint” way.

    One would think those Wisdoms must reside on Mars, for all their concerns with humans and humanity, here on planet Earth.

    How much more twisted may “our” glass house of cards (we mix metaphors, insult innuendos, and resort to euphemisms, but all in a good cause) become before it all comes crashing down?

    “We” or our “leaders” have impoverished reason, throttled sanity, and tortured humanity.

    One wonders, with considerable misgivings (if not outright disgust, in “anticipation”), what the Executive, Triumphal, political and military wunderkinds will next embrace?

    (It’ll take something really extraordinary to get them “high”, the next time, if not reading minds, then reading facial gesticulation, at a safe distance, and then, droning on, some remarkable evidence of our technological superiority … they’ll probably call it “Distant Justice” or some equally hypocritical obscenity …)

    Thank you, EW, for all you do, dealing with the patently ridiculous and murderously mundane, thinking deeply about it, and then sharing (so much) with the rest of us.

    The only “thing” that will bring about “change” is understanding.

    Thank you, for helping so many of us with that understanding.


  10. Mary says:

    It’s unbelievable. The only thing more so is how it is ignored. I watched Meacham on TDS and was waiting for him to ever acknowledge that the pro-torture, pro-war, anti-fact pandering of the media is, at least as much as the digitizing of new/opinion, what led to newjunkies abandoning outlets like Judy Miller’s NYT and VanderHei’s WaPool. Nada. It’s as if the embedding of the MSM by gov and the constant and persistent violations of the domestic propganda prohibitions of the Nat Sec Act didn’t exist.

    They haven’t accepted that as long as their model is to provide a psedu-braille version of “news” for the cognitively impaired, they will lose audience every time a light bulb goes off or someone lights a candle.

    • Leen says:

      “I watched Meacham on TDS and was waiting for him to ever acknowledge that the pro-torture, pro-war, anti-fact pandering of the media is, at least as much as the digitizing of new/OPIUM, what led to newjunkies abandoning outlets like Judy Miller’s NYT and VanderHei’s WaPool. Nada.”

      When I first read your statement I read opium for “opinion”. Odd how one’s mind works

  11. JTMinIA says:

    The recent congressional hearing on this was good.

    If you say that a given drone strike was not an act of war, then it was an illegal, extra-judicial killing.

    If you say that a given drone strike was an act of war and a civilian (e.g., a member of the CIA) pushed the button, then the attack was conducted by an illegal combatant (i.e., is no different from some civilian throwing, e.g., a hand grenade at a soldier).

    With regard to facing the above dilemma, Koh is no better than or different from Yoo.

  12. Sara says:

    I suspect Afghani/Pakistan taliban target selection is a variation on what was done in Iraq perhaps five years ago when they recruited quite a number of Anthropologists and Sociologists to map out the lines of association in clan, extended family and tribal structures with the end point being creation of what once was called a “Sociogram”. Targeting was then done along networks of association revealed by the sociogram. In Iraq they probably had more skilled observers on the ground by a significant factor, than they have in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border areas, but I generally assume other less direct modes of intelligence gathering are being utilized. Around the margins of technology reporting vis a vis Afghanistan one sees mention of remote collecting devices (audio and video) that have been remotly deployed — and it least it makes a certain amount of sense to me that the point is intelligence gathering for purposes of standing up a sociogram based targeting strategy. It is classic Counter-intelligence really.

  13. timbo says:

    Or how about the drone operators are sociopaths and just killing whomever they feel like killing that morning? Seriously, how is this not a war crime. Civilians are not judges. But for some reason, these drone operators are judge, jury, and executioners…with no trial actually being conducted? The US has a lot to answer for for war crimes–this appears to currently be official US policy.

    The fact that the US is doing this now makes me wonder what else we’re letting slide when it comes to human rights around the globe…and at home. Some of it is obvious, like American citizens being held indefinitely without trial, being tortured, etc, simply because politicians and thugs can do it without legal restraints of any kind. But, how far is this going to go? Tyranny knows few boundaries when not restrained by popular will and sentiment…

  14. Mason says:

    Deciding to kill a person on the other side of the world whom you do not know who belongs to a culture that you know little about by observing his pattern of behavior for a limited period of time with a video camera attached to a pilotless drone such that you cannot even hear what he is saying, assuming he is talking to someone, is the most insane and chilling story that I’ve ever heard. This is racial profiling at its worst because it’s used not to stop and investigate, it’s used to commit premeditated murder. Worst of all it is an official military policy that legitimizes killing innocent civilians because it is impossible to distinguish a terrorist from an innocent person by remotely observing a pattern of behavior. It’s nothing more than a sickening manifestation of the cynical racist joke, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

    And some people wonder why we are hated and despised. How could it be otherwise?

    • bmaz says:

      Quite so. It may well be effective in taking out terrorists – along with untold numbers of others collaterally killed – but that does not make it right or acceptable. The US has lost whatever moral compass it ever had.

    • whattheincorporated says:

      Because they just don’t understand that we’re doing what’s best for them…and if they don’t understand what’s best for them they might be the enemy…we should watch “dissenters patterns of life,” excuse me, I just saw a man frown and I have to go back to my post to do my job.

  15. tjallen says:

    I expect in my own lifetime we will see these targeted drone killings by the US Govt against citizens in the continental US. I wonder if even then, will the people wake up? Or will they accept targeted killings in the US, saying, well, like all those Pakistanis and Afghans, they musta deserved it, those terrorists.

    It takes a few years for blowback to hit, so maybe some Chechens or Georgians will take up drones, the ones we trained them to use, or perhaps our friends in the Mideast, whom we’ve shared the tech.

    Do unto others, as you would have them do unto your own children. It’s the Children Golden Rule we’ve totally forgotten, and it is our children who will pay for our extreme stupidity and immorality.

Comments are closed.