Let the Drones Begin

Fresh off exempting Yemen from any sanctions for its use of child soldiers and partly in response to this week’s attempted package bombings, the government appears to be ready to let the CIA start operating drones in Yemen.

Allowing the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command units to operate under the CIA would give the U.S. greater leeway to strike at militants even without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government. In addition to streamlining the launching of strikes, it would provide deniability to the Yemeni government because the CIA operations would be covert. The White House is already considering adding armed CIA drones to the arsenal against militants in Yemen, mirroring the agency’s Pakistan campaign.


Placing military units overseen by the Pentagon under CIA control is unusual but not unprecedented. Units from the Joint Special Operations Command have been temporarily transferred to the CIA in other countries, including Iraq, in recent years in order to get around restrictions placed on military operations.


The CIA conducts covert operations based on presidential findings, which can be expanded or altered as needed. Congressional oversight is required but the information is more tightly controlled than for military operations. For example, when the military conducts missions in a friendly country, it operates with the consent of the local government.

An increase in U.S. missile strikes or combat ground operations by American commando forces could test already sensitive relations with Yemen, which U.S. officials believe is too weak to defeat al Qaeda. Such an escalation could prompt Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to end the training his military receives from U.S. special operations forces.

If Saleh is too weak (or ideologically compromised) to get the job done against al Qaeda, then why are we foisting our special ops training on him and the 50% of his military that are children (though the US insists that no children will go through our training)?

And I wonder what would have happened if we responded to the UnaBomber by dropping bombs throughout Montana?

The WSJ doesn’t say it, but this may well be an effort to evade the AUMF problem limiting the Afghan war on terror to targets who had a hand in 9/11, which AQAP did not. We know Cheney repeatedly chose to do his covert work through JSOC, claiming he didn’t have to brief Congress on the actions. This seems to be the opposite: Obama appears ready to brief Congress (presumably, with the new Intelligence Authorization, the entire intelligence committees). But by running essentially military actions through CIA, you can avoid the whole declare war thing–you just issue and tweak a finding, letting the Commander-in-Chief dictate the terms of the not-war.

Meanwhile, here’s a rather curious detail from our other drone war. Two top Tehrik-i-Taliban figures were reportedly shot. Like with guns, not drones.

Former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) commander Baitullah Mehsud’s brother Yaqoob Khan has reportedly been shot dead by unidentified men in Mir Ali, North Waziristan.


Earlier this week, a key commander of the TTP, Adnan Afridi, is reported to have been shot dead by unknown persons in the Naseerabad area of Rawalpindi.

Maybe these were internal disputes, maybe we didn’t kill these men. But it would be an interesting development if we started targeting individual people, wouldn’t it?

Update: See Spencer’s very good piece on this.

  1. Peterr says:

    At what point does the CIA then become a full-fledged branch of the military?

    I can just see the CIA’s future recruiting ad:

    “We don’t wear uniforms. We don’t march in parades. We don’t get buried in Arlington Cemetery. But we’re the folks the president calls on when things are too tough for the Marines. We’re the CIA.”

    Coming soon to a television near you.

  2. Frank33 says:

    What’s up with Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri? He is the terrorist who gave the Undie Bomber his bomb. He is also identified as the maker of Package Bombs, which was initially blamed on an Yemeni woman. Brilliant spymaster John Brennan blamed her because her address was on the package.

    But this Saudi AQ killer was publicly mentioned briefly but not named when the FBI interrogated Undie. Between last December and now they seemed to have discovered quite a bit of information. There are pictures and a whole biography of al-Asiri. This maniac should have been targeted for assassinations more than al-Awlaki. Unless one of these was a double or triple or 11-dimensional spy.

    We do not have pictures of double AQ spies David Headley or Ali Mohamed. That way the double agents can be used for more terror missions.

    • harpie says:

      Brilliant? Yes. Brilliant mis-direction. After all, the Saudis are our friends!

      Briefing on Pending Major Arms Sale-10/20/10

      State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro

      MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. It’s our great pleasure to have in our briefing room today the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro as well as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow. Both are with us today to announce a major arms deal and to – or arms sale and to answer any of your questions. And with that, I’ll hand it over to you, Assistant Secretary.

      ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Thank you, everyone, for coming and we are here – Ambassador Vershbow and I are here to officially announce the Administration’s plan to sell to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a significant defense package that will promote regional security and enhance the defensive capabilities of an important Gulf partner with whom we have had a longstanding and close security relationship. There have been a number of press reports since the summer anticipating this sale. And for those of you who tried to question us about it, you know that it is U.S. Government policy not to comment on any possible arms sales until formal congressional notification has taken place. Often for major arms sales such as this one, a lot of work has to be done before we can notify, including discussions within the U.S. Government, interagency bilateral discussions with the receiving government, not to mention pre-consultations with congressional staff and members. […]

      Note: In the State Dept., the Department of Political-Military Affairs is the group that won the supposed “argument” with the [I think] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor about the recent waivers for countries, including Yemen, reported to recruit and exploit child soldiers.

      2009 Human Rights Report: Yemen-3/11/10

      • harpie says:

        Here’s the Josh Rogin article [which Marcy wrote about in an earlier post] and which includes the “infighting” paragraph I mentioned above @7

        Inside the administration, however, The Cable has learned that there was a heated debate over whether to issue the waivers. Apparently, this debate was held inside the State Department, with the bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons arguing against blanket exemptions. The bureau of Political and Military Affairs (PM) argued for the exemptions. The PM bureau’s argument won the day and the State Department submitted recommendations to the White House, which issued the waivers.

  3. PeasantParty says:

    This has got to stop! Military crossing lines with CIA, Xe, and others has ruined us.

    If Yemen needs help in their fight, then they should ask for it legally!

  4. Frank33 says:

    I wonder how this will affect the stock markets, airline stocks, insurance stocks, and of course UPS. Someone with advance knowledge of these attacks could have made a killing, on the stock market that is.

    • normanb says:

      This puts upward pressure on the price of Oil. That means lots of money for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, hugely invested in conflict-of-interest Oil, because the US Military, as the world’s biggest buyer of Oil, buys Oil everytime there’s trouble in the world, especially the Mideast.

      Military purchase of Oil also enriches Presidential Mideast “Peace” Envoy George Mitchell, whose business partner in his Petroleum business was Convicted of bribing Azerbaijan Government officials to get Oil favors. After the Bribery trial, Mitchell went to Azerbaijan to try to convince its Government to sell Oil to the US, but the US was untrustworthy (see above), so they sold to neighboring Iran instead. Since that decision, Mitchell and Obama have been pushing for war (preceeded by sanctions) against Iran, supposedly because of its nuclear program, but actually because of its Oil reserves.

      Just threatening Iran runs up the price of Oil and makes millions for Russia, Iran, Mitchell and Gates, but costs US big time. But if the US Military stops buying Oil and switches to clean energy, Iran will go broke right away, as the bottom falls out of the price of Oil. This would also stop the power growth of Russia, making multiple millions every day due to the US Military propping up the price of petroleum products.

  5. Bluetoe2 says:

    The U.S. public by and large likes the drones. It doesn’t interfere with their television viewing pleasure.

  6. Margaret says:

    The whole “explosive packages from Yemen” thing is ridiculous. It’s too pat, too convenient and if more evidence is needed than that, Peter King actually praised Obama for his “handling” of it. ’nuff said…

    • thatvisionthing says:

      Craig Murray UK blogged about that yesterday:

      October 31, 2010
      I Decide To Join the Establishment

      Somebody posted two parcel bombs. Grave threat to western civilisation. Our basic principles are at stake. They hate our freedoms. Biggest threat since World War 2. Islam incompatible with democracy. Yemen is the new Afghanistan. Eternal vigilance needed. More tanks required at airports. Fighter plane escort for passenger planes is a rational answer to parcel bombs. NATO may need to invade Somalia. Torture in Saudi Arabia vindicated by this tip off. Israel is our stoutest ally.

      Will that do? Where do I get the money?

  7. ottogrendel says:

    “without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government”? US actions here are the definition of “Rogue Nation.”

    “If Saleh is too weak . . .” Nonsense. An excuse to be a rogue under the guise of helping the “weak.”

    Yes, I suspect this is an expansion of executive power to wage war by finding more ways to circumvent legal and democratic checks.

    • JamesJoyce says:

      Yes we “helped” Iran with an in part “CIA sponsored” overthrow of a democratically elected leader, to preclude the exercise of the sovereign right’s of a nation to develop it own resources with it own interests in mind, to protect oil interests of the west from a perceived communist threat.



      “The British and American spy agencies returned the monarchy to Iran by installing the pro-western Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the throne where his rule lasted 26 years. Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979.[33][69] Masoud Kazemzadeh, associate professor of political science at the Sam Houston State University, wrote that Pahlavi was directed by the CIA and MI6, and assisted by high-ranking Shia clerics.[70] He wrote that the coup employed mercenaries including “prostitutes and thugs” from Tehran’s red light district.[70] The overthrow of Iran’s elected government in 1953 ensured Western control of Iran’s petroleum resources and prevented the Soviet Union from competing for Iranian oil.[71][72][73][74] Some Iranian clerics cooperated with the western spy agencies because they were dissatisfied with Mosaddegh’s secular government.[66]”

      Secular is good right? Looks like “USA and Britain” made Iran go hard right, like the “fundamentalists-terrorists,” we fight now in Yemen? Rancid I say!! Rancid! Seen this gross play before, under the pretense of protection and helping! “Gleiwitz, anyone?” Drones, start your engines………

  8. harpie says:

    An informative Report about Yemen from the Congressional Research Service:

    Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations; Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs; CRS; 1/13/10 [pdf]


    […] With so many other pressing issues in the region to address (Iraq, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), Yemen is often overlooked by U.S. policymakers and opinion leaders. However, the failed bomb attack against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009 has once more thrust Yemen into the public spotlight and heightened its relevance for global U.S. counterterrorism operations in a way that other attacks, including attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a during 2008, did not. Whether or not the United States can or should remain focused on Yemen over the long term remain open questions, even as some observers criticize policymakers for overlooking the country and underestimating the terrorist threat there. […]

  9. whattheincorporated says:

    Buck Ofama.

    Imagine if Russian drones started bombing texas and oklahoma because they kidnapped an american on american soil dragged him to russia and attached electrodes to his testicles until he told them about an obviously fake chechnyan plot.

    We would be pissed off at the russians without any of these idiots noticing the hypocrisy.

  10. whattheincorporated says:

    And when will other countries call it how it is.

    What will happen when China and Russia call for sanctions on America for being a dangerous rogue nation with nukes?

    • TEHelms says:

      To a certain degree we are a rogue nation, aren’t we? We tortured, we renditioned, we held without trials, we lied. I want all that stopped if it has not been and people held accountable and their not being held accountable sickens me. But, having said that, we will go after Al Qaeda where ever we find them with or without the “host” country’s permission. No disrespect meant, but please remember 9/11.

      • whattheincorporated says:

        would you be ok if Russia bombed a US city because they heard a chechneyan was living there?

  11. harpie says:

    In the Name of Unity; The Yemeni Government’s Brutal Response to Southern Movement Protests; Human Rights Watch; 12/15/09


    From the summary:

    A grave human rights crisis is unfolding in southern Yemen, where government security forces have responded to calls for secession with the brutal repression of the so-called Southern Movement.

    Since 2007, southern Yemenis have conducted sit-ins, marches and demonstrations to protest what they say is the northern-dominated central government’s treatment of them, including dismissal from the civil and security services. The protests escalated and by 2008 many southern Yemenis were demanding secession and the restoration of an independent southern Yemeni state, which had existed up until the union of the Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1990.

    The security forces, and Central Security in particular, have carried out widespread abuses in the south—unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings, crackdowns on freedom of assembly and speech, arrests of journalists, and others. These abuses have created a climate of fear, but have also increased bitterness and alienation among southerners, who say the north economically exploits and politically marginalizes them. The security forces have enjoyed impunity for unlawful attacks against southerners, increasing pro-secessionist sentiments in the south and plunging the country into an escalating spiral of repression, protests, and more repression. […]

    • whattheincorporated says:

      Don’t worry…there won’t be any southerners left when our drones get down to business…(Edited by Moderator: We do not advocate violence against anyone on this site.)

  12. harpie says:

    U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy in Yemen; Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism; Speech at the US Institute of Peace; 9/8/2010

    I notice that in his introduction he mentions that Barbara Bodine is there. Her name reminded me about this NYT story from August 2001, which gave me the impression that she impeded the FBI investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole

    FBI Is Investigating a Senior Counterterrorism Agent; Johston/Risen; NYT; 8/19/01

    […] This year, the United States ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, blocked Mr. [John] O’Neill from returning to Yemen to oversee the F.B.I. investigation of the bombing of the destroyer Cole. Mr. O’Neill had led the initial team of agents in Yemen after the bombing last fall, but ran afoul of Ambassador Bodine over what she considered his heavy-handed style, State Department officials said. She considered the F.B.I. contingent too large and objected to the agents’ insistence on carrying heavy weapons, they said. […]

    From Benjamin’s speech:

    […] In the south of Yemen, a growing protest movement has led to riots and sporadic outbreaks of violence, and is fueled by long-standing political grievances. The U.S. continues to urge political dialogue and peaceful settlement of grievances to address the many concerns of southern Yemeni citizens. The U.S. also calls for a comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue between all opposition groups and the ruling party. Such a dialogue needs to be undertaken in good faith and with haste by all parties to address legitimate grievances, facilitate successful parliamentary elections in 2011, and increase stability in Yemen. […]

    He also praises the work of a group of nations [including US] called the Friends of Yemen, who were addressed by Human Rights Watch here:

    Friends of Yemen: Tie Aid to Human Rights; Letta Tayler [terrorism and counterterrorism researcher]; Human Rights Watch; 9/23/10

  13. TEHelms says:

    I hate the situation this places the administration in..but, having said that, would anyone here really condone doing nothing when this is Al Qaeda, we know who is doing this and the “government” of this basically lawless country has given us the go ahead? Look, fellow progressives and liberals, we are bound to pursue Al Qaeda where ever we find them. This is not pretty and it is not going to be completely lawful to the extent any of us want it to be, but it is going to be because we are being attacked and we know who and where they are. I certainly prefer this to an invasion by our military. We have no business invading any country that does not attack us and we have no business torturing ANYONE.

    Let’s get our people out of Afghanistan and continue to pursue these bad people.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      WHY were we attacked? WHY are these people fighting and hating us and not welcoming us? Will reason never matter? We have lost our soul already. We threw it away at the start of our madness. Step 1. If there is no reason, and no check possible by ordinary humanity, then it’s just a waiting game to see when it will collapse of its own disease. Me, I’d prefer reason and check by ordinary humanity, and something uplifting. I loved my country and what we used to stand for.

      Damn I miss Bobby Kennedy. “We made a desert and called it peace.”

      • thatvisionthing says:

        Damn I miss Bobby Kennedy: The mindless menace of violence

        Too often, we honour swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives from the shattered dreams of other human beings. But this much is clear: Violence breeds violence, repression breeds retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color, or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you, threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies. To be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated, and to be mastered. We learn at the last to look at our brothers as aliens. Alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community. Men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      Let’s get our people out of Afghanistan and continue to pursue these bad people.

      Put these “bad people” on trial. I want to see for myself who’s so bad. Maybe they have something to say we should hear before we decide we have the right to kill them.

      Plus I have to say, we are killing an awful lot of mothers and children and wedding parties in our quest for making the desert we want to call peace. Your feelings on Collateral Murder? Keep at it?

  14. thatvisionthing says:

    The White House is already considering adding armed CIA drones to the arsenal against militants in Yemen, mirroring the agency’s Pakistan campaign.

    Does Congress have NO say? Does the AUMF cover Yemen? I know, don’t ask Elena Kagan.

  15. Gitcheegumee says:

    Lots of interesting ,current links at der Google for Raytheon,and Raytheon/Saudi Arabia posted within the past five days or so.

    • harpie says:


      Steve Inskeep interviews “Gregory Johnsen [who] studies Yemen at Princeton University.]

      His name comes up on a Search at Princeton.

      He was a participant in the Preventive Force Conference called The Princeton Project on National Security; at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; March 15-16, 2006.

      Here’s the Agenda [pdf]


      Discussion 2, at 9:30-11am on March 16:

      “Military Capabilities and Other Options”


      Major General William L. Nash, U.S. Army (Ret.), General John W.

      Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center

      for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations


      Admiral Gregory Johnson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), former Commander, U.S.

      Naval Forces Europe and Allied Forces Southern Europe

      Lieutenant General Victor E. Renuart, Jr., U.S. Air Force, Director for Strategic Plans and Policy (J5), the Joint Staff

      …still looking…

      • harpie says:

        NOTE: NPR spelled it “Johnsen” and at Princeton, it’s “Johnson”…so this <b?could be all wrong.

      • thatvisionthing says:

        Even if (especially if) Johnsen is the govt’s shill, his conclusion in the NPR article is of note:

        Mr. JOHNSEN: Well, this is something where I think the U.S. is really in a difficult position. I think President Obama and his administration realizes that you can’t really invade Yemen, because if you do, instead of fighting 1,000, 1,500 al-Qaida fighters, you’ll be fighting many multiples of that number.

        At the same time, the approach that they tried in late 2009, early 2010, this sort of so-called surgical [drone] strike where they went after the leaders of al-Qaida in the hope that by killing them, by decapitating the organizations leadership, the rest of the structure would sort of collapse around itself. That’s also backfired on the U.S., and, in fact, it’s led to a – really, a recruiting field day for al-Qaida.

        So what we have right now is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is much stronger today than it was in December of 2009 when it launched the attempt on the airliner over Detroit. We’re almost a year out from that attempt, and there really hasn’t been sort of the serious intellectual grappling with the diverse and numerous challenges coming out of Yemen by the Obama administration – at least to this point.

        Basically says military use against Al Qaida is a fail. Well, yeah. And Obama admin. is failing to do any serious intellectual grappling with that. Well, yeah. Too busy being smarter than Martin Luther King Jr.