Dead Mediators Belie the Claim US Didn’t Know about Pierre Korkie

A number of people have been pointing to the buried lead in a NYT story about the US killing South African aide worker Pierre Korkie the day before the charity he worked for finalized his freedom. Back in November, a group of tribal leaders who were brokering the deal got killed in a drone strike.

After months of silence, Gift of the Givers had a breakthrough in August, when tribal leaders sent a delegation, acting on behalf of the charity, into the remote badlands. The assembled Qaeda fighters took a vote on reducing the ransom, and half the jihadists voted “yes” while half voted “no,” Mr. Sooliman said. In October, the abductors said that they would accept $700,000. The family, which had already said it could not afford $3 million, still did not have enough money.

In November, the tribal leaders went back to meet with Qaeda members. The car was hit by a drone strike, killing the mediators, according to Mr. Sooliman. “We thought it was over,” he said.

Not only is it fairly shocking that the US first killed these mediators, then killed the guy they were trying to free, but this detail undermines the US claim they had no idea who was with Luke Somers when they tried to rescue him.

US special forces who tried to rescue photojournalist Luke Somers from al-Qaeda in Yemen were not aware of the identity of the other hostage held with him, a US official has told the BBC.

Both South African teacher Pierre Korkie and Mr Somers were shot by the militants during the raid, US officials say, and died as a result.,

A charity working with Mr Korkie said he was to have been freed on Sunday.

Its project director said the US rescue attempt had “destroyed everything”.

To believe this claim you’d have to believe the NSA’s 2-degree spying techniques, which just weeks ago had gotten some tribal leaders killed, had completely collapsed such that the US had no affirmative intelligence on the kidnappers (which of course they did because they knew where to try to rescue Somers). You’d also have to believe that a South African charity had managed to set up ongoing communications with the kidnappers, but the NSA wasn’t monitoring those communications (or, just as likely, using them as a means to track the kidnappers). The only way that’d be true is if we had forsworn SIGINT in favor of dodgy intelligence from our partners in the neighborhood; while I think many of our catastrophes in Yemen and Syria can be blamed on our dodgy partners lying to us, it is inconceivable we would not at the same time be checking their claims with SIGINT.

It may be convenient for the US to pretend it doesn’t engage in SIGINT in Yemen. But it is not longer believable.

9 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    When a country is the self-proclaimed world leader then only its citizens matter, and “collateral damage” to foreign citizens doesn’t matter, like most of the deaths from this raid including a ten-year-old boy. They should have exercised better judgment, to be born in the USA.

  2. Anon says:

    Why should we assume that the drone strike was coordinated with the NSA intel? If even half of the conclusions about “connecting the dots” or not in the 9/11 report are true then it seems likely that they are still not sharing everything or could if they wanted to. Why should we assume that the individual sensor officers on the drones are aware of everything that is in the NSA’s haystack?
    Just because the U.S. ‘knows’ something doesn’t mean that everyone making decisions does.

      • Anon says:

        Neither. I am simply noting that Marcy’s original analysis presented it as an either/or whereas I find it likely that the people at NSA planning one mission probably knew things that they didn’t share with the drone operators and vice-versa. Based upon what is publicly reported the signature strikes are operational in that area meaning that the vehicle could have been blown up by someone who saw it as suspicious without having knowledge of any covert monitoring.
        Given that the family has talked to reporters about the comments that they had received from the U.S. (basically don’t negotiate) I find it unlikely that they had not been flagged and that their communications were not being monitored. I also find it unlikely that the kill decision actually took place with a full accounting of the intel.

    • DannyD says:

      I disagree, based on the news (public dots) that we can connect, I suspect that they 100% knew. It was simply a rescue mission that went wrong, and it was carried out with direct knowledge that a release for ransom was imminent. Here’s how/why I suspect that.

      Based on the past rescue attempt in Syria, we know that our government is keenly watching these hostage situations. After that event, we were informed by the hostage’s family that the state department threatened the family with federal charges if they attempted to negotiate. Motivation here is to ‘hold the line’ and never negotiate under any circumstances. Period. The deeper motivation is really about theatrics, since 9/11, the entire antiterrorism thrust has been about denying the AQ the media victory more than it really is about security (as evidence, kabuki theater at airports and more). We also know how closely the WH watches/micromanages these events too (see picture of Obama playing XBox ‘Call of Duty, Osama edition’ through reports from most recent Sec of Defense departure). They must have been following this more closely than even suspected here.

      In this situation, we’ve got an aid group helping to negotiate a release, in order for the media image to continue, state department must either stop the negotiations (tried with missile attack), or failing that, pull off a rescue before the ransom is paid. Deny the terrorists any semblance of victory at any cost, better to have dead hostages than AQ releasing them and getting 700k in the process. A release would give AQ a media victory, and the hostages would be media celebrities. The hostages are not military, so there’s no way to keep them quiet ( where’s Bo Bergdhal these days?), and they might not want to fit into the narrative that state department wants to project. More importantly, demonstrating that negotiations might work would create a whole host of problems, including future kidnappings. Better to have dead hostages than a successful negotiated release.

      Once you realize its all about image, everything becomes clear. See Walter Lippmann’s ‘Public Opinion’ for details.

  3. bevin says:

    Your argument leads not to the conclusion that this ” was simply a rescue mission that went wrong,..” but that it was a military action advertised as a rescue mission.
    Let us judge it by its fruits: it put an end to negotiations, just as the drone attack in November seemed to do, it led to the deaths of two hostages and, though it is hard to believe they are even counted in the White House, the killing of a number of mere Arabs, Yemeni nationals. Given that, according to the narrative so uncritically repeated by the media, these Arabs were responsible for killing the hostages their deaths can be accounted as enemies killed in action.
    Let us all vomit together.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    –Thanks for that comment. You make eminent sense. I copied it to my files for future guidance.
    Thinking generally, it reminds me of a comment that Walter Mead made in a book review of “National Insecurity”:
    ” …This is the American system at its worst: Gigantic resources guided by scant wisdom produce minimal results with a maximum of noise.”
    (h/t Mark Thompson)
    It’s a Special Forces world and we just live in it, together with White House publicists AKA national security experts….spin, spin, spin. –Like, some people actually believe the Osama bin Laden story.

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