State Department, DoD Argue Over “Rules” for Drone Targets Outside Pakistan

Fire away!

Predator drone firing Hellfire missile. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ed: Now that he’s on the mend from heart surgery, Jim is going to do some posting at EW. Welcome, Jim!

Charlie Savage notes in today’s New York Times that the Departments of State and Defense are engaged in an argument over the choosing of targets for drone attacks outside Pakistan. The primary point of contention centers on whether only high level al Qaeda figures in places like Yemen and Somalia can be targeted or if even low level operatives in these areas can be targeted there, just as they are in Pakistan.

Arguing for a more constrained approach is Harold Koh at the State Department:

The State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, has agreed that the armed conflict with Al Qaeda is not limited to the battlefield theater of Afghanistan and adjoining parts of Pakistan. But, officials say, he has also contended that international law imposes additional constraints on the use of force elsewhere. To kill people elsewhere, he has said, the United States must be able to justify the act as necessary for its self-defense — meaning it should focus only on individuals plotting to attack the United States.

A more wide open approach is favored by Jeh Johnson at the Pentagon:

The Defense Department’s general counsel, Jeh C. Johnson, has argued that the United States could significantly widen its targeting, officials said. His view, they explained, is that if a group has aligned itself with Al Qaeda against Americans, the United States can take aim at any of its combatants, especially in a country that is unable or unwilling to suppress them.

Sensing an opportunity to add to his “tough on terrorism” credentials, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) can’t help but join in the DoD’s line of argument: Read more

Ongoing Fallout from Raymond Davis Affairs Reveals Extent of Our Activities in Pakistan

When the US detained the Kuwaiti-Pakistani Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and interrogated him for years (including at least a month of harsh torture), he revealed a handful of al Qaeda operatives in the US. When Pakistan held the American contractor, Raymond Davis, and–as this NYT article specifies–had Pakistan’s intelligence service ISI interrogate him for 14 days, that appears to have led to the identification of hundreds of Americans working in Pakistan on activities not authorized by the Pakistani government.

As the article reveals, there are four things we’re doing in Pakistan to which the Pakistanis object:

  1. Spying on Pakistan’s nuclear program
  2. Infiltration of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that carried out the Mumbai bombing as well as (the WSJ adds) the Haqqani network
  3. Deploying Special Forces personnel in the name of training Frontier Corps but using them to spy instead
  4. Conducting the drone program unilaterally, without sharing targeting information with Pakistan

Now, we knew all of this was going on. Of course we were tracking Pakistan’s nukes; public reports often optimistically (probably over-optimistically) claim we could gain control of their program if the government was ever overturned. The Pakistanis had to know we were infiltrating Lashkar-e-Taiba, since that’s what David Headley was supposedly doing when he participated in the Mumbai bombing.

And it certainly seems like Pakistan knew the details and many of the people involved as well.

But this article provides some numbers. It explains that 335 Special Forces, contractors, and CIA officers are now being sent home. Of that, 40 to 80 are members of the Special Forces who exceeded the quota of 120 Special Forces Pakistan allowed us. The remaining 255-315 must be a combination of contractors and CIA officers whose purpose the US has not shared with the Pakistanis. That’s in addition to whatever contractors we withdrew after Davis was captured.

For the moment, it appears this will shut down two parts of the American war in Pakistan. The US threatened to shut down the training program.

The request by General Kayani to cut back the number of Special Operations forces by up to 40 percent would result in the closure of the training program begun last year at Warsak, close to Peshawar, an American official said.

The United States spent $23 million on a building at Warsak, and $30 million on equipment and training there.

Informed by American officials that the Special Operations training would end even with the partial reduction of 40 percent, General Kayani remained unmoved, the American official said.

And the Pakistanis are asking that the drone program be stopped or, at least, curtailed to its original scope.

In addition to reducing American personnel on the ground, General Kayani has also told the Obama administration that its expanded drone campaign had gotten out of control, a Pakistani official said. Given the reluctance or inability of the Pakistani military to root out Qaeda and Taliban militants from the tribal areas, American officials have turned more and more to drone strikes, drastically increasing the number of strikes last year.The drone campaign, which is immensely unpopular among the Pakistani public, had morphed into the sole preserve of the United States, the Pakistani official said, since the Americans were no longer sharing intelligence on how they were choosing their targets. The Americans had also extended the strikes to new parts of the tribal region, like the Khyber area near the city of Peshawar.

“Kayani would like the drones stopped,” said another Pakistani official who met with the military chief recently. “He believes they are used too frequently as a weapon of choice, rather than as a strategic weapon.” Short of that, General Kayani was demanding that the campaign return to its original, more limited scope and remain focused narrowly on North Waziristan, the prime militant stronghold.

Ultimately, it seems like our efforts were getting close to elements in the ISI and Pakistani military who were involved in what we deem militant activity. We were doing so without sharing our intelligence with the Pakistanis (which has often led to militants being tipped off). So now the Pakistanis are demanding we share that information again.

But negotiations don’t appear to be going well. ISI head Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha left early yesterday from meetings with Leon Panetta and Mike Mullen.

Though the spokesman Marie Harf said that the cooperation between the two agencies remained on “solid footing”, the Pakistani general reportedly cut short his visit abruptly to return home.

Both the US and Pakistani officials did not give any reasons for Shuja curtailing his talks here.

There’s one more thing about this story: US reporting on it, at least, seems to pretend that Davis was captured out of chance. The NYT even repeats the implausible “mugging” story. I’d say that’s unlikely.

Update: Fixed the numbers for special forces personnel. I think.

Raymond Davis: Diplomatic Immunity v. US Impunity

What happens with the Raymond Davis case, in the end, will likely not have very much to do with the Vienna Conventions. For that matter, we likely will never have enough of the unadulterated facts to know what should happen under the Vienna Conventions. But let’s suspend reality and see where an examination of the Vienna Conventions and the competing facts in the Davis case might take us.

As several reports have pointed out, there are numerous Vienna Conventions and the two that are likely to apply to Davis are the Vienna Convention of 1961 on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention of 1963 on Consular Relations. The VCs get wrapped in and out of discussions of passports and visa – so let’s separate and reassemble.

Diplomatic Passport. Our State Department issues passports needed for travel to other countries. Because of the State Department’s sole control over this document, it is looked at skeptically by Pakistanis in the Davis matter. The US says that, while it was not on him when he was captured and while it may have some discrepancies with other documents, Raymond Davis has a US issued diplomatic passport. Some have gone so far as to make this the equivalent of having diplomatic immunity, without anything more.

But that’s not how it works. Diplomatic immunity is derived, under VC 1961, by being validly attached to the embassy (mission) of a nation in which the “diplomat” is located. A diplomatic passport has no effect to attach someone to an embassy or mission. For example, a diplomat validly attached to the embassy in Iraq could travel to Germany on a diplomatic passport, but would not have immunity in Germany if they were not validly attached to the German embassy. So the question isn’t whether or not Davis had a diplomatic passport (or whether, if so, it was issued to an alias or issued after the fact), but whether he was validly attached to the US embassy at the time of his altercation in Pakistan.

Attachment to the US Mission/Embassy. For someone other than the head of mission, the general rule is that the sending nation (US) can “freely appoint” diplomats to its mission staff (Article 7), with a few caveats, and are then merely required to notify the receiving nation’s foreign ministry of the appointment/addition. The first caveat, also in Article 7, is that if the person being appointed is a military Read more

Raymond Davis’ Work “with” the CIA

After the Guardian confirmed for the Anglo-American world what the rest of the world had already concluded–that Raymond Davis is some kind of spook–the government gave the American outlets that have been sitting on this knowledge the go-ahead to publish it.

The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A., and on Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication.

Yet even though the NYT claims they have been cleared by the government to describe Davis’ “specific job,” the article does no such thing.

Note how none of the usages in the story make it clear whether Davis works for the CIA, for Blackwater, for his own contracting company, or for JSOC:

The American arrested in Pakistan after shooting two men at a crowded traffic stop was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials.


carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions for a Central Intelligence Agency task force


Mr. Davis has worked for years as a C.I.A. contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security firm (now called Xe)


The officials gave various accounts of the makeup of the covert task force and of Mr. Davis, who at the time of his arrest was carrying a Glock pistol, a long-range wireless set, a small telescope and a headlamp. An American and a Pakistani official said in interviews that operatives from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command had been assigned to the group to help with the surveillance missions. Other American officials, however, said that no military personnel were involved with the task force.


Even before his arrest, Mr. Davis’s C.I.A. affiliation was known to Pakistani authorities, who keep close tabs on the movements of Americans.


American officials said that with Pakistan’s government trying to clamp down on the increasing flow of Central Intelligence Agency officers and contractors trying to gain entry to Pakistan, more of these operatives have been granted “cover” as embassy employees and given diplomatic passports.


American officials said he operated as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Global Response Service in various parts of the country, including Lahore and Peshawar.


It is unclear when Mr. Davis began working for the C.I.A., but American officials said that in recent years he worked for the spy agency as a Blackwater contractor and later founded his own small company, Hyperion Protective Services. [my emphasis]

This article leaves open every single possibility–CIA, Blackwater, other contractor, JSOC–with the least likely being that Davis is an employee of the CIA (not least because according to the Pakistanis he makes $200,000). Though the article does make it clear we’re now extending official cover to contractors.

The most likely, I’d guess, is that we’re using Blackwater to employ JSOC folks to get around legal niceties.

Read more

Funny How All Those Peace Negotiations Seem to Fail…

Dexter Filkins confirms today something that had been suggested in earlier reporting: Pakistan cooperated in our capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar in January to disrupt peace talks in Afghanistan.

Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.

In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.


“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”


“This is a national secret,” he said. “The Americans and the British were going behind our backs, and we couldn’t allow that.” American and British officials denied they were directly involved in talks with the Taliban.

Some of the Americans anonymously quoted in the piece deny Pakistan was driving the capture; elsewhere Filkins repeats suggestions that the CIA got used by Pakistan. So while the ISI seems ready to confirm their reasons for the capture, the US intent in it still remains murky.

But there seems to be a pattern of murky events scuttling peace negotiations of late.

Consider the May 25 drone strike in Yemen that also happened to kill a provincial official, Jabir al-Shabwani, trying to talk al Qaeda into making peace.

At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaeda in the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.

But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight.

Read more

Has Aafia Siddiqui’s Daughter Surfaced?

Aafia Siddiqui has been at the center of one of the many mysteries flowing from the Bush and Obama administrations’ conduct of  intelligence operations. A Pakistani native and former MIT scientist, background on Siddiqui can be found several places, including a Seminal diary by ondelette here.

The stories of Siddiqui’s disappearance and  her recent trial in the US are too convoluted to easily summarize.  For purposes of the story now emerging — the possible appearance of Siddiqui’s daughter — the bare bones are that, after returning to Pakistan from the US, Aafia Siddiqui was named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in his US-run torture interrogations.  Shortly thereafter, in March, 2003, Siddiqui disappeared. Her three children —  oldest son Ahmed, 4-year-old Maryam and her infant son, Suleman — disappeared with her.

After seven years, Siddiqui suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan, where the US alleged she was involved in the attempted shooting of an American soldier as she was being detained for interrogation. When Aafia was  apprehended in Afghanistan, a boy was with her. The US handed off the boy to Afghan intelligence while they shipped Siddiqui to the US for trial.

Pakistan became involved diplomatically over the child and demanded his return. He was handed over to Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan, but her other children have remained missing. There has been controversy in Pakistan over the status of the boy and whether he truly was Siddiqui’s son or not.

Last weekend a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was  “Fatima,” was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister.  Some stories indicate an American named “John” may have been with her. Dawn reported a senior policeman described that the girl was:

… wearing a collar “bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off”.

That was last week.

This week, April 11 marks the start of a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to the Read more

Playing Pakistan

The NYDN captured both aspects of McCain’s mistakes last night on Pakistan (Update: here’s a much better article from Strobel and Landay).

The one that leapt out was McCain, kinda like George Bush in 2000, getting the name of Pakistan’s president wrong. (Bush didn’t know it.)

“Now, the new president of Pakistan, Qadari (it’s actually Asif Ali Zardari), has got his hands full,” McCain said.

He also said, “I don’t think that Sen. Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power,” referring to former President Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup 1999. Although Pakistan sure had problems, many people didn’t regard the country, then a nuclear-armed one, as a failed state.

Admittedly, I once starred as the villain of a Matt Bai novel because of my obsession with Pakistan, so I’m surely biased. 

But unlike McCain’s mangling of Ahmadinejad’s name, I think these two mistakes ought to qualify as a significant issue.

Central to the debate over who has better judgment in foreign affairs, after all, is whether or not it was correct to draw troops away from Afghanistan in 2002 and dump them into Bush’s war of choice. McCain maintains that was a smart decision, whereas Obama has been saying we should have–and still have to–focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for some time. 

McCain botching the name of a guy who just became Pakistan’s president–that I don’t so much mind (though someone following closely enough to understand Benazir Bhutto’s role in the country would have known Zardari’s name from his time as First Gentleman). 

But for someone running on a neocon platform of supporting the spread of democracy to explain away Musharraf’s coup by claiming Pakistan was a failed state is just inexcusable. If you don’t even know which countries have democratic elections and which don’t, after all, you’re bound to find yourself invading Venezuela in the name of democracy (heh). Furthermore, if Pakistan had been a failed state at any time since 1998, when it tested nukes, it would completely undermine the logic behind McCain’s myopic focus on Iraq and Iran at the expense of Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

In other words, McCain’s mistakes on Pakistan last night ought to be definitive proof that Obama’s claim–that McCain has focused unwisely on Iraq to the detriment of the more urgent central Asian war–is correct.

And while we’re talking about Pakistan, it’s worth looking at how well Eliza Doolittle learns. Read more

David Ignatius: Cheney Can’t Even Get Potentially Illegal Covert Ops Right

To be fair "serious person" Ignatius would never be so dismissive of so "serious" a person as Dick Cheney. But in his response to Hersh’s Sunday article, he pretty much agrees that covert stuff is going on, even while he points out that that–like our Irani policy more generally–is amateurish and ineffective (h/t Laura).

In the new cold war between America and Iran, the United States appears to be running some limited covert operations across the Iranian border. But according to knowledgeable sources, this effort shares the defect of broader U.S. policy toward Iran — it is tentative and ill-coordinated, and it undermines diplomacy without bringing serious pressure on the regime.

"Tell us what’s your policy with Iran," says one Arab official familiar with the covert program. "Are you going to talk to them or go to war with them?" This official describes U.S. operations this way: "There are attempts to cause mischief inside Iran and go after the Quds Force. Some things are being done, but not with the seriousness that’s needed."

Argues a former intelligence official, "It’s a PowerPoint covert-action program. It looks aggressive, but it’s not a tied-together, long-term strategy that would make Iran change its policy."

Looks like they’re potentially illegal covert ops just for the sake of potentially illegal covert ops, then, I guess. Huzzah to Dick Cheney and his willingness to flout Congressional oversight all in the interest of playing some big boy games!

I can’t help but think we’re hearing the same kind of report–well, worse, really–from that other area of our foreign policy that Dick is in charge of: our Pakistan policy.

Late last year, top Bush administration officials decided to take a step they had long resisted. They drafted a secret plan to make it easier for the Pentagon’s Special Operations forces to launch missions into the snow-capped mountains of Pakistan to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda.


But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was “mounting frustration” in the Pentagon at the continued delay.

Read more

Musharraf’s Party Projected to Lose–Badly

Let’s see if these results last after they count the vote, but it looks like Musharraf’s party lost today’s election–resoundingly.

From unofficial results the private news channel, Aaj Television, forecast that the Pakistan Peoples Party would win 110 seats in the 272-seat National Assembly, with Mr. Sharif’s party taking 100 seats.

Mr. Musharraf’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, was crushed, holding on to just 20 to 30 seats. Early results released by the state news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan, also showed the Pakistan Peoples Party to be leading in the number of seats won.

The Election Commission of Pakistan declared the elections free and fair and said the polling passed relatively peacefully, despite some irregularities and scattered violence. Ten people were killed and 70 injured around the country, including one candidate who was shot in Lahore on the night before the vote, Pakistani news channels reported.

Fearful of violence and deterred by confusion at polling stations, voters did not turn out in large numbers. Yet fears from opposition parties that the government would try to rig the elections did not materialize, as the early losses showed.

If it’s true that Musharraf’s government didn’t (or didn’t succeed in) rigging the elections, score one for democracy. But that doesn’t mean the US is prepared to deal with the aftermath–even if, as projected, Bhutto’s party the PPP comes out ahead.

The results opened a host of new challenges for the Bush administration, which has been criticized in Congress and by Pakistan analysts for relying too heavily on Mr. Musharraf. Even as Mr. Musharraf’s standing plummeted and the insurgency gained strength, senior Bush administration officials praised Mr. Musharraf as a valued partner in the effort against terrorism.

The NYT, at least, makes it sounds as if Musharraf is ready to pack it in.

Two politicians close to Mr. Musharraf have said in the past week that the president was well aware of the drift in the country against him and they suggested that he would not remain in office if the new government was in direct opposition to him. “He does not have the fire in the belly for another fight,” said one member of his party. He added that Mr. Musharraf was building a house for himself in Islamabad and would be ready soon to move.

What will Dick Cheney do without his faithful puppet?

More Cable News

We’ve been watching much of the Middle East lose chunks of their telecommunications traffic over the past week–without knowing what to make of it. I wanted to point to this post from John Robb, an expert on asymmetric warfare, with some meta thoughts on the possibilities of such disruptions.

  • Vulnerability. All of the same network vulnerabilities we see other infrastructures are in force with the Internet’s long haul systems (the network analysis of systempunkts applies). If this was a real attack rather than a series of accidents (the geographical concentration is interesting in this regard), then this was likely a capabilities test that yielded data on response times, impact, and duration.
  • Means. Attacks on undersea cables are within the capacity of small groups to accomplish. With precise mapping (these cables take very circuitous routes), a cable could be cut with as little as an anchor. However, nation-states are the most capable in this sphere (including, a growing number of micropowers). Why would a nation-state do this? Deterrence. Disconnection from the global communications grid is very likely become a form of economic/social coercion in the future (for standard national security reasons all the way down to an inability/unwillingness to crack down on rampant Internet crime, which is growing into a HUGE global problem).
  • Precision. It’s very hard to precisely target an attack’s damage. Regional impacts are unavoidable (collective punishment for everyone that connects to the target country?). Here’s a final point to consider: closed systems like China’s that route traffic through firewall choke-points, or other closely held infrastructure, are likely very vulnerable to an attack of this type. [my emphasis]

I’ve highlighted two points: this kind of attack could be feasibly launched by a small group. And the intent of such an attack might be political coercion. 

If you tie the notion of coercion to the two countries that lost the most service–Egypt and Pakistan–it has interesting implications.