[News] The CIA's Drone Wars

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 12 12:58:44 EDT 2009


June 12-14, 2009

Secrecy Over Data on Bombings Hides Abuses

The CIA's Drone Wars


The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s refusal to 
share with other agencies even the most basic 
data on the bombing attacks by remote-controlled 
unmanned predator drones in Pakistan’s 
northwestern tribal region, combined with recent 
revelations that CIA operatives have been paying 
Pakistanis to identify the targets, suggests that 
managers of the drone attacks programmes have 
been using the total secrecy surrounding the 
programme to hide abuses and high civilian casualties.

Intelligence analysts have been unable to obtain 
either the list of military targets of the drone 
strikes or the actual results in terms of al 
Qaeda or civilians killed, according to a 
Washington source familiar with internal 
discussion of the drone strike programme. The 
source insisted on not being identified because 
of the extreme sensitivity of the issue.

"They can’t find out anything about the 
programme," the source told IPS. That has made it 
impossible for other government agencies to judge 
its real consequences, according to the source.

Since early 2009, Barack Obama administration 
officials have been claiming that the predator 
attacks in Pakistan have killed nine of 20 top al 
Qaeda officials, but they have refused to 
disclose how many civilians have been killed in the strikes.

In April, The News, a newspaper in Lahore, 
Pakistan, published figures provided by Pakistani 
officials indicating that 687 civilians have been 
killed along with 14 al Qaeda leaders in some 60 
drone strikes since January 2008 – just over 50 
civilians killed for every al Qaeda leader.

A paper published this week by the influential 
pro-military Centre for a New American Security 
(CNAS) criticising the Obama administration’s use 
of drone attacks in Pakistan says U.S. officials 
"vehemently dispute" the Pakistani figures but 
offers no further data on the programme.

In an interview with IPS, Nathaniel C. Fick, the 
chief operating officer of CNAS, who coauthored 
the paper, said Pentagon officials claim 
privately that 300 al Qaeda fighters have been killed in the drone
attacks. However, those officials refuse to 
stipulate further just who they have included 
under that rubric, according to Fick, and have 
not offered any figure on civilian deaths.

What is needed is "a strict definition of the 
target set – a definition of who is al Qaeda," said Fick.

Press reports that the CIA is paying Pakistani 
agents for identifying al Qaeda targets by 
placing electronic chips at farmhouses supposedly 
inhabited by al Qaeda officials, so they can be 
bombed by predator planes, has raised new 
questions about whether the CIA and the Obama 
administration have simply redefined al Qaeda in 
order to cover up an abusive system and justify the programme.

The initial story on the CIA payments for placing 
the chips by Carol Grisanti and Mushtaq Yusufzai 
of NBC News Apr. 17 was based on a confession by 
a 19-year-old in North Waziristan on a video 
released by the Taliban. In his confession, the 
young man says, "I was given 122 dollars to drop 
chips wrapped in a cigarette paper at al Qaida 
and Taliban houses. If I was successful, I was 
told, I would be given thousands of dollars."

He goes on to say, "I thought this was a very 
easy job. The money was so good so I started 
throwing the chips all over. I knew people were 
dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money."

The video shows the man being shot as a spy for the United States.

A U.S. official told NBC news that the video was 
"extremist propaganda," but a story in The 
Guardian May 31 said residents of Waziristan, 
including one student identified as Taj Muhammad 
Wazir, had confirmed that tribesman have been 
paid to lay the electronic devices to target drone strikes.

The knowledgeable Washington source told IPS the 
Guardian article is consistent with past CIA 
intelligence-gathering methods in Afghanistan and 
elsewhere. "We buy data," he said. "Everything is paid for."

The implication of the system of purchasing 
targeting information for drone strikes is that 
there is "no guarantee" that the people being 
targeted are officials of al Qaeda or allied organisations, he said.

Fick, who is a veteran of the post-9/11 military 
operations in Afghanistan and the early phase of 
the Iraq war, said that kind of intelligence for 
targeting is "intrinsically problematic".

Although the CNAS paper by Fick, Andrew Exum and 
David Kilcullen does not explicitly call for 
ending drone attacks, it is highly critical of 
the programme, charging that the use of drones 
represents a "tactic... substituting for a strategy".

It concedes that, by "killing key leaders and 
hampering operations", the drone attacks against 
al Qaeda and some other militants in Pakistan’s 
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) 
"create a sense of insecurity among militants and 
constrain their interactions with suspected informers".

But it argues that the drone attacks have also 
"created a siege mentality among the Pashtun 
population in northwest Pakistan", and likened 
them to similar strikes against Islamic militants 
in Somalia in 2005-2006. The net result of those 
earlier strikes, the authors assert, was to anger 
the population and make the Islamic insurgents more popular.

The drone strikes in Pakistan are having a 
similar impact, not only in the tribal areas but 
in other provinces as well, the paper said. In a 
panel discussing the paper at the think tank’s 
annual meeting Thursday, Exum, a former officer 
in Afghanistan, said, "We are not saying that the 
drone strikes are not part of a solution, but 
right now they are part of the problem."

The new CNAS criticism of drone strikes is of 
particular interest because of the close 
relationship between the think tank and CENTCOM 
commander Gen. David Petraeus, who was the 
keynote speaker at Thursday’s conference. The new 
president of CNAS, John Nagl, is a former adviser 
to Petraeus and co-author of the Army’s 
counterinsurgency manual. CNAS is widely regarded 
as reflecting the perspective of the Petraeus wing of the U.S. military.

Another co-author and former Petraeus aide, 
Australian David Kilcullen, who was also a senior 
fellow at CNAS last year, had already come out 
strongly against drone strikes as politically self-defeating.

However, Nagl himself told this writer that he 
disagrees with the CNAS paper’s position on drone 
strikes. He said he believes the benefits of the 
strikes are greater than have been publicly 
communicated by the administration, and suggested 
the failure to release any more figures on the 
results could be attributed to a "culture of secrecy".

Petraeus made no mention of the issue in his 
presentation to the CNAS conference on Iraq, 
Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Washington Post 
reported Jun. 1 that Petraeus wrote in a secret 
May 27 assessment, "Anti-U.S. sentiment has 
already been increasing in Pakistan... especially 
in regard to cross-border and reported drone 
strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties."

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and 
journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising 
in U.S. national security policy. The paperback 
edition of his latest book, 
of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to 
War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

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