[News] The CIA's Drone Wars
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
By GARETH PORTER
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agencys refusal to
share with other agencies even the most basic
data on the bombing attacks by remote-controlled
unmanned predator drones in Pakistans
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 cant 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 administrations 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 Pakistans
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 tanks
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 Thursdays conference. The new
president of CNAS, John Nagl, is a former adviser
to Petraeus and co-author of the Armys
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 papers 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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