Noah Shachtman points out in Wired’s Danger Room that since 9/11, U.S. intelligence agencies have had counter-terrorism as their primary focus, including hundreds of drone strikes. Then he notes two former heads of the CIA who are urging a return to intelligence-gathering.
“We have been tremendously focused on counterterrorism for the last 11 years [since 9/11]. How do you now begin to make sure that you cover other necessary things without making the country less safe?” asks former CIA director and retired Gen. Michael Hayden.
“Nearly every major international security concern facing Petraeus’ successors is, in essence, a question of intelligence: What is Iran’s nuclear capability, really? Which way will the Syrian civil war go? Why is China building up its Navy so fast? What the hell is Kim Jong-Un up to? “Those are things that you’re not going to learn through diplomacy or through press reporting. And that takes you to intelligence,” notes John E. McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director.”
Several weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that the CIA was proposing a “significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones.” The proposal was championed by Director David Petraeus to allow the agency to continue its attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as shift drones to other perceived threats.
With Petraeus’ sudden departure, there are calls for a real debate on the role of drones. Questions and opposition to the drone assassination campaign were already growing, now there are more.
Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network, writes in U.S. News & World Report of the need for guidelines on drone use.
“Drones and other forms of remote-control warfare aren't going away. The technological developments that empowered them won't be undone. The very real organizations that do seek to threaten Americans and U.S. interests aren't going to fold up on their own. But we do need, urgently, some theory around which we create legal, ethical, and practical guidelines for remote-control warfare, based on what we know about human nature, and what we have learned about human response to our efforts to date."
As it continues to condemn U.S. drone attacks, it appears that Pakistan is close to manufacturing its own drones. The Guardian reports that at a major arms fair held in Karachi last week, a senior Pakistani defense official briefed allies on their progress.
"The foreign delegates were quite excited by what Pakistan has achieved," said the official, who was closely involved with organising the four-day International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (Ideas). "They were briefed about a UAV that can be armed and has the capability to carry a weapon payload."
“The official said Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to friendly countries, principally Turkey and the Gulf, that it can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionising warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability.”
Alexis Simendinger at RealClearPolitics reports on an appearance by former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright at the Global Financial Leadership Conference In Naples, Fla. While the two disagreed on many topics, they also found some agreement:
“But looking ahead, the duo found issues on which they agree, and the government’s reliance on unmanned drones was one. Albright and Rice concurred that drone warfare saves American lives and is effective, but both expressed worries about the long-range implications and encouraged the Obama administration to focus during its second term on the issues surrounding deployment of such weapons.
“Albright said she was “not sure” about the human targets who wind up on the administration’s drone-strike lists, and she raised concerns about the use of unmanned drones by other nations. Rice predicted the technology “will become ubiquitous,” and she questioned how the United States would be able to protest if Russia decided to use drones domestically in Chechnya, or China used them against targets in Tibet. “It makes me quite uncomfortable,” Rice said.”
• After the story broke on CNN, the Defense Department announced Thursday that on Nov. 1, two Iranian fighter jets fired at a U.S. surveillance drone flying in international airspace over the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon said the Predator drone was 16 miles off the coast of Iran, international space begins at 12 miles. While not explicitly confirming the charge, a senior Iranian armed forces commander issued a statement saying "The defenders of the Islamic Republic will respond decisively to any form of encroachment by air, sea or on the ground."
• Wired reports that the U.S. military has launched 333 drone strikes so far this year in Afghanistan. The secret CIA drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen get more attention because of the legal and ethical questions they raise. But, “it’s worth remembering that the rise of the flying robots is largely occurring in the open, on an acknowledged battlefield where the targets are largely unquestioned and the attending issues aren’t nearly as fraught."
Tom Roberts in the National Catholic Reporter, writes on questions raised by the rapidly growing use of unpiloted drones.
“Each expansion of drone use magnifies the concerns of the legal and human rights communities about whether the United States is dangerously pressing the limits of -- or even violating -- international law. Just as worrisome, experts say, is whether the increasing use of drones in such circumstances will slowly erode the force of international law, rendering it ineffective.”
In an editorial this morning, the Washington Post sums up the legal and political problems with a continuing war based on “kill lists,” then concludes with its recommendations for greater transparency and accountability:
“Drone strikes should be carried out by military forces rather than by the CIA; as with other military activities, they should be publicly disclosed and subject to congressional review. The process and criteria for adding names to kill lists in non-battlefield zones should be disclosed and authorized by Congress — just like the rules for military detention and interrogation. Before operations begin in a country, the administration should, as with other military operations, consult with Congress and, if possible, seek a vote of authorization. It should seek open agreements with host countries and other allies.
“There may be cases where the president must act immediately against an imminent threat to the country, perhaps from an unexpected place. But to institutionalize a secret process of conducting covert drone strikes against militants across the world is contrary to U.S. interests and ultimately unsustainable.”
As the winds and the rain of Hurricane Sandy settle down, one bit of the aftermath is going to be another round of conversation about how climate change is affecting our world.
It’s not a conversation you have heard much of in the presidential campaign this year. Climate change is one of a quartet of issues that will have a huge impact on the future of this nation that have gotten short shrift by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.
Poverty. Guns. . Drones. Climate change.
Bring up any of those issues and watch the candidates make a quick nod of concern and then scamper away from any specifics. Yet those issues will be with us long after Nov. 6, so it is incumbent on those of us in the faith community to be laying the groundwork now for how we will address them in the coming year.
That work has already begun, of course. The challenge is not to let the post-election exhaustion sweep away those concerns like they were potted palms on a pier in the midst of the hurricane.
Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to NATO from July 2008 to May 2009, wrote in the Washington Post on the risks associated with the increasing U.S. reliance on drones as its “principal and permanent component in fighting global terrorism.” According to Volker, these risks are moral, the consequences, the U.S. monopoly on drone warfare will not last, and our national identity. He proposes that we need a standard for the use of drones and suggests
“A more useful standard comes from our country’s basic approach to warfare. For a conventional military engagement, we would take into account the costs and risks of: sending a force to carry out the strike; generating public support; seeking congressional authorization; attracting allies to the cause; the regional effects of military action; and the duration and end of the mission, not just the beginning.”
Reuters reports on a rare drone strike in northern Yemen, near the Saudi border.
“At least four men suspected of being al Qaeda members were killed in what a local official said was a U.S. drone strike on Islamist militants in northern Yemen on Sunday.
“It was a rare attack on al Qaeda-linked targets in northern Yemen, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels battling Yemeni government forces for control of the rugged mountainous region.
“The official said that a drone attacked two houses in the Abu Jabara area in Saada Province, killing four people.”
This week, the Washington Post published a major three-part series, written by three veteran correspondents, titled “The Permanent War.” The series is an in-depth look at U.S. counterterrorism policies, particularly targeted killings.
In part one, Greg Miller focuses on the “kill lists” for drone strikes and other covert operations, and how they have evolved.
Over the past two years, the administration has worked on a “next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix,’ which is a“single, continually evolving database in which biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations are all catalogued. So are strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols.”
Miller concludes that “Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul. … For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.
In drone news this week:
• The Washington Post reported that Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, and Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will investigate the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the U.S. and other governments. According to Emmerson, “I will be launching an investigation unit within the special procedures of the [U.N.] Human Rights Council to inquire into individual drone attacks, and other forms of targeted killings conducted in counterterrorism operations, in which it has been alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted.”
• Sixteen people from the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars were arrested Thursday while blocking gates at the New York National Guard’s Hancock Field near Syracuse. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that “The protesters believe that such operations are wrong and use the protests and arrests as a way to educate the public about the issue, said Ellen Grady, a protester from Ithaca.”
• The British High Court is hearing a case brought by Pakistani Noor Khan, whose father was killed in a suspected drone attack. According to the BBC, “Judges are deciding whether there should be a full judicial review into the legality of any UK co-operation with the Central Intelligence Agency.” In the same case, the Washington Post reported that James Eadie, lawyer for Britain’s Foreign Office, told the Court, “Ties between Britain, the U.S. and Pakistan could be jeopardized if a judge grants a request for a court inquiry into the possible role of U.K. spy agencies in aiding covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region…”
• In Pakistan, DAWN reports that a two-member panel of the Peshawar High Court has served notice on former president Pervez Musharraf to appear before the court. The Court is hearng a petition that has been filed against drone attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in particular the killing of innocent people including women and children.
• On Slate’s Map of the Week, a map showing the location of the 284 drone attacks reported in Pakistan under the Obama administration.
DAWN reports a drone attack Wednesday in the North Waziristan region.
“At least five people were killed Wednesday when a US drone targeted a suspected militant compound about 10 kilometres from the main town in volatile North Waziristan region, intelligence sources said.
“The US drone fired three missiles in Tappi village, about 10 kilometres southeast of Miramshah, on a compound which intelligence sources said was a militant facility. Two missiles hit the house and one struck a vehicle resulting in the death of four suspected militants. A woman was also killed in the strike, sources added. The official sources also said that three cows have also been killed as the house was completely destroyed.”
CNN reported three killed, and added that two children were injured.
“The latest suspected U.S. drone strike also injured two children, military officers said. Militants lived in the compound, but so did civilians, the officers said.”
The second drone strike in four days killed four in Yemen. AFP reports
Four members of the Al-Qaeda extremist network including a local chief were killed in Yemen Sunday in a strike presumed to have been carried out by a US drone against their vehicle in Maarib province, tribal and police sources said. "A drone fired a missile at a car which had four Al-Qaeda militants in it, destroying the vehicle and killing the occupants," the tribal source said,
As Al-Qaeda-linked rebels strengthen their control over northern Mali, France has taken the lead in plans for possible military intervention. In an exclusive report, AP revealed that as French and U.S. military leaders and diplomats are meeting in Paris this week, France will send drones to the area.
France will move surveillance drones to West Africa and is holding secretive talks with U.S. officials in Paris this week as it seeks to steer international military action to help Mali's feeble government win back the northern part of the country from al-Qaida-linked rebels, The Associated Press has learned.
France and the United Nations insist any invasion of Mali's north must be led by African troops. But France, which has six hostages in Mali and has citizens who have joined al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, is playing an increasing role behind the scenes.
Many in the West fear that northeast Mali and the arid Sahel region could become the new Afghanistan, a no-man's-land where extremists can train, impose hardline Islamic law and plot terror attacks abroad. And France, former colonial ruler to countries across the Sahel, is a prime target.
The U.K. has had five Reaper drones, which it has used for combat and surveillance missions against insurgents in Afghanistan. They have been piloted, however, from Creech Air Force base in Nevada as Britain has not had the capability. Now, according to the Guardian, five additional drones are being added, and they will be controlled from an air base in the U.K. The Guardian reports on the U.K.’s use of drones,
The most recent figures from the Ministry of Defence show that, by the end of September, the UK's five Reapers in Afghanistan had flown 39,628 hours and fired 334 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents.
While British troops on the ground have started to take a more back-seat role, the use of UAVs has increased over the past two years despite fears from human rights campaigners that civilians might have been killed or injured in some attacks.
The Washington Post reports this morning that the CIA wants more drones.
“The CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said.
“The proposal by CIA Director David H. Petraeus would bolster the agency’s ability to sustain its campaigns of lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and enable it, if directed, to shift aircraft to emerging al-Qaeda threats in North Africa or other trouble spots, officials said.
A U.S. drone attack early Thursday morning killed nine suspected militants. Reuters reports:
"Nine suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in what a security source and residents said was a U.S. drone attack on a farmhouse outside a town in southern Yemen that was held by militants last year.
"The farmhouse just west of Jaar, one of two southern towns that Yemen's army took back from rebel control this summer, was hit by three separate missile strikes at dawn, they said.
"The residents said they found six charred bodies and the scattered remains of three other people, including Nader al-Shaddadi, a senior al Qaeda militant in the southern Abyan province who led the group that occupied Jaar."
Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell, Professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, has been fighting against drones since the first CIA drone strike in 2002. The Los Angeles Times has a story calling her “a fierce critic of America's drone attacks outside a war zone,” and writing about her insistence that the targeted killings are illegal under international law.
"We wouldn't accept or want a world in which Russia or China or Iran is claiming authority to kill alleged enemies of the state based on secret evidence of the executive branch alone," O'Connell said. "And yet that's the authority we're asserting."
Last weekend, the government of Pakistan prevented an anti-drone protest from entering the tribal regions. Led by former cricket star and now politician Imran Khan and including a delegation of 30 US activists, the caravan was blocked by barricades guarded by riot police.
The Guardian reported:
“Makeshift roadblocks, security threats and warnings from Pakistan's army forced Imran Khan to abandon his unprecedented attempt to lead a cavalcade of anti-drone protesters deep into the country's restive tribal belt on Sunday. Leading a convoy of thousands, the former cricketer was within striking distance of South Waziristan, where the CIA uses remote-controlled planes in the fight against Islamist militants, when he abruptly turned back.
“Later Khan said he had changed plan because of warnings from the army and the risk of becoming stuck after the military-imposed curfew. Addressing an impromptu rally of his supporters, he said the convoy had still been a huge success because he had gone to areas his political rivals "can only look at on maps." "We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you," Khan told the crowd of around 2,500 supporters.”
On Wednesday, the drone strikes resumed. BBC reported
“A US drone strike targeting a militant base has killed five insurgents in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border, security officials say. … "Several US drones flew into the area before dawn and fired four missiles on a compound, killing five militants," a security official told the AFP news agency after the strike in Hurmuz area, east of Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.”
Thursday, another major strike in which Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported 16 people were killed.
“A US drone attack killed 16 suspected militants and injured six others in the Orakzai agency of Pakistan’s tribal region on Thursday. Four missiles were fired in the Buland Khel area of the Orakzai agency, which is close to the borders of the North and South Waziristan tribal regions in Fata.”
The Associated Press added that according to a government administrator, as many as 12 others were injured and that “Drones were still flying over the site of the attack and locals were reportedly staying away from the site.”