Under Obama Only 13% of Drone Strikes Killed Leaders of Taliban or Al Qaeda

Obama administration officials often speak about how drone strikes target suspected terrorists plotting against the U.S., but according to the New York Times the U.S. has shifted away from that. Instead, it now often targets enemies of allied governments in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan. From the Times:

[F]or at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan.

In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.

Justin Elliott of propublica.org conducted an interview with  Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations on the issue of the ever expanding U.S. drone war:


You were quoted over the weekend arguing that the U.S., with the campaign of drone strikes, is acting as the “counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” How did you come to this conclusion?

Under the Obama administration, officials have argued that the drone strikes are only hitting operational Al Qaeda leaders or people who posed significant and imminent threats to the U.S. homeland. If you actually look at the vast majority of people who have been targeted by the United States, that’s not who they are.

There are a couple pieces of data showing this. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation has done estimates on who among those killed could be considered “militant leaders” — either of the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, or Al Qaeda. Under the Bush administration, about 30 percent of those killed could be considered militant leaders. Under Obama, that figure is only 13 percent.

Most of the people who are killed don’t have as their objective to strike the U.S. homeland. Most of the people who are killed by drones want to impose some degree of sharia law where they live, they want to fight a defensive jihad against security service and the central government, or they want to unseat what they perceive as an apostate regime that rules their country.

Why does this distinction matter so much?

This is a huge outstanding dilemma. Is the primary purpose of the drone attacks counter-terrorism, or is it counter-insurgency? If it’s counter-insurgency, that is a very different mission, and you have to rethink the justifications and rethink what the ultimate goal is of using lethal force.

There was a February article in the New York Times reporting that the goal of U.S. policy in Yemen was to kill about two dozen Al Qaeda leaders. There’s been about 50 drone strikes in Yemen since that article. Meanwhile, according to U.S. government statements, the size of AQAP has grown from “several hundred” to “a few thousand members.” So the question is, who is actually being targeted, and how does this further U.S. counterterrorism objectives?

Read more here.


Ibrahim Mothana: How Drones Help Al Qaeda

An Op-ed in The New York Times from Ibrahim Mothana attempts to explain to supporters of President Obama’s drone wars why civilian casualties are hurting their cause:

“DEAR OBAMA, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda,” a Yemeni lawyer warned on Twitter last month. President Obama should keep this message in mind before ordering more drone strikes like Wednesday’s, which local officials say killed 27 people, or the May 15 strike that killed at least eight Yemeni civilians.

Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair. Robert Grenier, the former head of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, has warned that the American drone program in Yemen risks turning the country into a safe haven for Al Qaeda like the tribal areas of Pakistan — “the Arabian equivalent of Waziristan.”

Mr. Mothana goes on to write:

Misleading intelligence has also led to disastrous strikes with major political and economic consequences. An American drone strike in May 2010 killed Jabir al-Shabwani, a prominent sheik and the deputy governor of Marib Province. The strike had dire repercussions for Yemen’s economy. The slain sheik’s tribe attacked the country’s main pipeline in revenge. With 70 percent of the country’s budget dependent on oil exports, Yemen lost over $1 billion. This strike also erased years of progress and trust-building with tribes who considered it a betrayal given their role in fighting Al Qaeda in their areas.

Yemeni tribes are generally quite pragmatic and are by no means a default option for radical religious groups seeking a safe haven. However, the increasing civilian toll of drone strikes is turning the apathy of tribal factions into anger.

Read more here.

Rep. Peter King: “Be Afraid, Be Very Very AFRAID!!”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) warned Wednesday, ahead of a committee to “educate” Americans and Congress about the threat of Iran, that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Hezbollah agents in the U.S. capable of launching terror attacks against the U.S.

“The American intelligence community believes we are very much at risk for an attack by Iranian operatives, which would be Hezbollah, that is a terrorist-trained force in this country. It really is the ‘A’ team of international terrorism, far more sophisticated than Al Qaeda,” the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee said on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

King explained that Hezbollah operatives have been inside the U.S. for years now for the purpose of fundraising and recruiting.

He went on to say that while the conventional wisdom until recently has been that they were not necessarily stationed in the U.S. to carry out attacks, that could change given the recent tension between Israel and Iran over questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

“We do know that a number of them have been trained as terrorists, so the question is, how quickly they can be made operational, and would they carry out an attack?” he said. “We estimate it to be at least in the hundreds maybe the thousands of Hezbollah agents here in this country. And again, especially if things intensify between Israel and Iran, between the United States and Iran, could Iran take preemptive action in this action through Hezbollah?”

King cited a murder plot allegedly directed by the Iranian government to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. last year as a further warning sign of the potential threat that the country poses to Americans.

If Israel attacks Iran, the congressman warned that the U.S. could certainly “find itself implicated or involved” in the crisis.

“Having said that, I don’t think we can rule out an Israeli attack,” King said. “ I think we have to keep all the pressure out there. The fact that there can be complications is not a reason why Israel shouldn’t do it or we shouldn’t do it. We have to make sure whatever we do that it is going to work and realize that Iran cannot be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.”

Wednesday’s congressional hearing will include witnesses from the New York Police Department and others from the intelligence community.

FBI Chief Wants to Bring War on Terror to the Internet

FBI Director Robert Mueller warned US lawmakers this week that the U.S. needed to be prepared for violent extremists that may attempt cyber-attacks against the nation.

“To date, terrorists have not used the Internet to launch a full-scale cyber attack, but we cannot underestimate their intent,” Mueller told a House appropriations subcommittee.

“They may seek to train their own recruits or hire outsiders, with an eye toward pursuing cyber attacks.

“As our nation’s national security and criminal adversaries constantly adapt and evolve, so must the FBI be able to respond with new or revised strategies and operations to counter these threats,” Mueller said, presenting theFBI’s 2013 budget.

Mueller pointed to Al-Qaeda’s use of online chat rooms and websites to “recruit and radicalize followers to commit acts of terrorism.” He also said that militants have shown interest in computer hacking, making “the FBI’s counterterrorism mission that much more difficult and challenging.”

Mueller said that the terror group’s Yemen-based branch publishes an English-language online magazine, “Inspire,” while Shebab militants linked to Al-Qaeda in Somalia use Twitter to “taunt its enemies, in English, and encourage terrorist activity.”

The FBI claims that there has been an 84 percent increase in the number of computer intrusion investigations opened.

The bureau has cyber squads in each of its 56 field offices, as well as over 1,000 specially trained staff running undercover operations and examining digital evidence.

Last Tuesday, US officials charged five alleged computer hackers in Britain, Ireland and the United States in high-profile cyberattacks after a leader of the group became an FBI informant.

Former Senators Graham and Kerrey Say Saudi Gov Likely Linked to 9/11

For more than a decade now anyone who questioned the official story behind the September 11th attacks was a labeled a crazy conspiracy theorist. Now sworn statements from two former senators with access to top secret information about the role played, by a so called U.S. ally, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks is sure to reignite the debate about who was ultimately behind it.

“I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” former Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, said in an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought by the families of the victims of the attacks against the Saudi government. Mr. Graham led a joint 2002 Congressional inquiry into the attacks.

Former Senator, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Democrat who served on the 9/11 Commission, said in a sworn affidavit that “significant questions remain unanswered” about the role of Saudi institutions. “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued,”.

Lawyers for the Saudis, who have already moved to have the affidavits thrown out of court, declined to comment on the assertions by Mr. Graham and Mr. Kerrey. “The case is in active litigation, and I can’t say anything,” said Michael K. Kellogg, a Washington lawyer for the Saudis.

The Obama administration is standing firmly in the Saudi’s corner, with the Justice Department attempting to have the lawsuits thrown out of court on the grounds that the Saudis are protected by international immunity.

The Saudis also say the case should be thrown out because American inquiries have exonerated them. A recent court filing by the Saudis prominently cited the 9/11 Commission’s “exhaustive” final report, which “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi individuals funded” Al Qaeda.

Mr. Kerrey and Mr. Graham said that the findings should not be seen as an exoneration and that many important questions about the Saudis’ role had never been fully examined, partly because their panels simply did not have the time or resources given their wider scope.

Unanswered questions include the work of a number of Saudi-sponsored charities with financial links to Al Qaeda, as well as the role of a Saudi citizen living in San Diego at the time of the attacks, Omar al-Bayoumi, who had ties to two of the hijackers and to Saudi officials.

BIJ Report: U.S. Drones Used to Target Rescuers/Funerals

According to British and Pakistani journalists, the C.I.A. has been using drones to target rescuers who respond to the scene of an initial strike, as well as killing mourners at subsequent funerals.

The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, states that at least 50 civilians have been killed in follow-up strikes after they attempted to help those hit by a drone  missile. The bureau also says that more than 20 civilians have been killed in strikes on funerals.

The bureau interviewed several witnesses to strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, but American officials question the accuracy of such claims. They assert that accounts might be made up by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation; not an admission of guilt nor a statement of denial.

Since President Obama took office, BIJ counted 260 strikes by Predator and Reaper drones in which 282 to 535 civilians had been “credibly reported” killed, including more than 60 children. American officials said that the number was much too high, though acknowledged that at least several dozen civilians have been killed in strikes aimed at militant suspects.

A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions — there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.”

The drone campaign is classified as top secret, and Obama administration officials have refused to make public even the much-disputed legal opinions underpinning it.

But Mr. Obama spoke about the program in an online appearance last week.

“I want to make sure that people understand: actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” he said in the forum on YouTube. “For the most part they have been very precise precision strikes against Al Qaeda and their affiliates.” He called the strikes “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” For the most part.

American officials familiar with the rules governing the strikes and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that many missiles had been fired at groups of suspected militants who are not on any list. These so-called signature strikes are based on assessments that men carrying weapons or in a militant compound are legitimate targets.

Former CIA Agent Charged Under Espionage Act For Admitting U.S. Tortured Detainees

A former CIA officer has been charged under the Espionage Act for disclosing “classified” information to journalists, the latest in an unprecedented crackdown on whistle-blowers and “national security” leaks by the Obama administration.

John Kiriakou is facing decades in prison if convicted. He is accused of providing secrets, including the name and activities of one of his undercover colleagues, to unidentified reporters. One of the journalists is alleged to given the name of the covert CIA officer to lawyers representing a Guantanamo Bay prisoner.

Kiriakou is also accused of giving reporter Scott Shane of the New York Times information that Shane used in a 2008 story that named CIA analyst Deuce Martinez as a key figure in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda logistics chief who was water boarded. Martinez’s role in the interrogation was classified though he was not working undercover.

At a hearing in Alexandria, Va., a federal judge ordered Kiriakou released on a $250,000 unsecured bond. Kiriakou’s attorney, Plato Cacheris, said afterward that the defense may argue that the charges criminalize conduct that has been common between reporters and government sources for decades.

The lawyers and their investigators, including attorneys from the ACLU, did not break the law, the Justice Department said. No reporters were charged.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called the investigation “incredibly troubling” and said it would have a chilling effect on reporters, whistle-blowers and defense lawyers. Romero criticized “the fact that the government continues to investigate those who research and report on the individuals who committed torture and yet don’t prosecute those who undertook that torture.”

Alleged emails from Kiriakou disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a CIA agent known as “Covert Officer A.”  Kiriakou denied giving the information to reporters when interviewed by FBI agents on Jan 12.

In addition Kiriakou is being accused of trying to include classified information in his memoir by lying to the CIA’s Publication Review Board. The book, published in 2010, was titled, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.”

The case against Kiriakou marks the fifth time the Obama administration brought charges of violating the Espionage Act against current or former government officials who allegedly leaked information to journalists. The most of any previous administration.

Former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, is accused of leaking information to a New York Times reporter. State Department official, Stephen Kim, is charged with leaking information about North Korea to Fox News. FBI translator, Shamai Leibowitz, plead guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to 20 months in prison for giving information to a blogger. A sixth defendant, Bradley Manning, has been charged in connection with alleged disclosure of documents to the website Wikileaks.

CIA Director David H. Petraeus said he supported the Kiriakou investigation. “Unauthorized disclosures of any sort, including information concerning the identities of other agency officers — betray the public trust, our country and our colleagues,” he said in a statement.

Steven Aftergood, who follows the intelligence community for the Federation of American Scientists, and other skeptics of official secrecy questioned how the government could use the Espionage Act to prosecute people who were not spying, but allegedly providing information to reporters.

“What’s missing from all these cases is any allegation that these people have actually caused harm to the United States,” said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project, which represented former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake in an Espionage Act case that collapsed last year.

Many on the left have pushed for prosecution of those in the Bush administration that sought to legalize torture, but President Obama has stated that his administration will be about “looking forward as opposed to looking backward”. Apparently his looking forward only applies to the officials that authorized, condoned and ordered indefinite detention and torture. For those who are brave enough to expose the most grievous misdeeds of the previous administration it seems Obama is looking so far backward he is taking cues from the former administration and doubling down.