CIA Secrecy on Drone Attacks Data Hides Abuses
WASHINGTON, Jun 12 (IPS) - 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
"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
In April, The News, a newspaper in
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
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
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
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 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
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
But it argues that the drone attacks have also "created a siege mentality among the Pashtun population in northwest
The drone strikes in
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
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 IPS 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
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in