At a time when controversy over the Obama administration’s drone program seems to be cresting, the CIA is close to taking a major step toward getting out of the targeted killing business. Three senior U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA’s lethal targeting program to the Defense Department.
The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations.
..Brennan, who has presided over the administration’s drone program from almost day one of Obama’s presidency, has grown uncomfortable with the ad-hoc and sometimes shifting rules that have governed it..The recent nomination of Brennan to head the CIA became a kind of proxy battle over targeted killings and the administration’s reluctance to be more forthcoming about the covert program.
It looks like the White House may now be preparing to launch a campaign to counter the growing perception - with elites if not the majority of the public - that Obama is running a secretive and legally dubious killing machine. For weeks, though the White House has not confirmed it, administration officials have been whispering about the possibility that Obama would make a major speech about counterterrorism policy, including efforts to institutionalize - but also reform - the kinds of lethal operations that have been a hallmark of his war on terrorism. With an eye on posterity, Obama may feel the time has come to demonstrate publicly that his policies, for all of the criticism, have stayed within the law and American values.
what the fuck does this have to do with the Obama administration. I swear this world is getting fucking more ignorant by the day.
That is a kid killed by one of Obama’s drones. You know, the drone strikes he personally approves each time it happens? Let me repeat that, Obama personally approves each drone strike.
Except for the ones he doesn’t, of course.
- Some CIA strikes can be approved directly the CIA director. (Source: ProPublica)
- The White House - a very large catch term for boards/committees within the executive branch - approves the air strike kill list.
- If a target is particularly sensitive, the President may approve it himself. (Source: ProPublica)
Aheram, I enjoy your blog even though I strongly disagree with much of what you write. But get your facts straight. And secondly, this type of one-shot, gross picture to invoke a knee-jerk reaction is pitiful. It’s exactly analogous to - and just as foul as - the people lobbying for the end to abortion rights for women, carrying signs with mutilated fetus pictures. You can do better.
Future Warfare and Technology
I have a hard time understanding the vitriol many display when it comes to the topics of both drones and “killer robots”. As a political scientist and roboticist, I feel like I have a unique perspective into both worlds. So for me, the questions that first come to mind are:
1) I completely understand detesting war, detesting bombing, detesting civilian deaths. Why is it that the unmanned aspect is what seems to raise your ire?
2) Would you be happier if there were a pilot in the bomber instead of it being unmanned? Would it somehow, intangibly, change the situation?
Unmanned war is coming. Just as spears replaced fists and guns replaced spears, so will a superior weapon - precisely controlled robotic weapons - will replace a scared grunt with a gun. If you want to end violence, if you want to end war, don’t waste your time being against the weapon. Go for the source: be against the war. Be pro-diplomacy and hold your leaders accountable.
A plausible argument might go as such: “But if gun control has a place in ending domestic gun violence, shouldn’t weapons control have a place in ending violence in the international system”? Yes and no. First, domestically we have a government. We have authority. We are not in a state of anarchy. The same cannot be said for the international system. Though organizations like the United Nations have helped encourage diplomatic solutions, there is no true overarching authority. There is going to be conflict, and if war arises, our species may be in danger with the weapons at our disposal now. Not going to war will be the only way to save us.
Worse, even if there were an authority, it may not help. There is unprecedent security between the big countries in the system who should be hacking each other to bits every fifty years or so. I could digress completely into global collective security (if you’re curious, shoot me a message) but let me focus on the second point: most of our future enemies will not be big countries. Traditional warfare is dying out. They will be the occassional radical country, and more likely, small cells operating outside of the country system. In the next fifty years, these cells will have access to the type of weapons previously only available to large governments. Scary thought. If and when that time comes, data and prevention may be the only way to save ourselves, and a great deal of that data will likely come through unmanned systems.
What was I talking about again? Right, technology. Not developing it isn’t an option. The only option is to develop it responsibly with defense and prevention in mind.
Every so often in history, you get a technology that comes along that’s a game changer," [Singer] says. "They’re things like gunpowder, they’re things like the machine gun, the atomic bomb, the computer… and robotics is one of those."
“When we say it can be a game changer”, he says, “it means that it affects everything from the tactics that people use on the ground, to the doctrine, how we organise our forces, to bigger questions of politics, law, ethics, when and where we go to war.
Q:If there's anyone who can provide a rebuttal to your claims of the drone war's necessity/effectiveness, it's mehreenkasana.
I never claimed the drone war was necessary or effective.
I did say I was on pseudo-hiatus, didn’t I? Be warned that unlike most, this breakdown contains personal opinions.
What is the Drone War?
The Obama administration, and the Bush administration, use drones - unmanned, semi-autonomous aircraft - to carry out air strikes on suspected militants…
This article boiled my blood with its quiet implication that the war overseas is somehow a necessity, or at least something that bears thinking on. Under its “benefits” section relating to drone strikes, it lists “It works” and “Americans don’t die doing it.” Lots of other fucking people die, though. People whose lives have the same intrinsic value as any other set of human lives. How about bring the army home and then fucking dissolve it because war is evil.
edit: this whole article is infuriating
I really do enjoy feedback on my work, whether that feedback is in agreement or disagreement. That being said, let’s get into it:
Point 1 - The Criticism of the Usage of “It Works”.
You are right. “It works” was a far too vague statement that should have been made clear. What I meant by it was that the drone strikes accomplish the job the American government wants to do; namely, to weaken Al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups by killing their members. When using a semi-autonomous drone to do so, American soldiers do not die carrying out the mission of the American government. To the American government and its armed forces, I am most certain that this is a benefit.
Point 2 - War is evil, etc.
This writer wrote that, “This article boiled my blood with its quiet implication that the war overseas is somehow a necessity, or at least something that bears thinking on”.
Wow. If you do not believe that war overseas even bears honest contemplation and reflection, then we probably won’t agree on much. To blindly accept anything - whether it is that war is absolutely necessary or that it is an unjustifiable evil - I find sad. Blind faith gets us nowhere; we must use our minds to come up with our own thoughtful opinions about the world around us. But I digress.
It’s ironic that though I challenged readers to formulate a well-thought out opinion on war (and drone strikes), this writer turned around and did the exact opposite. He went on a rant about the evils of war, providing no alternative solutions or explanations to what we should do in their stead. I used to be a pure pacifist, and though I have given this very radical stance up, am still quite the idealist. I can’t wait until the awesome day when we can “bring the army home and then fucking dissolve it because war is evil”. If humans reach that point we just might survive as a species. But at the moment, that is the purest of nonsense.
The world is not a gentle place. As an idealist I’d like to think I work for the day when war will be a dark page in our history. Until we reach that enlightened state, we have to work within the system we live in. We have to accept reality and not live in fantasy. And reality, right now, is that we live in an international system in a state of anarchy, which means that with no overarching authority to appeal to, the only ultimate way to keep our interests at heart is through force. Fortunately we’ve come a long way and have enough peace protocols, international organizations, and diplomacy in place to largely avoid the necessity of force. But the reality of the system remains.
Unless you are content with leaving the men, women, and children of this country defenseless against a world that day after day proves itself capable of the most horrendous of atrocities, then you had better hope our military remains. If you are happy to admit that, then we can shake hands, agree to disagree, and go on our merry way. But blind, angry statements about the evils of war and the military with no thought behind them are nothing but a display of foolishness.
Breakdown: The Truth about Drone Strikes.
I did say I was on pseudo-hiatus, didn’t I? Be warned that unlike most, this breakdown contains personal opinions.
What is the Drone War?
The Obama administration, and the Bush administration, use drones - unmanned, semi-autonomous aircraft - to carry out air strikes on suspected militants outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Originally used in Yemen in 2002, they are now most commonly used in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, to attack elements of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda elements of al-Shabaab, and like-minded terrorist organizations. Drone strikes are carried out by both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military, particularly the clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Much of what we know is pieces from conjecture, comments, anonymous sources, and a good deal of guessing thrown in. With this in mind, both the CIA and the military have “kill lists”, and if the intelligence is adequate a drone strike may be authorized. The White House apparently approves proposed targets. According to ProPublica, some CIA strikes can be approved directly the CIA director.
The reasoning behind drone strikes is obvious: militants are killed and Americans aren’t. However, even mores than war itself, it presents a massive moral and legal quandary.
How is this legal?
It isn’t. Well, it is? In reality, that is a good question. Days after the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed a nearly unlimited act called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), giving the president the ability to take “all necessary and appropriate force” against anyone involved in the attack or harboring those who were (propublica.org), including American citizens. You have to understand that rules don’t always govern the rulemakers; and if they do, they can be amended into a neutered form. When it comes to war, presidents have been dramatically extending their authority since George Washington himself. Though this is a topic for another day (or breakdown), the point is that though the legality is questionable, it isn’t stopping the United States. What’s more, there is no congressional oversight to the drone strikes.
What about Civilian deaths?
Civilian deaths happen. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says that between 475 to 891 civilian deaths have occurred since the drone strike program began. The government assures the public that they do all they can to keep civilian deaths limited. Due to the extreme secretive nature of the drone strikes and the lack of public oversight, we have no idea how much that is, and just have to take the government at its word. This is a dubitable prospect at best for even the most ardent supporter. Furthermore, it has come to light that the government counts all adult males killed in drone strikes as militants, regardless of evidence to the contrary. This means that the government’s estimates - always lower than outside sources - are almost doubtlessly too low.
Is this good or bad?
That is an impossible question.
The Bad: There is massive backlash against the drone strikes. Like in all forms of war, civilian casualties occur. Sites like livingunderdrones.org document a life where innocent Pakistanis live in constant fear of the buzz of drones. The stories of innocent men, women, and children blown up by a drone strike while going about their daily lives are countless. To many, this makes the program completely atrocious and the Obama administration a demonic institution. Ravings about the terror of the drone strikes are one f the most commonly leveled reasons on the blogosphere for loathing the Obama administration.
- They work.
- Americans don’t die in the process.
According to the New York Times, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and affiliated groups have been weakened by drone strikes. The government frequently releases news that key figures Al Qaeda have been killed by drone strikes. According to Avery Plaw, a political science professor at the University of Massachussets, Dartmouth, evidence exists that other means of reaching Al Qaeda and affiliates in regions that are largely lawless could cause more civilian harm than the drone strikes do.
This moral quandary is nothing new. Nearly seventy years after the fact people are still debating the legitimacy of the atomic bomb strikes on Japan that ultimately ended World War II (seriously, read Paul Fussel’s “Thank God for the Atom Bomb”. One of the best political science articles I’ve ever read). The drone strike debate - and the questions it evokes - are shockingly similar. Do/should we have bombed? Would the alternatives be/have been any better for civilians? How many of our soldiers will/would have died, and are we/should we have been willing to risk make that sacrifice?
War is hell, and war has no easy answers. I usually try to keep my breakdowns neutral, but allow me to break character and offer my own opinion. I won’t tell you whether I believe the drone strikes are justifiable or not, because I don’t know. I will say that I find the constant stream of infographics and blog posts demonizing President Obama for the drone strikes annoying and ultimately, useless. Not because they hold the opinion that the drone strikes are wrong - that is your prerogative, and I haven’t made up my mind on this question myself - but because they are embarrassingly not thought out. If you are to criticize drone strikes, be prepared to accept the sacrifices of the alternative. Have you chosen the deaths of the American soldiers sent in to regions largely outside of government influence? Do you even know if such operations would be less detrimental on civilian lives than the drone strikes? Or do you not believe we should cary out any operation at all. If so, do not be so naive as to believe the drones are bombing nothing at all; it is known that Al Qaeda and equally nasty groups are operating in those areas. Will you be prepared to accept what may happen if they are allowed to grow unchecked? Answer me. Because until you put some substance behind your condemnation of the Obama administration, I really don’t want to hear it.
Currier, Cora. “Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes”. ProPublica.
Zenko, Micah. “Targeted Killings and Congressional Oversight”. The Council on Foreign Relations.
Plaw, Avery. “Drones Save Lives, American and Others”. The New York Times.
“Executive Summary and Recommendations”. Living Under Drones.
“Counting Drone Strike Deaths." The Human Rights Clinic, Columbia University.