Washington Post: CIA Wants Expansion of Drone Strike Authority in Yemen

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has requested authorization to carry out drone strikes in Yemen when it does not know the identities of those who would be killed, the Washington Post reported April 18.

The request has yet to be granted. But if approved, it could mean an expansion of US drone strikes in Yemen targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Here are more details from the Post story:

Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives...

U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached. Officials from the White House and the CIA declined to comment.

Proponents of the plan said improvements in U.S. intelligence collection in Yemen have made it possible to expand the drone campaign — and use signature strikes — while minimizing the risk of civilian casualties.

They also pointed to the CIA’s experience in Pakistan. U.S. officials said the agency killed more senior al-Qaeda operatives there with signature strikes than with those in which it had identified and located someone on its kill list.

Critics of the drone strike program have blasted the CIA and Obama administration's secrecy over how the program is conducted.

And, the Obama administration’s denials aside, the drone strike program has killed civilians. In Yemen, at least 55 civilians have been killed as a result of drone strikes, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The report also found that “covert US strikes against alleged militants in Yemen have risen steeply during the Arab spring, and are currently at the same level as the CIA’s controversial drone campaign in Pakistan.”

An extensive article on drones for Rolling Stone magazine by Michael Hastings has more on the CIA’s so-called “signature strikes,” which the CIA already carries out in Pakistan and is trying to bring to Yemen:

The CIA's more common use of drones – known as "signature strikes" – involves attacks on groups of alleged militants who are behaving in ways that seem suspicious. Such strikes are reportedly the brainchild of the CIA veteran who has run the agency's drone program for the past six years, a chain-smoking convert to Islam who goes by the code name "Roger." In a recent profile, The Washington Post called Roger "the principal architect of the CIA's drone campaign." When it comes to signature strikes, say insiders, the decision to launch a drone assault is essentially an odds game: If the agency thinks it's likely that the group of individuals are insurgents, it will take the shot. "The CIA is doing a lot more targeting on a percentage basis," says the former official with knowledge of the agency's drone program.

But to countries like Pakistan, what America considers a legitimate strike against terrorists appears to be little more than a militarized version of homicide. "From the perspective of Pakistani law, we probably committed a murder," says the former CIA official. "We commit espionage every day, breaking the laws of other countries." To absolve itself in the most sensitive strikes, the CIA has become skilled at using lawyers to cover its tracks. "They use paper when it is going to help them," says the former official. "Or they get on the secure phone. Or they get in an elevator casually with a lawyer and ask for his advice, like, 'There's nothing preventing me from destroying those tapes, is there?'"

AlterNet / By Alex Kane

Posted at April 20, 2012, 11:33am

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