CIA Has 'Acquired A Taste' For Killing People With Drones; Won't Give It Up

from the that-seems-problematic dept

The US’s use of drones is nothing if not controversial, and the overall secrecy around the program — including the belief that it can be used against Americans as well — has worried an awful lot of people. Even those in the administration who support the program apparently are uncomfortable with it implicitly, as the Obama administration had drawn up a whole bunch of rules that would limit drone killing… which they wanted to put in place in case Romeny won the election. But, when Obama won, they abandoned the idea. In other words, the position of the administration is basically, “trust us with these drone killing programs… but no one else.” Under significant pressure about all of this, the President finally announced in May that the drone killing program would be moved from the CIA to the Defense Department, where it would have more oversight (slightly) and limits.

Except, as Foreign Policy is now reporting, that isn’t actually happening and may never happen. The main reason appears to be fairly simple: the CIA loves killing people with these drones, and people in the Defense Department are kind of uncomfortable with doing so. So, the CIA wants to keep control, and the Defense Department doesn’t want it.

The U.S. official said that while the platforms and the capabilities are common to either the Agency or the Pentagon, there remain distinctly different approaches to “finding, fixing and finishing” terrorist targets. The two organizations also use different approaches to producing the “intelligence feeds” upon which drone operations rely. Perhaps more importantly, after years of conducting drone strikes, the CIA has developed an expertise and a taste for them. The DOD’s appetite to take over that mission may not run very deep.

Yes, the CIA has developed a taste for killing people from the skies with drones controlled from far away. It’s like a sport.

Remember when the US banned assassinations by the CIA? Yeah. Weren’t those the days?

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Comments on “CIA Has 'Acquired A Taste' For Killing People With Drones; Won't Give It Up”

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66 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

now twist things round and see what the response would be if it were drones from another country killing USA citizens in any country. there would be all hell let loose, the same as there always is when anyone else does to the USA exactly what the it does to others! the double standard is never more appropriate than with our govt!

out_of_the_blue says:

Not coincidentally, was before capital gains cuts, de-regulation,

and dropping of anti-trust enforcement.

“Remember when the US banned assassinations by the CIA? Yeah. Weren’t those the days?”

I’m pretty sure those are all related by the general breakdown of morality, even if a tough sell here.

But I don’t agree that the military is very reluctant to take this up. Not the military that murdered a million or more innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sure, may be some regrets over that — just as over the 3 or 4 million murdered in Vietnam — but obviously, militaries don’t learn, and it’s definitely not safe to rely on them to act morally. — SO that aspect of this is just propaganda by the military. And of course, actually, the military is soon to get all sorts of new killer robots, SO if reluctant at all, it’s only because have other programs…

Anonymous Coward says:

Good to hear that the Department of Defense is uncomfortable with routinely assassinating people from the skies. That’s the sort of thing you want your army to be uncomfortable with doing. It also makes it slightly easier to deal with the problem as you mainly have to worry about the CIA, rather than having to worry about both the CIA and the DoD.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem was being ok with this stuff on foreigners

“including the belief that it can be used against Americans as well– has worried an awful lot of people”

That’s what allowed this blatantly illegal program to get off the ground. Law breaking by the government should NOT be ok simply because the victim is a terrorist, or a foreigner. That makes it much easier for the government to start doing the EXACT same thing to US citizens.

It also makes us look really bad in the eyes of the rest of the world when we go “illegal drone strikes on foreigners in foreign nations? Sure perfectly fine, sorry foreigners but you have no rights to our judicial system”.

How would you like it if China or Russia started to kill US citizens with drones simply because they thought they were a possible threat to them? Or worse yet, they kill or injure plenty of innocent Americans who just happened to be around a bad guy who was out in public when they got blown up with a missile from the drone?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The problem was being ok with this stuff on foreigners

Your logic is absolutely sound. Unfortunately, the US government is composed entirely of sociopaths incapable of empathy. Concepts like, “To people in other countries, I’m the one who’s a foreigner,” are beyond them.

They are incapable of recognizing their own hypocrisy, as anyone who reads their press releases can tell you. Pleas for them to respect other human beings as equals will fall on deaf ears. They aren’t mentally capable of recognizing that what they’re doing is wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

A drone is not a weapon. A drone can not kill a person, well, unless it falls on him or something. It is merely a platform for a weapon.
Why does it matter of the weapon is being held by an unmanned aircraft, or by a person?
I think there is too much made of assassinations by drones, rather than of the bigger issue, assassinations, period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree that the delivery system is of little consequence. But regarding assassinations, the guys getting surprise visits from Hellfire missiles are also involved (directly or playing on the same team as those) planting IEDs. Fuck them and fuck the notion of fighting human garbage like that with one hand tied behind our back.

Back in Vietnam, snipers would be dispatched to assassinate high ranking NVA officers. Sgt. Carlos Hathcock used to drop these guys from 1000+ yards. Why is that different?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Innocent bystanders? How do you determine who is innocent? If I’m in a war zone, I’m not going to be hanging out with a high profile target for the fun of it. And if I was a high profile target, I certainly would go out of my way to disassociate with innocents. Instead, these miserable cowards have no moral qualms about using human shields- though theres no evidence that human shields were being used in the Hellfire strikes I’m aware of.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Innocent bystanders? How do you determine who is innocent?

Someone who hasn’t committed any crimes.

“A joint research study released by Stanford University and the New York School of Law, recently claimed that US drone warfare had killed 50 civilians for each terrorist taken out in the name of Washington?s counter-terrorism strategy of targeted killing. “

Al Majala, in 2009, was one example of where a drone attack went tragically wrong. At least 41 people were killed including 14 women and 21 children. Summing up the shock and grief, one angry survivor, an elderly man, said: ?If they kill innocent children and call them al-Qaeda, then we are all al-Qaeda. If children are terrorists, then we are all terrorists.?

The range of public estimates of civilian deaths from drone strikes, at the low end, includes the June 2011 statement by then-White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan that there had not been ?a single collateral death? in a year as a result of American drones. At the other extreme, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based non-profit organization, puts the number of civilian casualties between 84 and 193 in 2010, and between 52 and 146 in 2011?the years that together encapsulate the period in which Brennan said there had been none.

Anyway, I could go on. But I’ll ask again, are you claiming that everyone killed by drones was involved with terrorism in some way?

And of course the problem is not one of drones specifically, but of attacks, particularly air attacks, based on faulty information. For example:

“On July 6, 2008, a large number of Afghan civilians were walking the bride of a wedding ceremony to the groom’s village in an area called Kamala in Dih Bala district of the eastern province of Nangarhar.[6][7] When the group stopped for a rest, it was hit in succession by three bombs from United States military aircraft.”

I say particularly air attacks because if that had been soldiers on the ground presumably they would have seen that it was a wedding party with women and children. And before you mention it, no, I’m not saying that the solution is to send in the Army.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Wait, being in the same environment would make you more cautious? It’d make me shoot first and ask questions later if my ass was on the line.

As far as the worth of targeted assassinations, it’s hard to predict what the dead guy would’ve done in the future. So you have to rely on his past. Targeting command and control structures of opposing forces has worked pretty well for centuries.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Wait, being in the same environment would make you more cautious? It’d make me shoot first and ask questions later if my ass was on the line.

Perhaps what he meant to say is that commanders (and hopefully politicians, though this is less likely) will be more cautious about sending in ground forces because of the increased risk, compared to their willingness to order air strikes since there’s comparatively little risk.

And there seems to be almost no consequences for anyone in the US if we hit the wrong people, which is maybe the root of this whole problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well, my solution would be to create a branch of the US government that can adjudicate whether or not a person is criminally guilty of the crimes that the administration says he is. One side would represent the administration and present the case that the suspect is guilty. Another side would represent the suspect and attempt to disprove the allegations. The judge, or jury, can then rule on whether the prosecution has proven the suspect guilty and, if so, whether such crimes warrant the death penalty. Such a system would help to filter targets and ensure that the people targeted for death are the ones who actually deserve it.

Of course, such a system is far to radical for this day and age.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d guess that targets are already filtered to a fairly high degree. You don’t throw a $68,000 missile at Hassan Bin Sobaar the mortar man. He’s not worth much more than an eight cent 7.62mm round.

BTW John, how many of the Americans killed in their IED blasts “deserved” it? Or is that somehow different?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Probably so. But I don’t think you’d hear a lot of whining from the citizens of the invading country if it used drones to take out the leadership of the resistance planting those IEDs.

God you guys are so soft. I’d have thought all those hours of playing Call Of Duty would have helped you develop at least a tiny set of balls.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The main issue I see with that is that it’d easily be rigged to have the most half-assed defenders who would lose 99% of their cases against the average Judge Judy viewer with no legal experience. Meanwhile the prosecutors will be ruthless sociopaths unconcerned with legality who fabricate and conceal evidence at will.

Dirkmaster (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Right on, John! We are spending WAY too much time saying “We gotta do this, because…terrorism” without ever asking what are we trying to accomplish? Because if it’s “keep everybody safe” or “end terrorism”, we might as well just tear up the Constitution, because you can’t do that in a free society. Hell, I don’t think you can do that PERIOD. But certainly not in a land of laws and civil liberties. But I think that if we quit murdering people in other countries because we think they might be terrorists, if we make a big show of it, it might start to make it so these countries hate us a little less. The fact is that we have SO lost the moral high road that we are every bit as bad as “our enemies”. Until we change THAT, we really can’t say or do anything ethically.

Anonymous Coward says:

No, soft. Softer than butter. Seriously? You want an adversarial procedure before a tribunal before our fighting men are allowed to take out the leadership of the enemy forces? Why? Is it limited to drone strikes or do our snipers have to hold their fire until they get permission to drop the hammer on an enemy commander. Since the dawn if humankind the command and control structure of enemy forces has always been targeted. Based on radio intercepts, the US shot down Admiral Yamamoto’s plane, killing him. You can’t be suggesting that there should first have been a hearing, can you?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Based on radio intercepts, the US shot down Admiral Yamamoto’s plane, killing him. You can’t be suggesting that there should first have been a hearing, can you?

The difference is it was clear who Yamamoto was, and even if they’d been wrong, it would have certainly at least been a member of an opposing military. With the current situation, it’s just “that guy behind the rock… no, the one on the left. Yeah, he’s a terrorist. Trust me – now kill him.” I don’t think our intelligence is good enough to conduct killings like that. If we were at war with another country and targeting their military leadership, it would be a whole different story. But we most definitely are not.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Due process for enemy commanders in a combat zone? It’s a war and enemy commanders are targeted.

What John said. Also, if I’m not mistaken, these are only combat zones because of the missiles and bombs we’re firing and dropping. If it were not for us, there wouldn’t be any combat there. We’re talking about attacking people wherever they happen to be at the time we find them, not killing soldiers and commanders on a battlefield.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Except that such targeted strikes are not the same as two armies arrayed in battle lines. The objective is still to kill battlefield commanders though. What would you recommend General? An artillery barrage? High altitude bombing?

The enemy hates the drone strikes and drone strikes are used because they’re so effective and killing high-value bad guys. And relative to deploying bombers or artillery, there’s comparatively little collateral damage.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

The enemy hates the drone strikes and drone strikes are used because they’re so effective and killing high-value bad guys.

You seriously think that’s the only reason? You don’t think people hate them because they’re afraid to go outside because of all the civilian casualties?

What would you recommend General?

I doubt there is a solution, because the first step is to decide what level of civilian casualties is acceptable. Politically, that’s impossible to do, so we can’t proceed to the next steps of analyzing the data to determine the current level of civilian casualties and changing our procedures to reduce the numbers if they are not acceptable.

So we continue killing civilians, apologizing, paying the families of the victims, and nothing changes. Because nobody in the US is really materially harmed when mistakes happen. As long as there is no target for collateral damage (as little as possible doesn’t count because you can’t reliably determine if it’s been met), that probably will not change. You can’t hold someone accountable for failing to meet a goal that doesn’t exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Earshplittin' Loudenboomers coming up.

That’s all right, boys. Keep it up. Eventually your victims will arrive at the opinion that they have nothing to lose. You’re going to kill them anyway, so they might as well get something out of it. Followed shortly by repeated incidents of the former victims carrying backpack nukes near US establishments, and setting them off.

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