Published on Thursday, September 8, 2011 by the Wall St. Journal
Drones Evolve Into Weapon in Age of Terror
Intelligence Services Overcome Philosophical, Legal Misgivings Over Targeted Killings; Pilotless Attacks Doubled in 2010
by Siobhan Gorman
The Sept. 11 attacks triggered a revolution in
But the greatest shift both in tactics and mindset has been the embrace of the pilotless, hunter-killer aircraft known as drones.
Fighting terrorists who acknowledge no boundaries, the CIA has in many ways returned to its World War II roots. Its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, was formed in 1942 under William "Wild Bill" Donovan to collect intelligence for the military, organizing guerrilla operations, parachuting into enemy territory and orchestrating sabotage.
"CIA has never looked more like its direct ancestor, the
The CIA, which doesn't formally acknowledge the covert program, has killed about 2,000 militants with drones,
In 2010, the number of drone strikes more than doubled, to 114, and this year, drone campaigns are expanding. The CIA now plans flights in
Legal challenges to the drone program have secured little traction. The main debate inside the government has been over how to execute the campaign without irreversibly damaging Pakistani cooperation.
American citizens can be targets, too. Under the legal authority for the drone program, the CIA must consult the National Security Council before capturing an American posing an imminent threat, but no additional consultation is required to kill an American, a former senior intelligence official said.
"The reason there hasn't been more of an outcry about it is, it's the Obama administration defending this authority," said the American Civil Liberties Union's Jameel Jaffer. "But the authority is going to be used not just by this administration but the next one, and not just the war on terror but the next war."
As the reliance on the drone campaign grows, some intelligence veterans are quietly questioning whether the remote-control killings violate ethical boundaries. "They shouldn't be judge, jury and executioner," said a former
American unease with assassination dates back to the CIA's 1960s-era plots to kill figures such as Cuba's Fidel Castro, which spurred President Gerald Ford to issue an executive order banning political assassination.
CIA officials split in the 1980s over how to interpret the ban, according to Robert Chesney, a
The rise of the drone program can be dated to about a decade later, when in 1998 President Bill Clinton authorized the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his senior associates. But White House and CIA officials disagreed on whether they could kill the terrorist leader.
The next year, with al Qaeda hiding in
"We thought, we need to be able to see him and kill him at the same time," said then-White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke.
The CIA group set out to arm the Predator and had a version in the summer of 2001. But officials decided not to launch it. Some felt that the technology wasn't proven, and others worried that it would be seen as a lethal weapon theCIA didn't have sufficient authority to use..
"We built it, and everyone was getting in a tizzy because it was an 'assassination tool,' " recalled the former
There also were disagreements over who should pay for it, other former officials said. In addition, questions lingered about the craft's missile-firing technology, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet.
After Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush moved to authorize covert action, including for those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Armed-drone testing grounds quickly moved from the
In 2002, the CIA and military split drone responsibilities, with the CIA taking
But by 2006, the
Mr. Obama had campaigned on refocusing the terrorism fight on al Qaeda. He and his team quickly sought to expand the drone program after his election in 2008. At the same time, the Obama team and worked to reduce civilian casualties. Pakistanis and human rights groups contest CIA claims that civilian deaths have been minimal. On Jan. 1, 2009, the CIA killed two top Al Qaeda planners, reinforcing the importance of the program for the incoming Obama team. Another hit that renewed the administration's commitment, a
That fall, Mr. Obama approved a doubling of the CIA's predator fleet from seven to 14 drone orbits, which usually consist of three planes.
© 2011 Wall St. Journal
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs