JFP 2/19: Could We Move Dianne Feinstein on CIA Oversight?

Just Foreign Policy News, February 19, 2013
Could We Move Dianne Feinstein on CIA Oversight?

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

Do you live in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Maine, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana, or Idaho?
If you do, you have a Senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Why not call them during the Senate recess, urging them to support a public hearing on CIA drone strikes? All the info you need is here.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1378

Could We Move Dianne Feinstein on CIA Oversight?
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to oversee the Central Intelligence Agency, has never held a public hearing on CIA drone strikes. Indeed, in the year prior to the confirmation hearing of John Brennan to head the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee never held any public hearing on any issue whatsoever, which Steven Aftergood of the Federation of Americans Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy says "may be an unprecedented hiatus in the history of the Senate Committee."
If we could get a hundred calls into each of Feinstein's four California offices during the Senate recess - a fraction of a percent of the politically engaged, hard core opponents of the drone strike policy - do you think Sen. Feinstein might agree to hold a public hearing?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/could-we-move-dianne-fein_b_2707958.html

Senator Feinstein: Hold a Public Hearing on CIA Drone Strikes
The Senate Intelligence Committee has never held a public hearing on CIA drone strikes. Maybe that's why Senator Feinstein wasn't aware of reports that the CIA was counting every "military-age male" killed in a drone strike as a militant. The committee should hold a public hearing. Amnesty International backs this demand. Sign our petition at SignOn.
http://signon.org/sign/senator-feinstein-hold?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

5 Broken Cameras is on Netflix
Five Broken Cameras, the Academy Award-nominated Palestinian-Israeli documentary about nonviolent resistance to land confiscation in Bilin, is on Netflix. Have you seen it yet?

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) According to a new national survey, Americans believe only high-level suspects who may be involved in planning attacks against the U.S. should be targeted in U.S. drone strikes - and not if there's a risk that innocent people may also be killed, Emily Swanson reports for the Huffington Post. According to the Huffpost/YouGov poll, 56 percent of Americans say that the drone program should be used to target and kill high-level terrorists, while only 13 percent say that anyone suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should be targeted. Another 13 percent said that nobody should be killed using the drones program.

Only 27 percent of respondents said they were in favor of using the program if there was a possibility of killing innocent people, while 43 percent said they were opposed. Republicans in the survey were evenly divided on whether to use drone strikes if there was a risk of killing innocents, but both Democrats and independents were more likely to oppose than favor such strikes.

2) Jason Linkins, writing at the Huffington Post, uses the new poll data to demolish claims by the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza that public support for the drone strike policy is a settled issue. Linkins notes that Cillizza cited poll data that was at least a year old, and that the YouGov poll shows that the majority of Americans have a more nuanced view: it matters who is being targeted, and it matters whether civilians are being killed.

3) A report in the New York Times following Sunday's climate rally in Washington claims that President Obama faces a difficult decision on the Keystone pipeline, because supporting the pipeline will alienate environmental advocates who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy, while rejecting it will alienate the Conservative government in Canada, which has threatened to retaliate.

[Strikingly, the NYT list of possible "retaliations" to be feared overwhelmingly consists of withdrawing Conservative Canadian government support for policies that the majority of Americans have no stake in, including the war in Afghanistan, harsh sanctions on Iran, reducing oil imports from Venezuela, and ensuring purchases of the F-35 fighter plane, which Pentagon spending critics say is an unaffordable boondoggle that should be canceled outright. - JFP.]

[We just put out an action alert in response to this dumb article; that link follows - JFP.]
Are Dumb Foreign Policies Holding Us Back On Addressing Climate Change?
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/reject-keystone

[Expert Pentagon spending critic Winslow Wheeler says the F-35 program is an unaffordable boondoggle that should be canceled outright; that link follows - JFP]

"The Jet That Ate the Pentagon: The F-35 is a boondoggle. It's time to throw it in the trash bin," Winslow Wheeler, Foreign Policy, April 26, 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/26/the_jet_that_ate_the_pentagon

4) Sen. Jim Inhofe is the ranking Republican member on Senate Armed Services and has been one of the leading figures opposing Chuck Hagel's nomination, notes Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon. Inhofe told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogan that Hagel's relatively soft stance on Hamas, among other things, meant that Inhofe could not support him.

But in 2006, after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Inhofe did not seem concerned. Hamas has done "some good things, even as a terrorist group," he told the Oklahoman. He compared the group to one of the US' largest charities, saying Hamas is like "the Salvation Army with loaded guns." "I would prefer that they not have won, but I don't think it's the end of the world," he added.

5) Sen. McCain wants to move the armed drone program to the Pentagon, arguing that the CIA should not be running it, Amanda Terkel reports for the Huffington Post. "What we really need to do is take this whole program out of the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency and put it into the Department of Defense, where you have adequate oversight, you have committee oversight, you have all the things that are built in as our oversight of the Department of Defense," McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Since when is the intelligence agency supposed to be an air force of drones that goes around killing people?" McCain asked. "I believe that it's a job for the Department of Defense."

6) Facing growing pressure to lift the veil of secrecy around targeted killings overseas, the Obama administration is considering shifting more of the CIA's covert drone program to the Pentagon, which operates under legal guidelines that could allow for more public disclosure in some cases, Ken Dilanian reports for the Los Angeles Times. John Brennan, whom President Obama has nominated to run the CIA, favors moving the bulk of drone killing operations to the military, current and former U.S. officials say.

Under U.S. law that governs the military, known as Title 10, operations may be kept secret but officials have the option of disclosing them. Under the law applicable for the CIA, Title 50, covert operations require a presidential finding and stay classified unless the president expressly declassifies them. Given those restrictions, it is uncertain how much more transparency the Pentagon would provide than the CIA, Dilanian writes.

Some officials see pitfalls in transferring the CIA drone campaign to the military. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says the risk of mistakes could increase if the military doesn't have full access to CIA intelligence. But Brennan says CIA-military coordination has improved.

Syria
7) Although President Obama previous rejected a proposal to arm the Syrian opposition, officials might now reopen the debate, the New York Times reports. Obama's previous decision not to provide arms was driven by his reluctance to get drawn into a proxy war and by his fear that the weapons would end up in unreliable hands, where they could be used against civilians or Israeli and American interests; UN ambassador Susan Rice was also opposed, the Times says. On Monday, EU foreign ministers decided against easing an arms moratorium despite objections by Britain.

A big question is whether the makeup of Obama's new team would discourage the likelihood of a major policy shift, the Times says. Secretary of State Kerry has said he plans to advance ideas on how to change the situation in Syria later this month, ideas that appear to include eliciting more cooperation from the Kremlin. Chuck Hagel, the president's nominee for defense secretary, has expressed reluctance, dating back to the Iraq war, to become entangled in foreign conflicts. One official said John Brennan's background suggested he might be more focused on bolstering the CIA's clandestine intelligence-gathering capabilities instead of its paramilitary-style operations.

Afghanistan
8) For the first time in six years the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan declined, according to the annual UN report on civilian casualties, the New York Times reports. The decline was primarily the result of the slowing pace of the war; more fighting by Afghan forces, who use less lethal weapons than the US; and an assiduous effort by the Western-led forces to reduce the impact on civilians, the report indicated.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Opinion On Drones Depends On Who's Being Killed: Poll
Emily Swanson, Huffington Post, 02/15/2013
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/drones-opinion_n_2689813.html

According to the new national survey, Americans believe that only high-level suspects who may be involved in planning attacks should be targeted -- and not if there's a risk that innocent people may also be killed.

According to the new Huffpost/YouGov poll, 56 percent of Americans say that the drone program should be used to target and kill high-level terrorists, while only 13 percent say that anyone suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should be targeted. Another 13 percent said that nobody should be killed using the drones program. A majority of Americans across most demographic and partisan groups agreed that the program should be used for high-level targets.
[...]
Only 27 percent of respondents said they were in favor of using the program if there was a possibility of killing innocent people, while 43 percent said they were opposed. Republicans in the survey were evenly divided on whether to use drone strikes if there was a risk of killing innocents, but both Democrats and independents were more likely to oppose than favor such strikes.
[...]
While media reports have largely asserted that the program is limited to senior-level targets, a New America Foundation report found that only 2 percent of those killed met that definition. One memo justifying the program repeatedly refers to a "member" of a terrorist group, without qualifying the seniority of that member.

A previous HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 54 percent of Americans approve of using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects, with 18 percent saying that they disapprove. That support dropped below 50 percent if the suspects being targeted were American citizens, although more approved than disapproved even under that circumstance, 43 percent to 27 percent. As with the new poll, though, support dropped even further if civilians might also be killed, with 29 percent saying they approved and 42 percent saying they disapproved.

A poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center also found that endangering civilians is the aspect of the drones program that concerns civilians the most. Fifty-three percent of respondents to that survey said they were very concerned about drones endangering civilian lives. Only 32 percent said they were very concerned that drone strikes could lead to retaliation by extremists, 31 percent said they were very concerned about whether the program is conducted legally, and 26 percent said they were very concerned that drones could damage America's reputation.

The relative lack of concern in Pew's survey about whether the drone program is conducted legally perhaps helps to explain another aspect of public opinion: Although the earlier HuffPost/YouGov survey found that more Americans approve than disapprove of killing high-level terrorism suspects who are American citizens, another recent poll, this one conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, found that by a 48 percent to 24 percent margin most respondents said that doing so was illegal. In the debate over drones, moral concerns about killing innocents seem to outweigh legal concerns about killing Americans.
[...]

2) Drone Program Poll: The Public Does Not Uncritically Embrace Targeted Killings
Jason Linkins, Huffington Post, 02/15/2013
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/drone-program-poll_n_2696352.html

Michael Isikoff's Feb. 4 report on the "white paper" -- a 16-page memo that laid out, in part, the legal underpinnings that guide the Obama administration's policy of carrying out what they call "targeted killings" with drones -- ushered the use of drones back into the public consciousness.

The "targeted killing" policy, famously and controversially, extends to American citizens, and the release of the white paper brought all of those attendant controversies to new bloom -- so much so that President Barack Obama was compelled to (glancingly!) mention the policy during his State of the Union address this week.

Yet somehow, two days after Isikoff's story blew up, Chris Cillizza put up a post at the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog that strongly suggested the matter was a settled issue, at least where the American people were concerned. Titled "The American public loves drones," it presented some compelling poll findings, conducted by the Post and ABC News, in which they found that "eight in ten Americans (83 percent) approved of the Obama Administrations use of unmanned drones against suspected terrorists overseas -- with a whopping 59 percent strongly approving of the practice," and that "two-thirds of people in the survey" expressed an approval for "using drones to target American citizens who are suspected terrorists."

Cillizza also included similar findings from a Pew poll, dovetailing with the Post's own, and this was apparently sufficient to suffuse this report with language that connoted a certain finality:

"But, it's also important to remember as the drone debate gains steam in Washington that there is little public appetite for an extended look at how unmanned attacks fit into our broader national security policy. Minds are made up on the matter. And, if the public has anything to do with it, drones are here to stay."

Ahh, but here's the rub: The two polls Cillizza mentions are from February 2012 (Washington Post/ABC News) and September 2011 (Pew) -- both well before Isikoff's actual news broke and re-ignited the debate.

So I have no idea why Cillizza would say something like, "It's important to remember as the drone debate gains steam in Washington that there is little public appetite for an extended look" at the issue. Temporally speaking, this is illiterate: His examination of the public's appetite is based on ancient history. (You'd think he would also be able to handle the whole concept of newly broken news reopening a debate and reshaping public opinion.)

As it happens, The Huffington Post, in conjunction with YouGov, has poll results on the matter from a survey conducted after Isikoff's story broke, and guess what? Blind support for drones is not nearly as monolithic as Cillizza contends, and it pretty much all depends on who is getting transformed into charred human remains.

In the main, Americans are largely supportive of using drone strikes to kill "high-level terrorists." From there, however, they get wobbly:

"According to the new Huffpost/YouGov poll, 56 percent of Americans say that the drone program should be used to target and kill high-level terrorists, while only 13 percent say that anyone suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should be targeted. Another 13 percent said that nobody should be killed using the drone program. A majority of Americans across most demographic and partisan groups agreed that the program should be used for high-level targets."

Naturally, there's little support for using drones to just kill any old terrorist functionary -- we're told we have a huge deficit problem, after all! And the media tends to overstate the extent to which "high-level targets" are being exclusively targeted at a high level. According to a study conducted by the New America Foundation, "only 2 percent of those killed met that definition."

The killing of innocent bystanders also has been largely obscured by the media's uncritical embrace of the term "militant" -- which, as Glenn Greenwald points out is simply a euphemism for "any human being whose life is extinguished when an American missile or bomb detonates." When The New York Times reported on the Obama administration's "kill list," the convenient elasticity of the relevant terminology merited a mention:

"Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
[...]
"This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths."

Read further in that Times report, and you'll find opinions from members of the intelligence community, who fret that this is essentially "'guilt by association' that has led to 'deceptive' estimates of civilian casualties."

The salient point is this, however: Respondents in the HuffPost/YouGov survey take a very dim view of the drone program "if there was a possibility of killing innocent people," with only 27 percent in favor.

Lawmakers, when they hear assertions about the public's widespread, uncritical embrace of the drone program, tend to get skittish about questioning the program's use, effectiveness or legality. The news I would share with such lawmakers is that the public's widespread, uncritical embrace of the drone program has been greatly exaggerated, full stop. Make of that what you will.

3) Obama Faces Risks in Pipeline Decision
John M. Broder, Clifford Krauss and Ian Austen, New York Times, February 17, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/18/business/energy-environment/obamas-keystone-pipeline-decision-risks-new-problems-either-way.html

President Obama faces a knotty decision in whether to approve the much-delayed Keystone oil pipeline: a choice between alienating environmental advocates who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy or causing a deep and perhaps lasting rift with Canada.

Canada, the United States' most important trading partner and a close ally on Iran and Afghanistan, is counting on the pipeline to propel more growth in its oil patch, a vital engine for its economy. Its leaders have made it clear that an American rejection would be viewed as an unneighborly act and could bring retaliation.
[...]
But this is also a decisive moment for the United States environmental movement, which backed Mr. Obama strongly in the last two elections. For groups like the Sierra Club, permitting a pipeline carrying more than 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude into the country would be viewed as a betrayal, and as a contradiction of the president's promises in his second inaugural and State of the Union addresses to make controlling climate change a top priority for his second term.

On Sunday, thousands rallied near the Washington Monument to protest the pipeline and call for firmer steps to fight emissions of climate-changing gases. Groups opposing coal production, nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas were prominent; separate groups of Baptists and Catholics, as well as an interfaith coalition, and groups from Colorado, Toronto and Minneapolis joined the throng.
[...]
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, predicted that Mr. Obama would veto the $7 billion project because of the adverse effects development of the Canadian oil sands would have on the global climate.

"It's rare that a president has such a singular voice on such a major policy decision," Mr. Brune said. "Whatever damage approving the pipeline would do to the environmental movement pales in comparison to the damage it could do to his own legacy."

Mr. Brune was one of about four dozen pipeline protesters arrested at the White House on Wednesday, in an act of civil disobedience that was a first for the 120-year-old Sierra Club.
[...]
The proposed northern extension of the nearly 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline would connect Canada's oil sands to refineries around Houston and the Gulf of Mexico, replacing Venezuelan heavy crude with similar Canadian grades.

Proponents say its approval would be an important step toward reducing reliance on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for energy. Opponents say that the expansion of oil production in shale fields across the country has already reduced the need for imports. Environmentalists have singled out the pipeline because it would carry oil derived from tar sands, in a process that is dirtier than other forms of oil production and that releases more carbon dioxide.
[...]
The Keystone pipeline is treated mainly as a domestic issue in Washington. But for Canada's Conservative government, which has its power base in the oil-rich province of Alberta, it represents a crucial moment in Canada's relationship with its most vital foreign partner even if the oil sands are also a divisive issue within Canada. Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not close, and the two make a portrait of contrasts in style and substance. While Mr. Obama comes from the liberal wing of his party and is known for stirring speeches, Mr. Harper is conservative even by the standards of his own Conservative Party and can be stiff in public. His political base, the province of Alberta, is the heart of the Canadian oil patch.

Mr. Obama's recent expressions of concern about climate change contrast starkly with Mr. Harper's stated priorities. Under Mr. Harper, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which was agreed to by a previous Liberal government. (The United States never ratified the protocol.)

Still, the amount of Canadian oil that the United States imports daily - 2.4 million barrels, roughly twice what it imports from Saudi Arabia - points up a cornerstone of Mr. Obama's goal to decrease dependence on oil from the unstable Middle East and unreliable sources like Venezuela. The Keystone pipeline would increase Canadian oil imports by more than 700,000 barrels a day, the equivalent of roughly two-thirds of Venezuelan imports.

Canadian leaders are cautious not to threaten the Obama administration directly, but they suggest that if the pipeline is not permitted, the close relationship between the countries will be damaged and Canada forced to look elsewhere, particularly to China, for new energy markets.
[...]
Experts who follow United States-Canada relations say that they do not expect Ottawa to retaliate overtly if the Keystone project is not approved, but that a rejection could influence future decisions on purchases of American F-35 fighter jets and other trade and border matters.

[...]
The shortage of pipeline capacity has produced localized supply gluts, forcing the price of Canadian crude well below American and international benchmarks. If the Keystone pipeline is not completed, energy experts say, weak prices will make the economics of future oil sands projects questionable.
[...]

4) More GOP Hagel hypocrisy
The senator leading the charge against Hagel on Israel had some kind words for Hamas in 2006
Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, Thursday, Feb 14, 2013 05:22
http://www.salon.com/2013/02/14/more_gop_hagel_hypocrisy/

When Senate Republicans blocked Chuck Hagel's confirmation to be secretary of Defense this afternoon by voting against a cloture motion to end debate and move to a final vote, they insisted it was not a filibuster. "This is not a filibuster. I realize that's the headline the majority leader would like the papers to write," Texas Sen. John Cornyn said on the Senate floor while filibustering Hagel.

The cloture motion fell two votes short, securing only 58 of the 60 votes Democrats needed to break the GOP obstruction. Republicans had 40 votes against cloture, and in the crazy rules of the Senate, that wins.

The hold or filibuster, or whatever Cornyn would call it, came as conservatives buzzed about a speech Hagel gave to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League (ADC) in 2007. A conservative blog today claimed that Hagel suggested in the speech that Israel controlled the State Department. The former Republican senator has come under fire from Republicans for being critical of Israeli policy in the past and referring to the "Israel lobby," so the State Department quote would be problematic, if true.

It turns out Hagel may have said no such thing, though he did talk of cooperation with Iran on Afghanistan, including the idea of reopening a consulate in the country, which may pose its own political problems.

But the increasingly unhinged campaign against Hagel has been so single-minded in its quest to dig up dirt on him that it has seized on anything that has even a whiff of pro-Palestianian, anti-Israel slant, no matter how dubious. For instance, the bogus claim that Hagel received donations from a nonexistent group called "Friends of Hamas" plays perfectly into the notion that he coddled the sometimes terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. But it has the disadvantage of being untrue.

Applying the Republicans' standard on Hagel to others - including themselves - complicates the situation.

Take Sen. Jim Inhofe, for instance. He's the ranking Republican member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has been one of the leading figures opposing Hagel's nomination. Inhofe told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogan that Hagel's relatively soft stance on Hamas, among other things, meant that Inhofe could not support him.

But in 2006, after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Inhofe did not seem concerned. Hamas has done "some good things, even as a terrorist group," he told the Oklahoman. He compared the group to one of the country's largest charities, saying Hamas is like "the Salvation Army with loaded guns."

"I would prefer that they not have won, but I don't think it's the end of the world," he added.

The quote may not be damning on its own, but if there were a concerted smear campaign against Inhofe's stance on Israel, it would be about as bad as anything brought against Hagel. In other words, using his current standard, Jim Inhofe might have a hard time voting to confirm Jim Inhofe.

5) Obama Drone Program Should Be Run By Pentagon, John McCain Says
Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, 02/10/2013
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/10/obama-drone-program_n_2657884.html

Washington -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to move the federal government's armed drone program to the Pentagon, arguing that the CIA should not be running it.

"What we really need to do is take this whole program out of the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency and put it into the Department of Defense, where you have adequate oversight, you have committee oversight, you have all the things that are built in as our oversight of the Department of Defense," McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Since when is the intelligence agency supposed to be an air force of drones that goes around killing people?" McCain asked. "I believe that it's a job for the Department of Defense."
[...]

6) CIA's covert drone program may shift further onto Pentagon
Such a move would allow more public disclosure of targeted killings overseas, which have been criticized in part for their secrecy.
Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2013
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-targeted-killing-20130217,0,4132350.story

Washington - Facing growing pressure to lift the veil of secrecy around targeted killings overseas, the Obama administration is considering shifting more of the CIA's covert drone program to the Pentagon, which operates under legal guidelines that could allow for more public disclosure in some cases.

John Brennan, whom President Obama has nominated to run the CIA, favors moving the bulk of drone killing operations to the military, current and former U.S. officials say. As White House counter-terrorism advisor for the last four years, Brennan has overseen the steady increase in targeted killings of suspected militants and Al Qaeda operatives.

In written comments released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is considering his nomination, Brennan said coordination between the CIA and Pentagon had improved. He vowed that if confirmed, he would work closely with Defense officials "to ensure there is no unnecessary redundancy in … capabilities and missions."

The proposed shift follows the president's vow in his State of the Union speech Tuesday to be "even more transparent" about the "targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists."

Under U.S. law that governs the military, known as Title 10, operations may be kept secret but officials have the option of disclosing them. Under the law applicable for the CIA, Title 50, covert operations require a presidential finding and stay classified unless the president expressly declassifies them.

Given those restrictions, it is uncertain how much more transparency the Pentagon would provide than the CIA. However, many at the CIA would welcome a reallocation of more drone operations to the Pentagon to help the agency refocus on its traditional mission as a spy service. It also could ease mounting congressional concerns about mission creep and a lack of accountability for errors, including civilian casualties.

"Despite all of the demands made on it over the last four years, the CIA has to continually remind itself that it is above all the nation's global espionage and analysis service," Michael Hayden, who led the agency from 2006 to 2009, said in an interview.


Some officials see pitfalls in transferring the CIA drone campaign to the military.

Most CIA targeting decisions are based on highly sensitive intelligence from secret informants or other sources. The agency would abhor revealing much about its sources. But if it didn't, that could undermine military confidence in the targeting information.

"The whole logic of the drone is that you're not making a split-second decision like a commando on the ground," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who has advised the White House about Afghanistan and Pakistan. "You have the luxury of loitering over the target for a long period of time to make sure you're as confident you can be that you've got the right target. The only way that works is if the people running the airplane know everything we know. It seems to me the risk of mistakes goes up, not down, if that is not the case."

The CIA has never publicly acknowledged its covert drone program. By contrast, the Pentagon has acknowledged flying armed drones in the war zones of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The military also has used remotely piloted aircraft to surveil Somali pirates at sea, the scene of a recent terrorist attack in Algeria and threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf, for example.

More transparency may cause problems for nations known to host U.S. drone bases, including Afghanistan, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and soon, Niger, if lethal operations were openly acknowledged, former U.S. officials said. In Pakistan, for example, it's difficult to see how the U.S. military could openly operate without Pakistani government approval. The CIA's official silence allows Islamabad to refrain from any involvement and to deny any complicity.

The Pakistani news media and public assume the drone attacks, which are highly unpopular, are American.

But "it's one thing for everyone to know something, and it's another for the U.S. government to publicly confirm it," a former intelligence official said.

Yemen offers greater flexibility. If the U.S. military took over all of the attacks, U.S. officials would be free to say more in public about them, particularly since the government in Sana supports the program.

The public got a glimpse of the military's clandestine counter-terrorism program in June, when Obama disclosed that U.S. forces had engaged Al Qaeda militants in Somalia and Yemen. The disclosure, which did not describe specific operations, was made under the War Powers Act, which requires Congress to be informed about military action.
[...]

Syria
7) Obama Could Revisit Arming Syria Rebels as Assad Holds Firm
Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, February 18, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/world/middleeast/as-assad-holds-firm-obama-could-revisit-arms-policy.html

Washington - When President Obama rebuffed four of his top national security officials who wanted to arm the rebels in Syria last fall, he put an end to a months of debate over how aggressively Washington should respond to the strife there that has now left nearly 70,000 dead.

But the decision also left the White House with no clear strategy to resolve a crisis that has bedeviled it since a popular uprising erupted against President Bashar al-Assad almost two years ago. Despite an American program of nonlethal assistance to the opponents of the Syrian government and $365 million in humanitarian aid, Mr. Obama appears to be running out of ways to speed Mr. Assad's exit.

With conditions continuing to deteriorate, officials could reopen the debate over providing weapons to select members of the resistance in an effort to break the impasse in Syria. The question is whether a wary Mr. Obama, surrounded by a new national security team, would come to a different conclusion. "This is not a closed decision," a senior administration official said. "As the situation evolves, as our confidence increases, we might revisit it."

Mr. Obama's decision not to provide arms when the proposal was broached before the November election, officials said, was driven by his reluctance to get drawn into a proxy war and by his fear that the weapons would end up in unreliable hands, where they could be used against civilians or Israeli and American interests.

As the United States struggles to formulate a policy, however, Mr. Assad has given no sign that he is ready to yield power, and the Syrian resistance has been adamant that it will not negotiate a transition in which he has a role.

Even if Mr. Assad was overthrown, the convulsion could fragment Syria along sectarian and ethnic lines, each faction supported by competing outside powers, said Paul Salem, who runs the Middle East office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Syria," he said, "is in the process not of transitioning but disintegrating."

The debate over Syria is not limited to the United States. On Monday, European Union foreign ministers decided against easing an arms moratorium despite objections by Britain. In what appeared to be a compromise, the ministers agreed to "provide greater nonlethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians," according to the European Union's Web site.
[...]
The arming plan that was considered last year originated with David H. Petraeus, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and was supported by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
[...]
But the president, who had campaigned on the theme that "the tide of war" was receding, was more skeptical, fearing that such a move would, in effect, draw the United States into a proxy war against the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian backers, with uncertain results. His wariness was reinforced, officials said, by his closest advisers, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, both of whom advised against it.

Also skeptical, officials said, was Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations. Her opposition was noteworthy, given that she had pushed for military intervention in Libya.

"In a situation as chaotic as Syria's," said an official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, "you don't know where weapons might end up, and what the consequences are if those weapons are used against civilians, against Israel, against American interests."

To avoid any risk of Israeli aircraft being targeted if weapons fell into the wrong hands, the plan would not have provided rebels with shoulder-fired missiles. But that meant that the operation would be less effective against Mr. Assad's forces.

After Mr. Petraeus resigned because of an extramarital affair and Mrs. Clinton was sidelined with a concussion, the issue was shelved.
[...]
A big question is whether the makeup of Mr. Obama's new team would discourage the likelihood of a major policy shift. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that he plans to advance ideas on how to change the situation on his first trip later this month, ideas that appear to include eliciting more cooperation from the Kremlin.
[...]
Chuck Hagel, the president's nominee for defense secretary, who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, has expressed reluctance, dating back to the Iraq war, to become entangled in foreign conflicts.

Mr. Petraeus's likely replacement at the C.I.A., John O. Brennan, is a 25-year veteran of the agency. One official said Mr. Brennan's background suggested he might be more focused on bolstering its clandestine intelligence-gathering capabilities instead of its paramilitary-style operations.
[...]

Afghanistan
8) U.N. Report Shows Fewer Killings of Afghan Civilians, Suggesting Shift in War
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, February 19, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/world/asia/un-reports-decline-in-killings-of-afghan-civilians.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - For the first time in six years the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan declined, according to the annual United Nations report on civilian casualties.

The decline was primarily the result of the slowing pace of the war; more fighting by Afghan forces, who use less lethal weapons; and an assiduous effort by the Western-led forces to reduce the impact on civilians, the report indicated.
[...]
The report found that the number killed in 2012 dropped to 2,754 from 3,021 the previous year. The number of injured rose, however, to 4,805 from 4,507.
[...]
The report suggests subtle but measurable ways that the war is beginning to change as Afghans take over from Western forces and as the Taliban and other insurgents avoid head-on confrontations and rely increasingly on improvised explosive devices and targeted killings.

A factor that United Nations researchers found accounted for the drop in casualties was a reduction in ground engagements, which in some areas may be because of a declining number of Western forces. In other areas, there was an increase in engagements between the Taliban or other insurgents and the Afghan National Security Forces, but because the Afghan forces were less likely to have heavy weapons, the number of civilians killed appears to have dropped.

The Taliban and other insurgents increasingly focused their attacks on police headquarters in district centers, on checkpoints run by the Afghan National Police or Afghan Local Police, and on government convoys. While those resulted in casualties, they often included relatively few civilians.
[...]
A major factor was the drop in civilian casualties caused by airstrikes, which fell by 42 percent from 2011. That reflected a new set of directives issued last June by Gen. John R. Allen, then the commander of the International Security Assistance Force. He publicly said his goal was to reduce civilian casualties to zero, and required that any air attacks be approved by commanders at several levels.
[...]


--

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just 'Foreign Policy News is here:


http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews





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