EXCLUSIVE: CIA didn't always know who it was killing in drone strikes, classified documents show

Josh_R

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Jan 29, 2005
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#1
By Richard Engel and Robert Windrem
NBC News

The CIA did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period, an NBC News review of classified intelligence reports shows.
About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as "other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.
The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists -- picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”
Three former senior Obama administration officials also told NBC News that some White House officials were worried that the CIA had painted too rosy a picture of its success and likely ignored or missed mistakes when tallying death totals.

NBC News has reviewed two sets of classified documents that describe 114 drone strikes over 14 months in Pakistan and Afghanistan, starting in September 2010. The documents list locations, death and injury tolls, alleged terrorist affiliations, and whether the killed and injured were deemed combatants or non-combatants.
Though the Obama administration has previously said it targets al Qaeda leaders and senior Taliban officials plotting attacks against the U.S. and U.S. troops, officials are sometimes unsure of the targets’ affiliations. About half of the targets in the documents are described as al Qaeda. But in 26 of the attacks, accounting for about a quarter of the fatalities, those killed are described only as “other militants.” In four others, the dead are described as “foreign fighters.”
In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22.
Yet officials seem certain that however many people died, and whoever they were, none of them were non-combatants. In fact, of the approximately 600 people listed as killed in the documents, only one is described as a civilian. The individual was identified to NBC News as the wife or girlfriend of an al Qaeda leader.


Micah Zenko, a former State Department policy advisor who is now a drone expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “incredible” to state that only one non-combatant was killed. “It’s just not believable,” he said. “Anyone who knows anything about how airpower is used and deployed, civilians die, and individuals who are engaged in the operations know this.”
The CIA uses two basic methods to target people for killing, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The first is called a “personality” strike. These strikes target known terrorists, whose identities have been firmly established through intelligence, including visual surveillance and electronic and human intelligence. In other words, the CIA knows who it is killing.
In so-called “signature” strikes, intelligence officers and drone operators kill suspects based on their patterns of behavior -- but without positive identification. With signature strikes, the CIA doesn’t necessarily know who it is killing. One former senior intelligence official said that at the height of the drone program in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, as many as half of the strikes were classified as signature strikes.
Analysts use a variety of intelligence methods and technologies that they say give them reasonable certainty that the “signature” target is a terrorist. Part of the analysis involves crunching data to make connections between the unidentified suspects and other known terrorists and militants. The agency can watch, for example, as an unknown person frequents places, meets individuals, makes phone calls, and sends emails, and then match those against other people linked to the same calls, emails and meetings.
A half dozen former and current U.S. counter-terrorism officials told NBC News that signature strikes do generally kill combatants, but acknowledge that intelligence officials doesn’t always know who those combatants are. Some of the officials said the moral and legal aspects of the signature strikes were often discussed, but without any significant change in policy.


He also defended the precision of drone strikes in general. “In Afghanistan and Iraq and places where you have troops in combat,” said Blair, “you know better with drones who you’re killing than you do when you’re calling in artillery fire from a spotter [or] calling in an airplane strike.”
Said Blair, “This is no different from decisions that are made on the battlefield all the time by soldiers and Marines who are being shot at, not knowing who fired the shot, having to make judgments on shooting back or not. This is the nature of warfare.”
Once a target has been killed, according to current and former U.S. officials, the CIA does not take someone out of the combatant category and put them in the non-combatant category unless, after the strike, a preponderance of evidence is produced showing the person killed was a civilian.
A 2012 AP investigation reported that in 10 drone attacks from the preceding 18 months, Pakistani villagers said that about 70 percent of those killed were militants, while the rest of the dead were either civilians or tribal police. The AP report notes that Pakistani officials and villagers claimed that 38 non-combatants were killed in a single strike on March 17, 2011.
According to the AP, U.S. officials said the group hit by the strike was heavily armed and behaved in “a manner consistent with al Qaeda-linked militants.” Villagers and Pakistani officials said the gathering was a “jirga,” or community meeting, in which locals were negotiating with a small group of militants over mining rights.
U.S. officials listed 20 to 22 dead in the strike, according to the documents obtained by NBC News, and described them as “other militants.” A former U.S. official told NBC News the drone attack was a “signature” strike, while a U.S. human rights advocate who has interviewed local villagers – and is skeptical of Pakistani claims of widespread civilian casualties from drone strikes -- supported the Pakistani description of the meeting as a jirga and most of the victims as non-combatants.
 

Konstantin K

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Aug 25, 2010
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#2
But they were all brown, right? I don't see a problem.
 

tattered

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#3
But they were all brown, right? I don't see a problem.
Would you like some literature about joining my club? Its small club of like minded individuals. Its called The Aryan Nation
 

Konstantin K

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#4
Would you like some literature about joining my club? Its small club of like minded individuals. Its called The Aryan Nation
I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
 

d0uche_n0zzle

**Negative_Creep**
Sep 15, 2004
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#6
If its yellow, be mellow. If its brown, flush it down...
 

Mags

LDAR, bitch.
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#7
Why is this even a story? Soldier on, brave drone drivers.
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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#14
In other news: Harry Truman didn't have a list of everyone in Hiroshima, when Little Boy was dropped. Which brings us to the difference between war and law enforcement: war is fought against nations and/or other groups of people, law enforcement is carried out against individual criminals.

If the LAPD dropped a bomb on a house without knowing who's in it, I'd be upset. When the US military does it in a warzone like Northern Pakistan, I just wish they'd use bigger bombs.
 

Party Rooster

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Apr 27, 2005
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#15
4:55 seems contradictory.
Of course it does. Because you didn't listen to the whole thing.

Obama said:
Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. Even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists - our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.

This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.
And it was the administration that was questioning the CIA's tallying of the numbers.

Three former senior Obama administration officials also told NBC News that some White House officials were worried that the CIA had painted too rosy a picture of its success and likely ignored or missed mistakes when tallying death totals.
So in a sense, it's this:

Making omelets, breaking eggs.
Fixed to point out hypocrisy

Thank you!
No, hypocrisy would be if I bitched about it when Bush did it. And again, please show me where candidate Obama said he wouldn't do this. Thank you!
 

mikeybot

SPANAKOPITA!!!
Jul 25, 2005
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#17
No, hypocrisy would be if I bitched about it when Bush did it. And again, please show me where candidate Obama said he wouldn't do this. Thank you!

No, hypocrisy is someone winning a Nobel Peace Prize and then authorizing drone attacks left and right.
I wasn't calling you a hypocrite, I was calling Barry one.
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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#18
No, hypocrisy is someone winning a Nobel Peace Prize and then authorizing drone attacks left and right.
I wasn't calling you a hypocrite, I was calling Barry one.
You should be calling the Nobel Committee hypocrites for that one.
 

Hate & Discontent

Yo, homie. Is that my briefcase?
Aug 22, 2005
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#20
In other news: Harry Truman didn't have a list of everyone in Hiroshima, when Little Boy was dropped. Which brings us to the difference between war and law enforcement: war is fought against nations and/or other groups of people, law enforcement is carried out against individual criminals.

If the LAPD dropped a bomb on a house without knowing who's in it, I'd be upset. When the US military does it in a warzone like Northern Pakistan, I just wish they'd use bigger bombs.


Ding!

Meanwhile, I get the feeling that other organizations using drones are a little more ...selective with who they drop HE on.
 

Ballbuster1

In The Danger Zone...
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#22
The only problem I have with the drone strikes over there
is they aren't doing enough of them. Send em all to Allah.
 

Hate & Discontent

Yo, homie. Is that my briefcase?
Aug 22, 2005
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#23
The only problem I have with the drone strikes over there
is they aren't doing enough of them. Send em all to Allah.

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit...


...it's the only way to be sure.

Edit: For the obtuse folks out there - it's a movie quote. I'm not seriously advocating use of nuclear weapons. Calm down.
 
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mikeybot

SPANAKOPITA!!!
Jul 25, 2005
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philly
#25
I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit...


...it's the only way to be sure.

Edit: For the obtuse folks out there - it's a movie quote. I'm not seriously advocating use of nuclear weapons. Calm down.

I think at this point, if most people don't recognize that line, fuck 'em and let them be embarrassed after the fact.