CIA resumes drone strikes in Pakistan after six-month hiatus

Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal AreasBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The United States Central Intelligence Agency appears to have resumed its targeted assassinations using unmanned aerial drones in Pakistan, following a nearly six-moth hiatus. The Agency launched its lethal drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2004, and intensified it in 2008 under the supervision of US President George Bush, who then passed it on to his successor, Barack Obama. Nearly 400 strikes on Pakistani soil have been attributed to the CIA in the past decade, which have killed in excess of 3,000 militants and civilians by some estimates. But, in an unprecedented move, Washington completely seized carrying out airstrikes on Pakistani soil after December 25 of last year. That changed on Wednesday, June 11, when several powerful missiles landed outside a house located a few miles outside of Miramshah, in Pakistan’s North Wazieristan Province. The area is an operational stronghold of Pakistan’s most powerful armed militant group, the Pakistani Talban, and its close affiliate, the Haqqani Network. The air strikes took out a number of vehicles that were allegedly filled with explosives and killed at least 16 people, including alleged Taliban and Haqqani commanders, as well as, reportedly, members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Washington said that those targeted were on their way to conduct cross-border raids in Afghanistan when they were killed. As it always does in these instances, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the strikes as violations of the country’s sovereignty. But reports in the Pakistani media claimed that Washington had sought and received Islamabad’s approval prior to launching last week’s attacks. What prompted the change in policy? According to one local observer, the CIA had agreed to stop its aerial attacks after it was asked to do so by the government of Pakistan, which has been engaged in peace talks with the Taliban for several months. But these talks collapsed following the June 6 suicide attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport by the Taliban and the IMU, which killed 36 people, including all 10 attackers. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #838 (analysis edition)

Predator droneBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Delisle spy case barely caused ripples between Canada and Russia. The arrest of Jeffrey Delisle, a Canadian naval officer spying for Russia, did little to discourage Canada from welcoming that country’s defense chief to a Newfoundland meeting of Arctic nations last year. The visit underscored the puzzling lengths to which the Canadian government went to carry on a business-as-usual relationship with the one-time Cold War adversary. Most other planned military contacts between the two nations last year —including participation in the anti-terrorism exercise Operation Vigilant Eagle— also remained curiously normal.
►►Don’t believe the hype on Chinese cyberespionage. Within a day of each other, The Washington Post published a shocking list of US defense programs whose designs have reportedly been stolen by Chinese cyberattacks, and ABC news said the plans for Australia’s spy headquarters were also stolen by Chinese hackers. It makes China sound like a secret-sucking cyber espionage machine, but is that really the case? The knee-jerk interpretation to this disclosure (and others) is that China is a powerhouse of cyber espionage capable of stealing whatever secrets they want and that the US is powerless to stop them. This seems very unlikely.
►►US Predator drone program quietly shifted from CIA to DoD. The White House has quietly shifted lead responsibility for its controversial armed drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department. In a landmark speech last week at National Defense University in Washington, US President Barack Obama offered some clues into the status of the program, opaquely signaling it will now primarily be conducted by the United States military.

Pakistan secretly helped CIA drone strikes (act surprised)

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For many years, Pakistan’s main spy agency secretly helped the United States launch hundreds of unmanned drone strikes on Pakistani soil, while the government in Islamabad publicly denounced them as infringements on its sovereignty. The US-based McClatchy news agency said on Tuesday it had uncovered the behind-the-scenes collaboration while reviewing “copies of top-secret US intelligence reports”. In an article published on its website, the news agency said the copies of the documents in its possession covered most of the unmanned drone strikes conducted on Pakistani soil by the US Central Intelligence Agency in the years 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011. The documents allegedly show that nearly every strike had been approved by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s powerful spy agency run by the military. According to the McClatchy report, so close was the cooperation between the CIA and the ISI that the Pakistanis were even able to add some of their own targets to the CIA’s list of suspected militants for killing. This arrangement was arrived at during the early years of the administration of US President George W. Bush, when the bilateral cooperation between the two spy agencies reached its pinnacle. The report notes, however, that it is difficult to discern whether Pakistani civilian officials, who have been routinely denouncing the CIA unmanned drone strikes as illegal, have been aware of the full extent of the operational collusion between the ISI and the CIA. Technically, the ISI is supposed to operate under the control of Pakistan’s civilian leadership. In reality, however, the secretive intelligence agency is firmly under the control of the country’s military establishment. Read more of this post

Al-Qaeda manual on how to deceive unmanned drones found in Mali

AQIM forces in MaliBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A detailed manual with instructions on how to defeat the surveillance capabilities of unmanned drones has been found in a former al-Qaeda hideout in northern Mali. International news agency The Associated Press said the photocopied document, which is written in Arabic, had been left behind in a building previously occupied by members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The militants abandoned the document while fleeing into the Sahara desert, ahead of a French military advance on the town of Timbuktu. The document is believed to have been authored by Abdallah bin Muhammad, the operational name of a Yemeni militant serving as a senior commander in the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Its earliest known date of publication is June 2, 2011, on an online Islamist forum. Since that time, it has reappeared at least three times, all in Arabic, according to The Associated Press. The version of the manual found in Mali contains nearly two dozen detailed tips on how to deceive unmanned drones. One tip advises covering the tops of vehicles with floor mats made of hay or other natural-looking material, in an effort to confuse aerial surveillance systems. Another tip proposes camouflaging the roofs of buildings with the use of reflective glass, so as to render them invisible to aerial surveillance. A third suggestion is to mix sugar with water and dirt and apply the sticky mixture onto the body of vehicles, in order to confuse the imagery sensors of unmanned drones. Read more of this post

Obama’s National Security Nominations: Nothing to See Here

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy I. ALLEN and J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The deluge of reports that are flooding the news media about the national security nominations of United States President Barack Obama is both natural and understandable. The Departments of State and Defense, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, are among the critical components of the American government, especially in matters of foreign policy. Yet much of the commentary on the nominations of John Kerry for State, Chuck Hagel for the Pentagon, and John Brennan for the CIA, is unduly over-dramatizing what is essentially a routine story. To begin with, it is clear that, in selecting Kerry, Hagel and Brennan for the nominations, the President’s priority was to surround himself with people he knows and trusts. Knowledgeable observers point out that all three nominees come from Obama’s most trusted circle of friends and —if appointed— will allow the President to stay well “within his comfort zone” as he begins his second term in office. In this sense, Obama selected the three candidates, not with some major policy shift in mind, but in order to ensure continuity and permanence in his foreign policy.

Take John Brennan, for instance: an Arabic-speaking career officer in the CIA, who has served the Agency in various positions for over 25 years. It is undeniable that, since 2008, Brennan has been instrumental in shaping the thinking behind the Obama administration’s targeted killings program using unmanned drones. According to some analysts, he has been the White House’s “most important adviser for shaping the campaign of drone strikes”. As intelNews explained recently, Washington’s unmanned drone program will continue and most likely expand, but this has little to do with Brennan. As an excellent analysis of Brennan’s nomination (by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko) points out, the CIA’s targeted killing program “has become institutionalized” with a momentum of its own, which ensures its sustainability, “making it far bigger than any one person —even John Brennan”.

Read more of this post

Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #805 (analysis edition)

US consulate in Benghazi, LibyaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Should the US be wary of Huawei? Regular readers of intelNews know that this blog has been covering the subject of Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei for several years now. During the past few weeks, the United States Congress has flagged the company as being too closely associated with the Chinese intelligence establishment. Other countries have done so as well. But not everyone agrees. New York-based newspaper The Wall Street Journal said recently that “bashing Chinese companies on national security grounds seems like a risk-free strategy” for US politicians and added that, unlike Congress, American governors and mayors are eager to promote investment by Chinese companies. Moreover, Wired‘s Marcus Wohlsenemail suggests that, spies or no spies, US telecommunications companies should fear Huwaei, which is here to stay.
►►Should CIA share some of the blame for Benghazi? For the last month, the US media and Congress have been grilling the State Department for the security failures during the deadly assault on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya. But what if the State Department is the wrong target of scrutiny? According to a counter-theory advanced recently by The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, the CIA, not the State Department, bears some responsibility for the security lapse that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, but is flying under the radar due to the classified nature of its activities in Libya.
►►Could unmanned drones go rogue? Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have been in the news a lot lately: the US Congress has given the green light for their use by state and local law enforcement, academic researchers, and the private sector. UAVs are rapidly becoming a new tool in patrolling US borders and in NATO military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But non-state actors, including organized criminal gangs and drug cartels, may also be seeing the benefits of UAVs before too long. Read an interesting analysis piece that includes comments by intelNews‘ own Joseph Fitsanakis.

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